Anyone who has gone through a website redesign, or created a new site from scratch, knows it's not something to be taken lightly. It usually requires many months of research, strategy sessions, content development, design reviews, and development testing to get to the go-live moment, and when it's over a celebration definitely is in order. But while taking a moment to celebrate is completely warranted, your work isn't over. In fact, the work is never quite "over." I like to think of websites not as projects with a hard-and-fast end date, but as products with a continuous life cycle. Which is why it’s important to be aware of what's likely to come your way post-launch.
Websites are living, dynamic representations of your organization and its work and should be built to evolve along with that work. Over time, your organization inevitably will change — new strategic plans may be developed and goals may be refined, and your site, in turn, will need to reflect those changes. This might entail something as small as updating someone's name on your staff page or as significant as restructuring an entire section. In either case, someone, at some level, will need to make sure the changes happen.
Whether your organization decides to keep website maintenance in-house or outsources it to a firm or agency, here are five things you can do post-launch to keep your website fresh, relevant, and, most importantly, true to the goals you established during the design/redesign process.
User Research and Testing
Web designers rely on their expertise to make good design decisions, but dedicated user research and testing goes a long way in confirming that your website is serving its intended purpose. If you haven't done user research and testing during the redesign process itself, it's a good idea to commit some time and resources to it after your site has gone live to make sure the site is delivering expected outcomes and ROI.
User research and testing can take different forms — interviews, card-sorting, usability, and A/B testing, among them — but the goal, ultimately, is to gain insights into how people use the product (your website), usability issues they're experiencing that they may not be able to articulate, and how to make their time on the site more valuable and enjoyable. For example, we're currently working with the Cardiovascular Research Foundation to assess the user experience on TCTMD.com, the leading destination for interventional cardiovascular medicine. Over the years, CRF had grown as an organization and developed new initiatives and content that need to be accounted for in the architecture of what was already a complicated site. By using a variety of user-testing methods, we're aiming to identify pain points experienced by the site's users and update the site architecture with more intuitive navigation and design choices that address newly identified needs.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Analytics
In terms of "getting to know your site better," committing resources to SEO and analytics will give you many valuable insights into how your users find your site through search engines like Google or Bing (i.e., organic traffic), as well as how users navigate your site (i.e., engagement metrics). You can then take these findings and implement specific content and design/technical changes to improve the way people find and engage with your site.
SEO work work can be a bit technical — tinkering with backend keyword metadata and analyzing Google Analytics trends, for example — but you often come out of it with more, and more engaged, website visitors. You can use Google Tag Manager, for example, to set scroll tracking that shows how far down a page your readers scroll before they move on to another page or website — information that can be really helpful (especially with content-rich sites) in revising the architecture of your site and/or making tweaks designed to better engage users.
Ensuring accessibility for audiences of different physical and technical abilities should be a priority for all websites. But for social impact organizations whose mission often is to serve these communities and model inclusivity, an additional level of accessibility should be a priority.
Most websites are built with standards-compliant coding, but adopting a more intentional approach to accessibility through design research and development may be a worthwhile investment. For example, installing screen readers on your site — software that reads webpage text aloud, including descriptions of associated images (if you've added the appropriate image alt tags, which of course you should!) — will enable visually impaired users to more fully interact with your content.
New Features and Functionalities
Often organizations have neither the budget nor the time to do everything they'd like to during a website redesign. Maybe you wanted to weight your search results, create a newsletter popup, or add a third-party integration but ended up putting such nice-to-haves on the back burner. But once the site has been launched and people have started to interact with it, you can and should revisit them.
With a more complete picture of how your audiences are interacting with your new site — hopefully, one that takes user testing and analytics into account — you're in a position to make strategic decisions about which of these features should be added and in what order. For example, after the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index website launched, we added a new function to the site that enabled the customization, based on IP location, of reports loaded on the page. Subtle but powerful, the change allowed the team behind the index to deliver more relevant, targeted content to different audience segments around the world.
Other Digital Properties
Sometimes organizations build on their digital footprint not by adding and updating features on their site, but by extending the new website design to other properties. If you find yourself cross-linking the redesigned site to another website you own, be sure to consider the connection between the two.
Again, you'll want to think about your brand strategy as it relates to all your platforms — consistent design elements and user experience assures users that they've clicked to the right place. For example, we helped a legal services client create an online annual report that nicely complements its more traditional print version but is interactive and shareable, and is also linked to their organizational site, which uses a similar design system.
Prioritizing Your Post-Launch To-Do List
As you may have picked up on, the above initiatives aren't things you can quickly check off a list. For the most part, they require a longer-term commitment of time, energy, and reflection. But taking the time to invest in at least a couple of them will benefit your organization's audiences, both internal and external. And if it seems a bit overwhelming, remember: you don't have to rush to do them all right away! Over the next year or so, make an effort to better understand the performance of your website in greater detail and then use that information to make improvements. And keep in mind that these aren't one-off initiatives: you can (and should) revisit them regularly. Just as you committed time and resources to a redesign of your website, it's important that you commit to making the site better after it has gone live. In other words, the site may have launched, but your work is just beginning!
Senior project manager Johanna Kinsley brings a decade of social and public sector experience in project management, communications, and strategy to the Constructive team. Prior to joining the New York City-based design firm, Kinsley worked at the NYC Department of Education and The New School. A version of this post originally was posted to the Constructive website.