10 Lessons From Successful Website Relaunches

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"When your website is no longer telling the right story, or is no longer reflective of your brand promise, or worse, is confusing to your audience, you must relaunch."
Julie Arsenault, VP of Marketing, Randall Reilly 

That comes from a recent blog post from Connectiv member Randall Reilly, introducing their new site. Best New or Relaunched Website is one of the many categories in the 2017 SIPAwards, celebrating niche publishing excellence in editorial and marketing. Almost 100 winners will be recognized at SIPA's 41st Annual Conference: Growth Now, June 5-7 in Washington, D.C. The deadline for entries is March 24.

AHC Media won the 2016 first place award for websites. Clearly, their site had not been telling the right story. It was mainly a shopping cart for customers to buy products from. Access to editorial content was limited, and visitors using mobile devices saw only a fraction of the site. Fortunately, they turned it around to the tune of a 5-fold increase in users and page views, and significantly higher revenue.

How does a relaunch process begin and proceed? Here are 10 lessons from Randall Reilly, AHC Media and Diane McMahon, senior consultant at designDATA, who led an overhaul of the website for the American Chiropractic Association:

  1. "You must decide that it is your priority. And if you aren't willing to put out a public launch date, it really isn't a priority," Arsenault said.
  2. Do a deep dive. ACA turned to Google Analytics, and the data told an interesting story. The most visited page was an explainer on chiropractic, suggesting the site was more of an authoritative resource than a membership tool as ACA staff previously thought.
  3. Lay out your goals. Randall Reilly had to define exactly what their brand is and what their website needed to accomplish. "For us, the website is our introduction," they wrote. "The site needed to tell our clients who we are and what that means for them. But we also wanted our website to be a resource for education and research. And last, we needed to look at how our clients find us and how they browse."
  4. Understand member needs. ACA developed personas, or representations, of typical website users. To develop personas, ask questions such as: Who is this person? What is their age? What is their capability with technology? Similarly, AHC Media knew that their audience needs easy access to their offerings. So instead of three different sites and log-ins, the new site has a unified log-in so that customers can access the CMS, new learning management system and new e-commerce component.
  5. Prioritize the user experience. "We totally overhauled the structure, organization and design of the site, all in an effort to improve user experience," said Allison Nance, Randall Reilly's digital art director. "We consulted with our in-house SEO team, met with heads of our different service departments, but most of all we kept user-experience the top priority."
  6. Develop a content strategy. After discovering only 10% of its 5,000 web pages were getting significant page views, ACA took a quality-over-quantity approach and focused on the top 500 pages. AHC Media took a similar hard look at content. Where previously there was only a newsletter pdf for subscribers, now any visitor can access content on the front page and throughout the three tabs that reflect their core audience. A continuous flow of editorial content, much of it free, is now available throughout the new site.
  7. Establish workflow processes. "It is easy to be excited about a new website, but it takes discipline to keep the vision alive and consistent as time marches forward," McMahon said. Make website roles clear to staff. AHC Media's new website has a far better search function. Customers, once frustrated by searches that yielded unsatisfying results, can now search by publication, content type, date range and more.
  8. Be direct and up front. Randall Reilly's homepage clearly announces: "ARE YOU READY TO BE DRIVEN BY DATA? If you're not using data to drive your sales, marketing, and recruiting ... you're missing out. Explore Our Data-Driven Solutions." "We want our clients to know that being data-driven isn't the future; it is now," they wrote in the blog post. "We are here to help you catch up."
  9. Show the commitment of leadership. Randall-Reilly CEO Brent Reilly said: "Our hope is that the new randallreilly.com will be a reliable, valued source of useful information, insight, and resources that help you excel at your job, and propel you toward greater heights of success. We win when you win. That's what we're all about." 

  10. Smooth out the buying process. The new AHC Media site provides immediate access to purchases. Previously, a customer would order, then the next morning the order was processed into a different system, and then it was shipped.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…