Take an Iterative Approach to Hospital Website Redesign

Website ProcessWhenever I talk to an organization about their impending redesign, I like to ask why they’re redesigning. I expect to hear comments like: “Our organization created new priorities,” or “We’re focusing on digital communications in new ways.”

But that’s not usually the answer I receive. I typically hear comments like: “I’m completely embarrassed by what we have today. I don’t want put the URL in our marketing campaigns, because I don’t want people to see our site.”

And when I ask more questions, I hear about how the site is behind the times, how it doesn’t represent the organization’s brand, or worse, how it’s factually inaccurate or hard for site visitors to navigate.

How do our websites get to the state where it’s better to blow them up and start with a clean slate?

An effective website is an important investment for healthcare organizations. We need to find a new approach to redesigning hospital websites — one that doesn’t put us in the same position a few short years from now.

The trouble with “big bang” redesign philosophy

Website overhauls typically happen every 3-5 years. The Web team takes 6-12 months to pull the existing site apart, assess what’s there and build a new site using the few items worth salvaging.

A major website redesign involves rethinking your site in a number of ways:

  • Site look and feel (visual design)
  • Information architecture (IA)
  • Navigation
  • Content
  • Technology and infrastructure
  • Functionality

Often the dependencies between these pieces make the case for tackling them all at once. For example, an updated IA requires you to frame content in a different way.  Likewise, the amount of manual manipulation that’s required when changing technology platforms makes it seem logical to rethink everything else.

The challenge with the big bang philosophy begins with the expectations set by the process. Website redesigns are big projects involving several people and sometimes more than a year of effort. When the site goes live, the entire team is relieved to have finally made it to the finish line. Thankful to be done, the team sets the new site aside and returns to the other work they’ve neglected during the project.

Launch is just the beginning!

This is where a change in mindset needs to happen. A site launch isn’t an ending. It’s a beginning (or, at least, it should be)!

If you don’t plan for ongoing work on the site, your efforts largely stagnate after go live. Sure, you may maintain the site’s content, but the site itself will likely go on as is for years.

The problem is the Internet doesn’t stand still. Even 20 years in, the Web continues to change and evolve at a ferocious pace. The sites used by your consumers evolve daily and new tools emerge. Consumer expectations change as well.

To make the problem worse, websites are even more neglected during the redesign process. Content updates, often the only part of the site that was receiving attention, are intentionally slowed or halted in “content freezes” to avoid the need to maintain new pages in two places.

Finally, circumstances often change during the months it takes to redesign the site. By the time the updated site goes live, brands have been updated, competitors have made moves, services have come and gone, and organizational leaders and Web team members have changed. It’s hard to hit a moving target, and it’s easy for your efforts to get derailed. Long timelines are the enemy here.

Iterative redesign can be a better path

What if we approached redesigns in shorter cycles, each of which focus on only a small part of the total redesign? This strategy evens out the effort of the site redesign and makes it more competitive over the long term.

Shortening the timeframe mitigates a number of potential issues. Changes mid-project, whether from staff, budget, or organization strategy, are less likely. And you benefit from the changes more quickly. This concept of time to value is often lost in healthcare, but the ability to see real benefit from investments sooner rather than later is always a good thing.

More frequent cycles also expose negative outcomes more quickly, allowing you to learn from mistakes. Let’s say, for example, you rewrite your service line content in a new way. You could spend months covering all of your major services and then sharing that content with the world, or you could deploy the new content assets as they are completed.  Deploying as you go gets you value throughout the project if the new approach is perfect. If the approach requires some adjustment, as is often the case, you can make that change and avoid mountains of rework.

Frequent iterations also gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate priorities more frequently. Left in a vacuum, many of us overthink and over develop our pet projects. The value from investing in a new site feature or new content reaches a point of diminishing returns. Short cycles allow you to revisit the next piece of development to determine if it is really more important than moving on to the next priority on the list.

If change is good, constant change is great!

Iterative redesign produces a consistently more effective digital presence for your organization over time. In most situations, you’ll create a better site when you constantly redesign it.

To learn more about the iterative redesign approach and how it works in practice, watch our webinar, Web Development: Change is the only Constant.

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Design, Marketing, Value by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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