To the world outside of your colleagues, clients, and partners, your website is your company. It's the digital reflection of your brand. Launching a new website isn't just about updating your CMS and content, it's also a brand refresh – your opportunity to reshape your company from the inside out.
It's been a transformative year for iAcquire. We've transformed our off-page SEO agency into a full-service digital marketing company, with offerings ranging from large-scale social media campaigns to on-page content strategy. Our old site simply didn't reflect what we are capable of.
On our journey to align our brand with image with our company's offerings, we learned some vital lessons. Here is a roadmap to successfully refreshing your brand and your site:
A content strategy is your website's master plan. It lays the groundwork for the planning, research, creation, development, implementation, and measurement of everything that lives on your site. This has to come first. Without it you are flying blind.
Why are you launching a new site? What do you hope to achieve with your new site? How will this new site be better than your current site?
Before any sort of execution, our marketing and strategy team created a near 30 page creative brief that was fueled by specific goals we wanted our new website to achieve, and backed up with persona-driven market research.
In order to take any next steps you must clearly define your audience. Generally, you will need to serve multiple audience types. Doing this wisely is mission critical if you want highly converting and meaningful content.
- Access Audience Data: Use Experian Simmons and Nielsen Prizm to capture large-scale consumer survey data. Additionally, Facebook has the best insight on top-level and granular audience size by region. They present this data via the Facebook Ad Creation Tool.
- Run Surveys: Get an up to date pulse on customer sentiment and market sentiment using Google Surveys or SurveyMonkey. I'm a big fan of Google's Coke vs. soda vs. pop survey.
- Define Need States: Use the survey process, in-house questionnaires, and other customer-related data to come up with need states. Map these need states to keywords, personas, and pages as you develop content. As an example, we've developed a persona called Content Katie, and she has a need state called "Upgrade SEO," which means that she thinks her current SEO efforts are lacking resources. We can now map that need state to web pages, keyword ads, display ads, and more.
- Create Personas: Creating audience personas helps all creative, content, and allows marketing stakeholders to maintain uniformity. Leverage audience market data, survey results, and need states to create personas and user stories. Nielsen has done a good job creating default personas for many of America's top audience segments. Check out their active library of the top 66 personas. Use this template and create your own three to five personas.
Voice and Tone
Depending on your audience you need to make some determinations about your voice and tone. If you're a medical provider your voice might be one of an authoritative figure, strictly the facts. Your tone might be direct, to the point, and objective-oriented. But you may also want to take an approach that is more down-to-earth, and not confusing or threatening. It really depends specifically on the needs of your business.
Here's our approach for your reference:
Not iAcquire Brand Voice
"At iAcquire we understand that off-page optimization involves monitoring your domain authority, anchor text distribution and staying abreast of algorithmic fluctuations to ensure you maintain your visibility in the SERPs. We've rallied a team of developers to build the iRank platform which turns outreach into a scientific process."
iAcquire Brand Voice
Experience shows that even with great content off-page optimization is difficult. At iAcquire we've built the dream off-page solution called iRank which handles all the heavy lifting and allows us to give our clients transparency and results.
- Authentic but not Brash
- Fun but not Silly
- Authoritative but not Persnickety
- Questioning but not Rebellious
- Informal but not Unprofessional
- Cool but not Unapproachable
- Effective but not Complicated
Content ideation, creation, and implementation is rarely if ever a one-man show. Without structural guidance companies can fall into content paralysis. Content governance defines the players, process, and technical requirements necessary to produce and implement content.
It's important to establish upfront what your ongoing content needs are going to be. This ties into governance as well, as you must understand your forward-looking content resources and plans. The editorial calendar decides high-level subject matter and development frequency of content you will create going forward for your blog, resource center, and social channels. Lightbox Collaborative has created an excellent editorial calendar that also includes governance features.
Establish the key performance indicators associated with the relaunch. These should generally include visitor behavior, organic rankings, and social interaction. Ensure you establish a system to monitor and report on these factors.
You're going to have to make some decisions regarding technology platforms, and you'll have to do it upfront. Every website is different, but most include the following common needs.
CMS and Blog Platform
Larger corporate sites may require a highly sophisticated platform like Open Text or IBM Websphere, but most websites can get away with a customized version of WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. We chose WordPress for its ease of use and customization, and impressive library of open source content management, social, and SEO plugins.
This almost goes without saying, but you need to make sure you have a fast staging server to experiment with your website throughout it's development. Just make sure the staging domain cannot be indexed by search engines!
