How To Audit Your Website to Prepare for a Redesign

By Nicholas Longtin | October 2021

An illustration of people analyzing a website in a browser window.

It's true what Benjamin Franklin said, "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail". If you have a website redesign on the horizon preparing for it will be a critical step to making sure the process is a success. One major component to great website redesign planning is auditing your current website. By taking a deep dive into your current website you can learn a lot about what's working, how people want to engage with your organization online, and what needs to be changed. Keep reading for my top tips on how to audit your current website in preparation for a redesign.

How to Approach a Website Audit

Auditing your website for a redesign is a little different than a general website audit where you are mostly trying to identify things that need to be corrected on the current site. Since you are already planning on a redesign you don't need to focus as much on site design, speed, backend features or other areas that will likely be entirely replaced.

Organizational Considerations

The first thing I like focus on is how your organization has changed since the previous website was launched. It's vitally important that your website represent the current priorities of the organization, speaks well to the desired audience, and utilizes the most up to date branding and market positioning. 

The top questions to ask yourself are:

  • Has our branding or logo changed?
  • Are there new brand voice and style guidelines?
  • Are there new distinct audiences the site needs to serve?
  • Are there new services or an update to the main mission?
  • Are there new organizational goals the website needs to contribute to?

Having solid answers to the above questions will help a lot with making sure the new website is setup well to serve your organization's mission and contribute to your overall goals.

User Feedback

Another valuable tool to prepare for a redesign is real user feedback. Oftentimes you can quickly figure out your current website's shortcomings by simply asking users how well it serves them. Keep in mind you want to concentrate on the types of users and personas that are the target for the new website.

Also, don't discount internal feedback from both leaders and workers in the trenches. Your organization's leaders will help guide how the website should represent the vision and direction of the organization but support staff will know the details of how well the website serves your users because they will often be fielding calls and emails from visitors.

The top questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are there common complaints about the website from users?
  • Is your staff frequently fielding calls or emails about the same issues?
  • Do you receive many of the same questions about your organization that should be answered on the website?
  • Does your unique audiences feel like they are represented on the website?
  • Does leadership feel the website represents the current vision and goals of the organization?

Gathering User Feedback

Although you may be gathering a lot of user feedback with manual processes, there are some great tools for collecting and analyzing visitor feedback on a more automated basis. One tool I like a lot is Hotjar. Hotjar offers many of the automated feedback tools of other systems like heatmaps and scroll maps (more on these maps later) but can also create website visitor screen recordings and solicit feedback with surveys and ratings.

Although Hotjar can be on the pricier end for high traffic sites they do offer a nonprofit program with reduced pricing and if you decide to implement all of the Hotjar features it's well worth the price.

 

SEO Audits

Auditing Your Website

Now that you know how to approach an audit from the organizational and end-user perspective, let's get into the specifics of what you should look at on your current site. I like to break up an audit into several major components:

  • Systems & Structure
    What systems and CMS is your current website built on and how are the navigation and content structured?
  • UX & Usability
    How does the user interact with your website and how usable is the design?
  • Content & Functionality
    What content is on your current site and what functional areas exist?
  • SEO & Positioning
    How does your website perform in search engines and is your content relevant to the audiences you want to reach?

Systems & Structure

The systems that power your website are a huge component of how successful it will be at contributing to your organization's goals. The main consideration is the website CMS (content management system) your site is built on. Many times a website redesign is an ideal time to reevaluate how the current CMS is working for you and if there is a better option out there. 

Many of my clients were on hosted solutions like Squarespace but found them too restrictive and wanted to move to something like WordPress where they have total control over the website. I've also had clients who decided to drop their costly third-party donation platform and opt for a solution integrated directly into their website. Since a website redesign is often already a large undertaking, changing website CMS systems or donation platforms at the same time can make a lot of sense.

