Things to think about before redesigning your website

Are you thinking about redesigning your website?

Redesigning a website can be an expensive endeavour and can be disastrous if not done for the right reasons, or with the proper research. A great example of that would be some of the updates that Facebook has made in the past. While many of their redesigns had some specific reasons and objectives, they failed to identify existing issues, and addressed non-existing problems, alienating a large portion of their users.
Of course any website redesign may anger some existing users, as people in general are resistant to change. This is why it is vital that any redesign you do is properly planned, researched, and executed for the right reasons. There are many “x fatal website redesign mistakes” articles out there, and some of them brush on an important step or two, but then they start getting on to minor details that have little or no impact on the success of a redesign. So before you start your redesign, here are some questions to ask yourself.

How extensive is the website redesign?

Are you simply updating the visuals of the site, or are you going all the way and updating the content, structure, and visuals? If it’s a simple update to the visuals, the content, or just modifying a few small sections then most of this probably won’t apply, however if you are doing an extensive update to the site, then it is important to plan it thoroughly.
The scope of the website redesign should take into account what your priorities are, what issues need to be addressed and what your budget is (keeping in mind the return on investment). If possible, you might want to plan the redesign in phases. While this may be a bit more costly in the long run, it can help if your budget doesn’t allow you to do everything at once. In terms of phases we would recommend focusing on content first, unless the design causes accessibility issues (ex. Flash sites).

Why are you redesigning your website?

There are many reasons why you might be redesigning your website, and here are just a few

  • to reflect a changed or updated company image
  • to showcase new products and or services
  • the current site is not effective, not serving your needs
  • to better address accessibility issues
  • to implement a new technical solution
  • to address changes on a competitor’s site
  • to better support a particular user/demographic
  • to address a shift in marketing strategy
  • to address a change in goals

Redesigning a website can get expensive, so whatever your particular reason might be it is important that there is a sound business reason behind the decision, and not simply “for the fun”, or to be up to date with the latest trends and styles (though if your site really does look dated, it may be a valid reason). Is your current website costing you business? Either because a particular market segment can’t access it (mobile for example) or because your competitors have a better website? Can your website generate more business? Perhaps by increasing traffic, or increasing the conversion rate?
Whatever reasons you may have or decisions you may come to, you always need to look at what you will get from the website. We’ve turned down customers, simply because they would never see a return on their investment. You need to be able to calculate how much each visitor to your website is worth, do a bit of math as well as a few projections based on what the old site was getting (again the importance of having clear metrics before you start), and figure out how long your website redesign will take to pay itself off.

What were some issues with the previous site?

Sometimes an issue with your existing site might be the reason for a redesign. If it isn’t though, this makes the best time to address any issues your old website might have had. One thing you need to make sure of though is that you are addressing real issues, and not just perceived issues. Make sure that you have actual evidence of a problem, cold hard numbers from an analytics package or customer satisfaction surveys are good examples of this. While reviewing some of this information, you may find new issues that you had never thought of before. During a recent website redesign consultation we discovered that the client’s existing site failed to address a specific market segment that accounted for more than half their traffic. When we brought it up, they explained that they didn’t have any interest from that segment. When we showed them the numbers, the decision was made to address that market segment in the redesign.

What are the goals you hope to achieve with the website redesign?

When redesigning your website, setting clear and measurable goals will help you determine if the redesign was a success or not. Avoid subjective goals such as “I want it to look better” as everyone has a different sense of aesthetics. Goals that can be measured ( I want the conversion rate to be 10% higher), or are a yes or no (ex. I want the site to be responsive) are better as there is no arguing with the facts. One thing that is important before starting with any site redesign, is to have clear metrics on which to base your decisions. If you aren’t collecting information before the redesign, you have no way to accurately measure any changes or improvements.

How important is X?

Do you need an about us page? How important is it for you to support browser X, or to have a mobile website? All these questions can easily be answered simply by looking at your site metrics. They provide information about what pages are working, what pages are not, how people are interacting with your site and should be the basis of all decisions about the new design. Keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, or make sure you draw the right conclusions from the data. Before declaring that no one used feature X so we don’t need it, try looking at why, was it hard to use or impossible to find? Was it even working? We’ve seen someone tell us to remove their newsletter subscription box because no one ever used it, turned out that it was broken, and didn’t work.

Make sure you focus on what is important

As much as you might want to make hundreds of changes to the site, it is important to focus on what will bring you and your business money. Focus on the core of your business, the 80%. In a recent redesign, we pointed out to a customer that the most profitable part of their business was completely unrepresented on their website. That statement caused some significant changes in the redesign, and the business strategy as well.

The Take Away

Make sure you have a clear picture of why you are redesigning your website, how well your existing website is doing (site metrics), what issues your existing website has that can be addressed during a site redesign, and what your expectations are for your new website. Don’t lose sight of what is important.