3 Things We Learned Building a New Website

As you might expect one of the key things on any rebranding checklist has to be figuring out how to properly transition your website to support and enhance your marketing and communications efforts.

Given the size and the volume of visitors to our former Volunteer Calgary website, this task was a huge undertaking for the communications team at Propellus. A process that was not without its challenges, after all any new site would need to be a clear and concise demonstration of our new work, our new organization and all of the new services and programs we offer to members and the public.

Having just finally launched our all new website, we wanted to share some of our key learnings from this journey.

Content

‘Content is king.’ We’ve all heard that message more than once and it certainly is one of those things that can make or break any new site; content can strengthen or destroy your marketing efforts when it comes to rebranding. In the case of our organization, the planning for our new site forced us to revisit content and take a cold calculated look at how much information we were trying to push out to our followers – in the final analysis we realized that less really is more in the online environment.

In our efforts to keep our old site relevant and meaningful and provide our users with answers to every possible question or problem, we had accumulated over 250 pages of content that spanned every possible aspect of our work and had become a monster to maintain and to navigate.

With the prospect of a new brand looming, we had all the motivation we needed to step back and take a cold hard look at our content and begin the process of culling all the excess information that was bogging down our old site. When the dust settled we had reduced our new site to under 125 pages by embracing the idea that our website did not have to tell our entire story, or answer every possible user question. All it really needed to do was spark interest, provide an opportunity to continue conversations and allow us a chance develop deeper relationships with all our users. We have intentionally limited our content in the hopes that it will prompt individuals ask questions and pick up the phone to talk to someone from our team.Website

Where ever possible we incorporated dynamic content in an effort to be responsive to the needs and questions of our users, fully integrating our blog into the website and capitalizing on the ability to keep our storytelling fresh timely and interactive.

We also built the new site with careful consideration, making it mobile-friendly where ever we could so information is easy to scroll through and access.

Do your homework when it comes to working with an external consultant

The one thing we knew right from the start was how important the consultant or vendor we selected would be to the success of the website redesign – so we did our homework.  We asked for recommendations from colleagues and called up or emailed the owners of other sites that looked interesting and fresh. We also looked online to other organizations engaged in capacity building work in North America, England and Australia trying to test how they were using their websites to support their work. Armed with all of these wonderful ideas and creative possibilities we reached out and met with 5 different website companies, and after some negotiations, we finalized it down to our current developer.

During some initial meetings with our web developers, one thing that was mentioned was that they didn’t want to be seen as just a vendor, or just a web developer. They wanted to work in partnership with us to understand our work and our goals and then apply the skills, resources and talents on their team to develop a site that was on point, effective and complimented new brand; as well as the mission, vision and values of the Propellus organization.

This really resonated with us, and it demonstrated commitment and dedication to the project on their end, they believed in the work we were doing and understood what we wanted to share and how we wanted to engage our web users.

Deadlines can make or break you!

When the Propellus brand and visual identity was completed, our June 20th Annual General Meeting (the event we had selected for our big rebrand unveiling) was only a few short weeks away. We knew that a fully functioning website was not going to be ready in time.  In the interim, we worked with our web partners to ensure we could create a micro site for our new web address www.propellus.org and made minor changes to our old site to get us through until the end of July 2013.

To make our revised deadline we put a very rigid schedule of deliverables in place. Once each phase of the work was finished, there was sign off and then the project moved to the next phase. These phases included layout design, content delivery, development, feedback, and then the launch.

Trying to meet these timelines was a challenge. With focused and committed efforts to key pieces of information, by key staff, we were confident that it would come together very quickly and efficiently. We planned for a few hiccups in the process but no one was prepared for the delays that resulted from the flooding. We were forced to close our offices and with our online systems down for several days, much of our internal staff time was understandably refocused on the crisis.

We made every effort to get our timelines back on track but we could not change the fact that our website developers were committed to other clients as well, given these external forces we revised our timelines for the second time and now found ourselves working toward a fall deadline.

It was not the way we planned it but the key learning for us was the realization that flexibility is a critical element in any web redevelopment work. Granted you may not have to deal with a Hundred Year Flood when you tackle your own website redesign but something will always come up. Don’t panic, just reanalyze the work, evaluate your ability to support your web developer and put yourself back on track – adhering to new deadlines and deliverables.

Another general observation we made in this process was the need to designate a key person or team to manage the project, after all you don’t want “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

This approach really helped us remain focused when unexpected challenges cropped up. We were able to manage the external expectations and opinions preventing any additional stalling or delays to  the project that would have inflated costs, time and resources necessary to finish the  project on time and on budget.

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