Web Design

Knowing when to redesign your website

Posted on November 23, 2013 · Posted in Web Design

Building a website can be a long, tough process. It can be financially taxing, emotionally draining and time-intensive. And that’s true whether you’re tackling most of it yourself or you’ve hired someone to do it for you.

A website is about more than some code and a domain name. It’s about business goals and knowing your audience. It’s about where you want to be in five years as much as it is about what you want to accomplish now. It’s about planning, and branding, and staking your reputation on a couple of pages floating in a sea of about a squintillion (that’s an exact number) pages online, plenty of which include your competitors.

So it’s no wonder that when your website is ‘done’ you breathe a sigh of relief and gratefully turn your attention elsewhere. And it’s no wonder that so many businesses avoid or delay redesigning their site – because they’ve been there. They know just how grueling it can be.

But if you bury your head in the sand, or put it out of your mind, you could be missing out on opportunities, losing opportunities, damaging your brand, even wasting your marketing efforts and money.

So take a look at your website, whether you built or redesigned it a month ago or it’s been languishing since about 2001. And give it a quick test against some of these indicators that could mean it’s time for a makeover.

1. YOU WEBSITE WAS DESIGNED FOR OLD MONITORS

Back in the day, it was good practice to design a site for a computer monitor with a 600×800 resolution. That would pretty much guarantee that anyone, anywhere, would be able to view your site edge-to-edge without any horizontal scrolling, and if you were really good, without much vertical scrolling, either. All your content could be safely ‘above the fold’ and you could sleep easy at night.

Later, it changed so people started designing for 1024×768 – the new ‘widescreen’ monitors. About five minutes after that, monitors got wider, bigger, taller  and smaller. And all those things done for the sake of getting content above the fold and unscrollable went right out the window.

Sadly, many websites are still stuck in the 600×800 mentality – with sites designed to fit the least common denominator in a math equation that no longer exists.

If that’s you, then you’re sacrificing valuable real estate. Your site looks as dated as it is. And chances are it’s not working properly in new browsers or on mobile devices.

There’s a pretty easy way to check this. Google has a neat extension for the Chrome browser called ‘Windows Resizer‘ that lets you resize your browser to a specific, common resolution so you can see what your site looks like. If you suspect that your site is fixed to some obsolete resolution, install the extension and see what happens to your site as you resize your browser window. Does it sit there, static? As the browser gets wider, do you see more and more white space around the edges until your content seems sort of lost and lonely?

If so, it may be time to consider revamping your site’s entire geography.

2. YOUR WEBSITE LOADS SLOWLY

The speed at which your site loads is too important to ignore. For starters, speed can affect how quickly your customers and potential customers can access your site. And with attention spans maxing out somewhere around three seconds, if it takes your site longer than that to load then your next sale could very well be surfing off to a competitor.

Speed significantly affects mobile performance, too, where you’re not just competing with other websites, but with battery power and the strength of the 3G or 4G signal. And now, Google factors speed into how it ranks your site in search. A slow site = unfavorable ranking signal.

Check your site speed with Google’s page speed analyzer. If you see a lot of warnings or suggestions, it might be time to take note.

3. YOUR WEBSITE WAS BUILT USING FLASH

If your site is built in Flash – or if any part of your site is using Flash – redesign it. Right now. That’s all as Flash IS NOT viewable on Apple mobile phones and tablets, NOT search indexable and definitely NOT fast-loading.

4. YOU HAVEN’T GOT A MOBILE FRIENDLY WEBSITE

If you failed the resolution test, and failed the speed test, and your site is built in Flash  then chances are your site is also not mobile-friendly.

Ideally, you want to start thinking in terms of ‘responsive design‘. That means your site content automatically adjusts to fit the screen on which it’s displayed. Visitors like it and Google approves of it.

If you’re using (or considering using) WordPress, it’s just as easy to build a site with a responsive theme than one that’s not. Unless there’s a really, really, really good reason not to (and I can’t think of any) then choose responsive.

If you’re building a site from scratch, it can be a lot more challenging and costly to go down the responsive road. Your other options are to carefully design your site around mobile first, or to go with a separate mobile version of your site.

You’ll have to consider your goals and your budget, but if your site is not mobile-friendly, even if you just spent a million pounds and hours redesigning it in the first place, then it’s time to think again. Put it on the calendar, sort of like a root canal, and just get it done.

5. THE FIRST THING YOUR VISITORS SEE ON YOUR HOMEPAGE IS A STOCK PHOTO

Stock photos can work sometimes but under a limited set of circumstances. Mostly, stock photos stand on a page and scream, ‘Hi! I represent some generic company that will probably use words like ‘synergy’ and ‘leverage’! You’ll never actually speak to a human being who cares, so move along!‘ Maybe that’s not what you mean to say. But usually, that’s what visitors hear.

The existence of stock photos doesn’t mean you have to revamp your whole site. It could be a simple matter of replacing the offending photos.

But companies that use cliché, generic photos often harbor deeper problems – like a lack of focus, a lack of understanding of their target audience, even a lack of compelling actionable content.

6. YOU ARE USING CLIPART

The only thing worse than lazy photography is clipart. Here’s a rule of thumb to hang your hat on: if you got it for free, you shouldn’t be using it.

Cute illustrations, icons and custom graphics can enhance your site but the stuff you get in your Microsoft library when you buy the Office Suite cannot. Ever.

