March 14, 2013 By Digital Operative,
Let’s say you've finally been given a budget to redesign your ecommerce site.  The site is completely outdated, and you can barely even look at it anymore. You had been eyeing competitors’ sites for quite a while, and you know exactly what you want for this new redesign.  The problem is your budget is a pretty tight. When budgets are tight, the beginning and end of projects usually get cut. I would caution, though, that cutting either of them will be at your own peril.  At the end of the project, some will tend to cut QA time. Hey, the thing is built by top-notch developers. I’m sure we can catch and fix all the bugs in a few days! Well let’s hope so, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up with a string of problems down the road and a string of project change orders to go along with them. Even before QA time gets cut though, some tend to cut back (or completely skip) on the first phase of the project. Yup, that often-misunderstood and overlooked phase called Strategy and Planning. Depending on the type of project and the size of your budget, the strategy phase can vary greatly. No matter how small the budget, though, there are three questions that, no matter what, you must answer.

1. What’s already working and what’s definitely not?

There may be things about your site that you find really hideous or unappealing. Those very same things, though, could be very successful elements to your site. On that same token, your favorite elements could be big blockers to conversion. Before we change anything, we need to know.
  • With any luck, you've got some analytics set up on your site. Maybe you've learned the basics, but you don’t quite have the time or expertise for a deeper dive into the data. What’s lurking behind all those numbers, though, is a TON of leads to guide the direction of your site redesign.
  • At one point, a full usability test of your site would have been quite a costly undertaking. While a full, guided usability test would likely give you the most detailed assessment of the site, there are more options available these days. For a few hundred dollars, you could utilize one of several online options for remote usability testing. For the money, you can learn a lot.

2. What audience do you WANT and what audience do you HAVE?

Through analytics, surveys, and sales data, you should be able to paint a relatively clear picture of who your audience really is. Now compare that to the audience you want to have. If it’s the same, we’re good to go. If it’s different, you need to make a decision. Are you willing to put in the marketing dollars to change the type of traffic you’re getting to your site? Or would you rather tailor the new site design to the traffic you already have? I’m not saying one direction is better than the other, but the answer will most definitely affect what UX and design decisions are made down the road.

3. What can we learn from competitors?

Too often, a competitive review is looked at in one of two ways (both of which could result in unsuccessful sites). To guard yourself from these views, just remember these words: No Frankenstein’s or doppelgangers!
  • The Frankenstein is patched together from various elements of other sites. A competitive review is not simply an opportunity to cherry pick what you find appealing from companies you compete with or emulate. The result of this process is often a disjointed and confusing experience for the user.
  • The doppelganger is the copy of another site. It might not be an exact copy, but when you’re so focused on the site of a single competitor, the similarities will be readily apparent. Almost inevitably, your site will appear to be the copycat that doesn't quite live up to the original.
The competitive review should be an opportunity to look broadly at sites in your vertical or that are successful for your target demographic. You should be looking for what is consistent, what is revolutionary, and what the opportunities are to achieve what has not yet been achieved. I can see why Strategy, like QA, is often cut back on; there is no tangible output for either phase. What strategy gives us is a set of goals, considerations, ideas and directions. Remember that you’re a lot less likely to get where you need to go without those directions. Just like QA will save you money down the line from a string of bug fixes and change orders, Strategy will MAKE you money by setting you on the right path from the start.

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