Sure, there are tons of articles online that give you a lot of superficial reasons to re-design a website.
We are not going to talk about change for the sake of change.
In this article, I aim to touch on some of the points that would actually count as good reasons to consider a re-design, a re-build or maybe just some adjustments.
As you go through these points and evaluate your website I encourage you to make some notes on the things that might be worth improving.
One thing to keep in mind is that a re-design doesn’t have to mean a total change of style. It can be an incremental update in terms of style but the important bit, I believe, is the user experience and how well can the website inspire trust and deliver your message.
Also, since I noticed that people not really familiar with the website related jargon use the term “design” for everything related to websites from the actual design to the setup of a WordPress website to programming, I also take the “design” concept a bit loosely.
Confusing navigation / Poor information structure
As NN Group puts it “Information Architecture is the information backbone of the site; navigation refers to those elements in the User Interface that allow users to reach specific information on the site.”
While not the same, the two are connected and both affect the ability of a user to find the required information.
Before any notable interaction, a potential client will probably look at your website to find some information about the services and products being offered and about the company itself.
If the user doesn’t find what he is looking for, chances are he will simply go back to a search engine and look for another company/website.
To prevent leaking users you want to make sure that both the navigation and the information architecture of your website help the user find the information he might be looking for.
How to evaluate your own website?
Ideally by doing some user testing. And instead of me tell you how to do it, I’ll leave to someone that actually knows how to do it and briefly explains it over at UX Mastery.
In essence, you create a few tasks for users in your target audience and look for things that are confusing them or causing them to fails the tasks. Those factors need to be reworked.
The method I recommended above involves bringing people to your company, setting up a room and a computer for the tests and scheduling all of it with the actual people.
If that is too much of a hurdle or you simply can’t do it, take a look at services like usertesting.com where everything happens online.
You can also use a combination of heat maps and website analytics to figure out what pages and what information the users actually see.
Do they see the important pages?
Do they see the important information?
Do they seem to be confused and clicking randomly from page to page? It might be an indication that they are looking for something and they are getting frustrated that they don’t find it.
So why re-design?
You might come to the conclusion that some things fight for attention, so they need to be changed to take primary and secondary roles. For the user, it’s the design and placement of objects on the page that gives those roles.
Information that was spread across different pages could be better served on a single page but once you do that you don’t want the page to be a long wall of text because that might turn off users.
And so on.
If you were to only change things without any design work, first of all, some things are just tied into the design like it’s case of sections that fight for attention.
Secondly, you might end up with a Frankenstein looking website that maybe, just maybe, would serve the purpose from a usability standpoint but it could end up looking like a mess and you will run into credibility issues.
If you where Craig’s List list you might get away with it but until then you probably don’t want to look like you are some kind of scam site.
So, after you’ve re-planned your information architecture and navigation a good re-design based on those will make things look congruent from the first page to the last.
Spam / scam looking design
A website is only able to get people to engage with it if it can get people to trust it and trust the owners.
With 94% of first impressions being design related you want to make sure that your website looks like it means business and there is a real business behind it.
Sure, not every visitor is going to be a design expert so you don’t need a “Mona Lisa” of web design but you want to avoid a website looking like “Frankenstein”.
Screaming colors, messages and images that fight for attention, broken layout, text that is hard to read, cheesy stock photos that look fake from a mile and so on.
These make you look like you don’t know what you are doing or that you’re simply messy and lack attention to detail.
Who wants to do business with a messy business?
An example of a bad looking design that raised some flags was Derek Halpern’s old social triggers.
Luckily he got aware of the issue and fixed it…with a $25 000 redesign. And you can read more about it on his blog.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that you must have a $25K website to avoid looking like a scam but it’s worth paying somebody that is not an amateur and avoid going DIY if you don’t know what you’re doing.
How to evaluate your website?
I would recommend you go to a designer or a marketer or whoever works with a website on a daily basis.
Of course, these people will be biased because they would have a new client if they get to take care of your website. And I realize you probably don’t want to go there.
So, alternatively, take a look at the websites that you frequent or look at some of your competitors and compare those to your own website.
Look at colors and how much they scream, how busy does the layout look, how easy to read is the messaging, how many things look broken or out of place and so on.
Non responsive design
You may have heard the term before but if you are not sure, it means that the layout of the website can adapt to screen width.
So if you are on a mobile device the elements of the layout re-arrange themselves to fit the width of the screen and present it without the need to zoom in or scroll side to side to see all the content.
With mobile and tablet accounting for 51.3% of internet usage it’s only obvious that you want a website that is able to work well with these devices.
If you have a tracking script like Google Analytics on your website you could also take a look at the data and see exactly how much of your traffic is from mobile.
A word of caution here, don’t forget desktop. A lot of designers seem to forget that you still need to serve desktop users and they make some design decisions like the desktop doesn’t exist.
Unless you know you’ll only have mobile traffic there is no reason to cripple the desktop experience.
How to evaluate?
Open your website on a few devices, mobile and tablets. Does the website adapt to it? Can you see the information without zooming or scrolling sideways? Can you access all the pages?
If not, chances are your website is not responsive.
If the website is not responsive chances are that the design is quite old and there are probably other issues with it as well.
