Leadership Talks: Gene and Rick talk about the website redesign
Last week I sat down with Rick Bjarnason the CEO and Gene Bernier the CTO at Cheeky Monkey Media. We recently completed a website redesign on Drupal 8 — the newest version of Drupal, released last November. I wanted to pick their brains about: (1.) their decision to undertake such a large and complex project on a brand new platform, (2.) the process, (3.) their advice for others about to commit to a similar project. After all, they’re the experts.
Here’s a transcript of what they had to say: (Consider yourselves warned, they’re the cheekiest of the bunch.)
Q. What are your roles at Cheeky Monkey Media?
Rick: I make sure everyone is doing their job.
Gene: I make sure the production floor is doing their job.
Q. How would you describe the company?
Rick: We’re predominantly a web development shop. Being technology focused, we deal with anything in the media realm.
Gene: We’re sassy and fun.
Q. What’s the role of our website in the big business picture?
Gene: The website is an inbound generating magnet, more-or-less. We want to make sure we present ourselves in the best way possible. We’re trying to get out there and say, “hey, we can solve your problems with technology,” so we want to make sure that we’re solving our own problems with technology.
Rick: Usually, the website is people’s first touch point with the company so it has to represent our branding and who we are. But, at the same time, the website has a job to do. As Gene said, the website’s job is to get us inbound traffic.
Q. You recently instigated a website redesign for Cheeky Monkey Media’s main website. What led to this decision?
Rick: Evolution of the company for one. A lot can change in a couple of years. In the past two years, I think we’ve grown from eight or nine people to over twenty. We are definitely a different beast than we were two years ago. And also, back to the first point, the website had a job to do and it was no longer doing its job. All the analytics that we were running on it were proving that it needed to have make-over, shall we say.
Gene: I think that’s the nicest way of saying it.
Q. Other than analytics, was there any other signs that the website wasn’t doing its job anymore?
Gene: It wasn’t converting the way we expected. As well, like Rick was saying, when we put the old site up, we were transitioning out of being subcontractors into working with our own clients. At the time, we used the website as our portfolio piece. Now we’ve got actual portfolio pieces, and we needed a new way to brand those, so we could say “hey, look what we got.” Instead of just being kinda flashy.
Q. What’s your main metric, & what do you consider a successful conversion?
Rick: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s not so easy to say that it’s one metric, because we look at multiple metrics. Basically we look at the number of pages users engage with, the bounce rate, and the number of contact forms completed. So, there isn’t one metric. We use a multitude of metrics to figure out what’s going on. Then there is the search engine ranking pages. We want to see if we are ranking better on those than our competitors and if we’re getting more traffic than our competitors.
Q. Do you have any favourite metrics?
Gene: Contact forms being filled in.
Rick: I don’t like to use the word favourites when it comes to metrics, because it doesn’t really apply. I’m not in love with numbers. They are what they are. So, we use them as exactly that. They don’t lie.
Q. Once you determined that you needed a site redesign, how did you go about making it happen? Who in your team did you get involved?
Rick: I think it pretty much started with me pushing it through. Also, there’s another reason we wanted to do a site redesign, that we didn’t mention earlier. We wanted to embrace the new Drupal 8 early. That was one of the things that we focused on.
Our Creative Director Chris and our SEO Marketing Guru Steph were two of the first people to get involved in the high level planning. And then the first steps were to identify personas, which I know you [Spela] helped out with a lot.
Once you have the personas, you can clearly define a path to purchase: who are the people visiting your site, how are they going to use the content, and what end results do they want. Once we started defining all that type of stuff, then we get into site mapping, information architecture, and then, finally, we start thinking about throwing some lipstick on the pig, as we call it, and doing some design.
Gene: The team really kind of self-coordinated themselves. The big push was to get the website made in Drupal 8, so there was a lot of learning that had to be done. A lot of people had to be pushed outside their comfort zones to make that happen, which allowed them to get better at their jobs. And then launch time: organizing everybody and making sure we got everything checked off before we hit the button.
Q. What was the most challenging part of this process?
Rick: Timelines are always challenging. That was one from my seat. The timelines kept slipping. But, I think on the technical side, it was probably importing from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 that took the longest, since this was our first crack at it.
Gene: When you’re trying out bleeding [cutting] edge things, you get cut a lot. That was the experience we had using Drupal 8. A lot of things that were supposed to work just didn’t. We had to kind of stumble around and figure it out on our own. There wasn’t a lot of help and documentation at the time that we were doing the redesign. So, there was a lot of hard forced learning.
Rick: Another thing to add to that: we tend to be shoemaker’s children here, you know. Having a team dedicated to your own website when you’ve got client work waiting is always a pain to manage. I mean it really is. You’ve gotta bring in dollars and put the lights on; but, at the same time, you want to make time to work on your own properties.
Q. Do you think these two factors affected the sliding timelines?
Rick: Absolutely they were the number one factor for that.
Q. Are there any key takeaways that you have taken away from this, that you’d apply to other projects or the next time that we inevitably to do a website redesign?
Gene: I think our biggest takeaway is that we are now investing regularly into our site. Before, it was kind of in mini projects. So little things would get done here and there.
