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Website redesign guide

Do you need to change your site's design?

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Short answer: If your website is doing what you want, you won't need to change its design, normally. Never mind how it looks. Redesigning your website just because you think it looks boring may be what you want, but may not be what you need.

Long answer: The rest of this article will try to provide the answer. This is why I wrote this article in the first place. :-) Read on...

How to decide

The decision to change your website's design should be based on a thorough analysis. Depending on the size of your site, your budget, and other constraints, you may limit this analysis somewhat. But an analysis should be done nevertheless.

Start by listing the reasons why you want your website redesigned.

  • The site doesn't look good.
  • The site has usability problems and you want to remove them.
  • The site is not achieving its business and other goals.
  • The information present in your site is hard to find or access due to poor navigation.
  • The design is too cluttered.
  • You want users to follow a certain path when they arrive on your site, but this is not what is actually happening.
  • Search Engines find it difficult to spider and index your site.
  • The pages take too long to load.
  • You want to add a functionality or feature to the site and it's not possible in the current design.

The above list should get you started. You may drop a few items from the above list or add a few items of your own. Make a list for your own site.

Don't skip this step, and don't stop here either. Just because you have a few reasons to redesign, doesn't necessarily mean that these reasons are strong enough to change the design of your website completely. There is more work to be done before you can decide with confidence.

Analysis: Business goals and requirements

What are your business goals with regard to the site?

Do you have a product line that you want to sell? Do you want to establish a brand for your company? Do you want to reach out to a wider audience to spread your marketing message? Do you want to make a lot of money from your website?

OK, OK, so the answer is yes. All of us want to make a lot of money from our websites. Calm down. ;-) Let's continue.

How successfully has your site achieved these business goals? What goals in particular has it achieved, and where is it lacking? It's important to note down both the successes and failures of your existing site.

Does this analysis give you new and fresh ideas? Note these down too.

Analysis: User needs

Visitors to your website have three basic needs:

  1. Finding what they want
  2. Doing what they want
  3. Getting what they want

How important each of the above is, depends on your site.

To help your visitors find what they want, your navigation system must be excellent. It should be intuitive and should let the visitors find what they need quickly and easily. As the site grows, it can easily outgrow its navigation system, especially if the navigation system wasn't designed with the future in mind. A site search feature is a must too.

To help your visitors do what they want, your site must allow interaction. Can your visitors exchange information with you or with each other? Can they place orders easily? Can they find how their order is progressing? Can they easily get a question answered?

Find out what other things your visitors want to do (not what you want them to do) and see if your website lets them do it. Your job while redesigning your website is to make everything clear and simple to the visitors and customers. Are there any unnecessary steps that you can eliminate?

To help your visitors get what they want, you must make things prominent and easily accessible.

Why are people visiting your site? Generally they come looking for information or need your product or service. There can be other reasons too. List these reasons.

Visitors should be able to do what they want in as few clicks as possible. The top one or two things that they want to do should be reachable in one or two clicks at all times. If you offer a range or products or services, then it should at least be possible to reach the catalog or list in one or two clicks.

Usability testing can give you a very good idea of how your website scores on the above issues.

Make it easy for your customers to do business with you, and you should see an almost immediate rise in the amount of business you are getting. Provided you get enough traffic, of course.

Analysis: Search Engine marketing

How well is your site performing on the Search Engines? I don't need to tell you the advantages of high Search Engine rankings. While Search Engine marketing (SEM) is too detailed a topic to be discussed in this article, let us talk about its relevance to website redesign here.

The worst enemies of a good Search Engine position are:

  • Bad, incorrect, or poorly structured HTML: Incorrect HTML code or overlapping HTML tags can confuse a Search Engine and negatively affect your rankings. There are a lot of other things that need to be considered. Remove formatting from the HTML as much as possible, and put it in a CSS file. This will not only make your site load faster and easier to maintain, but also help the Search Engines. In general, the lower your code:content ratio, the better.
  • Flash: Most Search Engines cannot read text inside a flash movie. They also cannot follow links. If you use flash for your navigation or to display text, consider again.
  • JavaScript: Most Search Engines cannot read JavaScript either. If your navigation system relies heavily on JavaScript, you may want to consider switching to a text based navigation system instead. Or at least consider complementing your existing JavaScript navigation with a text based one.

