A New Website Is Never Done

By Kristin Kinnamon

Redesigning and launching a new website is a huge undertaking. I know from personal experience the inclination to sit back and think about something else for a few weeks, months, or (hopefully not) years after a launch. There are other important issues to deal with, after all, than just your agency website.

But I preach that a new website is never “done.” Besides the first days and weeks after launch of putting out fires (such as making sure Google and visitors can find your new pages), a new website needs consistent – if not constant – care and feeding.

CivicPlus, which specializes in developing government websites, likens a new website to investing in a fancy new firetruck. You don’t just leave it parked in the station. You train staff to use it, you take it out and put it through its paces, you give it regular maintenance so it provides reliable public service for years to come.

If you think of your website redesign as a project that is “done,” you risk wasting taxpayer dollars. Your investment of time and resources into the new site will degrade far more quickly than just the technology itself.

What Happens With New Websites?

New websites tend to grow and transform as content is added, technology changes, and unexpected needs arise. This is natural, and a well-thought out and well-built site with standards and policies in place is ready for change.

If you aren’t keeping up with change, however, you risk:

Content stagnation. Staff never updates – or reads – their pages. The content ceases to answer current customer questions. It has the 2012 annual report. The public comment period that just opened is not there. Links stop working.

Content creep. Carefully crafted information and headlines get overwhelmed by newer content that might not be integrated or properly prioritized. New content might not follow your web standards.

Visitor frustration. Your shiny new site has reset expectations – higher. If you aren’t paying attention to customer interactions and feedback, you risk a backlash.

Untold stories. You had reasons and goals for your website redesign – and so did your agency leadership. Measuring how your website is meeting its goals gives you a chance to share your success stories.

Maintaining your website investment

Ongoing training. If you have a dispersed team doing web content, get them together to learn from each other, or for a webinar, or for onsite or offsite training. If it’s just you, set aside time each month to learn more about your content management system or web best practices.

Annual content audit. Many subjects are covered on your website, and many people are responsible for them (plus their regular jobs). Get your web team or subject matter experts together once a year and make them read their pages. People can do this at their own desks, but I find it best to set aside time and computers to have everyone in the same room. This fosters conversations and commitment to the process. And you can fix things on the spot.

Analytics. Whether you have Google Analytics or a custom tool with your content management system, or other access to your system data – use it! Go beyond visitor counts and bounce rates. I remember digging into the Community Transit analytics and noticing that many of the visitors to the Snohomish County transit agency were in Seattle, one county away. Guess those commuter bus riders looked up their bus information while they were at work.

Bottom line: Back to your users

Hopefully, you thought a lot about your “end users” before you redesigned your website. Analytics don’t tell you “why” one page or link is more popular than another, but if you know your users, sometimes you can guess.

You probably made a lot of assumptions about your users when designing your new site – what people wanted to accomplish, what words they might use to search, what “calls to action” would work best.

After launching, you should test your assumptions, measure your success, re-assess your content, and never stop learning from your customers/visitors/users.

More on the topic of maintaining new websites:

“Consider the Firetruck,” CivicPlus blog

“The Web is Not a Project,” Siteimprove blog