If the only thing you want to do is change the visual look and feel of your site, and aren’t concerned with adding functionality, you will probably be able to keep the same content management system (CMS) when your site is redesigned. A redesign on the same CMS typically involves developing a new “skin” to fit your site, and integrating it with the CMS so that you can easily control individual elements or quickly change the content.
However, sometimes the requirements of a website redesign go beyond the scope of what your current CMS is capable of. For example, if you are on a hosted ecommerce platform, you may want to add graphical elements that their built-in skins don’t offer, or that can’t easily be coded into a theme via the available editor. Or perhaps you are doing everything manually, and want to use a CMS to better manage your site.
If you're running into a lot of roadblocks when you try to update your current site, your redesign will often be accompanied by a switch to a new CMS. This will mean that the entire site needs to build from scratch, not just the design, and that the staging server will contain a brand new website that eventually takes the place of your current one.
If you’re not sure whether or not you need a new CMS to accompany your redesign, here are a few of the most common reasons that website owners make this switch:
- Current CMS won’t support the desired redesign
- Current CMS has limitations that would or do require extensive custom development
- Current CMS is too expensive, too slow, or suffers from other problems
- Site owner wants to move from hosted platform to self-hosted
- There is no CMS used currently, making it difficult or time-consuming to implement changes
If you are happy with your CMS or didn’t identify with any of these bullet points, you can skip this section and go to chapter 7. On the other hand, if you found yourself nodding along with the list above, it may be time for you to consider a CMS switch along with your redesign. Read on to learn more about how the addition of a new CMS impacts the redesign process.
Selecting Your New CMS
Which CMS is the right choice for your website? Great question! Unfortunately, there are different answers for everyone. Here’s an overview of your options for selecting a new CMS.
A self-hosted CMS is one that you either purchase or download and install on a server you own or rent. Although potentially complicated and difficult to learn for beginners, self-hosted platforms are extremely flexible, and usually have many useful options and features. Popular choices for a self-hosted CMS include Magento, Drupal, Joomla, and Sitecore.
A hosted CMS is one that is provided by the same company that owns the server used for your website. Hosted content systems are most common for ecommerce platforms, and their simplicity allows new store owners to get up and running quickly. Some popular hosted platforms include Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, and 3dcart. The biggest downside to hosted CMS is that they are difficult to add on to, and modifying the site design is not always easy.
Although Wordpress rose to popularity as blogging software, it can now function as everything from a blog to an ecommerce store to a business website. Thanks to its massive library of themes and plugins, Wordpress is incredibly customizable, flexible, and easy to modify to meet your needs. The software is free, too, making it an economical choice for anyone minding their costs.
Before selecting a CMS, ensure your redesign will be compatible with it. If you are working with a web development company, they may recommend the CMS for you, or suggest at the beginning of the process which one you should switch to accommodate your needs.
Exporting Your Data
Once you’ve selected your CMS, you’ll need to make a backup of your existing website data. Unfortunately, it’s not usually very easy to switch from one CMS to another, especially for ecommerce websites: the most you can probably get from an export will be an Excel spreadsheet containing your information.
If you want to preserve existing user accounts, purchase history, report data, or any other information that’s not included in an export, you will need to retrieve it from your website’s database. This can be easier said than done, especially if you aren’t familiar with databases. You may want to consult a web development company for help with this process.
Make sure that you save everything you will want to reproduce on the new site, including any critical pages, images, or downloadable files. However, don’t worry if you forget something on the first round: your current site will be operational while you work on the new one, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to retrieve additional data.
Setting Up the Staging Server
Once you’ve completed your data export, you can set up your staging (test) server with this information. You don’t necessarily need to import everything, but at least enough so that you can test the crucial components of your design—for example, product and category pages, homepage copy, on-page content, and so on.
The Design Process
Once the server is ready and your CMS has some data imported, the design process will begin. As we’ve already mentioned, the amount of time this process takes will vary based on the number of pages, site functionality, and the amount of custom development needed to support the new layout or graphics.
Over the course of the design process, you may be working in tandem with the designer to continue adding data, pages, or products so that the site will be ready to launch very soon after the design is finished.
Completing the Website
Once the design is finished, you will likely go through a few rounds of final changes. After you are happy with the design, it will be signed off on, and you will simply need to finish setting up your pages and content to have a complete website!
Testing will also take place at this stage, and may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Test your new website thoroughly, and involve as many people as possible to ensure that many browsers, devices, and settings are tested in conjunction with your site.
One more important step that will need to be taken upon redesign completion is the creation of redirects. If any of your page URLs are changing, you should redirect the old ones to the new ones so that users don’t see 404 pages if they find an old link in search. You can find helpful information on creating 301 redirects in your .htaccess file on this Google Help page.
Learning Your New CMS
Finally, on or around the day of launch, you should have everyone involved with the maintenance of the new website spend some time learning the CMS. This can take place in a formalized meeting or learning session, or you can allow everyone to learn at their own pace. Like testing, this is important because it will help you identify any potential issues in advance of your launch.
At this point in the process, your new website will be built, designed, tested, and ready to launch. In our next chapter, we’ll discuss what happens on launch day, and how to make the most out of the unveiling of your site redesign.