Before you map out screens in Photoshop, or dare start laying out screen in html you should wireframe every major page in advance. Balsamiq is a great option.
CSS & JS Libraries
Website Build Management
Integrating and managing all aspects of the redesign is a huge task, and once your site launches you should encourage your company to solicit feedback. Trello is great for task and feedback management. You might consider Basecamp or others as well.
Content development is not just writing copy – it's also content management, SEO, and social integration. The following steps should help get you through it.
Create a Content Plan
Before you flush your old site down the tubes you must first take an inventory of every page. At minimum, you'll need to catalog by ID, URL, title, type (web page, PDF, video, etc.), relevance (will it make the transition?), state (whether it works in current form or needs update), and notes. We wrote a detailed post about how to perform a content audit and establish an inventory (you can download our template here).
The pages that make the cut need to be mapped with keywords, personas, and need states. Advanced SEO professionals will generally perform exhaustive keyword analysis, and that will lead to the recommendation of new pages, which also need to be included in the content plan.
Develop an SEO Copy Brief
If you have multiple copywriters contributing to the website you might consider developing an instructional how-to guide for creating and optimizing content for your website.
Wireframe the Website
This seems like a big extra step, but this process will allow you to get internal buy-in for important things like layout, features, and calls-to-action. This actually really speeds up the process by cutting down on back and forth page changes.
A company's executive team should sit with the lead designer to go through call-to-action formats, header formats, and all of the other minutiae that can affect user experience, conversion performance, and search rankings. Time spent looking at competition and other categorically relevant sites is time well spent for all. The group feedback can be quickly integrated into the wireframes for review.
Source, Polish, and Optimize Content
Once you've determined what content will be created on the new website you may need to incorporate internal champions to help to develop the first round of copy. After you've collected everyone's feedback you can synchronize the brand voice and tone. We recently published a mini-case study about how we wrote the content, and it has some solid pointers for any content strategist or copywriter.
Don't forget to reference the content plan when you optimize the site for search engines. You need to incorporate keywords in the site copy and meta tags.
Oh, and don't think for a second that meta tags means title and meta description. That's 2009 thinking. There are 18 meta tags you should be taking seriously for every page. But, this post isn't a lesson in SEO.
Creative for the Win
This section deserves it's own post, but there are a few things to point out.
Create a Brand Style Guide
The brand style guide establishes your brand colors, logo treatments, fonts, document margins, and spacing styles.
Example Primary Colors.
Example Secondary Colors – iAcquire's designer threw in "darkerer" as a shade for a little comic relief.
Make Every Page Remarkable
Ultimately, there are a number of ways you can design your website, and you have to go through the discovery process as referenced in the wireframe. Regardless of the choices you make, if you really want to make an impact then you need to create remarkable content and creative.
Spend time making sure that every page on your website has at least some element of shareable, stand-out content/creative.
Our home page has a live feed of our Instagram account, YouTube channel, and a Twitter list feed. We even created an entire microsite called iAcquire Tweets to capture a unique mix of mentions, and brand fans.
Our industries page features a trailing 30-day view of SERP movement among major industries thanks to some very clever JS, and Stat Codex for providing the data. Our Work page features a comprehensive timeline with images and video to boot. We spent time making sure that every page was remarkable. It took a long time, but the investment was well worth it.
As you put the finishing touches on your new site consider these final things:
- Setup 301 Redirects: People miss this time and time again. To keep it simple, Google has an index of all of your current pages. When you launch a new website those old pages might not have the same URLs as the new pages do. If you wipe out your old pages then you wipe out Google's current index of your site. That's a bad thing to do. It can really hurt your rankings. If any of your URLs are going to change with your new site launch you must have a proper 301 redirect strategy in place before your launch.
- Don't Forget About Analytics Code: Here's another website launch fail. When you launch your new site don't forget about your analytics codes. I've seen websites forget about this for even a short period of time like one week, and it plagues marketers for the following 12-24 months. Any hole in tracking data is extremely detrimental.
- Perform Quality Control: Invite multiple people to tear through the staging domain and provide unbridled feedback. Filter through it accordingly, and obviously you need a final editor to review all copy before you launch.
- Prepare Influencer Outreach: Use a great tool like Followerwonk to pre-determine who you want to review your site upon launch. You may even consider sharing the staging URL to a select few.
We followed the process above, and are excited that our new site reflects our full-range of capabilities and updated brand identity.
Hopefully this post has given you some great ideas on how you can successfully launch a new website that also refreshes your brand.
My team and I are standing by to answer any questions you may have about your own relaunch, or anything related to iAcquire's new site. Let's talk.