How to navigate a big internal site redesign project

By Marc McDougall

So you’ve been saddled up with a big redesign project…oh boy!

Having done hundreds of these kinds of projects, I wanted to put together a DIY guide for anyone that might be feeling anxious about completely overhauling their company’s website.

Hold on…why is this a big deal?

Your company’s website is it’s face.

Well…at least digitally.

But more importantly (and especially if you’re in the B2B SaaS space), your site probably plays an important role in landing new business.  A big-bang redesign can sometimes hurt the bottom line if it’s done improperly.

And even though the boss is the one that demanded that this happen, s/he won’t be the one taking the heat if things go south. 😉

So, save yourself the headache and just get it right the first time.

Here’s what you do…

Do you really need a flashy new website?

Sometimes, these projects pop up in the heat of the moment.

Maaaaybe the CMO got some negative feedback on the design and wants to redesign it because they feel hurt.

Maybe someone on the company board just saw a new competitor release a flashy new website and wants to remain competitive.

Either way, it’s important that you push back on the initial request.

You do this for 3 reasons:

  1. It shows that you’re serious about actually moving the needle for your company (and aren’t interested in vanity metrics).
  2. If the reason is somewhat vapid, your pushback might halt the project then and there.
  3. If you can uncover the real reason for the redesign, you’ll be able to make leadership muuuuch happier when you’re done.

Be tactful though!

Here’s how I would phrase it:

Hey Mary (the CEO), I hear you: our site does look a bit dated.  Can we grab a quick 30 to talk about what you want to change about it before I just go off guns blazing?

Sometimes, just the request to take 30 minutes to think things out will kill the project then and there…whew!

But hopefully after having a heart-to-heart with management you now know why they really want to redesign the site (hint: it will probably have something to do with losing customers).

How is your site performing today?

Alright, so you’ve got confirmation from management that they’re keen on redesigning the site to (hopefully) improve sales.  Awesome!

Well…how will you know if your project has improved sales if you don’t have data on how it’s performing today? 🤔

The first step here is to set up some sort of conversion tracking to get a baseline for how well your current site is converting new business.  Google Analytics has some pretty straight-forward ways of doing this, but you just need to know two things:

  1. How many people need to visit your site, such that
  2. You to land one new demo or trial signup (whichever you’re optimizing for).

This is your current MQL conversion rate.

Now that you know where you stand, you’ll know if your efforts have improved the status quo or not.

Let’s move on to actually doing some redesigning!

Finding a service provider

Many folks that find themselves in charge of a “big bang” redesign often don’t have an internal design team to take it from here.

Not to worry, the booming service economy has your back!

There’s a ton of places to find quality service providers…but not all sources are created equal!

Where to find great service providers

As always, you can’t beat a good referral.

If you know someone that recently re-built their site, get in touch with them and (if they were super satisfied) ask them for an introduction.

Alternatively, you could post a job request on one of the various job boards out there.

This will give you a ton of options to filter through, but places a huge selection burden on your team.

If nothing turns up, there’s always a few online networks you can use:

  • Toptal is a stellar network of freelance designers and agencies.
  • Codeable is another stellar network of service professionals, though they focus mostly on WordPress sites.
  • I’ve found a ton of talent subcontractors on the /r/forhire subreddit.
  • I’ve heard that Clarity First Consulting does site redesigns as well. 😉

The networks you want to avoid are those that compete primarily on cost.

Sure, you’ll pay less for the solution, but the deliverables usually end up costing the business much more in opportunity elsewhere.

If I were you, I’d steer clear of these guys:

  • Upwork.
  • Fiverr.

By now, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options…so how do you choose just one?

Well…I’m glad you asked…

The qualities of a great service provider

I like to compare the process of selecting a provider for this kind of work with the process of finding a specialist for any health problems.

The folks that are going to knock your project out the park generally have the following qualities:

  • They won’t rush to prescribe solutions, and will recommend starting with some sort of (usually paid) diagnostics phase first.
  • They will focus intently on the business outcome you want to achieve (as opposed to the deliverables you want).
  • They’ll be interested in sticking around long-term to make sure things go smoothly post-launch.
  • They are focused on your specific niche.
  • They have a track record of results from past clients to showcase.
  • You may have already heard of them “through the grape vine”.
  • You will feel like they are actually listening to you.
  • They won’t be pushy in the initial sales call, and give you plenty of space to think about your options.

