Risk Management

How Corporate Website Projects Go Wrong: A Cheat Sheet for Project Managers

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Every website redesign and rebuild is a new process. For many corporations, creating a new website is a challenge that they only go through once every few years.

While project managers are not deeply involved in the technicalities of redesigning a corporate website, if you develop some of the key project management technical skills or at the very least seek to understand more about what your technical team members are doing, you’ll be better equipped to spot red flags and fix them before they become costly mistakes.

7 Common Corporate Website Mistakes & How To Fix Them

Whether moving a corporate website to a new URL, redesigning the pages during a rebranding effort, or making a significant change to the Content Management System (CMS), the following issues can easily occur without a watchful eye. The good news is that corporate website projects can benefit when you know the common mistakes and how to avoid them.

how corporate website go wrong featured imageMistake #1: Poor Hierarchy and Navigation

The first common mistake that often occurs in a corporate website overhaul is a lack of attention to the organizational structure of the website as a whole. The design itself might be beautiful to look at, but if the site’s hierarchy and navigation are hard to maneuver, then it’s not user-friendly.

Avoiding this all-too-common mistake is easier when you follow site mapping best practices, with clean navigational design in mind from the onset of the website project. A well-planned corporate site hierarchy will not only make the website easier to use, but will also improve the user experience and deliver the best SEO results.

A good site structure will use sitelinks: the listing format used by search engines to show the homepage of the website, followed by several internal links with brief keyword focused meta descriptions below.

Next, your site must be built for search engine spiders/crawlers. As their name suggests, crawlers are used to quite literally scour web pages. The information that the crawlers gathered is then given to the search engines, so that your site can be properly indexed and displayed in related searches.

Finally, your site must be built so it’s easy to navigate on any device.

To design a website with solid hierarchy and navigation, follow these five steps:

  1. Plan the hierarchy before you develop the website.
  2. Create a URL structure that uses your hierarchy as a road map.
  3. Use a shallow depth design so that each page can be reached in three or fewer clicks.
  4. Create a header that lists the main navigation pages.
  5. Develop a comprehensive internal linking structure that makes sense and doesn’t send site visitors on a wild goose chase to find the relevant page or information.

Once you have completed the above steps, you will be well on your way to avoiding the first common mistake and ensuring your website can be navigated as efficiently as possible.

Mistake #2: Not Conducting Proper Usability Testing

Whenever you’re making substantial changes to the design or functionality of a large website, it’s important that you’re able to put your ego aside and conduct usability testing to make sure that your design decisions will actually translate into a better experience for actual website visitors.

Maybe you think that the way you have the website organized is straightforward, or that the names of the menu items are as clear as could be, but if your users struggle with any of your choices, it needs to change.

There are a variety of approaches to conducting user testing—everything from bringing people who represent your target demographic into your office to use the website, to split testing different options to see which one meets your conversion goals, to utilizing heat maps. The approach you take depends on the specifics of your particular project.

However, regardless of how you conduct user testing, it’s critical that you test with participants who accurately reflect who your real website is targeting. If you’re building a website that sells enterprise software, don’t test the design with teenagers—find people who closely match the audience you’ll be selling to. If your website will sell homeowners insurance, then don’t test using people who live in apartments.

One of the most common mistakes is using the company’s own employees for the test. Not only are they possibly not the right demographic, but they will be too familiar with the jargon and details of the product or service to be a fair test. Employees may use the same industry standard words to describe something as you do, but an actual website visitor may not know what it is. Get the right people!

Mistake #3: Incorrect Use of HTTPS Redirection

HTTPS refers to a security certificate that encrypts traffic. HTTPS redirection is a vital tool that must be used if corporate websites are to be protected and accessed properly. However, some requests may be made to the HTTP version of the website. In the latter event, an HTTPS redirection can be used to ensure that the user is automatically redirected to the HTTPS version of the site.

HTTPS redirection is especially important for corporate sites that have a login feature, will be used to make or accept payments, or contain sensitive user information. In short, the HTTPS ensures that all site visitors are automatically directed to the version of the site that encrypts traffic and helps to prevent data theft.

What you want to avoid is having both versions of the website—HTTP and HTTPS. You don’t want this because it can affect SEO negatively by being seen as duplicate content, and it can make your website analytics virtually impossible to decipher since a secure and non-secure version of a webpage will likely be tracked independently. You want all of your traffic to be secure, so use a rewrite rule to automatically change any HTTP request into a HTTPS request. On a Linux server you can do this using the .htaccess file and on IIS you can use the URL Rewrite module.