Now, we’re looking forward. Basically we are going to constantly invest in our own properties. We don’t want to be like the shoemaker’s children. These are tools that we’re building to make ourselves strong. We tell our clients to do that. We’re going to be doing that now too, without going, “ahhh, these hours aren’t going to billable hours.” These hours are going towards making us a better machine.
Q. What worked really well?
Rick: Slowing down in the beginning. I mean, even though we know better, we’re the same as everybody else. We want to jump right into the designs and seek tangibles. Slowing everyone down and really talking it out and clarifying what we want to accomplish is definitely the way to go.
Q. Why do you think some organizations are hesitant to start a such a big or complex projects?
Gene: It’s a lot of work to do. And if we’re talking from a client’s perspective, when we’re working with a new client, the people that are responsible for helping us get this site done are doing it off the side of their desk. The website redesign is just another responsibility that’s been added to their daily tasks. So, you’re asking people to invest a lot of time and money into this. This can be intimidating.
Also, at some point we’re going to end up much further ahead of the client, and kind of putting the pressure on them to get things done, when they don’t necessarily have the time or total direction from within their own company to do that.
The same thing happens even with us.
Rick: I would even take it one step further. I think people are worried they’re going to make a mistake. Technology changes so quickly, even in just a year. People aren’t always confident that they’ve made the right decision, that they’re going in the right direction because there are so many choices. I think that there is sometimes a paralyses by analyses, shall we say.
Q. Is that something that you think you can avoid? I know you and I talk a lot about iterations and not having to make things perfect. Is that just the nature of the beast in the web world?
Rick: Drupal proved this to us. There’s a million ways to accomplish the same goal. I think that you have to put technology second and put the goal (whatever it may be — it’s usually a business goal of some nature) first. The goal is the essential piece. Technology is just the way to get there.
Gene: Also, I think a lot of people forget what their goals are, or else these goals were not clearly stated to begin with. As a result, they’re just kind of running around hoping that they’re going to make something perfect. Get it out there, see how it’s doing. People skip that part. Or they’re afraid to do that part. If you’re not going to put it out there and test it, well than you’re just relying on your own assumptions, and they’re not always right.
Q. What were some of the risks you took, when you decided to go ahead and do a website redesign?
Rick: You know what. I think that’s a hard one for us to answer. We didn’t see a lot of risks, because we backed up and said what are our goals today compared to what they were two years ago. They’ve changed. So that meant we had to change our website. And that meant that we weren’t worried about going backwards at all. We’re just focused on going forward. New goals, new website.
Q. So, ultimately, not changing the website would have been a bigger risk than the potential risks of changing it?
Q. What advice do you have for other organizations who are thinking a website redesign might be a good solution? Or, alternatively, organizations who don’t know if a website redesign is the right decision for their main objectives.
Gene: Sometimes we get customers that come in, and we look at their website, and then right away, we’re like, “why are you spending all this money on redesigning.” You want to know what the main problem is. A lot of times people go, “I want something shiny.” That’s not going to get you a return on investment.
When you undertake a website redesign, you need to be really clear about what your pain points are. What’s impacting your business or your organization, and then their try to figure out how to solve that problem with technology before just going, here’s some technology, hope it solves something.
Rick: The bottom line is, a website is no longer enough. It used to be, build it and they will come. That doesn’t happen anymore. We have to know what we want to do. That involves a lot more strategic planning than there ever was before. Exactly like Gene said, once we know the plan, we can take technology and make it happen.
Q. Is there a risk of over-strategizing?
Rick: Yes. Yep.
Gene: There’s paralysis by analysis.
Rick: You have too many options, too many goals. That’s why it’s better to have an outside, a third party like us, come in and do the analysis. You have to determine who your target audience is and what you’re trying to do. When you try to cater to everybody, you never accomplish anything.
Q. And finally, our website is launched. Does this mean the project is done?
Rick: Oh god no.
Gene: No. It’s like we said earlier, it’s a constant investment, be it with our marketing team or our development team. There are always going to be things that we can test and improve on. And if we aren’t actively testing stuff and going, “OK, we tried this, let’s switch this up a little bit and see if we get an improvement,” then we’re failing ourselves. There will be a lot more hours invested in this.
Rick: There are a lot of different phases in a project like this. You have the planning phase, you have the design phase, and you have the development phase. We’ve just moved on to the marketing phase, which is probably three times the size of all the other ones. So, there is a lot of work still ahead of us.
Rick’s comments from the end of the interview:
We have to remember what we said and what we didn’t say. We didn’t talk at all about why we choose Drupal or Drupal 8 specifically, and that’s fine. As we pointed out before, it doesn’t matter. We probably could have chosen six, seven, probably a dozen CMSs that could have done this, built a website like what we did. We choose Drupal because we know Drupal the best. We wanted to play around with Drupal 8. It’s kind of where we’ve hung our hats these days. But, really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean it’s a better site because it’s on Drupal then if it was WordPress, or god forbid, Joomla. The whole point is that the CMS shouldn’t be the focus, because it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, they can all do a good job. We’re going to find the technology that works the best for your goal.
Interested in learning more about the web development and design process? Check out my interview with Creative Director Chris Arlidge, the creative mind behind the design and logo for the North American DrupalCon in New Orleans.
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