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Thinking Of Redesigning Your Website? Stop! Read This First.

By January 20, 2014July 1st, 2015Website Design & Marketing
Thinking Of Redesigning Your Website? Stop! Read This First.

Few words strike fear into the hearts of business people everywhere the way the word “redesign” does. It often conjures images of a long, drawn-out process, a lot of work, a big investment. It might even come attached to other words like “burned” – as in, “I was burned by my developer so I have to do my website over.”

But whether you’re recovering from a bad experience or simply in the market for something new, the process doesn’t have to be a time- and budget-suck. And the best way to avoid both is through forethought and planning.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before you tackle that second project. The more clarity you can get on these, the less stressful and all-consuming your redesign will be.

Why Am I Doing This?

All good web and marketing efforts start with the question, “Why?”

Plenty of prospects come to us and tell us they need a redesign but when we ask why, they often can’t articulate a clear goal. Answers usually range from, “Because Some Random Person told me I should,” to, “Because my site is old.”

Neither of those are good answers.

Before you opt in to the process, get to the bottom of your very specific “why”.

Is your site underperforming? Losing its edge in search? Is your bounce rate increasing while your sales are dropping? Do your traffic reports tell you that people are coming and going without following through on a desired course of action? Have you changed your branding without updating your website?

Figure out what you want to accomplish by redesigning your site. Make sure you know whether or not you do, in fact, need a redesign.

Be very clear on that before you start. You can’t build something if you don’t know what it is.

How Can I Make My Site Better For My Customers?

More bad answers for redesigns include, “Because my boss doesn’t like it anymore” and, “Because it needs a new look.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to like your website or even wanting to freshen it up. But do you really want to change for the sake of change? Do you want to spend time and money on arbitrary enhancements that may please your preference in color palettes but do nothing for your actual site visitors?

If there’s one thing that people are notorious for it’s hating change. Remember not too long ago when the Gap tried to change its logo and there was hellfire and damnation as a result? Remember the last time Facebook switched up its news feed and we all had a major meltdown and swore we were leaving it forever?

Yes, we adapt… but is that what you really want to ask your customers to do?

Instead, ask what you can do for your customers.

Can you change the layout to make it easier for them to navigate or to find what they’re looking for? Can you make the experience more pleasing and improve the chances that your site visitors will hang around, maybe even come back, or buy stuff, or sign up, or share your site with others?

Take into account customer feedback as well as analytics data. If the general consensus is that it’s impossible to figure out your pricing, that’s a pretty good starting point. Or you may find more subtle cues such as the top exit pages of your site – and if those aren’t the “thanks for buying/signing up” pages then there’s something else for you to consider.

Keep you customers and visitors in mind and not just your own personal preferences and assumptions.

What Can I Do To Increase Conversions?

Thinking about your visitors can naturally lead you in the right direction, but you may also have to do a little deducing on your own.

Take a look at the elements on your site. Where are your calls-to-action? Have you embedded a signup box somewhere in the footer of your site and are still wondering why nobody is signing up? Does your “buy now” link blend into the rest of your text and get lost in the noise on the page?

Look at your site with a critical eye. How clear are you with your directives? How easy is it for someone to scan and find your call-to-action? What could you be doing differently in terms of color, layout, size and language to spur people in the direction you want them to go?

Look for gaps and missteps that you can correct, or better yet test, before you begin a redesign.

What Kind Of “Redesign” Do I Really Need?

A lot of things can come into play in a redesign. You may need a new look because your current site no longer reflects your branding. You may want to do a content overhaul because the last time you updated your “About” page was six years ago and you’ve gone through three pivots and ten staff members since then. Or your technology may be out of date – search-unfriendly Flash, non-responsive or just plain slow.

Determine which parts of your site need the overhaul. You may have a perfectly functional and gorgeous design, so why reinvent the wheel if all you really need is a good copywriter?

Figure out what’s working on your current site and what’s not. You certainly don’t want to redesign your site and eliminate the parts that are actually yielding results just because you’re going through a “change”.

If you think about it, you may even find out that you don’t need a redesign at all. What you may need instead are some quick fixes that can improve your site in small, incremental steps that won’t take four months or four figures.

Do I Have Strong Branding Guidelines?

A mistake I see often is when people begin the redesign process without having their branding ducks in a row. That’s when people tend to get lost in questions of, “Do I like this design?” and “Is this a pretty color?” rather than more important questions of effectiveness and whether or not the site fits into a broader marketing vision.

Your website is only one part of your overall brand and marketing. As such, it should reflect your company, your values and your brand aesthetics.

If you don’t have a clear marketing message, then don’t redesign your website – redefine your mission.

