When Should You Reinvent the Wheel?

Abi Hough
  • Redesigning a website can be a costly exercise, and can run the risk of alienating your users, harming your conversions, and landing you back where you started.
  • Deciding why you want to redesign is crucial, as is how you release it.
  • It should never be a knee jerk response to external pressures, it needs to be researched, planned, tested, and promoted.
  • Learn what you can from your old site before considering what to do with the new one.

Sometimes we all want to wipe the slate clean, start afresh, brave a whole new world, and throw ourselves headlong into a new adventure with wild abandon.

There might be many reasons for this but whatever they may be, it’s always worthwhile to hit the pause button and contemplate what the goal should be and actually, is the effort, time, expense, and risk going to deliver the payload you expect.

Reasons why you think you need a redesign

There can be lots of reasons why you think your website needs a complete revamp, let’s take a look at some of the most common:

1. It’s not making any money

Your website may not be making as much money as business objectives stipulate. But there can be many reasons for this above and beyond what a redesign can offer as a solution to this problem. The key here is to identify why it’s not making any money, and the best way to do this is to research all avenues of why money is being lost.

Is it because the site isn’t working correctly, or the user journey is awful? Maybe it’s more to do with your product offering or a general trend in your industry where sales are declining.

The research will identify the true reasons for falling revenues rather than referring to the generalised view of blaming the website for financial loss.

2. It’s not responsive

Ok, so in today’s world of multi-device browsing, this is a crucial part of your web offering. A redesign may help towards getting a responsive site, but let’s make a distinction here.

A redesign concentrates on visuals, but if the redesign isn’t implemented correctly and behaves badly across multiple devices then the redesign is wasted.

3. It’s buggy

Bugs on websites are common (trust me I spend my day-to-day looking for them and it’s never a fruitless task). The underlying problem here is that bugs are not squashed.

A redesign won’t solve bugs; in fact, it probably has a higher risk of introducing them if the new site isn’t tested thoroughly.

4. It looks rubbish

Who does it look rubbish to? The design team? The marketing team? You? Your Boss? Or your customers?

Some sites genuinely do look awful but they convert brilliantly – I like to use Amazon as an example here, I honestly think it looks like the back end of a bus, but the buying experience is seamless.

5. It doesn’t reflect our brand

This can be a major reason to consider a new look and feel, but jumping straight into a redesign might not be the answer.

Are there things you can tweak on the existing site to lessen the gap between your online presence and corporate branding?

6. It’s a pain to update/maintain it

If your site is difficult to update and maintain because it’s built on an antiquated platform this is a genuine reason why you may consider starting from scratch and going for a redesign and build.

The secret here is to ensure you’re not ditching the old for something new that could potentially still underperform in line with your expectations.

7. It’s not secure

A redesign won’t solve this, but a rebuild will – don’t forget the two are different. You should absolutely ensure that your customers’ details are safe and a rebuild on a more secure platform can resolve this issue provided it is executed correctly.

8. No one can find it

This is a multifaceted problem. You need to ask why people are not finding the site. Is it because the way your site is built sees it in an unfavourable light to the search engines, or because your content and marketing strategy isn’t correct?

9. It’s slow

The performance of a website is another one of those critical measurements of conversion success. Three seconds is all you get these days to have your site loaded in a user’s browser before they disappear elsewhere.

Investigate why the site is slow – is it because of how it is hosted and the hardware it is hosted on? Or, is it because the site has a clunky page weight and has not been optimised correctly? Again, a redesign won’t solve those problems on its own, you need to delve deeper.

10. It doesn’t look like theirs…

Are you a sheep?! No, you’re the fox! Don’t get hung up on what your competitors are doing. What might work for them won’t necessarily work for you – and besides, how (without corporate espionage) are you going to know what they are doing is actually working for them?

Do research and testing and come up with a plan that works for your company and business objectives, they are after all unique to your circumstances and your users.

