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6 Hard Lessons Learned From Our Website Redesign

Redesigning your organization’s website is no easy task.

It’s a big undertaking with many stakeholders, and lots of moving parts (design, development, content, migration, SEO, etc). In other words, a lot can go wrong and the website redesign can go off the rails.

For our returning readers (thanks for coming back to see us!), you may have noticed that we just launched a new brand, website, and blog design a few weeks ago.

The major improvements to our corporate website for our readers and users include:

  • Mobile-optimized site templates – All pages on our corporate website are optimized for mobile phones for easy accessibility.
  • Consolidated Learning Center – We moved our online guides and ebooks into one area so you can easily browse and find the right resources.
  • Updated information architecture – Info about the our online fundraising platform can be found easier through landing pages and an updated feature overview.

From start to finish, this process took 6 months, 3 months longer than initially planned. We made several mistakes during our website redesign process that ended up wasting thousands of dollars as well.

Read our guide to making the most of your fundraising website to learn how you can create a website that will blow away your campaign goals.

To help you avoid the amazing amount of frustration that we encountered, here are the top lessons we learned on our website redesign process.

Note: For this website redesign, we sourced out the project to several freelancers. These tips are most applicable for outsourced projects.

Watch for red flags during the proposal process

In September 2015, we hired the wrong person for our website redesign. Our prospective designer had a great portfolio and social media following to match.

We did some diligence through references and came up with a reasonable timeline. In short, we thought we had our bases covered. However, during the proposal process, there were big red flags that occurred that we chose to ignore because of his design skills.

After a few initial conversations, our prospective freelancer dropped off the radar and couldn’t be reached. He eventually apologized for his lack of communication, but this type of behavior occurred repeatedly throughout the project.

We learned that your potential developer will be on their best behavior during the proposal process, so pay close attention to how they interact with you—that’s likely the best you can expect to be treated throughout the project. Questions you should ask before you hire someone for your website redesign are:

  • How quickly does the freelancer or agency reply to your sales inquiry or questions?
  • Do their references reply to you and give glowing reviews?
  • Do their modes and frequency of communication meet your expectations?

We learned these tips the hard way, and ended up having to drop our freelancer a few months later after he became unresponsive during the project and did not produce work in the given timeline.

So trust your instincts, if any red flags for you go up during the proposal process, watch out! Most likely, you should find someone else to work with.

Match payment periods to milestones

The initial deposit for our freelancer was 50% of the contract value of the project, and then a final payment of remaining balance once the new corporate website was developed.

Essentially, our project was scoped to only have two milestones and two payment periods. It wasn’t tied to performance or key milestones in the project.

Because of this, timelines weren’t followed and recouping the initial deposit caused a lot of frustration as well as losses we had to absorb as a company.

We eventually found another freelancer to hire and our experience with him was superb!

The milestones that we followed the second time around included:

  • Discovery – In this stage, we figured out what the needs were and conducted general wireframing. We placed a 40% deposit at the start of this stage.
  • Design – The look and feel of our website was put together. We paid 30% of our contract value at the finalized completion of this stage.
  • Development – The design was coded into our CMS and functionality added per our requirements. The final 30% was paid at the delivery of the website.

With this approach, we were able to comfortably see the stages of the website redesign project and make payment once the stages were complete. This aligned our interests with the freelancer.

Here’s another rough timeline you can follow.

Use Dribbble to find designers

Until now, we’ve done all the design and development for CauseVox in-house, so finding a freelancer for a website redesign project was something new to us.

Two productive channels that we looked at to find a designer for this project were referrals and Dribbble.

Referrals

We asked around our professional and personal networks for someone that would be a good fit. Although many people sent over referrals, the referrals we received weren’t a great fit for what we wanted to do.

Dribbble

Dribbble is a website that designers post their work to. You can easily browse their work and get a good feel of what the designer can produce.

Since we knew what we generally wanted, we were able to create a shortlist of designers that we wanted to work with by browsing Dribbble and finding a designer’s work that matched what we were looking for. From there, we reached out to them to start the evaluation and proposal process.

Shortlisting designers took about 3 hours. Reaching and starting conversations took about 4 hours.

Overall, we found that using Dribbble was more productive than other channels because you can see the designer’s work without having the ask for it. In addition, you can see which designers are “for hire” and available for jobs.

Give ownership to a core team

We’ve seen a lot of well intentioned ideas turn bad because there are too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s tempting to try to include everyone’s feedback, but if possible avoid “design by committee” (of if you’re a nonprofit, design by the Board of Directors), especially if they have no experience in design or websites.

Give ownership of the project to a handful of people so that you can reign in scope while also providing consistent and clear direction for your designer and developers.

For our website refresh, we had our CTO and CEO (me!) coordinate and collaborate with the designer. We see our website as our storefront, so having key leadership take charge of it is a key priority.

Provide detailed feedback

During this website project, we used several tools to help deliver feedback. Giving feedback by email would be a mess so we wanted a systematic and efficient way to track feedback. Here are some of the tools that we used:

  • Invision – This is a free online collaboration tool used by designers. It’s a great way to see mock-ups and attach comments to designs.
  • Google Docs – We used Google Docs to keep track of feedback revisions and change requests.
  • Skitch – This is a screenshot tool that allows you to attach comments and easily share it.
  • Skype – We used this for screen sharing so our designer could show us his work-in-progress designs.

Using these tools allowed us to efficiently see progress as well as keep track of our feedback to our designer . This helped us move quickly and in the right direction.

Add migration time in your plan

After starting the second go at our website redesign in November, we aimed for a release date 3 months later. We were excited to hit our timeline in February and were eager to  release it a week later.

Unfortunately for us that plan didn’t account for migration.

Major migration items for you to consider include:

  • Loading new content – Adding and revising copy and images on your new website.
  • Importing blog posts – Importing old pages and blog posts to your new website. Making sure that everything displays properly.
  • Technical integrations – Adding newsletter sign up boxes, analytic tools, and other items to the new website.
  • DNS considerations – If you’re moving to another host as we did, you’ll want to account for this so you don’t incur any downtime.
  • SEO – Make sure your new website pages have the right optimizations so you don’t get a drop in traffic.

All in all, these tasks took an additional four weeks to complete as there were revisions that needed to happen internally.

Even though we had a rough start and ended up wasting  a few months of time, our second time around was seamless.

Learn from our mistakes so you can launch a website refresh the right way!

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