Evaluating Your New Website
Your marketing team is planning a new website. Here are some of the topics you should discuss with them before they commence the project.
Co-Founder / CEO
September 19, 2023
Assessing Your New Website
For those working in companies where your website is your primary source of business (compared to say a physical retail store) investing in a high-performing website is paramount. However, senior management will typically be unclear on what constitutes a “great site” - hence the purpose of this blog. By helping senior management understand how to evaluate a website, they’ll be better equipped to engage with a new website rebuild request.
In many instances, website management and maintenance will fall under the remit of the marketing leader. In a busy marketing function the primary marketing channel - the website needs regular maintenance. However, if the requisite resources are not made available it can languish largely unchanged for months if not years on end.
Eventually, someone will flag the issue, and a new project may be set in play to launch a brand new website. Depending on the extent of the brief, timelines can extend to 6 months + and budgets can nudge six figures.
So what are some of the questions you need to ask your marketing leader, and how can you assess the effectiveness of the new site post launch? In this blog, we outline some of the key questions you need to ask. In short, we look to equip non-technical C-suite executives with the information they need to better understand how to evaluate a website’s performance.
But first, to help set the context, we’ll look at this process through the lens of a new website build.
The following outlines some key factors to be aware of in two distinct phases:
1- The Project Brief [New Website Build]
2- The Post Launch Assessment [New Website]
The Project Brief
As a senior leader you need to understand some of the following issues before committing to a new website build:
What are the problems with the current website?
What are the goals of a new website?
How can you measure the success of the project?
How much will it likely cost?
How long will it likely take?
What risks do you need to be aware of?
Website Project Sign-Off
Before you sign off on the process it is important to recognize that ongoing investment in your primary website is a prerequisite for success (especially in industries like B2B, SaaS, and the wider technology space). It is simply a cost of doing business.
It is normal for marketing leaders to propose refreshes every couple of years. Similarly, there are trigger points that tend to bring new website build projects to the fore. These include a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) joining and diagnosing website issues as barriers to growth, or post-investment where you finally have the budget to invest in a long neglected site.
The following represent some questions you need to ask before ‘signing off’ on a project of this magnitude.
1- What are the problems with the current website?
Ideally, the marketing leader gives a full and frank assessment of the issues with the existing site. It is also worth noting that ‘traffic levels’ are a key data point. Traffic on B2B sites are on average much lower than on B2C sites - the danger is though that the traffic levels may be so low that a major website upgrade fails to move the needle on broader commercial goals.
You should also ascertain the Content Management System (CMS) you are on. If it is a traditional legacy CMS like WordPress a site migration may be needed. However, if you are already on a modern CMS like a Headless CMS you may be able to stick with the CMS and just focus on the front-end design, and messaging.
2- What are the goals of a new website?
It is worth being clear on the goals of a new site.
There may have been years of neglect and under-investment and it just does not look great.
You have raised some money and want to accelerate growth
The conversion rates are being negatively impacted by the current site design and architecture
Your value proposition has changed and the site content, messaging, and visuals look a little dated
The issues identified with the current CMS are increasingly problematic (Issues with WordPress are the bane of most marketers lives)
The visual identity needs an overhaul and thus your website is in scope as part of that process
Once you are clear on the primary goals of a new website project, you are better placed to assess likely success criteria.
3- How can you measure the success of the project?
In theory, it appears easy. Compare and contrast some key data points before and after the project. However, the results can often be nuanced and some elements like branding and visual identity enhancements don’t immediately translate into direct results.
Here are some areas I’d look to measure and evaluate before and after a website project:
Speed Tests on key pages
Number of pages visited / Average Time spent on site
Ideally, part of the initial brief is to discuss your core KPIs and ensure that there are targeted efforts to improve them as part of the process.
4- How much will it likely cost?
Ideally you get the marketing leader to source 2-3 quotes from agencies. Depending on the scope the range can be from $10,000 to $100,000. Again the context here is for growing scaling companies that need to invest in a professional site to optimise conversions. Part of any discussion on cost should also look at:
Likely ongoing costs post-launch
Likelihood of a positive Return on Investment based on KPI improvements.
5- How long will it likely take?
These projects can take 6-12 months given the range of variables involved. Naturally fast-tracking an internal decision helps reduce the time that is within your control, but after that, the project scope and complexity of the project means that it can be very hard to provide exact timelines. Similarly from experience, website projects nearly always take much longer than originally envisaged.
6- What risks do you need to be aware of?
