You and your customers are too busy for your business website to be too busy.
Between fast moving social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and emerging mobile smartphones and tablets, it has never been more critical to keep it simple online. The good news: A flock of new third-party tools make redesigning your site for speed and simplicity easier than ever.
Here are five basic steps to a clean, simple and stress-free website redesign.
1. Focus on your website's data to refine your features. Thoroughly review the data showing how people use your current site. The trick to keeping it simple is figuring out which elements you absolutely need.
What to use: Basic tools such as website traffic logs and free services such as Yahoo Web Analytics or Google Analytics offer insights into your site's performance. But sophisticated data analysis tools can also prove helpful. La Mirada, Calif.-based CrazyEgg (starts at $9 per month) creates a visual heat map showing the most frequently clicked parts of your site. Such sites as FiveSecondTest and UserTesting.com can provide qualitative analysis from actual users on what is working and not working with your site. Fees start at $20 a month and $39 per tester.
The goal: Create a list of must-have functions based on your user data.
2. Break out what your site should and shouldn't do. With the right data in hand, businesses should be able eliminate many unused features. After that, rank the remaining functions by their importance to accomplishing your goals and begin the process of laying out pages.
What to use: Web-based brainstorming and outlining tools can create rough page designs that match your new plan. San Francisco-based WorkFlowy (free for up to 500 stored ideas) and Germany's MindMeister (starts at $4.99 per month) are tools to plan content flow, feature sets and basic layouts.
The goal: Create a set of page layouts that are as exact as possible and include the most important functions. Don't worry if it's nothing more at this point than basic contact information, links to social networks and a simple brand statement.
3. Match the right website solution to your needs. Most essential business content can usually fit in a small amount of website space. Therefore, a deep pool of hosted website services are now possible. These hosted services require no coding experience and manage everything from security to upgrades, and creating mobile-friendly features that work well on tablets and other devices.
For more features, such as online forms or product photo galleries, more sophisticated web options are necessary. Manhattan-based Squarespace (starts at $8 per month), London-based Moonfruit (starts at $6 per month), and Estonia-based Edicy (starts at about $7.50 per month) offer a balance of design features, ease of use and performance.
The goal: Choose as lean a hosting solution as possible, and be sure to develop your site with a mobile phone or tablet handy to confirm that it works as it should on those devices. It's important that your site display correctly and effectively to the growing number of mobile internet users.
4. Emphasize social media in your design. Carefully consider placement of social media content on your site. Usually, it's front and center and features your most dynamic content, including blog posts, updates and video.
What to use: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks have sparked a cottage industry in third-party apps that integrate their tools into your site and mobile devices. Explore ways to share you company content on social media, and look for features that promote follows on Twitter and likes on Facebook.
The goal: Outsource as much of the site experience as possible to social media and mobile devices, while still following your design plan.
5. Once it's up and running, rigorously test your new site. Decide early on how to measure your site's success -- or failure. This will vary, but useful metrics include email list sign-ups, additional followers and conversions into phone calls or chat sessions.
What to use: There's an array of third-party tools to optimize the performance of the different elements of your design. Optimizely (starts at $17 per month), Google Content Experiments (free within Google Analytics package), Visual Website Optimizer ($49 per month), SproutSocial (starts at $39) and Radian6 by Salesforce (free to start for Salesforce users, plans start at $5 per users per month) mix social media into the data analysis. Also worth a look are customer feedback services such as Hively (basic plans are free, paid service starts at $15 per month), which prompt visitors to answer survey questions about their experience using your website.
The goal: Have a firm plan to track your site performance and commit the resources needed to manage and update your new design. The web is a never-ending work in progress -- and so is your new site.