Website Redesign Considerations: Renewing and Refining Without Rebuilding

March 11th, 2015

Rather than building a new website from the ground up, many companies instead choose to redesign their current website, retaining as many of their existing assets as possible. A website redesign is faster and more cost-effective, allowing a company to successfully leverage the time and effort that it has already invested into developing its website. For many companies websites are in a constant state of improvement and flux, and completely rebuilding a website periodically would be prohibitively time-consuming and difficult. With that in mind, there are some considerations that must be planned for when considering a website renovation. Redesigning a website takes careful planning and a comprehensive design strategy to ensure that the transition runs smoothly.

Data Exploration: Finding Guidance in Site Analytics

Changes to a website should never be made without clear intent. To that end, the site analytics and data recovered from the old site can be analyzed and mined. Any change can have unpredictable consequences if it isn't thought through; for that reason, unnecessary changes should always be avoided. A site designer may imagine that they are improving user experience by trimming down their navigation panel, only to realize later that they removed a navigation option that was funneling users through their site. Careful studying of user behavior will show the designer which elements of the prior site need to be retained and which elements do not seem to have an overall effect on traffic, conversion or visit duration.

Understanding and exploring your target audience's demographics and behavior is critical to a successful redesign. Companies must design for their audience first. Analytics will tell a company who their audience is by age, gender, country, language, platform and more. Any redesign needs to be focused towards providing service to the broadest possible segment of the user base. If most of the site's users are using a mobile device, the website absolutely needs to be optimized for mobile platforms. If most of the site's users are coming from a specific country, the website can provide content that is geographically relevant.

Recycle, Renew and Recontextualize: Identifying Useful Content and Assets

When possible, assets should always be reused during a redesign, even if they need to be relegated to less often traversed sections of the website. Content -- whether it be in the form of video, images  or the written word -- is almost never harmful to a website and has the possibility of being beneficial. Companies should explore their existing assets and look for ways in which they can be renewed and repurposed. Popular content can be diversified and less than popular content can always be improved upon.

Moreover, content also needs to be retained to ensure that any extant search engine optimization is not disrupted. URLs will need to be properly redirected, meta tags should be refined and improved and successful, search-friendly content should either be improved upon or left entirely alone. A redesign that does not properly redirect user requests and leverage existing content may actually hurt a website's search engine standing -- not just immediately upon renovation, but also for some time to come.

Setting Goals: Leveraging Modern Standards and Solutions to Improve User Experience

Redesigning a website is a chance for a company to regain their focus and establish clear goals, such as lead generation, brand building and customer service. Companies can ask themselves what services their website is intended to offer and whether these services are being offered in the most optimal way. Companies can also investigate new technologies and current web standards, to ensure that their websites are secure, modern and usable.

One fairly recent example of this type of site modification is the trend towards responsive design that began several years ago. Companies looking to increase conversions a few years ago may have found that they were failing to convert mobile customers. The solution would be to redesign their website with the mobile platform in mind, thereby improving the user experience through the use of modern standards and technology. At the same time, companies redesigning their websites should also "future proof" their websites; a cutting-edge website today will last much longer than a website that adheres to the bare minimum of web standards.

Going Deep: Making Sure Your Redesign is More Than Just a Face Lift

Appearances matter... but not as much as usability. Redesigning a website solely for cosmetic reasons is generally discouraged because it is a wasted opportunity. There is always a transitional period following a site's redesign, after which a well redesigned website will become more powerful and popular. Simply changing the physical appearance of a website will take a company into a transitional period with no reward at the end of renovations; the core experience of the website will not have changed, and so user engagement and conversion is unlikely to change. While there are times when a company may direly need a visual redesign, it's almost always better for the company to leverage this transitional period into making additional, deeper modifications to the core of the site. 

Companies can improve upon their websites in a variety of ways depending on their goals. They may want users to spend more time on their website, in which case they should design their site to promote related content and to urge users to keep browsing. They may want users to spend less time on their website so that they instead move to convert sooner, in which case they should design their website to flow towards conversion more effectively. These types of changes can tie into a visual redesign but are not limited to cosmetic changes.

User Experience: Easing the Transition and Fostering Customer Relationships

As a rule, most people just aren't fond of change. When your website design changes substantially, there will be a few things going through a regular user's mind, regardless of how improved the new site is. Some users will be frustrated that things are in different areas now, even if the new layout is faster and more intuitive. Other users may be skeptical because the site doesn't look "right" to them; they may wonder if they are on the right site at all. But that doesn't mean that a redesign isn't useful; it just means that it needs to be handled the right way. To ensure an easy transition and to maintain your existing customer relationships, it's important to communicate with your users and to provide familiar anchors that they can connect with.

Something as simple as retaining a website's old color palette can put a user's mind at ease. Core changes to the user experience, such as restructuring navigation panels, should only be done with very careful consideration. Users should also be notified in advance of a website's redesign -- especially if the website stores personally identifiable information or credit card information. This will ease the users into the transition and alleviate some of their worries.

It's rare that a website needs to be entirely rebuilt from the ground up. In most situations, a careful redesign is significantly more valuable. A website redesign affords a company the ability to build upon all of their existing owned media and stored analytic data, to improve upon a website that already exists rather than having to develop an entirely new website that may or may not perform positively. When a website redesign is carefully considered and controlled, it can create a significantly improved user experience and ultimately improve traffic engagement and conversions.

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