How to decide between rebuilding, redesigning or refreshing your nonprofit’s website
The Web changes fast. Every day there are new tools released that can help with your nonprofit’s Web presence. Both the software and hardware used by your audience evolve at an alarming rate, and your website needs to keep up. But how do you know when it’s really time to redesign? How can you tell if you should rebuild, redesign or just refresh your nonprofit website?
Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine the best approach to giving your website an overhaul.
1. Are you just tired of your website?
If you visit your nonprofit’s website every day, you may find yourself getting bored of the design. Though design trends do change quickly, try not to jump into a redesign simply because you’ve grown tired of your existing site. That may actually do more harm than good.
Don’t forget that your website is not for you; it’s for your audience, and they may be very comfortable with it as it is. Springing a new design on them may cause unnecessary confusion and negatively impact your relationship with your visitors. Before making any drastic changes, check your traffic statistics first to learn how your content is resonating with your audience (see question #5).
2. Is your website mobile-friendly?
The use of mobile devices to access the Web is growing fast. One of the biggest trends in Web design today is responsive design. Responsive design ensures that your website’s layout responds to the visitor’s screen size in order to maximize usability: on a wide-screen desktop, your site may have three columns of content, while on a smartphone, that same content may be presented in a single column.
While responsive design is becoming a must-have for most websites, it is still a very new technique. If your website’s current design has been in place for more than a year, then there’s a good chance it’s not responsive.
If your schedule and budget allow for it, a full rebuild of your site – including new code and a new visual design – is the best way to implement responsive design properly. This provides your website with a framework for anticipating any differently-sized devices that may become popular in the future, and responding to them as well to current device sizes.
If a full rebuild is not in the cards, however, there’s still something you can do: adaptive design is a technique that lets you create different designs for different screen sizes (which you explicitly indicate, such as iPhone size, iPad size, and so on) but is not quite as future-friendly as responsive design because it doesn’t account for device sizes that may appear later. Think of it as responsive design’s little brother.
The benefit of adaptive design is that it can be retrofitted onto an existing site without having to do much to the HTML markup. Sit down with your designer and mock up some interfaces that illustrate how your content should look on a few different-size devices, then your designer can implement that code into your website’s style sheet – a much less intrusive method than rewriting code from the ground up.
3. Is your site full of outdated content?
Doing a content audit of your website can be as rewarding as a redesign. Run your site through a link checker and fix any broken links that you find. Spend some time browsing through all the main sections of your site and update any content that’s not relevant or current.
Check your organization’s staff listings page: Do all of those people still work there? This may seem like a strange question, but you’d be surprised how quickly staff listings can become outdated. Nonprofits often have high staff turn-over.
4. How difficult is updating your website’s content?
If the thought of going through a Web content audit makes you shudder, then upgrading a cumbersome content management system may be the best place to start. These days, most sites run on a content management system (“CMS”) of some kind. How easy is the process of updating your site content? Do your content editors complain about how complicated it is? This is a sign that you may need to update your CMS, or move to a different one entirely.
While it can be expensive to migrate your content into a new system and then have staff trained on how to use it, consider how much time and money is wasted by continuing with an inefficient workflow: if it takes your content editors three times longer than it should just to create a new webpage, then in the long run, you may spend more on your website than you would by investing in a more efficient system now.
5. What do the traffic stats reveal?
Chances are you have some kind of traffic statistics package like Google Analytics tracking your visitors while they’re on your site. Does anyone monitor those stats? Have a look through them and learn which pages have high bounce rates or are visited infrequently, and which ones are more popular than others. Once you know that, consider promoting some of this material throughout the site. Perhaps you can place an “ad” for it on your homepage, or have a component in the footer promoting popular pages.
Your stats can also tell you a lot about the platforms being used by your audience. If many of your visitors are already arriving through smartphones, that should provide extra incentive to follow through with responsive or adaptive design (see question #2).
Nonprofits often work with limited budgets and resources, so developing a brand new website every few years isn’t always realistic. Hopefully, these questions can at least help you to find ways to keep your website fresh and current in the meantime.