Earlier this month we launched a completely new version of our website – http://opinionmeter.com. We were looking for a modern, responsive design with intuitive navigation allowing visitors to easily find the information they were looking for.
Throughout the development process, we documented the lessons learned, and have compiled them here for those of you who may be considering a similar project in the near future. We hope your next web launch can benefit from our hard-earned lessons!
1. Listen to your audience. At Opinionmeter, we know too well the value of Ask, Listen, Learn– so when we reviewed our feedback data and website usage analytics, we realized our old site was missing some key components that could truly help our audience find the information they needed about our products and services. Having this information at our fingertips helped us make informed decisions about the design, content, and even the images. For example, our data told us that our customers were looking for more information about Enterprise survey software for specific solution use-cases such as: Customer Experience; Patient Experience and Electronic Data Capture. We built the new pages of the site specifically around those topics, with bright visuals and clear Calls to Action for the end user. RESULT: So far, our bounce rates are lower than ever, and our audience feedback has been positive!
2. Choose the right partner. We had several options: Build it in-house, hire an agency, or hire a freelance designer. Since we knew we wanted a WordPress hosted custom site, we could narrow our choices. We reached out to several agencies, and chose a partner based on three things they did right:
- First, they thoroughly answered our questions during our back-and-forth emails
- They sent a detailed Contract, complete with timelines and specific deliverables
- They provided direct access to the lead designer with unlimited change requests
When we asked our web provider how he sets up communication plans with clients, he responded:
“It’s very important to make sure the scope is clearly defined and then redefined as necessary throughout the project. It’s also important to remember that a creative project is fluid, so both parties need to remain flexible and understanding as they work towards a successful outcome. “ – David Aiken, Owner, Your Design Guys
3. Set Expectations. We quickly realized that one person’s definition of “finished” may not match another! To help alleviate confusion, we provided 3-5 website examples for each major design element that we wanted along with a detailed outline for each individual page including all page elements and complete updated text. By doing this for every page ahead of the scheduled design date for it, we were able to set expectations for every page we needed. Lesson learned: provide as much detail as possible to your development and design teams, so they have the most complete picture possible.
4. Don’t be afraid to course-correct. Before our chosen agency began the design, we put together a diagram of the site structure internally. Halfway through the design phase, unfortunately, we realized that we had some key pages buried into the navigation too deeply, and it could affect our user experience. Even though we knew this adjustment would delay our launch and cost us additional funds, we realized that it was more important to have the customer experience be on-point than meet a deadline.
5. Respect the timeline. There were times when the 5’o’clock bell rang, and we had to make a choice: send important information to the web team the next day, or stay and get it to them earlier as promised. Since our partner was in a different time zone, we knew one hour on our end could mean a loss of 3 to the project. As a team, we made a commitment to “do what it takes” to stay on track. In addition to meeting the deadlines, we realized this was also a sign of respect for everyone working across the project.
6. Pick ONE communication platform. Fortunately for us, Your Design Guys agreed to communicate through our project portal at Basecamp. The tricky part was matching email conversations, chats, phone dialog, Google Docs and design bug trackers with it. We found ourselves spending hours on a hunt-and-peck for the latest updates, and we should have make a pact early on to find a system that works for everyone and stick to it. We realized towards the end that we had a lot of disparate information to collect into one system – because we were not diligent about sticking to our chosen platform.
7. Have a sense of humor. It has been said that during projects there are only two outcomes: Broke and Angry. Don’t let your project get the best of you – regroup when necessary, over-communicate, and course correct with grace and a few laughs.
8. Be picky. There are always design and functional elements that are deal breakers, the ones that you know your audience is expecting, your competitors will be jealous of, and that will make your site marquis. Demand excellence for those items, and stick to your guns until they meet your expectations.
9. Expect bugs. Some items need a second, third, sometimes fourth pass to make them work correctly. With all the different browsers, phones, java versions and other coding that goes on with websites, expect that something is going to need fixing. Better yet, build a fix-it phase into your timeline up front, to ease the stress towards the end when you are testing and anxious to go live.
10. Don’t be afraid of “phase two.” The dreaded Scope Creep can derail a project fast. As you begin to make your list of the newly-discovered features, bells, and whistles, it may be best push them to phase 2 (post-launch). Don’t spend your valuable launch window making the icons twinkle, when there are still 3 pages uncoded.
Overall, we are very happy with our beautiful, responsive website. Our users have given us positive feedback; and for us, that was our intention from the very beginning. We hope our Top 10 website lessons learned help make your next website project a little smoother!