Cary, North Carolina-based IT company Railinc approached DesignHammer in 2019 for strategic consulting ahead of the redesign project they had planned for their aging corporate website. Railinc’s communications team was aware that their existing website provided a large amount of valuable content, but also knew that this content was hard for visitors to locate; particularly due to the site’s confusing information architecture. The sales team did not view the Railinc website as a business development tool due to it only generating a handful of leads per month, and the marketing team had no way of knowing what content was actually being accessed by their target audiences and existing customers.
Rather than go on “gut instinct” or attempt to update their ineffective website themselves, Railinc sought out DesignHammer to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the current website, reporting on quantitative and qualitative information, metrics, audience behavior, and other data in order to formulate recommendations for the new website.
Railinc is a for-profit subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) that delivers both data as a service (DaaS) and software as a service (SaaS), offering a compelling suite of products, as well as valuable information resources to employees in the freight rail space. The Railinc website attracts two different types of customers: Industry users (comprised of Class I Railroads and other authorized organizations) and Commercial users (all other organizations seeking to leverage Railinc’s unique tools and data).
Part of Railinc's challenge lay in the fact that their website needed to reach several distinct audiences, each seeking different information from Railinc’s 40+ products and services. Due to a lack of analytics configuration to capture relevant user behavior; Railinc had little to no visibility into which site content was being accessed by their target audience and existing customers.
A look into the site's Google Analytics history quickly revealed a large amount of “bot” traffic to the site due to filters that had been configured incorrectly in the past. With an audience bifurcation between mainly industry and commercial visitors, Railinc found it difficult to publish site content that resonated with all user groups. Beyond serving existing Railinc users and commercial product business development, attracting top talent is critical for Railinc’s continued success. This meant that the website also needed to better communicate with potential employees who had less experience in the rail industry.
Railinc’s attempts to use the same language to reach all audience segments resulted in suboptimal communication of not only their commercial product value proposition(s); but also of the existence of their website's numerous valuable industry resources. The online content marketing strategy for Railinc's product line resulted in very few qualified commercial leads per month, suggesting the existing website was not an adequate resource for business development either.
Consulting began with DesignHammer and Railinc first identifying Railinc’s 5 strategic priorities.
- Continuously improve and invest in Railinc’s people, processes and technology.
- Develop a deep understanding of industry, market and customer needs.
- Identify opportunities to provide high value solutions by working closely with customers to apply Railinc capabilities to big, multi-year industry challenges.
- Continue growth in sustainable commercial revenue by focusing on the markets for Railinc’s capabilities.
- Leverage versatile technologies and centralized data management solutions to develop new capabilities, maximize flexibility and lower costs.
Once Railinc’s priorities had been identified, DesignHammer divided the consulting project into 10 separate project components, which are outlined below.
As previously mentioned, DesignHammer collaborated with Railinc to identify a clear strategic direction for Railinc to guide future website projects and ensure the final product solved relevant business problems. During this stage DesignHammer:
- Reviewed Railinc’s organizational goals and strategic priorities to define goals that could be affected by the website.
- Identified organizational obstacles that the website redesign effort could work to address.
- Collaborated with Railinc to define specific metrics of success for the redesigned website.
- Identified discreet audiences and tasks
Audience and Task Identification
During this stage, DesignHammer identified four high-level target Railinc audiences and defined nine personas to serve as an example for each type of website visitor and to predict their behavioral patterns. Each persona included their expected website interactions and specifically targeted website conversions.
DesignHammer conducted a user survey to gain valuable insight into what information representative site users had found, expected to find, or hoped to find on the Railinc website. User surveys were conducted for three audience groupings and each survey used conditional logic to target specific questions to appropriate sub-groups. Some specific questions the survey attempted to answer included:
- Is the current content and organization effective for specific audiences?
- What potential functionality or new content should Railinc focus on to better serve the needs of specific audiences?
- How could the website better support Railinc business development?
An extensive competitive analysis was completed to compare and contrast the Railinc website with other industry websites regarding innovation, messaging, and best practices. The sites were reviewed for ideas that could be incorporated into the new Railinc web presence. Given Railinc’s unique position in the industry, there was no fully analogous competitor, so a selection of five competitors were identified to compare Railinc with the relevant “best in breed” competitors. Each competitor was analyzed through the following lenses for comparison:
- Products & Services
- Documentation & Resources
- Corporate Profile
- News, Blog, & Press Releases
DesignHammer inventoried all existing content to determine what content would be carried over to the new website as-is, what would be edited, and what would have to be removed. The content inventory was also instrumental in determining recommended content types, taxonomies, and metadata for content migration to the new website.
An online card sorting activity was also conducted with volunteer participants to provide guidance on future website structure, homepage organization, and verbiage for categories and navigation. In this stage, two separate open card sorting activities were initiated for two distinct audiences to identify patterns in user organization of existing content for each audience.
To better visualize a future redesign, DesignHammer created a mind-map to outline the proposed information architecture of the new website.
Existing data on Google Analytics was reviewed to provide insight into how users are interacting with the site. A Google Data Studio dashboard was drafted to highlight popular content, industry traffic behavioral patterns, form submissions, etc. Strategic recommendations were made based upon the analyzed data.
DesignHammer analyzed ten competitors to assess their current SEO performance in comparison to Railinc's Search Engine Results Page (SERP) performance for relevant search keywords. The ten top-performing pages for each competitor were also analyzed with regards to the search terms most relevant to Railinc. DesignHammer identified twenty potentially relevant keywords for Railinc to include in current or future site content in order to boost SEO performance on the new website.
Strategic Website Plan
DesignHammer drafted a strategic website plan compiling the findings of each component of the website assessment project and delivering a high-level series of data-driven recommendations for the upcoming Railinc website redesign.
After close collaboration with the Railinc team, DesignHammer recommended that Railinc create two separate websites to effectively reach the distinct industry and commercial audiences without diluting the message to either audience. This approach would allow for Railinc to target the specific messaging required to successfully deliver the value proposition to each audience. DesignHammer also recommended specific website content based upon user input and strategic direction rather than “what was on the old website.” As card sorting data revealed the confusing nature of the information architecture on the existing site, DesignHammer proposed a simplified architecture structure to make content more quickly discoverable and intuitive on the new website. Finally, quantifiable success metrics were identified in order to measure the success of the two new websites in comparison to the ineffective existing website.