We move at a different speed here at Dwolla.
I realized this during my initial onboarding last year, when I received the direction to coordinate the redesign of our website, dwolla.com.
With the launch date just eight weeks after my start date, I hit the ground running—what other choice was there? I’ve been part of several website redesigns and have found the following to be pivotal to the success of any website launch:
- Preparation – Assess current content and determine the direction for future messaging
- Planning – Create tickets, set timelines and schedule consistent meetings
- Analytics – Benchmark past performance and estimate traffic changes post-launch
A website serves as a window into a business and we wanted to make sure visitors could easily understand what they were seeing. We connect businesses to a powerful money moving network and explaining those intricacies can be complex. But with a thoughtful approach and a lot of teamwork, we launched our new site on deadline.
Here are a few things we completed before launching the website to ensure a smoother launch and post-launch experience for our team and visitors.
Benchmark Past Performance
Our first task was pulling benchmarks of past website performance to get a historical perspective. Performance wasn’t the driving factor in redesigning our site but this was a good opportunity to measure where we sat pre-launch.
From there, we were able to see which areas performed well and which would benefit from optimization.
Areas I pulled benchmarking metrics from Google Analytics were:
- Goals and conversions (contact us submissions and subscribing for updates)
- Events (interactions like outbound link and CTA clicks)
- Traffic and interactions broken down by channel
- Best and worst performing blogs or other content pieces
We also pulled numerous reports to measure our SEO performance prior to launch, including:
- Organic keywords
- Search engine traffic
- Organic conversion rate
- Rankings over time
It was at this time that I discovered a few gaps in measurement and analytics. While we had several areas that we could use to measure performance, we found a few areas for improvement.
We immediately added event tracking to numerous areas of the website. Although it may seem counterintuitive to add event tracking only to scrap it a few weeks later, this helped us in our benchmarking endeavor.
Because, as the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. And eventually improved.
Measuring that data gave us an opportunity to learn a bit more about current user behavior and the ability to predict future behavior. These insights remain valuable as we plan for the future.
Plan for Content Edits and Removal
As a company we recently shifted focus away from some products while putting more focus on others. With this shift, we knew the redesign was a perfect time to cut outdated and underperforming content pieces.
Using Google Analytics, WordPress exports and manual data entry, I pulled every single page on www.dwolla.com into a Google spreadsheet. From there, I pulled some key metrics on each page over the last calendar year: sessions, bounce rate, conversions, etc.
Then, we made tough decisions on which content was worthy of keeping and which wasn’t. Our decision making looked something like the following:
- Anything six months or newer automatically stayed because we knew it was still relevant.
- Then, we took a look at product and topic. Content about deprecated products was automatically unpublished.
- With all other content, we set a minimum threshold of visits needed to be automatically marked with green (to keep)
- If it fell below that threshold, it was marked as needing review (yellow)
- We then took a look at key organic metrics and if a page in yellow passed another threshold we had, it moved back to green. If not, still in yellow.
- Finally, anything left in yellow was unpublished
SEO is so important to us as a company (as it should be), we kept organic performance at the forefront of our decisions. Just because a page hadn’t received a lot of traffic in the last year doesn’t mean it needed to be cut immediately.
We reviewed internal linking structure, backlinks, metas and more of all pages left in yellow. Some surprisingly moved back to green while many others remained in the unpublish category. Part of our SEO strategy includes updating some of these unpublished pieces of content to fit our refreshed messaging and strategy.
Don’t Set Yourself up for Failure
With every website launch, you will inherently miss something. Whether it’s a few redirects or an entire piece of content, something will slip through the cracks. That is why it’s important to give yourself a few fallbacks, including:
- If you’re doing an automatic content migration, unpublish pieces instead of deleting. This gives you safety from accidentally deleting something important. It also gives you a fallback if you made a decision in error to remove content that you later regret. After a set amount of time, you can decide to permanently delete.
- Keeping a backup of the old site for as long as you can. I always like to have the old site, accessible internally only, for about a month. This allows you extra insurance in case you switched out content that you suddenly no longer like or if you have to manually migrate all your content.
- Implementing redirects wherever possible – especially when your URL structure changes. While it’s okay to let old pages die if the page is truly no longer relevant, always redirect old traffic to new pages. Old website URLs will remain indexed for some time, so be sure you’re giving visitors (and Google) the opportunity to find your content. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a fresh new website only to hit 404s of the content you care most about.
- Never make unrealistic promises. Redesigning a website provides many unknowns and even with the best planning, you’ll never know with certainty what the outcomes will be. Even if you think a redesign will improve UX or increase conversions, you never know until you see it in action. It will take many months for traffic to level out and for the newness to wear off; before then, your metrics may be in flux.
Now that it’s been a quarter since our brand and website refresh, we’re seeing the benefits of all the preparation and benchmarking our team completed. Now, we more accurately measure traffic sources, can iterate website changes quicker and can make data-driven decisions that benefit our visitors.
We move fast at Dwolla and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Despite moving at such an accelerated pace, our team still takes time to plan, benchmark and receive feedback from stakeholders.
If you’re someone who can work fast and meet deadlines, work with us.