Converting a website to responsive layout is quite some work as parts of the code need to be re-written so it’s not really a quick and cheap job. Especially if the website is considerably large.
So, if you are going to spend some money on it why not solve most of the issues at once? If you just spend money to make the thing responsive today only to do a redesign a year later you are just wasting money.
Whatever route you take don’t wait to make your website work on mobile devices.
Unfriendly to readers and skimmers
If you want your website to help you sell, your visitors need to be able to read your content, marketing material and what information they might need to know before contacting you.
Naturally, you want people to read otherwise they won’t know much about your services, products and what those can do for them and so they won’t buy. Right?
It makes a lot of sense but even so, there are a ton of websites that sacrifice this aspect for the sake of looks or just because of lack of attention to details like this.
People don’t really read online and when they do, they don’t do much of it. They prefer to skim, take a good overview and maybe when something gets their attention they read the details.
How bad is it?
According to Nielsen Norman Group, on average users are likely to read 20% of the words on a page. Slate and Chartbeat also did a study and they found that users only scroll through about 50% of a page.
Both your design and the content itself must be aware of these issues and make sure that the most important bits of information get noticed.
You want to make sure that text is easy to read, broken up into sections, easy to scan and from a copywriting perspective, I would add important information as headings and subheadings to be easily noticed.
How to evaluate?
First of all, go to your website and read. How easy is it to read all the information?
Can you figure out the important bits by skimming though?
Is the content broken down into small bits that you can easily digest?
If most of the answers go along the lines of “not really” there is a problem that needs fixing.
Re-design or make adjustments?
It’s hard to say without any details. If there are only a few sections of the website that suffer from these issues maybe you could just make some adjustments and be done.
If it’s a site-wide issue and most of the content is hard to read or walls of text maybe you would re-design.
If there are also other issues with the design like some of the others that we discuss in this article then most likely you would benefit from a total makeover.
Ineffective use of testimonials
Testimonials, as we all know are a great way to show that other people have successfully used your products and services and they trust you.
And they are quite effective, 70% of people trusting online posted reviews and 58% trusting branded websites.
So, they work, not much of a surprise in here.
But there is also a strategy component to using them. Simply slapping some testimonials on a website might do you some good but it’s not an ideal use for them.
There are two parts to great testimonials.
One of which what they say. Do they prove a point, reinforce an idea or are they just the generic “yay, great product”?
The second part is where you place them. And here is where design comes into play.
Do you slap all your testimonials on a page and call it a day or you place them where the user is most likely to ask himself “should I do this’?
Should I hit the purchase button?
Should I contact this business?
Should I add my email address/credit card in here?
A good example of the effect of placing testimonials near key points is when WikiJob did this for their own website and had a 34% increase in conversions as a result.
Redesign? For this?!
Well, it depends.
If the current design has enough room to play around and add testimonials in key locations without making it look like Frankenstein then sure, just make the needed changes and be done with.
Like I mentioned earlier, you also want to take into consideration other factors as well and what other improvements might be beneficial.
Change of company focus, re-focus or scale
The change of a company’s focus means more or less, changes to the messaging and maybe even to the branding.
It doesn’t mean that every little change should come with new branding, new designs, and new everything.
However, if the change is significant and you take a new approach to how you do your marketing, this could mean a new website structure with maybe different types of content and/or at a different scale.
Sure, you could try to fit everything in the existing design but most likely that will still require some effort and resources and the end result will probably be a sort of Frankenstein that will not drive the results you are hoping for.
An example of most of these issues is the long series of re-designs of Smart Passive Income led by changes in scope, re-focusing some more changes in scope and some more re-focusing basically.
If you want the whole story you can check it out on the blog, of course.
Using a Content Management System that gets in the way
There are situations where the CMS gets in the way of you updating your website with new content.
Maybe you need to add new pages, change pages, add items to a portfolio or whatever and the CMS either makes it hard or just doesn’t allow it.
If that is the case you probably want to change the CMS and as such you most likely can’t just use the same visual style.
I see a lot of people that believe that switching the CMS is a simple job and they can just keep the same visual style, which is most likely not the case.
For instance, say you have a website on Squarespace and you decide to move over to WordPress.
If you have a theme from Squarespace, you can’t simply use that, one, because Squarespace holds the rights to the theme and secondly, because you need a version that would work with WordPress.
Similarly, if you purchased the theme from a third party, you still need to get the WordPress version or if you want to re-code that theme into a WordPress theme you still need approval from the original creator.
The third case may be that you own the design that you are using on Squarespace and you don’t need any approval or licenses from anybody.
In this case, you still need to pay somebody to code that design into a WordPress theme to work with your new WordPress CMS.
Before jumping on a re-design project you would probably ask yourself if the change would help bring better ROI. The tricky bit is that a lot of times things are not really obvious.
Like in the instance of social triggers where people considered the website some fort of scam because of its design. It wouldn’t be immediately obvious that you have a problem unless people start complaining but it would certainly cut intro your conversions.
Another thing you might want to do is to get as much data as you can using the good ol’ Google Analytics at the very least and maybe even with something like Hotjar to figure out what is working with the current design and what is not working.
If you want to be a bit more hardcore and actually talk to people you could survey your visitors or actually get on Skype with them like Pat did for Smart Passive Income.