Crafting success: The art of website redesign

In my first year as a Hodger, I lived and breathed virginiaspirits.org. In fact, my very first project was to conduct a full website audit and make a plan to redesign the site, which we inherited from the Virginia Distillers Association after The Hodges Partnership was awarded the Virginia Spirits Board Marketing Office (VSBMO) contract in March 2023. 

In just 12 months, the website redesign has already yielded strong results, with a 31.77% surge in web traffic and an 11% increase in engagement rate. 

Here’s what I learned along the way. 

Data and research painted a clear picture 

At the start of our contact, the VSBMO team devoted a lot of time to discovery and research. We met with distillers, conducted a brand awareness study and gathered valuable insights at Virginia Spirits consumer events. 

We quickly learned that people, even Virginians, know very little about Virginia’s thriving spirits industry. 

That, plus guidance from the website audit and benchmark performance metrics, made it clear that there were many opportunities to make virginiaspirits.org a trusted, comprehensive resource for exploring Virginia’s craft distilleries. 

Based on these findings, I set out to build the following functionality in year one:  

  • Create an events calendar: Centralize distillery events happening across the state.  
  • Refresh distillery profiles: Build a profile design that offers a glimpse into each distillery, with key information like hours and offerings, an about section and links to their website and online store. 
  • Build a backend distillery login: Give distillers an easy way to edit their profiles and list events on the events calendar. 
  • Improve functionality of the Virginia Spirits Trail: Enable advanced filtering (by region, spirit type, experience and how to shop spirits) and promote distillery visitation with an itinerary feature. 
  • Redesign the home page: Create an interactive homepage design that encourages users to learn more about Virginia Spirits and plan their next adventure to a Virginia distillery. 

Redesigning a website is a marathon, not a sprint 

There will always be more work to do on virginiaspirits.org, as is the case with any website. There are more events to add, landing pages to build, distillery information to update, SEO strategies to implement and more. The endless opportunities of website design can be overwhelming, but using a systematic approach will help pave the way.  

That said, I chose to tackle the redesign in small, approachable phases. This strategy made the process manageable for me and our web developer partner, and it protected our existing SEO optimization, as website redesigns notoriously negatively impact SEO. 

Here are a few important considerations that helped guide my approach to the redesign: 

  • Approach website redesign with growth and scalability in mind: Select a content management system (CMS) that can handle growth and expanded content. We migrated to WordPress after we inherited the site.  
  • Think long term: Website redesigns are a huge investment and require a lot of resources. Focus on creating a website that can last – one that makes a great first impression and keeps users engaged. We implemented flexible content fields in our CMS so that we can easily update the site for years to come. 
  • Prioritize technical errors first: Strong functionality will always trump a flashy, aesthetic design. Issues like slow page load speed, broken links and poor mobile optimization will harm SEO rankings and jeopardize its overall authority. This is why phase one of our redesign solely focused on addressing technical errors. 
  • Set aside regular, dedicated time to analyze your site’s performance: A good website is never finished. Regularly monitor traffic, engagement rates and conversion rates to ensure you get the most out of your website. Google Analytics will be your best friend, and it will help you understand how your audience engages with the website and where the site could use improvement. For example, our website users engage the most with our distillery profiles. So, in the next year, I will work alongside distilleries to expand and regularly update the content listed on their profiles. 

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