Big LeapThese are the days of the redesign. Maybe its is due to the fact that your site design was created 3 years ago and your needs have grown and changed since then or maybe you now find yourself looking to further increase the way your website benefits your business goals and makes you money. Whatever the  reasons, your current site has probably become a bit of a Frankenstein creation with new pages, additional calls to action, and outdated information. But before you jump into a redesign there are steps that you should take  to make sure that you learn everything you can from your current site and plan properly so that your redesign will be effective and beneficial to your company.

The following information is based on some of the many strategies that we, as a company, employ in order to test, study, and understand our clients current websites. The information that we can gather from these studies allows us to not only plan for the business goals of our clients but to adapt those to the usage habits and needs of the target audience and the existing site users. As I mentioned these are only a few of the possible ways that you can learn from your existing site before you retire it, but they will definitely get you on your way.

1. List your entry and conversion points

A thorough site audit is necessary before any redesign project. Its easy to overlook how large your site may have become or to forget why you added certain pages, features or content to the site. Your main goal in auditing the site is to build a list of entry and conversion points. The entry points to your website will of course include your home page, but it is important to identify landing pages or sub-pages that may be directly linked to from your marketing campaigns, partner sites, banner ads etc. Not only do you want to make sure that you don’t abandon these external links, but you will want to learn about these funnels (we’ll get back to that). As for conversion points, you can simply look at conversion points as any page where a call to action will meet a business goal or sales goal of your company. These can be sign up forms, sales calls, download links, etc. These conversion points are usually measured by the confirmation page that follows the call to action, indicating a successful conversion.

2. Update your analytics to watch these funnels

Website funnels, simply put are the path or paths that lead from entry points on the website and “funnel” down to a conversion point. Funnel tracking is used to measure how effective a particular process is at leading your visitor down an intended path and then converting that visitor. It can provides a detailed process analysis and can show where in that process you have problems (also called barriers) which prevent your visitors from converting as you would want them to.

Now that you have identified entry and conversion points on the site you can create funnels in your analytics monitoring to identify potential problems in your site. If you don’t have analytics set up for your site this is a must and would be very beneficial to learn from prior to creating your new site. Here is a guide to setting up analytics in Google analytics to help get you started.

In adittion websites like Chartbeat allow you to watch real-time analytics to help give you a better understand of when people are using your site and how certain events or marketing efforts effect your site usage statistics.

3. Observer how people are using your current site

One of the most interesting ways of learning what your users need and how you can improve their experience is to watch them using the site. Usability testing with video cameras and one-way mirrors is great, but cost prohibitive for most, especially if you are redesigning an outdated site and just want to learn what you can from your existing one.

There are alternatives available that can provide you with some great information and insights. Sites like Clicktale allow you to view analytics, study heatmaps and actually watch video recordings of real user sessions. You can see mouse movements and learn from where they went and what they interacted with. This data can provide you with valuable insights into what the users are noticing, what they are missing and even what they are getting distracted by on your current website.

You can test new user demographics or a list of tasks using sites like that will allow you to request specific demographics or task sets and croudsource their available testers to provide you with valuable feedback and recorded sessions.

4. Ask your users what they want

This is one that is very often overlooked. Whether its loyal, repeat users or first-time users, they are your target, they are who you are trying to reach, so why not ask them. One of the greatest pitfalls that you can encounter in a web design project is getting too close to the subject matter. Its easy to overlook the simplest usability flaws when you look at a site every day, and miss something in the plans for a redesign because you think that it is a given. Simple polling of your users can often teach you volumes about their needs and pains.

In person interviews would be great but we operate in a very virtual world.  There are many sites that exist specifically to allow you to collect feedback from your users.  Get Satisfaction provides a whole suite of tools and features to help you manage your customer satisfaction. They specifically offer widgets that allow you to add that little “feedback” tab to your page that you probably seen a lot in the web application world. If you want to tap into new audiences, Feedback Army offers a community of testers to provide you with answers from a new set of eyes that probably have not seen your site before.

5. Learn from your past

Many people and companies get very attached to their website and lose sight of the fact that it should constantly be refined, and tweaked to respond to user needs and should in fact be redesigned every few years or more often in certain industries.  While you should always be willing to overhaul your entire web presence, you should not be so anxious to do so that you miss the opportunity to learn from what you have. In doing so you not only will discover valuable information that will help you create a great new website, you will establish new habits and tools that will help you constantly improve your new web presence and keep it (and your company) growing.

Bonus: Learn from you!

Have approaches or tools that I didn’t list here? Please share you strategies and experience by commenting and telling us how you approach the task of learning from your current site to improve on what you create the next time around.

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