How to know when it’s time to redesign

I’ve recently been working on a slight redesign of this site. Now, when I say “slight”, I actually do mean “mostly so subtle, the vast majority of people won’t notice the difference”, so you may or may not see anything changing as I work on it. (I got very brave and uploaded the new design midway through working on it, so there might be some kinks here and there.)

But I’m a crazy obsessive detail-oriented freak. A redesign for me is basically a perpetually ongoing process, consisting of tiny little adjustments every day. The last time I redesigned (admittedly, it was a much larger redesign than this one!) took a few months.

What about you? Your business changes and grows over the years, but many companies don’t change their websites as often as they change their business plans. How do you know when it’s time to redesign?

1. Your website is severely out-of-date.

This doesn’t simply mean it doesn’t look “Web 2.0” enough (or looks too “Web 2.0”) or that it doesn’t make use of the latest design trends. As a rule, I try to advise my clients to avoid falling victim to web design trends—what looks fresh one month will be passé the next. The internet moves fast.

But if your website is still built with tables or frames—phased out years ago when CSS became usable, it’s time to redesign. If your business has grown and is no longer well-represented by your website, it’s time to redesign. If your website looks like it was built ten years ago, it’s time to redesign. If it’s just not pretty anymore, it’s time to redesign.

Redesigned blog page
Spot the differences! Can you see what's changed in the new website?

2. Your customers can’t use your website.

Restaurants with pdf menus, I’m looking at you. The same goes for photographers with fully Flash-based websites, and anyone else with a website that’s clunky or difficult to access. Remember that you want search engines to be able to access your content as easily as humans can, and that more and more people are using mobile devices now to access the internet. The easiest way to keep your content super-accessible by both is to build it wholly out of HTML. The nice thing, of course, is that HTML has come a long, long way since the years of heavy Flash (ab)use, and you can do most anything with HTML and jQuery that you used to need Flash to do. If your customers tell you they can’t access the information they want, it’s time to redesign.

3. You can’t edit your website yourself.

These days, it’s pretty vital to be able to manage the bulk of your website yourself. When you can’t edit a website yourself, you tend to change things less frequently, which doesn’t do your Google rankings, or your traffic numbers, any favours. I highly recommend that most of my clients build custom WordPress sites–they’re easy to manage, they make love to search engines, and they’re full-featured. While many WordPress sites that I’ve built d0n’t make use of the blog functionality at all, I highly recommend that you use one, even if you can only update it once a month. (If you won’t be able to devote the time, I retract the recommendation. Nothing looks worse than a stale blog—trust me, I’ve had one before!)

4. It’s broken, or it looks like everyone else’s.

If you’ve broken links or broken images, or things just aren’t working as smoothly as they once were, it may be a sign it’s time for you to restructure the site.

Look at your competitors’ websites. Does your match up? The design of your website says a lot about who you are as a company, and the more pulled-together it looks, the more professional you’ll look in the eyes of prospective customers. Make sure you’re not using a generic template, either—these can look great, but then you run into issues when you look exactly like another company online!

5. It reads like a brochure.

Websites once all read like brochures—and often, a company would use the same text, copied verbatim from their brochure, to create their website content! This isn’t a valid strategy anymore, as people absorb information differently from different sources. Websites need short burst of easily-digestible information. The average web reader has the attention span of a drunk goldfish, and your marketing copy should account for this.

The other thing that’s often overlooked is that the internet is intended to be an interactive medium. Links that change colour when you mouse over them don’t count as interactive elements—your website should include spaces for interaction, like comments or social media integration.

6. It’s no longer in line with your marketing aims.

It’s important to remember that your website is one of your most important marketing tools, and accordingly, you need to be looking at it from a strategic point of view. What are you trying to achieve with your website? If you’re looking to drive up in-store sales, are you promoting your latest products via the website? Should you be making use of a newsletter perhaps? It’s important to figure out what you want from your website, and then determine if it’s meeting these goals. If people are often emailing you the same questions, or calling to complain, this may be a sign the website is falling short of its aims. If so, it may be time to redesign.

Of course, it’s important to realize that a redesign doesn’t mean that everything changes. Sometimes, you keep the same overall structure, but adjust it to account for new or changing content. Sometimes, if you’re like me this time around, you just fine-tune things a little so it all fits together nicely and looks a little better. And sometimes, you’ll want to throw the whole thing out and start all over again. Next week, I’ll look at how to plan a redesign, once you’ve decided it’s time to have one done.