Keep the marketing team focused on Business As Usual (BAU) activities. The scope of these projects can grow and grow, and you want to avoid pulling colleagues off other projects to assist.
In most situations, it is best to engage with external professionals to manage and deliver the project. It is not something that should be done in-house.
Finally, ensure there are no negative Search Engine Optimization (SEO) issues introduced as part of the process.
Once you are satisfied with the need to proceed it is then a case of ensuring the project scope is tightly defined, and considers the various elements in the round. By that I mean, there is no point in just changing the visual identity if the messaging is left untouched, or pages are not redesigned to align with the new identity.
Web projects can range from very basic reskinning of an existing site to a full overhaul. A key initial question is what is the extent of the work needed. You will need your marketing leader to help shape the brief and discussions should include the following so as to determine whether they are in scope or out of scope:
1- Visual Identity
Does your site "look professional"?
While this is largely subjective, you can quickly look at some competitor sites to compare and contrast. First impressions do count, and if your site "looks and feels" a little basic then baking in a visual identity upgrade is worth doing. Ideally, this part of the work is managed by a brand agency (as distinct from a web development agency). The brief may be to review the logo, palettes, and fonts, and to create new 'brand guidelines' that will act as the new visual identity 'north star' for the company.
This route is common for companies that raise finance, and now have some budget to invest in the brand.
2- The Content Management System
It is important to have the marketing leader share some data on the website’s performance, as well as the current workflows and maintenance costs. Many early-stage companies build initially on traditional (legacy) platforms like WordPress. However, for those with ambitions to scale and grow, new modern CMSs like Contento, offer a more scalable approach. An emergent category called Headless CMS is growing in popularity and should be part of any discussions relating to a modern website project. It is worth noting that a website migration from a legacy CMS thus significantly increases the scope of the project but if the current foundations are not solid then it makes sense to make a shift.
How do you assess whether this needs to be considered:
Get the marketing leader to outline current issues with the CMS
Are there hidden costs associated with the CMS e.g.WordPress developers on monthly retainers?
Request page speed data for key pages like the Home Page, primary product pages, and key landing pages (for paid acquisition). Are the page load times (desktop) over 1.5 seconds? If yes, speed times are likely to be an issue (impacting everything from SEO to conversion rates).
Ask them do they have a handle on the 3rd party applications being run on the site i.e. plugins and 3rd party code (often sitting within Google Tag Manager)
In short, a new website project offers the perfect opportunity to bake in a CMS upgrade, to future proof your web stack.
3- On Site Messaging
An oft-overlooked area is the value professional copywriters can bring to a website. In many instances, junior copywriters may have supplied the initial copy and thus existing on-site copy may do a poor job of articulating the value proposition. Professional copywriters concentrate on message optimization on key pages ensuring that each word is adding value.
4- Page Design
Alongside the broad visual identity is the actual page design. Are the pages well designed? Do they include rich visuals and videos to break up the flow? Is the content well structured? Again these elements need to be baked into any new build using specialist designers.
The Post-Launch Assessment
So what constitutes a successful relaunch and how can you tell if you’ve got a great new site?
1- The Visuals/ Design
While the look and feel of a site is largely subjective - to the trained eye there are lots of design elements that constitute a great site. Especially when it comes to software companies. A well designed website gives confidence that the software will also be well-designed.
Take a look at competitive offerings - which site looks more appealing and engaging?
2- The CMS
Is the site easy to manage and maintain? How easy is it for the marketing function to manage and maintain the site? Ideally, the use of a modern CMS will ensure that any developer or 3rd party dependencies are largely removed (save for brand new page builds).
How is the site performing? By this I mean - meeting the goals of the site. If the site is primarily about lead generation, you’ll need to refer to the conversion rates on key pages. Similarly, you’ll want the site to be blazingly quick - ideally under 1 second. A simple test on Pingdom or PageSpeed Insights (Google) will help you assess.
A great site also needs to be a secure site. Ask your marketing lead to outline the security elements in place with the new setup. You can also check elements yourself e.g. ensure your site URL is HTTPs and not just HTTP. Add Captchas to forms to reduce SPAM. Finally, depending on the site you may need external input from a cybersecurity partner to assess for vulnerabilities.
5 - Site Health
Finally, you can test the site health using tools like Broken Link Checker and aHrefs / SEMRush to ensure health scores are high, no broken links are evident, and that the site is being indexed by Google and appearing in the search results.
In summary, new site builds are a common occurrence especially for growing B2B, SaaS and technology companies. As a senior leader, it is worth having a basic understanding of the constituent elements that make up a great website.