Some things to consider about your current website CMS are:

  • Does the CMS offer the tools you need to help make the new website successful?
  • Does your staff know the current CMS system well?
  • Is there wide industry support for your CMS and regular updates?
  • Can the current website CMS support the future goals of your organization?
  • Can your CMS create mobile-friendly and accessible websites?
  • Does the current CMS integrate well with the other tools you want to use?

Website Structure

Another major item to look at during your audit is the website structure. By structure, I mean how the website navigation and sections are arranged. It's very common for a website redesign to include changes to the structure that improve the experience for users.

You may have added a new program or service since your current site launched and there is no place for it in the main navigation. Or you could have a new audience you're catering to and there aren't good pathways through the site for them to find the content they want.

Take a careful look at how the current site is structured and see if there are any improvements that could be made. The best practice is to have 5-7 main navigation items, 1 or 2 main levels of navigation, and no more than 3 or 4 sub-levels to your navigation. If your current site has extremely long pages that may be a sign you need a sub-navigation to break up that content. Or, if you have lots of pages with little content you should consider combining some of them.

An example of a detailed sitemap.

An example of a detailed sitemap with a key.

Some things to consider about your current website's structure are:

  • Does your website navigation follow best practices?
  • Can all your audiences find the content they need easily?
  • Do you have new critical items that should be in the main navigation?
  • Are there pages that should be combined or pages that are way too long?

One of the first steps in a website redesign project is documenting the new site structure is something we call a "sitemap". This is a map of all your website pages organized in a hierarchy so it's simple to understand at a glance where content will live on the new website. Use the sitemap stage of your website redesign project to create the perfect new website structure to meet your goals. 

Keep in mind since this audit is to prepare for an upcoming redesign you will need to document the changes to your website structure very carefully. If sections of your site move this often means a different URL structure and existing links that live outside your site will 404 after the new site launches. Part of your structure change documentation should be signifying which of the older URLs will need 301 redirects to prevent broken links.

UX & Usability

The next major website audit area is UX (user experience) and usability. This area of your website audit is meant to discover any issues your visitors are having with the website design and determine what you should do differently in the new design. During this phase also take a close look at the website usability in terms of mobile compatibility and accessibility.

Ideally, the new website UX would be intuitive, on-brand, welcoming to your target audience, adhere to accessibility standards, and work great on mobile devices. Reviewing how your current site's UX is performing will help inform some of the important decisions to come.

Mapping Website Interaction

You will need analytics tools that go beyond what Google Analytics offers in order to evaluate UX. I already mentioned Hotjar, which can create both heatmaps and scroll maps. I also frequently use Crazyegg to create these reports if Hotjar's additional features aren't needed. For most clients, Crazyegg costs less over the long term, and during most of my redesign projects, we include it while the project is active at no cost.

A heatmap report will show you where users are clicking on your current webpage and a scroll map will show how they are scrolling through pages. Clicking and scrolling are the primary input methods for navigating websites and can offer some key insight into how your site's UX is working.

The tools also offer separate reports for desktop, tablet, and mobile. These distinct reports will help you understand how the website is used differently on various devices and provide great insight for the next website design.

When evaluating heatmap and scroll maps key things to review are:

  • Are users clicking on website UX elements that aren't meant to be clickable elements?
  • Are users not clicking on certain items that they should?
  • Are there redundant navigation elements and if so which are preferred?
  • Do users scroll down far enough to view your most critical content and CTAs?
  • Are certain CTA designs performing better than others?
  • Are users making it far enough down the page to understand your content?

A Heatmap Example

An example of a Crazyegg heatmap showing clicks.

Mobile and Accessibility Considerations

Mobile users may or may not be a large portion of your site visitors but because Google puts so much importance on mobile website performance it's a good idea to review how your site performs on mobile. Use Google's free tool Search Console to review mobile performance and also pay close attention to which areas of your site are used most on mobile devices.