Mistake #4. Security Errors

Once you’re correctly serving up secure web pages, you need to make sure that your security certificate is setup correctly and that everything the website loads to the page is secured. Otherwise, your visitors can get the dreaded red padlock security warnings when they try to load a webpage.

The two most common reasons I see for this occurring is related to hard coded links and JavaScript. Perhaps your website logo is hard coded to point to a HTTP file and needs to be updated. You may also have JavaScript or other code snippet that loads with the page that’s referencing unsecured URLs.

What you want is the little green padlock to show in the browser (or the equivalent for whatever browsers your visitors are using). Usually if you click on the padlock it will tell you if the page is fully secured or if there are issues to be addressed. If the problem isn’t obvious to you, I recommend viewing the page source and searching for “HTTP” and manually making sure all links are pointing to secure URLs, whether they be internal or external links.

Mistake #5. SEO Mistakes

It’s unlikely that your network administrator, or whomever is handling the technical aspects of your web server, will be deeply familiar with SEO. It’s imperative that this be considered to ensure that your website complies with best practices and can be indexed properly.

With a significant redesign, you’ll almost certainly remove web pages, combine web pages, or change URLs. In these instances, it’s important that the old version of the web page be redirected correctly for the purposes of SEO so you don’t lose any positive SEO benefits in the new version.

For example, let’s say your company has a blog post with an infographic that ranks very well in search and is linked to from many other sources on the web. If the URL slug of the post was “good-infographic” but you change it to “great-infographic”, then you need to make sure that the previous URL doesn’t result in a 404 error and that the SEO “juice” is passed to the new URL and not lost.

In these situations, when you are changing the URL for your new website, but still want pages from the old page forwarded, then you will need to choose the appropriate HTTP response code. In most cases, you will use a 301 redirect code. A 301 redirect code is a permanent redirect that allows users to type the old URL and instantly be redirected to the new page, and also alerts search engine crawlers to understand that a redirection is taking place so the index can be updated.

Keep in mind that just because the page redirects doesn’t mean that the redirect is using the proper code. In addition to 301 redirects, there are 302, 303, and more. Pages can also be redirected using JavaScript or other means as well. In virtually all cases other than HTTPS redirection, you do not want to use a method other than 301 so make certain that it was done correctly by your technical team. I recommend searching for a “HTTP response code” tool online and making sure things are as they should be.

Mistake #6. Domain Name Systems (DNS) Problems

If you are overhauling a corporate website, then you will need to remember to consider whether DNS updates are required with your domain registrar.

In layman’s terms, the DNS is the equivalent of the internet’s yellow and whitepages. It is why when you type ESPN.com, you’re directed to the ESPN website and not a random page. With this in mind, the DNS translates domain names like ESPN.com into IP addresses so that browsers can more easily load applicable internet resources. In short, the DNS servers ensure that internet users don’t have to memorize every single IP address.

Domain registrars will give domain owners the tools that they need to manage their specific name servers. During the website overhaul, you will need to access the associated registrar’s account, so that you can change the DNS name servers to point them to your site. In some instances, you might have a hosting provider who is different than your domain provider. In the latter instance, you will need to change the DNS name servers so that they point to your web hosts name servers. If you fail to complete the latter step, then your website won’t propagate when it is typed entered into a search engine query.

Mistake #7. Failing to Test The Website Outside of the Network

Many corporate websites have routing tables that direct internal traffic to the website without ever leaving the network. If internal routing is impacted on your project, then you will need to ensure that the new (and correct) IP address is used and that the website is tested from both inside and outside the network.

When the website launches, you and your team may be sitting in the office and the new website may appear to be working perfectly, but that may be because your requests are being routed directly to the web server and aren’t actually coming in through the public internet.

Make sure you do a good job testing the website from outside the network, so you can make sure there aren’t firewall rules or other technical issues that only surface for external traffic. I simply connect my Wi-Fi to my phone as a hotspot for this aspect of testing—it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

Help Your Corporate Website Project Go Smoothly

If you want to successfully complete your corporate website projects, then you will need to avoid the common mistakes I’ve listed above.

Through things like proper testing, updating the DNS, using HTTPS redirections (and other redirects, such as 301), and focusing on site hierarchy and navigation as key components within your site design, you can effectively avoid the most common corporate website project mistakes and launch a new site like a rock star!

Rich Butkevic

Rich Butkevic

Rich Butkevic is a PMP certified project manager, certified Scrum Master, and runs Project Zendo, a website for project management professionals to discover strategies to simplify and improve their project results. Connect with Rich at https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbutkevic or https://richbutkevic.com

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