If you don’t have a specific color palette and font selection, don’t redesign your website – define your branding requirements.

Once those things are in place you can redesign your site knowing that it will fit in with the big picture and that whether your company is represented online or offline, on a website or in a brochure, it will create a consistent experience for your customers.

How Will A Redesign Impact My SEO?

“Later” is too late to think about SEO. The only time to think about SEO is before you start your redesign project.

If you delete old or irrelevant pages, those pages can still show up in search engines and when they do, what happens when someone clicks them? Google has a process for requesting that old URLs are removed from its index so you’ll need to know how to manage that. You’ll also need to manage people who click those links while they still exist, usually by creating a well-designed 404 page.

If you change URL names then you need to prepare for a similar process. You should also prepare for a drop in search traffic as your old pages are de-indexed and you new pages added. If that’s something you can’t afford, then you may need to consider the timing of your redesign – don’t cripple your ecommerce site right before a major holiday. And you may want to make an effort to keep your URLs the same where at all possible.

If that’s not possible, then you need a plan to mitigate the effects, via redirects, 404s, removal requests, an updated XML sitemap and good, basic on-page SEO.

These things don’t happen by accident. They take planning and preparation. So you need to be aware of the extent of the SEO impact that your redesign will have and plan accordingly.

Think First, Do Second

The best advice I can give you when it comes to redesigning your website is to think first. Think long. Think hard. Think why. Think how.

Find a developer or consultant you trust to help you navigate the process before you jump into it. It may take you a little longer to get started and it’s never as fun to analyze traffic reports as it is to see the pretty colors your designer comes up with. But it will pay off big time in the end, by saving you time, effort and money and ultimately by resulting in a site that works for your business.

Are you thinking of redesigning your site? Let me know and I can help you plan forward by performing a website evaluation that digs deep into what’s working, what’s not and how you can improve your website in ways that matter.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Great list Carol! Great list. Another item I might add is to time manage. Often I see people don’t devote enough time to their redesign (yep – a redesign takes time).

    I have also observed that many folks do not take time to develop a re-launch strategy (which is tightly aligned with your point about “Why Am I Doing This”) – after doing all this hard work and creating an amazing redesign they are suddenly confronted with “now what” when they should instead of “let’s go!”

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      You’re stalking me, aren’t you? 😉

      I agree, you need time. And a good big gob of that time should be for planning and all the questions that people ask later. Way too many people get hung up on what they want the site to look like and then to your point, they get to the end and think… um…. ok, and?? And the “and” is that the site doesn’t really do anything and everyone is mad that they just spent a lot of money.

      If only we could rule the world, things would be so much easier…

  • David Wang says:

    I was reading this article and going yes, yes, yes! Many small business owners just approach web design as a task you grab by the horns and don’t let go till it’s done, without prior planning. That being said, web designers should expect this and educate their customers better. After all, you wouldn’t expect an average Joe to go up to a financial planner and know exactly what investments he needs. Thanks for writing this Carol! I’m going to refer web designers to this article too!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I completely agree – most people wouldn’t know where to start, and why should they? That’s not their job! It *should* be up to the developers and designers to guide people in the right direction yet so many fall short. Hopefully this will help educate a bit!

  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Great advice you’re giving your readers here, Carol, and you cracked me up when you said “have you embedded that opt in form somewhere in the footer and still wonder why nobody is singing up.” That was such a great example that I had to stop reading as I was laughing so loud!

    Another important thing you mentioned is those darn pages. Yes, we can’t just get rid of pages and think they will just be gone for good. What people are forgetting is that they will still show in the search engine, except that they will come with a 404 results which is bad for your site. I should know it happened to me so I learned this the hard way.

    Thank you for all those important tips and warning of what not to do.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Hi Sylviane,

      I’m glad I could be amusing, too 🙂

      Having a 404 page is not bad as long as you have it designed so it can take people to other pages on your site. If it’s just one of those generic error pages, yes, that is bad. But if it’s part of your site and tells people they’ve come to the right place but should try some other content… that could be good!

  • Hi Carol,
    This is a very timely post for me since the redesigning of my website is one of my top goals this year. It’s a necessary evil for me because I am changing directions in my business and my website will need to reflect this. So…I’ve got the “why” now I’m on the “Think First, Do Second.” Thanks for sharing!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Awesome, George! I’m glad this came at a good time for you. Redesigning your own site is tough because you’ll always be your own worst critic! But if you get your ducks in a row first it’s not so bad. Best of luck and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

  • Nice post, Carol. Can’t tell you how many times people come to me with a gorgeous site redesign that crashed the search performance.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Yup. It ends up being about “what looks nice” and then everyone forgets about what it’s suppose to do!