It's also a good idea to review your website's accessibility with a tool like WAVE. If your current site has major accessibility issues you don't want to carry those over to the new website. Many times organizations heavily use brand colors which may not offer enough contrast to meet accessibility standards. 

Content & Functionality

Of course, a huge part of any website is content and functional areas like forms, slideshows, and other interactive components. The content and functionality areas of a website audit are usually the largest undertaking. The main reason to audit your content is to determine what content is performing well and should be mostly retained, and what content isn't working and should be dropped or significantly rewritten. Auditing functionality is also a critical step to improving your website. If your web forms aren't performing you may be asking for too much information or too little.  

Usually when we talk about "content effectiveness" we are referring to content that is meeting its goals. Every page on your site should have a metric or goal associated with it. Some content goals relate to SEO and your site's visibility online. Other goals for content might have to do with visitor engagement or conversions.

Reviewing Content Analytics

Your main tool for evaluating content effectiveness will be Google Analytics. Pay special attention to which pages are most popular, the top entrance and exit pages, and your page bounce rates. Keep in mind if a page is less popular than expected it could be users are having a hard time finding the page. Also, carefully consider time on-page. This is an important metric but it can vary wildly depending on the type of content. If people are spending little time on a very long page it may mean people aren't finding it useful content. If visitors spend a long time on a shorter page it may mean the content is confusing and less effective.

Hopefully, you have Google Analytics configured correctly and are tracking goals, custom events, and site search. Reviewing your site search data could reveal what content users are having a hard time finding. Seeing which pages people are on when converting or their path through the site can reveal a lot about which content is really driving action on your site.

When evaluating content with Google Analytics some things to consider are:

  • Which pages are most popular and unpopular?
  • Which pages do visitors enter the website on?
  • Which pages are the top exit pages?
  • Are users spending an appropriate amount of time on pages?
  • What content is driving people to complete goals or convert?
  • How is your site search being used?

Previously we discussed organizational considerations when starting your website audit. This also applies to content in terms of matching your current brand's voice and style. When auditing your current site's content make sure to evaluate if the content leverages your current brand voice and style, speaks to the current audience, and reflects the current mission of your organization.

SEO & Positioning

The last area I typically audit is SEO and positioning. This step is all about reviewing how people find your site in organic search and where you are positioned compared to other similar organizations. If you've never taken a deep dive into the keywords your current site ranks well for you may be surprised. During this step pay close attention to how people are finding your site online, and which keywords you would like to rank for but aren't. 

If some of the top keywords you think your key audiences are using aren't in the list of keywords you rank well for that's a sign you need to shift gears with your content and link building. You can use Google's free tool Search Console to see your search engine visibility and keywords, however, a tool like SEMRush is a better option in the long run. 

With SEMRush you can enter both your top keywords and top competing organizations to get extremely valuable reports about how your site is found in search engines. SEMRush also provides site auditing tools and helpful link-building workflows that can be very useful with a website redesign project. SEMRush offers a nonprofit discount so contact them before signing up.

Also, review your source of traffic in Google analytics. If less than 50% of your website traffic is from organic search that's a sign that there is a lot of room to improve your site's SEO performance. Typically 50-60% of your traffic should be coming from organic search but 60-70% is the goal usually.

A screen shot of Google analytics channel report.

An example of Google Analytics traffic source dashboard.

When evaluating SEO and positioning some things to consider are:

  • How much of your website traffic is coming from organic search?
  • What are the top keywords people find your website with?
  • What keywords would you like to rank high for but don't?
  • What keywords do similar organizations rank well for but you don't?
  • What is your CTR (click-through rate) for important keywords?

Building A Better Website

A thorough website audit is one of the best ways to prepare for a redesign. I hope these tips are helpful and give you some ideas for approaching your own website audit. Although some of the information your audit may uncover will be sobering, it's important to approach a website redesign with solid data. I'll leave you with one last quote, my favorite quote about preparing:

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - Abraham Lincoln 

 

 

Topics: Design and Technology

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