A website generally benefits more from incremental changes to its layout, than from a total makeover. In some cases, however a new website is the most appropriate solution. In this article I discuss some aspects that you should consider before taking a decision to renew your old web, or setup a completely new website.
From my experience it happens frequently that every couple of years, someone at the company xyz looks at the website of a competitor and becomes convinced that his or her company needs a completely new website. However, the same person who is now convinced that the company needs a new website, has not put in any work into the current website throughout the last 5 years. Activities such as updating the content, writing blog posts, etc. have been totally absent.
Let’s begin by asking the first and most important question – what is the reason for the planned change of the website? Is it because you discovered that your main competitor has a new website? Is it because someone told you that he or she does not like the visuals of your website? Or is there actual hard data from Analytics that indicates that the mobile traffic share to your website is steadily increasing, while your website is not mobile responsive yet? The decision about a renewal of the original website or the setup of a new website should be taken based on economical facts. If the cost / benefit comparison of a new website makes financial sense to your company, you could think about setting up a brand new website.
Two approaches to webdesign:
- Revolutionary – complete, one-time makeover of your entire website (system platform, design, content) usually once every 5 years
- Evolutionary – ongoing incremental changes to the website (usually in reaction to general trends, backed-up by and based on hard data, ongoing system updates)
Until about 2010, it a was quite common to see big redesigns of websites. A person would come to his or favorite website as he or she did everyday and would all of a sudden be faced with a totally different website.
Since most radical changes to a website often affect the structure and the content of a website, returning visitors would often times feel at a loss, as they weren’t able to find the content they were looking for in the former sections of the website. As website contents were either moved to different places within the websites or removed all together, frustrated website visitors would give up on finding the content and leave the new website. This in turn would lead to a dreaded negative spiral of lower time spend on site and higher bounce rates, which in worst case scenarios would lead to a drop of the rankings within the search engine results pages.
Large website redesigns reacted towards the new web technologies and support in browsers like CSS 2.1 (2004), AJAX / Web 2.0 (2005) responsive designs (2009) standardization of elements / frameworks (2013) or the new paradigm of one user from various devices (2014).
What is the state of your current website?
Answer to the following three questiosn, and you will know if you need to update your current website or create a new website:
- Is it complicated to regularly update content on the website?
- Is it necessary to zoom in on mobile or tablet devices in order to read the texts?
- Is the web loading speed slow, or does it contain elements that do not have native support in modern browsers ( ActiveX, Flash, Java, etc.) ?
If you answered yes to at least one of the questions above, your website is in need of a bigger overhaul. The best approach to this problem is most likely a complete redesign of your website.
If you answered no to all of the questions above, your website will generally be modern enough. In this case it is enough to implement various incremental changes and track their effect on your visitor’s engagement data.
Why go for an evolution using incremental changes?
“Radical changes to the website, often result in the unintended consequences of upsetting returning website visitors.” (Nielsen Norman Group: Radical Redesign or Incremental Change)
Smaller ongoing changes are the best solution if your current website is already setup on a modern content management platform such as WordPress.
- Small incremental changes to a website are generally cheaper.
- You can react quickly to market trends and news in the web technology segment.
- You can easily check if the changes are bringing the desired and expected results with the help of A/B testing new elements on a chosen percentage of real website visitors without negatively affecting your website’s statistics such as the conversion rate.
- You can make use of A/B testing for new elements if you are not sure whether these changes would bring positive or negative effects to your website’s performance. By basing all your decisions on hard, real-world data you will be able to improve your website’s performance step by step.
- A continuous and regular updating of the website can help you reduce security risks and ensure that all elements such as extensions and plugins are working flawlessly.
You can fairly quickly do the following:
- Implement smaller graphical changes
- Transfer to a newer version of the CSS framework
- Optimize the website load speed
- Add additional micro formats for better visibility on Google
When is a total makeover worth the investment?
There are numerous situations in which it is better to invest in a completely new website.
Think about about a complete redesign, if you currently own an old website that:
- Has a very complicated structure (architecture) without a logical navigation
- Is static, or has an outdated content management system that makes it difficult to update content and is costing you unnecessary amounts of time
- Uses obsolete elements such as flashing banners, unnecessary graphic elements, animations, etc.
- Is difficult to edit (inut of different statistical codes, etc.) and does not meet even the most basic usability requirements (e.g. non-standard layout)
- Has a low conversion rate compared to the industry standard and incremental changes don’t result in measurable effects anymore
- Does not meet the visual layout in case you are going through a rebranding process
- Is slow to load and is not accessible to all kind of users from various devices
- Does not provide a sufficient level of security for sensitive web user data
- Is non-responsive to various devices
What is our experience with radical redesigns?
Pizza SEO’s website has only experienced one major change. The original site of 2006 was replaced with a new one in the year 2011. Already back then, we had setup the website to include a responsive design and made use of the CMS platform WordPress. From 2011 onwards we focused on ongoing incremental changes to the website, which are always tested on real website visitors. Lately, we have been focusing on gradually updating and adjusting the landing pages for our services, such as the web design or web analytics landing pages.
For our clients we have designed many websites over the years that replaced their original ones. Whenever we made the decision with a client to go for a redesign instead of an updating, we made sure to closely track the developments of crucial aspects such as the website’s conversion rate, generated revenue and other qualitative statistics. The newly websites that are optimized for search engines from the ground up allow us to test various elements, add content and track the analytics data in real-time to see whether changes are resulting in the expected results.
By the way, Jared M. Spool forecasted the death of large redesigns already back in the year 2003. A good presentation about the end of major redesigns can be found on the internet under the title “The Death of the Library Website Redesign”.
What about your website? Are you planning one last major redesign, or are you already working on small incremental changes to your website?
(Article updated on April 13, 2017, the original article was published September 15, 2015)