Tl;dr version: if you want to improve your home, do you knock it down and rebuild from scratch? No. You do some DIY (or get an expert in) and improve what you’ve got. Job done. Easier, quicker, less messy. So why not do the same with your website?
Website redesigns and relaunches usually happen for one of the following reasons. Do any sound familiar to you?
- ‘We’ve had this design for a while now. It’s time for a change’
- ‘Lots of websites are using parallax/infinity scrolling/some other web design trend – we need to be up-to-date’
- ‘We should have the same style as Apple/Nike/another cool brand’
- ‘If we redesign our website we’ll sell more/rank higher’
If you recognise any of them, stop what you’re doing. Step away from your machine. Hit pause on any pitching discussions with web agencies. And please just hear (read?) me out. for a few minutes.
Because guess what: most website redesigns and relaunches fail.
Mention a website revamp, and the atmosphere starts building up. A new website? Yes, bring it on! We’ll put this here, move that there, add this cool thing I saw on some website the other day…
Look, it’s easy to get swept up in the flow of ideas that come pouring out. The problem is, people tend to ignore the most important thing: your audience.
Humans just don’t like change. We prefer the norm. If you want to get technical, this is the ‘status quo’ bias in action. This isn’t a preference for hairy rock bands who play the same 3 chords – it’s a psychological trait where we prefer what’s familiar.
When you change too much too soon, many of your existing customers head elsewhere.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Of course, you’ve got to keep up with the times. You don’t want to move so slowly that you end up with a website that’s ready for a Geocities museum. So before you decide to rip everything up and start again, try another way. A process of ongoing, incremental changes.
Let me explain.
Look at how big organisations’ logos evolve (pics courtesy of https://inspiredology.com/logo-design-evolution/)
And here’s Coca-Cola:
See how they go for gradual changes over a period of time. Sometimes changes are even reversed, like Coke between 1969 and 1987. Take this approach and apply it to your website.
Because if you get into a habit of continuous evolution, rather than bloody revolution, good things happen. You end up keeping the stuff that works well, and losing the deadwood. If you make a mistake, just roll it back and try again.You’ve found out what doesn’t work, which is just as useful. It’s like sticking your hand in the fire for the first time. You’ll know not to do it again.
With this approach, there are no shortcuts. Sorry. If you’re looking for ‘growth hacks’ (which is just a fashionable way of saying ‘we try loads of tactics and hope we find a silver bullet that works’), this isn’t for you. This approach is built on a framework for the long-term. One you can easily scale up.
Still with me? Great. Let’s get down to business.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
The overall goal is to improve your website, so it gets people doing more of what you want them to. Maybe it’s growing your online business. Perhaps you want to build up your platform and need more users to sign up. Or you might just want people to download your document.
Whatever your goal, first you need to find out where you’re leaking traffic. For this, the comparison tool (highlighted below) in Google Analytics is your friend. Open up your pages, build a custom reports that shows metrics like conversion rate, bounce rate, exit rate. Filter out useless stuff, like pages or sources that aren’t relevant. Then click on the comparison icon to see which pages are the star performers, and which need extra help.
You might end up with lots of pages. That’s fair enough. Just rank the pages, so you can work out what needs fixing first. Unsure how to rank? Use the PIE approach, where you award points based on each of the following:
Potential: How much of an uplift can you realistically achieve? Is the performance really low and the only way is up? Or is the page performing relatively well in terms of keeping visitors on the website?
Importance: How important is the page to the website, eg is it where you’re sending your paid-for traffic (so it’s costing you money), or is it a technical page that doesn’t get many hits?
Ease: How easy will it be to set up a test? Will it need A/B testing, or will a developer need to build a new tool?
Do this for each page and you’ll know how much you need to change. You’ll know if you need to get rid of everything, or whether you can keep some elements.
Yes there are some things that are best practice. Important stuff above the fold, menu top right, buttons that look like buttons. But once you go beyond that, you head into the land of strategy. Deciding where you want your visitors to go, the emotions you want them to feel, the benefits and features that are most important.
This is the stuff that you have to let users tell you.
How to understand user behaviour
Want to know what your users think of your website? What’s stopping them from converting? What they like, hate, and find confusing? Help yourself to this digital arsenal of free or freemium tools before you start any sort of website refresh. Then use the data to guide you.
– Google Analytics
The daddy. Tells you what people are doing on your website, where there are problems, what’s converting, what needs fixing, and much more.
– Hotjar www.hotjar.com
This is all about giving you lashings and lashings of qualitative data, so you understand how people use your website. Get their feedback (invite them to complete polls and surveys), see what they click on, and how far they scroll (so you know where to put the important stuff on your pages)
– Google Tag Manager
Track what people click on – everything from buttons and pictures, to menus and headings. You’ll know if your buttons are in the right place, whether you need to change your call to action, whether people are ignoring the most important sections of your website.
The above might seem like a lot to take in and do. But honestly, it’s nothing when the alternative is being stuck with a website that’s not fit for purpose. Redoing a website should be an ongoing process, not a massive disruption every year or so. Go with the above advice, and it doesn’t have to be.
Ok, so when should you go for a full redesign?
If your website isn’t getting you results, you don’t have much traffic, or you’ve had a redesign and since then conversions have dropped off a cliff.
In other words, when you’ve nothing to lose. Otherwise, go for evolution, not revolution – every time.