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Lessons In Website Redesign: What You Can Learn From Our Relaunch

By March 10, 2014December 31st, 2015True Stories
Lessons In Website Redesign: What You Can Learn From Our Relaunch

Did you notice? Web.Search.Social has been reborn! I’m both proud and relieved that we’ve relaunched our site, with a new design, new content and new free resources (more on that later, stick around). And my whole team – plus a few friends and colleagues – deserve a pat on the back. I’ll get back to that in a second, too, because right now I want to share what I learned from the experience so that it can help you the next time you’re thinking of designing or redesigning your own website.

It’s A Lot Of Work

We’ve been building websites for 15 years and no matter how rote some things become, building a good website is still a formidable task.

Sure there’s the easy stuff – doing your 5-minute WordPress install, setting up pages and posts, uploading photos, even making things look pretty nice. But then there’s everything else, from the fine details (“Is this blue too blue?”) to the big picture stuff (“Why are we doing this again?”)

Content is always one of the biggest challenges. Deciding what that content should be, what it should say and how it should say it is a tremendous job. No amount of practice gives you an express ticket to great content. It takes thinking, planning, rethinking, tinkering and sometimes even starting over. And yes, we started over! Writing, rewriting, deleting and writing again. I’m guessing each page went through at least three major revisions, some from scratch. Content is that important.

So when it comes time to build your site, be prepared to work. Building a website is more than the simple act of building it. It’s about content, about goals, about the big picture and the fine details.

The End Is Just The Beginning

A website is never done! There are the inevitable things that get missed – a broken link, a typo – and then there are follow-up things like… are your analytics actually tracking? Are your backups actually working? Our backup failed right out the gate so we had to go back and fix it. That’s why it’s so important to look at launch not as the finish line, but as the starting point.

Of course, when you’re under pressure to get your site live and especially if you’ve been working on it for a while, you develop a sort of blindness to a lot of things. It isn’t until after you leave it for a few days that you notice you missed a typo. And that there was an inconsistency somewhere. Or that you completely forgot to style your list items.

When you’re building your own site, keep this in mind and remember that it’s more than just pulling the trigger. There’s follow-up to be done! And it pays to step away from it for a few days or more and then come back with a fresh perspective.

Clarity Is The Most Important Thing You Can Have

It’s true confessions time. We started working on the redesign of this site back in the fall of 2013. Not only did we start, but we got close to finishing. A handful of details away from calling “done”, we stood back and surveyed what we had built and said, “That’s not exactly what we had in mind.”

We realized that we had muddled our purpose and gone down one path when our real goals were in a different direction.

And so we started over. Way off schedule, but with a clear vision of where we were going. The truth is, sometimes the road is winding. Even though we’re professionals we still circled around the long way before bringing things into focus. Sometimes you’re just too close to a thing to see it clearly, and that’s what happened to us.

With a little soul-searching and some valuable feedback from a few trusted colleagues, we found our way again.

Remember this when you build your website and make sure you have clear goals and a vision of what you want to achieve. If there’s any chance that your goals or direction may be obscured, stop, stand back, survey what’s going on and when in doubt, get help!

You Have To Launch

We obsessed over a lot of things. The precise shade of the link color. The wording of the sign up button. You name it, we dissected it.

But in the end we focused on the cardinal rule of web development: MVP. Minimum Viable Product. Is this thing necessary to get the site off the ground or is it “nice to have”?

It wasn’t necessary to have a different shade of blue to launch the site but it was necessary to have a working contact form. You have to prioritize and make sure that the non-negotiable pieces are in place before debating the nuances.

It’s tough to do, especially when you want your site to be great, but as you build yours, separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves”. And remember that imperfect is ok – after all, your site is never really done, right?

It Pays To Have Friends

For various reasons, we’d given ourselves a hard-stop of Friday to launch the site. We had two weeks to go when we set that deadline and it seemed like plenty of time until Friday morning when I realized that my to-do list was still seven miles long.

So I looked around and started lining people up who I knew who could lend a hand. From writing to technical assistance to graphics work and testing, the people who I asked helped.

Thanks to the generosity of others, we met our deadline. The funny thing about asking for help – besides the fact that it’s helpful – is that you realize how necessary people are. You’re reminded that alone you can accomplish things, but with others you can accomplish great things.

I encourage you, whether you’re building a website or doing anything else in life, to reach out and ask for help. It’s both gratifying and humbling, and in the end it’s a much better way to hit a deadline.

