Relaunching a website is one of the most tedious, stressful and overall annoying things a company can do. When done right, it can turn an entire business around but when done wrong….well, let’s just say you don’t want to do it wrong.
The problem is that there are just so many ways to screw it up and run your business right into the ground.
I’ve been involved with many site relaunches over the course of my career ranging from small drop-shipper sites to international brands and I’ve seen almost everything so I thought it would be nice to put together a list of some of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of doing these.
This is by no means a complete list but just some of the more important things that a lot of people get wrong and a few ideas on how to get it right.
Don’t Hide What You’re Doing
Far too many times I’ve seen companies announce their going to do a site relaunch, usually via a company email, and never mention another word about it. This leaves your employees who aren’t directly involved in the relaunch wondering what the hell is going on and how much longer they have to deal with your terrible site. This obviously isn’t good and can lead to confusion, especially if only one team is involved – yes, this really happens.
A project manager will go into a room, close a door and start making calls to outside web vendors or the IT team will go into a room, close a door and start talking and nobody knows what’s happening with anything ever again.
Most business owners might wonder why they need to tell customer service, finance or marketing about something they think will only involve the web guys but as anyone who has been through this before knows, it’s never just the web guys involved in a relaunch – and if it ever is just the web guys, the relaunch usually fails hard.
Digital marketing needs to know because your SEO team needs to minimize traffic losses, among many other things.
Customer service needs to know because you can’t expect them to be able to help customers navigate a site they literally have never seen before that just changed overnight on them.
Product managers need to know because if you’re going to change the entire look and feel of their product lines with new site templates, they need to prepare.
Also, do you really want the inevitable scenario of your entire office going, ‘yeah they said they’re relaunching this crappy site six months ago but I haven’t heard a word about anything yet.’ and losing trust, straight up surprising your entire staff or being stopped in the hall every three feet by random people going ‘hey, so what’s going on with the relaunch?’
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Keep people informed on the status, what you’re working on and the ETA until completion. You don’t need to do detailed reports for the guys in the loading dock, but you at least want everyone to know what the general situation is.
Furthermore, if you’re working with an outside digital marketing agency, especially for SEO, DO NOT – REPEAT: DO. NOT. – fail to disclose you’re thinking about relaunching your site. You want your SEO guys involved from wireframing and planning all the way up to the actual relaunch. If you don’t, I promise you bad things will happen.
Don’t Have a Too Many Cooks Situation
The flipside of the first scenario is just as problematic – trying to please every single person in the building.
This is when you have someone, usually a project manager, going around having meetings with damn near every department and product manager and asking them what they think about everything to the point where no one’s opinion even means anything because they’re all different.
This is when you have the CEO and top-level managers who haven’t done a lick of web design, development, UX, or digital marketing a day in their life and don’t know a canonical from a hole in the ground trying to tell you exactly how the site should be designed.
This is when your relaunch turns into a cluster.
Every product manager and department director wants their products listed ‘first!’ on the homepage navigation.
Everyone wants their own custom widgets and functionality that will make their lines ‘stand out!’
Some 60-year-old C-level guy who hasn’t used a website since 1998 goes “Hey, you know who used to have great design? All those Angelfire websites! I miss those! We need to do our site like that! Also, we don’t have enough words on the pages! We need more words and fewer images! People like lots of text!”
Some other C-level guy goes, “You know, we don’t really need focus groups or testers on this, let me just send this around to like two people I know who also don’t work in CRO, UX or web dev and see if they like it!”
Some product manager wants an entirely different workflow for their product line that the devs have to somehow code, integrate into the back-end systems and make sure it’s not a startling different user experience to everything else on the site.
On and on and on and on.
What happens here is that you just have meeting after meeting and the list of things for you to do gets longer and longer and the whole project is now usurped by people who literally have NO IDEA about branding, web dev, UX, SEO, CRO or any other disciplines you’d need to make a site successful.
At this point, your site is going to be built on mostly C-suite gut feelings, office politics and a whole bunch of IT people sighing and going, “well, this is what they want, so we gotta do it.”
Your whole project is delayed while IT tries to either figure out how to code or integrate your nonsense that nobody really needed but some director thought was cool, your copywriter tries to figure out how to be ‘wordier’ and all the while the same people who came up with fifty-billion bad and pointless additions are breathing down your project manager’s neck with, “Are they done yet? What’s taking so long??”
Worse yet, no one involved is happy.
Your SEO, graphics and IT teams are mad because they’re doing literal busy work they know that your end users won’t like or won’t use just because the ‘word came from on high’.
Your product managers are all looking at each other talking about “Well, why does department X’s products get such a good placement on the page while ours are over here?”
Your crusty C-level team won’t be happy once you have to go back and tell them that users really aren’t feeling walls o’ text and your bounce rates have gone through the roof and the new site still isn’t converting after all that time and money.
My advice? The only people who should be involved directly in a redesign are the following teams:
- Graphics/Web Design/UX
- Digital Marketing (SEO, CRO)
- A Project manager to keep everyone on task and budget
That’s it. No more. No less.
Yes, tell people you’re working on the migration and relaunch but do not kowtow to their every whim – not even the C-suite if you can help it – or you’re going to be completely and utterly stuck.
