How to successfully manage a WordPress site design project

By Josh Johnson | September 2017

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So you recently got some budget put together for a WordPress website redesign—awesome work. It’s an exciting thing for anyone to get a new website, but especially a powerful and customizable CMS like WordPress. But let’s face it: projects like this aren’t cheap, and therefore need to be managed successfully. Any firm out there will want to ensure that a new site gets you the results you’re looking for. Whether you’re working with ArcStone on the project, another firm, or running the show yourself in-house, here are a few tips to help keep things on track.

Define The Team

Redesigning a website by committee is never a good idea. We realize that eventually the internal team will all need to have buy-in to the product you build, but at the early stages it’s best to keep the circle as small as possible.

Set clearly-defined roles on your team that clarify who is capable and responsible for which signoff or approval, and stick to it. If you’re leading a project like this and reporting back to a higher-up for their rubber stamp, be thoughtful about involving that person at just the right time. Too soon, and they could bog down the process. Too late, and a key stakeholder could feel left out and potentially say what you’ve worked up doesn’t meet goals.

Know Your Audience

With a solid team in place, one of the first things any firm should ask you ahead of time is, “Who are you trying to reach with this website?” Work with your internal team to have solid answers to this question. If you don’t know your goals with this site, how will you be able to measure success?

A clear understanding of different audience groups will help shape the purpose of each page of the site and each blog post you write, allowing you to craft targeted calls to action and get your audience to complete goals.

If you’re uncertain of this first defining step, consider partnering with a professional to help you develop audience personas. These fictional representations of your audience segments can be created using data from Google Analytics and additional research. Having a full picture of your potential users’ online habits, desires and needs will lead to a more useful site.

Start Slow—Content Mapping

Got a picture of your audience? Good. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to tackle the next steps, which are a little unglamorous, but still important. Visually mapping out all content on your existing site will give you a great starting point. This allows you to look at a couple of key things at once:

1) Is the navigation user-friendly? Can users easily access the deepest portions of your site or do they often find themselves at a dead end and unsure how to move along to other content that might interest them?

And 2) Of all current site content, ask “is this page targeting one of my audiences?” If not, consider either re-purposing that content, re-writing it or cutting it entirely if it’s outdated or no longer relevant to your goals.

Wireframes

With a newly structured sitemap and a rough idea of what content will live on each page, you can begin blocking out the layout of key pages. Wireframing is a super important step that allows your design partner to block out hierarchy, without stakeholders bogging down the designer with questions like “I don’t like that color” or “can we use a different picture?” These topics are important, but should come after the essential decisions of content hierarchy and approximate layout.

Think of it as trying to get the proper furniture in the room. Once you decide what size everything needs to be and where, then you can start picking fabric swatches and applying some style to it all.

Wireframing is also a great step to begin defining where you’d like to place dynamic content. WordPress offers tons of great options for this, like dropping the latest blog posts onto a landing page promoting a related offer. 

Design Mockups

With all of the essential structure elements defined and hierarchy determined, the more exciting steps can begin! Full-color mockups allow the wireframes to come to life and will eventually look exactly like the finished site, albeit a static version of it. Great designers will use this phase to create interesting interactive elements and bring the site to life using your brand standards.

This is also a great phase of the project for your internal team to begin questioning the “why?” regarding your decisions. Designers make certain choices for a reason, always with the goal in mind of meeting your audience where they’re at or solving a problem for a user. While it’s important for both teams to be in agreement at the end of design, feedback like “I don’t like that color” may not be relevant to the audience of your site.

When working with subjective things like color and image selections, always do your best to think why you have a particular opinion, and again, tie it to your audience’s experience and needs. This is not to say trust your creative blindly, but keeping this back and forth rooted in meaning beyond just personal preferences is key here.

At the end of the day, rely on the person you designated as the final decision maker to make the call and say “this is the way it needs to be."

Production & Content

With approved mockups, the site can be handed to a programmer to convert the designs into a fully-functional website. During this phase, we highly recommend content production get kicked into high gear.

Using the content map you’ve worked up from earlier steps, create a document for each site page. You will need in a collaborative space to finalize copy and image selection like Google Docs. This allows for simple editing, multiple users working together in real-time and a record of the edits over time. Collaboration will greatly enhance productivity during this phase, which is always needed here as content can take the longest. 

Read about how to manage a clear cut content strategy (with free tools) here.

For larger sites with huge numbers of pages and a lot of copy, consider third-party solutions like Gather Content or the BrandpointHUB to take collaboration to the next level. These platforms allow enhanced systems for complicated approval structures, automated workflows and notification features and direct WordPress publishing options. This eliminates the need to copy / paste content over to the site once the programmer is ready. These solutions aren’t for everyone due to the costs associated, but free trials can at least give you a head start and shave off some cost, while letting you verify that the tool will work for your team.

Go-Live & Beyond

With content entry all wrapped up, hopefully your firm partner has agreed to complete QA testing. This will ensure that the new site renders properly across browsers, operating systems and screen sizes. With such a wide range of device sizes out there, and fiercely loyal Mac vs. PC / iPhone vs. Android die-hards, broad QA testing is vital to ensure a site goes live and looks great no matter who’s device is loading it.


Don't waste precious time and money getting lost in the process of designing your site. Solidify your plan before diving in. Better yet, contact the ArcStonians so you can take advantage of our 20 years of web design experience. 

Topics: Web Design, WordPress, Web Development, Digital

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