We learn best from our mistakes — especially in web design, where finding out what works best is all about trial and error. And sure, there are some easy fixes, such as switching up header text or a photo in a slideshow, but there are some other mistakes that can cause a whole lot of additional work, stress and money.
Here are the seven most common website redesign mistakes you don't want to make.
#1: Forgetting to Scope out the Competition
What your competition is up to is your biggest indicator of what you should be up to. In a competitive market where every interaction you make with a prospective family could be your last, ensuring that your school's website trumps your biggest competitor is a key piece to making sure your website is only their first impression.
Take the time to make a list of your competitors, and what you like and don't like about their website. Also be sure to do a keyword search and Google to check out their SEO rankings and PPC campaigns.
The Website Redesign Playbook
#2: Being Fixated on Your Launch Date
Things happen: content takes longer-than-expected to approve; your professional photo shoot day was a total wash-out; your co-worker who was writing all your content quit; your board is hung-up on one font and can't make a decision.
The momentous stress of not completing your website by the launch date can be a dark cloud looming over your productivity and motivation. And being fixated on a launch date that was set before the project began can be like setting yourself up for disappointment.
To launch a website successfully, be sure to focus on the quality of the website, rather than launching by a hard-set date. If it isn't ready, then it isn't ready. Don't launch a website until when you're satisfied with how it looks, even if it's two months later than expected.
#3: Not Using Google Analytics
Clients who don't take the time to understand visitor traffic are doomed to repeat the same mistakes on their new site that they had on their old site.
It's important to identify problem areas of your website before redesigning.
Use stats from Google Analytics to identify pages with high bounce rates and exit rates. Then, re-evaluate the content on these pages. Is there too much? Is there two little? Is the content confusing? Are there visuals?
Document the problem areas of your site, and discuss with your team how to resolve them before you redesign.
#4: Spending Too Much Time on Homepage Design
Sure, your homepage is a beautiful "front door" for website visitors to enter through. But if someone rings the doorbell and no one answers, they're going to leave.
A homepage design is only one piece of a very big, complex puzzle and it's important to put an equal amount of effort and focus on your lower level pages as your homepage — as they contain all the information your users come looking for.
Be sure to consider content hierarchy, photos, left and right banners, lower level navigation, and calls to action when designing your lower level pages. There's nothing stopping you from having an eye-catching admissions page like this one from Woodward Academy.
#5: Being a Copy Cat
Inspiration is completely different than copying. Many schools make the big mistake of completely copying other schools' websites just because they "like the way it looks."
Differentiate aesthetics from purpose. Just because you love another school's design, doesn't mean it best portrays your school's mission and brand. Make a list of what you like and don't like about other school's websites. Then, for every piece of the design that you like, write up what value it brings to your digital marketing. If you can't think of anything, skip it and focus on the design treatments that do in fact, add to your marketing.
#6: Hiring a Local Marketing Company to Help
While it may seem like a good idea to get some additional consulting and help during your redesign, many marketing companies have trouble differentiating a school's needs from business needs, or in some cases, even print needs from web needs.
Choosing a local marketing company that isn't familiar with the unique digital marketing needs of schools can put too many (bad) cooks in the kitchen. It's an extra level of feedback and approval that only complicates the process.
Instead, put together a small web team at your school. Bring together members of your admissions, advancement, athletics, administration and academic teams to make decisions to ensure your new website meets everyone's needs.
#7: Not Re-Thinking Your Content
We know you know better than to just copy and paste content. But sometimes schools lean towards this strategy with content migration because it's easy and familiar. However, the needs of Internet users have changed. They don't want to read lengthy paragraphs, and in fact, they look bad on mobile.
When you redesign your website, it's important to look at all your content. Ask yourself: What can we shorten? What can we take away? What's missing?
Do you have any advice to schools looking to redesign? Leave your tips on the do's and don'ts of redesigning in a comment below!