Note that the above short list is not related to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors. SEO is a completely different world altogether, and I have a few articles on SEO and other traffic increasing techniques elsewhere on this site.

Analysis: Constraints (platform, budget and time)

Obviously.

If you are limited by either the platform (the technology behind your website), your budget, or time, you will have to take that into consideration.

For example, if you need to let your visitors personalize the website, and remember information that goes beyond the capabilities of cookies, you may need a database. If your web host does not allow you to use a database or server side scripting, you will either have to switch to some other web host, or find another way to keep your visitors happy.

If budget is an issue, you may consider redesigning a bit at a time. If a full fledged redesign is costly, have you thought about doing it in stages? It's called refactoring. At every stage, your website is fully functional and usable. But after the completion of each stage, it improves at least a little bit. For example, improve your navigation system first. Then check your content to see how it can be improved to help achieve your goals better. And so on. Finally, when all the pieces are in place, enhance your Look and Feel to match your site's theme and new design. Working on one bit at a time, you can spread the expense of the redesign over time and achieve the same results.

If time is an issue, and you are in a hurry, then you will either need to spend money, or work only on the most important bits for now.

Constraints limit you, but also force you to be innovative. Try to come up with new ways of achieving the same results using your limited resources.

Is your site meeting your goals?

The notes you collected in the above analysis tell you what you expect from your site, and what factors may influence your decision to redesign it. If the site is meeting your expectations and goals, there is no need to redesign it. Maybe a few adjustments here or there will improve matters, but that should be all.

What if your site is not meeting your goals and expectations?

First of all, make sure you are not expecting anything unrealistic. For example, if your site is new, you cannot expect it to get sales worth thousands of dollars everyday.

If you don't have unrealistic goals, you need to find the cause. There are usually several factors affecting your goals. Deal with them one by one, starting with the one that will give you the biggest bang for your buck, and for your hour.

If you think the design of your site is stopping it from reaching your goals, you may need to redesign it.

Other things to think about, before you redesign your site

  • What are you going to gain or lose (Search Engine ranking, time, money) if you redesign?
  • Is a redesign even worth it? You need to know where you stand now, in comparison to where you want to be. If you are not too far from where you want to be, maybe you only need minor tweaks to your site, not a complete redesign.
  • You need to get solid data about your visitors before your analysis is complete. I have written an article on increasing conversions by understanding your visitors and another one on using traffic analysis to help and understand your visitors that you may find useful here. Guessing or asking friends will not work very well here, because different people react to things differently. You need to know the reaction of your visitors, not your friends. This is why traffic analysis is so important.
  • To get qualitative data such as visitors' overall satisfaction with your site, their opinion on the site's ease of use, etc, you may consider conducting surveys. Just put up a simple form, and let the users choose from a few drop downs or click a few radio buttons etc, and collect and analyze your data. No need for anything too fancy.
  • If you redesign your site, and move files around, link rot may occur. Always consider using a 301 or 302 redirect for your pages. If this is not possible for you, at least redirect using a meta refresh tag. If all this sounds very technical to you, ask your web master. But do take it seriously.
  • I also recommend creating a new "404 (Page Not Found)" page during the redesign process.
  • If your traffic may get affected during the redesign, and it's important not to lose traffic, consider purchasing PPC keywords for the highest money making keywords. Keep these PPC ads active till your site starts converting visitors from free Search Engine traffic as well.
  • Make sure the time or expense required by this analysis does not exceed that for the redesign itself. After all, the whole purpose of this analysis is to save you time and money in case you don't need the redesign, and if you do, to steer you in the right direction.

Whatever you decide to do, hope this mini guide helps you a bit. Happy redesigning! There is a lot of work ahead of you! ;-)

 

Is your site making money?

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51 Ways To Make Money From Your Website: 51 ideas and tips to help you monetize your website.

 

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