Five tips for working with a web designer

Two web designers working together using a phone and a laptop

Web designers often want to start with a clean slate. But you shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water when redesigning your website, advises Ben Dyer. Hard-working copy, high-ranking pages and crucial links from your old site should be incorporated into your new one

1. Don't make things worse

In business, some of us are too complacent while others meddle with things that are already working. These two extremes apply to ecommerce websites too.

Since it's in the interests of a web designer to suggest redesigning a site, ask them to give you solid business reasons why you will get more sales from a revamp. This should be backed by facts or illustrated by successful case studies.

2. Who's managing the redesign?

If you were a bricks and mortar store, you wouldn't kick off a complete architectural restyling without having a project plan. An ecommerce redesign is no different and should be carefully managed. Ask your designer who will do this. Lack of clarity could imply you're responsible.

A project manager needs to have complete control of the schedule, budget and scope, so make sure this is well-defined up front and your designer is happy with it. Depending on the size of your site, your designer may be pulling in multiple resources. As the client you need to understand this and make sure you know what the dependencies are.

3. Recycle the best bits

Whatever you do, don't just discard your old site. I find many designers are often too eager to get on with their own vision of your store whilst neglecting the important information contained within the previous incarnation.

You must use it as a basis for research and spend time reviewing analytics. If you already have a successful online business, then your site must be doing something right. Designers are often very forthright in their opinions of what's right and wrong, but it's better to talk to customers and find out what they like and dislike.

If you're using social media (such as Twitter or Google+) make sure any of your content being shared or discussed is also tracked via your analytics.

Very often this content is the most effective as people have made an active decision to rebroadcast it. If it's still relevant, make sure there is room for this content in your new site.

4. Understand your touch points

If you have an established store already, the chances are you will have several high-ranking pages in search engines, as well as having other sites linking to your content. It's all valuable traffic and a redesign must protect these assets.

Make sure your designer has planned how to avoid losing valuable links and rankings. If page names change, then a 301 redirect is the best and safest method of web page redirection. When a visitor, or search engine follows an old link a 301 is interpreted as the page having moved permanently.

Also check that all advertising is still correct following the redesign. I have heard of many people changing URLs and forgetting to go back and check their pay-per-click links or advertising. The result is the worst type of nightmare: paying for no sales.

5. Test and improve

Testing is much more critical for a redesigned site than for a new one. That's because you already have a business underway. It's remarkably easy to mess up a live site, so make sure everything is working before you finally migrate to the new one.

You will be taking a much bigger risk if you have a bespoke site - nobody else has been running the code live so take special care.

Site redesigns are not an exact science so prepare for a few months of tweaking and playing with your site to get it perfect. Ask about A/B testing, heat maps and visitor tracking.

If your site isn't achieving the goals you set when you first began the redesign you need to have a clear plan to bring it up to the right level.

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