The First 3 Steps to Your New Website
So, you’ve figured out that you need a new website, eh?
Whether you came to that conclusion on your own, or with the help of our quiz, you've now realized that it’s time to give your website a little TLC.
But, where do you start? Do you call a vendor immediately? Do you start on a new design? Do you just delete everything you dislike as fast as you can, in the hopes that no one notices?
And what if you have yet to find the all-important funding in your budget for the aforementioned TLC?
Well, I have good news: the first few things you should do when you’re ready to overhaul your website are absolutely free. They take some time, but they’re important and they’re free
1. Take a look at your stats.
Hopefully you already have Google Analytics set up on your website. (If you don’t, get on that ASAP! There are great tutorials online, and once you install the tracking code, you can view reports within 24 hours.)
Stats are useful because they tell you how many users are coming to your site, how users arrive there (search engine, link from another website, social media, etc.), how many web pages they’re viewing, how long they’re staying on your website, what device they are using to browse your site…and the list goes on.
Having this information makes it possible for you to look for patterns in your traffic. Are you seeing your overall traffic increase or decrease? Where does most of your traffic come from? What are your most popular (and least popular) pages – and why do you think that is? Are your visitors mainly using desktops, tablets, or smart phones to access your website? Have any of these patterns changed over the life of your website?
Sometimes statistics can be a little overwhelming. You have a lot of information and you’re not sure what’s most important. So figure out the key goal of your website for your organization – do you want your website to help your organization attract new constituents, or do you want it to help you grow a solid following that returns often? Do you want your website to help people share your message with others? Do you want your website to allow people to take action or engage from wherever they are? Once you’ve decided what is important, find the statistic that gives you the information to reach that goal.
2. Talk to your users.
What do you know about the people who visit your website?
Do you know basic demographic information? What resources do they use, and with what frequency? Have they told you if they like your website, hate your website, or somewhere in between? Have you asked them which tools on your website are most useful, or what additional tools you could provide to help them feel more engaged?
Well, it’s time to ask! There are a ton of free survey and polling platforms (like Survey Monkey) that you can use to create a basic survey that will help you figure out the answers to these questions.
To get the right people to take the survey, make sure to only promote it where your website users are likely to look: social media, e-newsletters, on your current website, etc. If you have the time, leave it open for at least 4-6 weeks to allow for a broad polling base.
If you have an opportunity to meet with your users in-person (maybe at an event or by reaching out to locals?), this is a great time to do some initial face-to-face testing.
Sit down with your user at a computer, and ask them to complete some task-oriented objectives on your website (“Where would you go on our website if you wanted to contact us?”, “From looking at our website, what do you think our organization does?”, “What are some words that come to mind when you look at our website?”).
Resist the urge to have a discussion or guide the conversation, and instead simply watch and listen (set up a video/audio recorder and take notes for future reference, if you can!). Do your requests take the user a longer amount of time than you expected? Do they seem confused? If you notice these things, dig deeper with open-ended questions!
And be candid with your request – tell people that you are considering a redesign to your website, and you need their honest feedback to make sure it meets their needs. Your true constituents will care enough about the success of your organization that they will be willing to take time to give you feedback (but don’t expect it all to be positive!).
Once you have a good amount of feedback, take time to look at it honestly – don’t take every random off-the-wall comment to heart, but do look for patterns to see what’s resonating with your users.
3. Turn that info into insights.
Now that you have quantitative statistics from your website and qualitative feedback from your users, you can use that information to figure out your key website audiences.
For each audience segment, you should be able to deduce:
1) who they are
2) what they want from your organization and from your website
3) what your organization can provide them to meet those needs, and
4) what ultimate action you want that user to take.
For example, let’s say responses on your survey have demonstrated that parents specifically visit your website to access specific education-related information around the beginning of the school-year. You also know that your organization releases online education-related tools around that time, and your website analytics show that traffic to those pages spikes in August and September. But maybe that specific user group rarely visits your site or engages with your organization otherwise, even though there are a variety of other actions (join, donate, sign a petition, follow your social media, etc.) that you want them to take to increase their engagement…
Ding-ding-ding! That’s exactly what you need to know!
If you have this level of information about your users (sometimes called a “use case”), and a specific problem you want to solve, you can build your website with that in mind.
Then, the decisions you make won’t be guided by office politics or program hierarchy – they will be guided by the needs of your constituents. Figure out who you’re talking to and with what message, and you’ll be on the right track for a successful website.
Here’s one final important note about audiences: the audiences of your organization as a whole may or may not align perfectly with your website’s audiences, since not all audiences use the web equally. And that’s ok! Don’t waste time tailoring your website to an audience that will never visit it.