A Moment Of Gratitude

Once the new site went live – and only slightly off-deadline at 1:00AM on Saturday morning – I felt infinitely grateful. It’s in that spirit that I would like to say thank you to a few of the people who helped us make this happen.

I’m grateful to Nick Armstrong who, when I messaged him at 3PM on Friday afternoon with a technical glitch, dropped his own business and newborn son (well, hopefully not literally) and jumped to my rescue. With everyone on my team otherwise occupied with their own to-do lists, Nick got to the bottom of an MVP problem and had it fixed within a half hour.

I’m grateful to Annie Sisk who took on a big writing task at the last second. If there’s one person I can count on to be clever about writing, it’s Annie, and she dove into it with nary a, “But I need to have lunch at some point, don’t I?” and made sure we hit MVP status.

I’m grateful to Teddie Mucha, who I call my production assistant only because I haven’t come up with a title for “person who does whatever I ask perfectly in a way that keeps me sane”. At least not as a title that fits on a business card, anyway. When Teddie showed up on Friday and I said, “Launch or die!” she took it literally and stayed up working with us until 1AM when the site went live. I’d tell you what she did, but for the sake of space, let’s just call it “everything”. She’s dedicated and cheerful about it and no matter what I throw at her she gets it done.

I’m grateful to Michael Campasano, our creative director, who, when I showed up at his doorstep last Friday night after work and shouted questions at him as he attempted to feed his twins dinner, just poured us a glass of Scotch and kept going. From changing the shade of the link color to creating the graphics and selecting the font sizes, he made sure that our site looked great. Michael knows the difference between “must have” and “nice to have” and not only keeps us looking good but always answers my text messages, even when I send them in the middle of the night.

I’m grateful to my husband and business partner Ralph who not only solves all of the problems I throw at him but also knows exactly when it’s time for a hug break or a high five. For two weeks he fielded my demands to, “Fix that font size!” and “Color correct my photo!” He’s laser-focused on the details and keeps his eye on the forest while I’m whacking my way through the trees. Whether he was tweaking CSS, proofreading content or evaluating layout options, he did it all with a keen eye and in good humor. Ralph keeps me sane, ties up all the loose ends I hand him and no matter what, whether things are going superbly or horribly awry, is always on my side.

I would also like to thank the people who, through their support, feedback and guidance, helped us turn MVP into BMVP (Better MVP.) I’m grateful to Mike Brooks and Dino Dogan for answering our Skypes at all hours of the day, night or weekends to answer questions about content or format and share their thoughts and suggestions. They helped us improve things tremendously.

I’m grateful to Cynthia Sanchez, Jason Lange, Tom Kitti and Anna Colibri for their relentless support and enthusiasm and for their feedback, which helped keep us going in the right direction.

I’m grateful to Sophia Lemon for her assistance with photography. Her feedback and advice helped us make sure our photos were sharp.

I’m grateful to the brilliant women in my mastermind group, Téa Silvestre, Nicole Fende, Annie Sisk and Sharon Hurley Hall for being part of our clarity-finding mission and sharing their insights and wisdom.

And finally, I’m grateful to you, our readers, for being there to read about this now, for sharing your thoughts with us in the comments, for sharing our posts on social networks, for emailing us with humor or encouragement or just questions that make us think.

I hope that if we haven’t yet connected personally, you’ll find us online or shoot us an email and let us know you’re there. If we have connected – we’re looking forward to more!

Our Gift To You

As part of our relaunch we’ve put together the Marketing Game Changer Kit, a free resource that is a compilation of some of the best stuff we’ve offered here before, plus some new planning guides and checklists, all rounded up in one convenient place. The best part about the kit is that we’re going to keep adding to it – more guides, more checklists, even some eBooks – and if you sign up to get it we’ll email you to let you know whenever there’s an update or a new resource.

Go get the kit now and be sure to let us know if you think of anything you’d personally like to see as part of it. And if you need help planning or implementing, see what services we have to offer and let us know how we can help!

Join the discussion 39 Comments

  • HA! Funny stuff that I can relate to all too well. Seems our redesigns were happening at the same time. I’m going to write about this in detial, but I recently met with someone who said they looked at my site and they were not exactly sure what I do – a great head slap moment on my part that hopefully I’ve since remedied with some tighter copy…

    In any event thanks for sharing and for validaitng my own pain and anxiety! : )

    • Dino Dogan says:

      David, that happens soooo often. I’ve become so sensitive to the fact, I now make sure to communicate the way in which others can work with me with no room for “ummm..Im not sure what Dino does”. And just to stay true to that statement, people can hire me to speak at their event. BOOM! See? I had to slip that in there and be clear about it.