7. YOU WENT A LITTLE NUTS WITH THE FORMATTING

Bold, italics, red, Comic Sans, six different heading sizes, some center-aligned text, green, Verdana or eight different font sizes. If you got a little… er… creative with your formatting, it’s time to step away from the toolbar and consult a designer.

Get your style guidelines together, figure out what your branding rules are and clean up your image.

8. LACK OF WHITE SPACE

If your site has a lot of ‘stuff’ on it, there’s a good chance you should stop what you’re doing right now and schedule that redesign. By ‘stuff’ I mean a header with a bunch of graphics, photos or text.

The fourteen widgets you added to your sidebar and footer because there was space for them – Twitter feeds and recent news and popular news and top news and best news and new news.

Maybe you put your navigation at the top of the page. Then put it in the sidebar because, well, something had to go there, and then you put it in the footer because what if someone got to the bottom of the page and forgot how to scroll back up?

Here’s a thought, albeit a blasphemous one: what if you don’t need any sidebar? Or even a footer? What if, heaven forbid, you only put content on the page that directly correlated with your business goals and led visitors to your desired end action? What if you simply left… white space?

A busy, cluttered site is a distraction at best and a deal killer at worst. It can cost you leads and sales and even detract from your brand image and reputation.

9. LACKING A CALL TO ACTION

When I said, ‘lead visitors to your desired end action‘ did you cringe a little inside? Do you know what that desired action is, and more importantly, do your visitors know it?

If it’s not immediately and abundantly clear what someone is supposed to do within the first three seconds of hitting your site: Stop. Do not pass Go. Call web developer.

10. YOUR CONTACT PAGE IS NAMED ANYTHING OTHER THAN CONTACT

Worst case: a contact link euphemistically called ‘Touchdown‘ or ‘Mission Control‘.

Best case: a contact link cutely called ‘Get in Touch‘ or ‘Drop Us a Line‘.

Both are bad. Both should be stricken from your site. Why? Because when someone wants to contact you, there is a fraction of a fraction of a split second during which her brain thinks, ‘I want to contact this company.’ That’s followed by an equally infinitesimal amount of time during which she looks for a navigation item starting with the letter ‘C‘ for ‘Contact’. ‘Drop a line’ may mean the same thing but it doesn’t process the same as ‘contact’.

If you really want to split hairs, it doesn’t even mean the same thing. The bottom line is that your navigation items don’t need to be interesting, clever or unique. They need to be precisely what they are and mean exactly what they say. That goes for ‘Our Products’ as it does for ‘About Our Company’ and anything else you think you need to ‘change up’ to ‘reflect your brand personality’. Do that in your content but make sure your navigation will get people to that content by making it stupid-simple and as boringly conventional as you can.

11. THE WEBSITE HASN’T CHANGED SINCE IT WAS BUILT OR YOUR LAST REDESIGN

When I designed my website, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over the content. I ran it by people, through proofreaders, and then I rewrote it all anyway. By the time it was done imperfect as it felt I never wanted to see it again.

So when I changed a service I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to do the laundry. When I revamped my process I had the best idea for a print ad ever and had to sit down and sketch it out.

The point is I did not want to look at that copy again. Sadly, it didn’t fix itself. If you’ve changed something about your business (and these days, who isn’t changing something about every two-point-six seconds?), if you’re going in a different direction, if you’ve recognised a glaring omission in your processes or policies… it’s time to suck it up and revisit your web content.

12. YOU NEED TO MAKE A QUICK CHANGE BUT CAN’T FIND YOUR DEVELOPER

It’s a recurring problem. People come to me for a redesign because they need to change their store hours but they can’t get in touch with their developer and so a simple change becomes a gigantic thing.

If simple content updates turn into a months-long hair-pulling event, it’s time to redesign your site using a platform like WordPress so that you can make small changes yourself for free and in real time.

Maybe I should call this a ‘rebuild’ because your actual ‘design’ may be fine. But if your content is out of date and you find yourself taxed to do anything about it, a rebuild may well be in order.

13. YOU HAVE A MASSIVE BOUNCE RATE

It’s tough to say what a bounce rate ‘should’ be but if people are consistently coming to your site and then immediately leaving without taking action, that’s a good sign that it’s time to ask, why?

Maybe it’s the white-on-black. Maybe it’s the 14 widgets. Maybe it’s your weird contact link and your slow-as-a-snail product page.

Figuring out the problem is its own battle, but your bounce rate will clue you in if there is one.

14. YOU REDESIGNED YOUR LOGO, BRANDING OR ANYTHING ELSE BUT LEFT YOUR WEBSITE ALONE BECAUSE YOU FEEL IT’S FINE

Even if your site is beautiful, functional and converts people like a preacher in a mega-church, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and redesign it if it doesn’t match the rest of your branding. Every bit of your marketing materials should reflect the same brand image. The same colors, fonts, styles, the same emotional impact.

If you’ve decided to redo all of your print materials, don’t shrug off your website just because it works/it’s still nice/you just redesigned it as consistency builds recognition, enhances professionalism and engenders trust.

A redesign can be an exhausting process. But if you really want your website to work for your business then it’s important to keep it current, functional and effective.

The good news is that you may not have to tackle a complete overhaul. Depending on where you’re starting and what you need to accomplish, you may be able to do it in increments. Even small, periodic improvements are still improvements!

How did your site measure up? Are you in good shape or might it be time to consider a make-over? If you’re not sure, ask me. I can perform a full website evaluation for you that looks at everything from content to aesthetics to SEO value.