It’s rare that any single provider will tick all of these boxes, but this list should point you in the right direction.

In the end, trust your gut — it’s got 100,000,000 years on you. 😉

Sometimes it’s just better to get someone else to help.

Often, external help can see things that you’re blind to internally. They don’t have all the context you have, which makes it easy for them to craft messaging that resonates with the general public.

It’s also much easier for them to be frank with leadership, because their jobs aren’t on the line.

Dealing with multiple stakeholders

Alright, so you’ve got a provider on-board and you’re ready to start.

Now comes the hard part: getting everyone in your company on-board with the direction of the project.

This one’s a reeeeal doozy, so let me break it down a bit…

Accountability, autonomy and ownership

You absolutely must have a conversation about who is ultimately going to be held accountable for the results of this project.

This person needs to have autonomy, and (more importantly) the final say on all conflicts.  Period.

If you don’t define a single person to make the call, you’ll end up in “stakeholder purgatory”, and you reeeeally don’t want to do there.

Stakeholder Purgatory (n.) :-

Where well-intentioned redesign projects go to die a slow, painful death. 🙃

What’s worse, is that if you don’t choose someone to take ownership of the project, someone will be chosen to take the fall when things goes south.

…and it won’t be anyone in the C-Suite, that’s for sure.

Remember: you clarified business outcomes up-front

Remember at the very start of this article we agreed to push back on the initial request for the redesign?

That was so you could get to the root of what actually needs to be done.

Once you have this, you need to run it by everyone that could potentially torpedo your project and get them on-board with it.  Get them to agree with the business outcome you want to achieve with the project.

If they do, you have yourself a “get out of jail free” card if things get froggy. 🐸

As long as your service provider is on-board with the business outcome too, you can always come retort to critical feedback with:

Hey Jack (your CMO), our goal for this project is to do X, Y, and Z.  We talked about this a while back.  Do you not think this direction will achieve X, Y, or Z?

Then, if they have reasonable objections, you can talk about them!

The problems pop up when the objections are emotional and based on opinion.

If you don’t have clearly-defined outcomes before emotional objections pop up, you’ll neeeeevvver get them.

Stats, stats, stats!

Sometimes this doesn’t work, and you’ll need to get them back onboard.

When people get emotional, it’s quite useful to show them impartial data and let them come to their own conclusions.

Your service provider may have stats of their own to justify their design decisions, so you might want to use them if you can.

Send over statistics and case studies that show how your chosen provider’s process has worked in the past to try and soothe the dissenters.

Remember the customer

In the end, try not to get too wrapped up internally.

Remember: your business exists to solve problems for your customers.

So, when people disagree about design direction internally, look externally to see what your customers want.

Here’s some suggestions:

  • Get them on the phone, and talk to them about how they see your current site.
  • Show them some mockups and ask them questions about them.
  • Run a simple poll to your newsletter asking people to select “a” (the current homepage design) or “b” (the new homepage).

Of course, this will take a bit of time, and you’ll have to dip into the “trust account” you have with your customers if you email them too much.

That’s why this tactic often used as the last resort, because it’s very time-consuming to do.

But…it’s also hard to disagree with the results.

It’s the tactical nuke. 🚀

Please, please, PLEASE…don’t forget about your customers!!

Try to transition smoothly

The last—albeit critical—part of a successful redesign project, is launching the new site without everyone flaming your brand for “such a terrible new site”.

I’m sure you’ve seen what happens whenever Facebook/Twitter/Instagram launches a new redesign?


No matter how hard you try, there was always be some sort of resistance to change: it’s simply human nature.

But…there’s a couple things you can do to smooth things over:

  • Directly involve you customers in the redesign by asking them for feedback throughout.
  • Seed the new change to your mailing list a few months beforehand.
  • Update your social media collateral (logos, profile photos, and banners) first, so people will be expecting it.

You’ve got this.

Managing a “big bang” redesign is not an easy task.

In fact, depending on the size of your organization, it can be herculean.

So, try your best to stick to the principles I’ve shared here, and you’ll make it through with as few bruises as possible.

Just know, there will be bruises…and that’s just par for the course.

Good luck out there, friend!