11. It’s bouncy, like a ping pong ball

If you’re experiencing a high bounce rate on your site, have you established why? Looking into why this is happening and discovering the reasons might reveal solutions that can help resolve the bounce rate without going into a redesign.

12. The HIPPO told me to do it

This is a sensitive one. The HIPPO (or Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is often a factor that cannot be ignored, but if you genuinely feel that opinion will land the company in hot financial waters then it would be negligent to not raise the pros and cons of what a redesign may incur.

Do you still need a redesign?

If you can read through the reasons why you think you need a redesign and dismiss the ones that can be addressed via other methods, it may be that you are still at a point whereby no matter what you do to your website nothing seems to be improving.

Perhaps you come to a point whereby you have literally maxed out. Your current design is at its peak and despite running lots of tests and making small changes you are not seeing any additional benefits. When you get to this point, it’s called the local maximum.

First, let’s try to understand why we hit local maximum. There are loads of reasons why it might happen, but one of the most interesting is psychological one know as Anchoring.

Anchoring is when you rely too heavily on the first bit of information and act on it when making a decision, and then use it to make successive choices. Anchoring acts a bit like blinkers on a horse, you get tunnel vision and focus entirely on it and miss the big picture.

So how do you get past your local maximum? There are several solutions, and no, a redesign isn’t the only one on offer.

Iterative testing

Go back to the drawing board, remove the blinkers (or anchors) that have blinded you to potential new tests that you may have missed.

Iterative testing is the sort of testing most of us are familiar with, small changes that lead to steady growth with minimal risk – think of it as the Darwin Theory of Natural Selection approach to testing.

And there are many examples of where this sort of testing has reaped millions of dollars, say even 300 million of them1. So, don’t discount it.

Innovative testing

This sort of testing is a bit like missing out a couple of million years of evolution – you take a leap, and a bit more risk. It’s not an uncalculated leap though. By using qualitative data and what you’ve discovered through further iterative testing you run and design tests that change key elements of your website drastically.

Things like the homepage, for example. This sort of testing is not for the faint-hearted though and needs to be fuelled by a mixture of bold decision making, creativity, intuition, and insights from customers and previous testing.

Radical redesign

Despite its catchy moniker, a radical redesign is just an innovative test on steroids and the riskiest approach to defeating your local maximum. Instead of focusing on one area, the whole site is reworked and as such can reap massive rewards or the exact opposite.

BUT, in certain, limited circumstances it can be the tonic you need if you do it correctly and accept the risk that you are unlikely to get it spot-on the first time around.

What to know before you start

  1. It’s risky
  2. Seriously, it’s risky
  3. Do your research

Understand what works and what doesn’t work on your current site. Keep flows, processes, and interactions that do work and integrate them into your new design, and ditch the rest.

Go “informed crazy” on elements that do not work. Do your homework and figure out what your users goals are, what your goals are, and how you can marry the two.

  1. Did I mention it’s risky?
  2. No surprises!

I like to call this the “Kubrick” factor. The Kubrick Factor is when you literally scare the cr*p out of someone (in this case your loyal customers) by throwing them a curveball they weren’t expecting (your new website).

New redesigns need to be carefully managed from a promotional, pastoraland roll out point of view. Seriously, customers can get very angry if they feel incompetent or berated by something they can’t fathom out, even if you’ve done your very best to mitigate any potential issues.

6. By the way, it’s risky.

The low-down

Hopefully, by reading this you have fathomed that there are many reasons why a redesign might be on the cards for your website. But the question that needs to be asked is, “is it actually a redesign that you need, or is there a better, more informed, and less risky way to breathe new life into your site before you pull the plug?”

I’m not a gambler, but if I was I’d hedge my bets on being able to find new opportunities within an existing site (it’s what I’m paid for) before circling the sinkhole that a redesign can suck you in to.

Don’t misinterpret the sentiment here, I’m far from risk-adverse, but I do believe any risk should be a calculated and intelligent one. We are in an age of data gathering, research, and progressive learning to find out what works so let’s use that to make the next leap, much like evolution.

[1] The $300 Million Button