      One of the ways in which I’m clearly communicating how others can work with me lately is by building the “Hire Me” option into my mobile app. It’s right there, front and center (pretty much), it’s hard to miss, and it’s hard to misinterpret. The added bonus is that when people download a new app, the very first thing they do is click around to see what’s there, so it’s impossible to miss.

      • I like “the very first thing” part. It’s easy to miss that when there is so much you want to say and everything seems important to put up front. It takes a lot of prioritizing!

    • We are our own worst client! Sounds like your experience was similar to ours. The “wait, what are we doing again?” moment when you realize you didn’t convey your message is definitely humbling. That was one of the big reasons we started the redesign in the first place. And most of the way through we realized we still weren’t hitting the mark. So yes, it takes some serious thought and it’s far from throwing some content on a page and calling it a day! Let me know when you get around to your post. I’d love to read it!

  • Annie Sisk says:

    Girl you are only too welcome. Much love to the entire WSS team! This redesign rocks out loud in quadrophonic stereo, yo.

  • Looks great! Congrats!

  • Anna Colibri says:

    What a wonderful feeling to get this thing launched! I am honored to be a part of the team.

  • It looks really great…so now since I want to do the same, you have me excited and scarred at the same time…BUT now I know what I need help with when I jump back in with the mastermind team. I have soo many things in my head and trying to decide which to do first…you just helped me with that…I always love reading your blog (silent stalker here)…I am truly your fan!

    • Thank you Michelle, and yes, you’d better get yourself back into the mastermind! It was tremendously helpful to talk through our plans with everyone and listen to their insights. Made a huge difference in how we approached things. Let’s go!!

  • Congrats on the redesign. It looks awesome!

  • Oooh…aaahhhh. LOVE what you’ve done with the place! and congrats on the new diggs.

  • I don’t have a basis of comparison because I’m new, but I like what you’ve done. And you’re right – you’ve just gotta launch. There are so many things I need to do to my own site, but I knew if I waited for it to be “perfect,” I’d never start! But I like striving for perfection, regardless. 🙂

  • Love the new design, Carol 😀

    Especially the drop down with ‘Blog’ sub menu….I am definitely spending a lot of time playing around with the design of my blog (not sure if it’s good..but it’s all part of my grand design experiment…so, I suppose it is useful :D).

    Note: the thing is that when I visit other blogs, I pick up elements I like and try to integrate them to my own blog (so, in that sense, my design is a mash up of several other blog designs I have seen and liked).

    I just have to spend time more carefully…like you mentioned, prioritize. Some things are nice to have, but others are necessary to achieve our goals. Finish the necessary first, and if we have time, we could spend some on the less important tasks.

    Anyways, thank you for the update!

    • Thanks Jeevan, I’m glad you like it! I know exactly what you mean about finding things you like on other sites and then trying them out. It’s a catch-22 because you can get good ideas but you have to remember that not every good idea will be a good idea for YOU. It’s about figuring out what your goals are then finding the best way to reach them. Prioritizing is a must!

  • Tracy Vides says:

    Carol, Ralph, although I used to think that few blogs could have a more subtly pleasing interface than Web Search Social (perhaps I liked Smashing Magazine better, but that’s about it), you guys have proved me wrong! Congrats and high fives!

    And many, many thanks for your marketing game changer kit, I’m just a lowly writer but I *love* the editorial and social calendars – I was able to tweak them to my liking within minutes. Of course there are a bunch of them floating around, but you’ve got just the right columns at the right places!

  • Adrienne says:

    Hey Carol,

    I’ve had this post saved so I could get by here and comment on the new look. I LOVE it, honestly. Great job to you and the entire team. It’s really a great new look and very appealing.

    I’ve been thinking of doing something myself in the near future but I have so much on my plate at the moment that I don’t know when I could even get started. I have some ideas of what I’d like but would need someone who could actually put that into play for me. Just not something I can undertake at this moment though, way too much going on.

    Great job though guys, bravo.


    • Thank you so much, Adrienne, I really appreciate that and I’m glad you like it! It’s definitely a lot of work so it’s something to plan and decide what you want to do before you start. We planned it out and even then decided we didn’t like it and decided to start over! Take your time 🙂