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A Savvy Marketer’s Guide to Surviving a Website Redesign

A higher ed institution’s website is one of its most critical tools, but schools must invest resources and time and give it thoughtful consideration to truly get the most out of it.

You know the old adage “fast, good, cheap: pick two”?

I’ve learned that for website redesigns, there’s a corollary.

The scale of your project must equal the amount of time, talent and treasure you can allot to it.

Basically, outputs have to equal inputs.

Seems pretty obvious, right?

Then why do so many of my colleagues, many of whom are incredibly creative and talented, have such a hard time with website relaunches?

It’s because we don’t make new websites every year the way we plan budgets, run campaigns and do all our other work. What’s more, small shops don’t have the luxury of staff solely focused on maintaining the site. They might have one person tasked with creating content for the whole college, running multiple social accounts and managing the website.

Developing deep expertise and staying current with trends and technology—who’s got time for that?

It’s no wonder then that most of us know our website but we don’t know our website.  

Case in point: I just wrapped up a website redesign project that went slow. Pretty much every kind of plague struck us at some point during the project: a shoestring budget, pandemic recovery, internal and external staffing changes, new and unexpected projects and priorities and near-zero momentum to keep us on track whenever we hit a roadblock.

So, what happened?

In hindsight, it’s obvious: We unknowingly went into this project woefully under-resourced and without a real plan. 

It was a dumpster fire, and I was the one who lit the match.

So, dear reader, in an effort to turn my pain into your gain, here’s an amateur website redesign checklist of things to consider before you start.


Websites are complex. And strangely, the websites that are simplest to use are often extremely complex on the back end. That’s because the builders put in the hard work of figuring it all out ahead of time, so the end user doesn’t have to. Intuitive nav? Thank the UX team. Engaging content? High-five the copywriter. Fast load time and no wonky formatting? Yay for the developer! 

Sites like that don’t just doesn’t happen. They require a lot of intentional effort by talented people. 

So, as you start, take time to research your current site. What do you want it to do? What works well that you can carry forward? What shortcomings absolutely need to be fixed? What are your non-negotiables? What are the nice-to-haves? 

Your next step is to quantify what you’ll need to tackle your list. The more realistic your numbers the better. Now is not the time for overly optimistic timelines, assuming that everything will go your way or that “you’ll just figure it out as you go.” You owe it to yourself to be honest about your strengths and your limitations. It will save you considerable heartache down the line.


Any successful project requires three inputs: time, talent and treasure. How much of each do you have? The proportions don’t matter. Compare them to your project. Do they match up?

If you’re blessed with a healthy budget or have rock stars on staff with time on their hands, lucky you! Partner with a top-tier firm and set the bar with your amazing research, design, architecture and content production. Do some blue-sky dreaming, be an innovator and take a few risks. Build the model site we all dream about. You go, you.

What? You’re not in the cashy camp? Ok, ask yourself these questions instead.

Tight budget? You will have to rely on available talent and staff time and bring more of the work in-house. Allocate your cash to outsource the parts of the project your team can’t handle. Take inventory of assets you can reasonably repurpose versus starting from scratch.

Light on in-house talent? No experienced developer or content creator on staff? Make doubly sure the vendor you select has the expertise you lack, or find an affordable freelancer or two to round out your skill set.

Short on time? Is your team buried under projects and barely able to keep their heads above water on a good day? Whatever you do, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can just absorb the work. Remember, the best sites require putting in the time so the visitor doesn’t have to. There’s no shortcut for good work.

A wise administrative assistant once told me, “Sure I can do that project. What will you take off my plate, so I have time to do it?” 

It was a bit shocking to hear, but her brutal honesty stuck with me. If every project is the most important, none of them are important.

If this sounds like you, then you will have to lean on (and pay for) a vendor to do the heavy lifting. Saddling yourself with work you can never get to is demoralizing for even the most talented, gung-ho team. Don’t do it.

Balance the Scales

If your web project still requires more than you can put into it, you’re left with two options: scale back or find more resources. It’s that simple.

This is the point when your work during the discovery and planning phase will be critical.

Take out the nice-to-haves. You don’t need fancy bells and whistles to have a quality site. Stick to the basics and commit to doing them really well. 

Still coming up short? Consider a refresh instead of a redesign. Keep what works and fix the worst offenders. A little love applied to the right spots can go a long way. It’s not an ideal solution, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Not comfortable swinging that heavy an axe? Consider a phased approach. Do what you can with the resources you have. Be sure to structure the project so that you can pick up where you left off when you’re in a place to do so. And if you plan it right, you should be able to springboard into phase two, since you’re building on a fresh, strong foundation and have a narrower scope.

Lastly, have you gone back to your budget? Can you move monies around? What about rethinking or reprioritizing competing projects? Did you consider making a request from your administrator? If you did your homework at the start, you’ll have what you need to make your case, so make it. Worst they can do is say no. At the very least, I bet your boss would rather know about the hurdles you’ll face before starting the project than to have to deal with them afterward.

As your college’s digital front door, your website is your number one marketing tool. Deciding when and how to update it requires a lot of time, energy and money. Redesigns don’t happen all the time for a reason: They’re huge undertakings. Even though redesigns are rarely fun, they still require you to bring your A-game. If you follow the steps above and are truly honest about balancing your resources with the project, they don’t have to be (too) painful.