Web site relaunch checklist

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When Procter & Gamble Co. acquired the Clairol Pro brand this past spring, it meant a cash infusion and the chance to restyle the Clairol Pro Web site. The site caters to three market segments: large salon chains, independent salon owners and hairdressers in training.

"P&G wanted to get away from the image of Clairol being just your grandmother’s hair color company," said Doug Stone, CEO of Abstract Edge, a New York-based interactive marketing firm that handled the Clairol Pro site redesign. "Our task was figuring out how the Web site could create a meaningful connection between the brand—what P&G wanted it to be—and its users."

Abstract Edge started its redesign from a logical point: Clairol Pro’s customers and their needs, wants and impressions of the company. This is exactly where any site redesign or tweak should start, according to Jakob Nielsen, a user-experience expert and co-founder and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a consultancy based in Fremont, Calif.

"One of the mistakes b-to-b Web sites make is not communicating what a company does and how it can help the customer," he said.

Merging information that addresses what customers need and what the company does is key, he said. But many companies don’t do a good enough job on either point.

Fortunately, figuring this out isn’t as difficult as it seems, Nielsen said. He suggests conducting user tests—something Clairol Pro did—with current and prospective customers. "Ask users what the company is communicating with its Web site. Test about 10 people—five of each group—for the best results," he said.

Once you’ve figured out what your customers want, you should see if your competitors are already giving those things to them. To that end, spend time searching and analyzing their Web sites. You can also ask your focus groups what they think of competing sites. Use that information to mold your Web presence, as long as you can actually deliver on any claims you make on your site.

Then it’s time to select the text and images. Lucinda Kennedy Ryan, director of marketing and advertising at Washington D.C.-based Sightline Marketing, said this information should come from everyone on staff, not just from marketing.

"It’s important to have senior-level buy-in for the redesign. But you want input from programmers, marketers and designers when it comes time to build," said Ryan, who lead a redesign for TRC Solutions, an engineering firm that launched in May. "We pulled marketing materials from every [TRC] office across the country," she said.

Pricing information should be included—clearly and within a few clicks from the main page. Yet few b-to-b companies actually do that. Most cite competitive reasons, but customers—and your company’s competition—aren’t stupid and aren’t wrong to expect pricing details.

"You’d never go to and see something that says, ‘Try and buy this book and then we’ll tell you how much it is,’" Nielsen said. "Just post the list price. Good customers know that they can get a discount," he said.

Sometimes, companies get so hung up on how a site looks they forget there are a few technical issues that can make or break a redesign. Things such as long URLs or broken links can turn a project into a disaster.

During this stage, test every page with a variety of browsers. Also, check pages for printability and loading time. Printability and URL length are extremely important for b-to-b sites, Nielsen said.

"If you have a guy doing research on the Web, there are three things he can do with your information: print it, e-mail links to others or cut and paste information directly into a document," Nielsen said. "You want to make any of these simple to do."

Log files—records of how many people came to your site, where they went and how long they stayed on each page—will be very important during a technical review, said Rich Hanley, director of the graduate e-media program at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. Even if you’re doing a total redesign, you’ll want to keep elements of the old site if they are working and your customers are pleased with them.

Dave Johnson, managing partner of, agreed. "You’ll be looking at the click stream for certain patterns to find out what’s working. Sometimes you can augment this with online surveys. Or you might want to pick up the phone and just ask customers," he said.

Finally, no matter how extensive or minor your redesign is, it’s imperative to give customers fair warning that changes are coming. You can send out e-mail teaser messages or place a notice on your Web site, but redesigns shouldn’t happen quietly.

"Start with information that something is coming," Johnson said. "Segue into the relaunch. Even though experiences can be bad, people get used to them. If you shock them with something new they get upset."

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