The Buck Has To Stop Somewhere – And NOT With An Executive
This piggybacks off the first and second points but this is so important that it needs to be its own entry in the list.
There needs to be a solid decision maker in each aspect of the relaunch process. Someone who can look at all these suggestions, ideas, thoughts, requests and other things being thrown at the relaunch team left, right and center and say yes or no.
No one can override these people’s decisions and when they say no, it’s a no. Period.
It’s not a ‘No, but…”
It’s not a ‘Well, maybe…’
It’s a flat out:
“Nah, that’s not happening.”
Most of you are saying, “Yeah, we’ve got that! The CEO!” but therein lies the problem.
Remember my previous example of the C-suite people who literally have no clue about CRO, SEO, Web Dev, or anything else you need to have in a relaunch? Yeah, this is why it can’t be your CEO or a CFO if you want a relaunch to work.
Realistically, most CEOs know how to run a business but how does that translate into running an IT project?
Short answer: it doesn’t.
Reverse it. Do you want your Director of IT or Director of Marketing (or worse, your SEO!) and your CEO changing roles for a month and seeing how unprepared they’d both be? I didn’t think so.
It’s an entirely different skill set that will require an entire understanding of how the web works, how code works, how UX works, and how SEO and CRO work.
In my opinion, the Director of IT, the Director of Digital Marketing and the Director of Graphics (or web design or whatever your company calls your UX team) need to be the ones that oversee the entire relaunch project and have the final say on their various areas of expertise.
The reason for that is because, at the end of the day, they are the ones responsible for creating the code, maintaining the site and making sure that everything works the way it should.
The Director of IT should be empowered to look at all the other product managers and department heads and say, “No, we’re not putting in sixteen different custom workflows for all your departments. Sorry!” and “No, we’re not going to sit here and try to integrate fifteen different third party platforms in the backend of the system and slow the page down while they all try to load at once.”
The Director of Digital Marketing should be able to say “Yes, we are going to put schema markup on every page we need to!’ and “We’re not going to keep ridiculously pointless pages of thin content from ten years ago that no one visits just because you happen to like it.”
The Director of Graphics or UX should be able to say, “Sorry, but that wall of text idea is awful and we’re not going to do that.” and “No, we’re not going to keep the same look and feel we’ve had for the past 40 years that looks like it came from a 1970s supermarket.”
If you put people who don’t know from these disciplines in charge of a relaunch, I promise you, you’re only going to succeed in going from a slow and non-functional pile of garbage to a fast and non-functional pile of garbage.
Hire Capable (Not Cheap) Third Parties
This is pretty self-explanatory so this one is going to be brief.
Just like the heading says, if you’re looking for huge savings or a discount when it comes time to do something this important, you’re most likely only going to be hurting yourself in the end.
As I said before, a relaunch can make or break your site and you really don’t want to cheap out here. Yes, you don’t want to break the bank but you also need to really think about how much your business means to you and consider if you really want to go with the guy overseas offering to “Do the whole thing for $6,000!”
I’ll give you a scenario of how cheaping out can go horribly wrong:
- You have an ecom site with thousands of pages sitting on an old platform with many different third-party integrations. You need to move to a modern platform and integrate some new things but you still have thousands of pages and will need different templates set up for each type of page
- You find a cheap digital studio saying they can do it all, including your SEO considerations for a few hundred. You look at their site and see that they only have experience doing mom & pop stores, but whatever, same thing only more of it, right?
- Digital studio does discovery meetings with your company for months and starts spending budget building out roadmaps, journeys and this and that and four months and a few thousand dollars spent, they look at you and say ‘Yeah, we’re really overwhelmed here and we’re not set up for an enterprise level site. Sorry.’ or, worse yet, you look at what they’re doing and realize that yourself.
- Time wasted, money you’re never seeing again and whole project timeline in the crapper.
Don’t do this. Save yourself time, energy and money by researching these people thoroughly before signing anything. If you have an enterprise level site, you need enterprise-level vendors, not some dude with a cheap price.
DON’T RELAUNCH ON A FRIDAY
This is a huge no-no and you should already know why.
There are so many things that can go wrong when doing a complete overhaul and if you do it on a Friday, there’s a good chance that the people who you’d need, both internal and external, to fix these things just won’t be available – or even know about the issues – over the weekend.
Also, a lot of ecommerce stores do pretty good business on the weekend considering that’s when a lot of people are looking to shop so if your site is down when people want to buy, you’ve got big problems.
Save yourself the potential heartache and just don’t do this on a Friday or before a holiday. Also, in that same theme, since organic traffic usually falls right after a relaunch, you won’t want to do this during the holiday season or any other time of year that’s the busiest for you. Do your research first and save yourself loads of problems in the end.
The Bottom Line
Relaunches, no matter how you approach them, aren’t easy. There are a lot of potential pitfalls and issues that can hurt you but, when done right, they can be a literal lifesaver for your business.
I don’t claim to be an expert in all aspects of relaunches nor is this list intended to be the end all and be all of advice on the topic but this should help you get going in the right direction and keep you from making some huge mistakes.