Websites are major investments that require a substantial amount of time and resources. They also require frequent updates and optimization to remain effective.
Since so much time and money goes into building the initial site, people focus on shorter turnaround times for updates and redesign. However, with anything related to website development, it’s important to think about the long-term instead of the short-term. Focusing on how your website project will impact your business over the next 24 months instead of the next three will better guide your website redesign.
Here are some common misconceptions around website redesigns and why they’re wrong.
7 Misconceptions About Your Website Redesign
1. We can update the general design without doing any development
CSS, the language that stylesheets are composed of, is a part of development, so even if you’re just updating visuals, you still need a developer to update the code.
On top of that, even if you’re just refreshing design from a front-end perspective, adding additional code on top of the existing code adds bloat and can come with a cost to your website’s performance (load time) and the ease of updating going forward.
Occasionally, there is merit to just doing a visual design update if your content is working well and your conversion rates are where you want, but your website just looks bad. However, in the long-term, you’ll benefit more from cleaning up and refreshing the code base even if you’re happy with your information architecture and content.
When you just keep adding code on top of existing code, you can end up with a “frankensite” of patchworked updates. They may look okay from the front end, but the messiness of the code in the backend will cost you money over time. By not overhauling the codebase, an update that could take one hour with a clean code might take three hours.
2. While a full redesign will be needed, it’s okay to start with just a few pages
When you just redesign a couple pages of your website, you can harm your overall brand credibility. If your new pages look visually different from the rest of the site, they create a disjointed experience for the visitor. Lack of visual consistency degrades user trust, and introducing three new great-looking pages you’re really proud of can hurt the overall UX due to the visual disparity.
Another aspect of why only redesigning a few pages is impractical is typically said redesign involves updating the header and footer. At the very least, the new header and footer will need to be universally applied to all the legacy pages. That partial stylesheet update will add bloat with some pages completely new and others patchworked together which again leads to page performance hits and complicates future updates.
If possible, you shouldn’t have a website that’s half new, half old. If you’re asking for a partial update due to a small budget or quick turnaround time, think about what the minimum viable product is for the project. Can you save time and money by creating a small number of templates that serve all the major functions needed and build upon that foundation in the future?
3. The website should be based on my preferences
Your website is not for you. Frequently people high up within companies want to make the website about them and their own style, content and UX preferences, but a company’s site is not for its CEO. Websites are not suits customized to represent how you feel, but rather a collection of content for your target personas and customers.
This principle also applies to the design firm and developer. Take a step back and think about your target user base, not the preferences of the developer or design firm. Whenever you’re making a change, think about who the change is for and what the goal and impact of the decision are.
4. I need a template for every page
Website quotes used to be based on page count because there used to really only be two templates: one for the homepage and one for subpages. However, as sites began adding more and more pages, this pricing model became prohibitively expensive.
The current phase is more template centric. Page count still matters, but once the templates are built, copying and flowing content isn’t a huge undertaking, and pricing becomes more based on the number of unique templates for a site.
Modular design is the future — outside of the blog and other super specific pages like search results and system pages, every page on a website can be created using a library of module types as opposed to getting hung up on a finite number of templates.
Modules types include page heroes, features cards, testimonials, partner logos, carousels, forms, statistics, etc, etc. They act almost like Lego bricks that can be used to construct a page with whatever content types and sequences needed.
Pages are less important than templates which are less important than modules. Thinking of a site as a collection of modules instead of a finite set of pages or templates is where the industry is moving to. So, when thinking about the scope of your redesign, consider what your content needs to be or what it needs to communicate, not necessarily how many templates or pages you might need.
5. The homepage is the most important page on the website
You don’t want too many modules on the homepage because the scroll rate really drops off. Businesses will often get hung up on the homepage, and while it might be important, people go to the homepage to leave the homepage. There’s no benefit to having a lot of content sitting there.
When we create long homepages to bring “greatness” to the company, often times no one scrolls through them, and they don’t tell you anything about the site visitor. A homepage really serves as a navigation element to bring a user to the specific content they’re looking for. However, once the visitor navigates to a product page, for example, they’re actually showing need; they’re interested in learning what that product can do and are far more likely to scroll down the entire page.
6. Website migration can be done with the flip of a switch
This comes up because some companies will outsource migration services to low cost and low quality development resources who just “rip and replace” existing code instead of building it from the ground up to best work with a given CMS. Because of the lifetime value of a customer, companies may offer to migrate the site for free with a minimum contract length. There is a lot of effort that goes into those migrations, it’s just done behind the scenes which can undercut the understanding of the complexity of the migration process.
When these low cost contractors migrate websites, their goal is to get the migrated site up and running as soon as possible, so they don’t focus on setting it up for the marketer’s ease of use after the fact. The developers doing the rip and replace don’t necessarily want it to be difficult for marketers to manage the site, that’s just not their first priority nor is it realistic within their working budgets.
When we create a module at New Breed, we break it down into simple things like multiple image and text fields to add a degree of safety rails. There is markup and CSS behind the scenes powering the module to make it styled consistently so over time a marketer doesn’t inadvertently break the formatting. Rip and replace migrations might just take all the generated markup from the old site and dump it into a single rich text field. It’ll look fine and work until someone actually tries updating it, and you won’t have the freedom to customize pages without having to worry about really specific markup and CSS within the content editor.
Such a big part of a website budget is developing the code, doing the QA, flowing the content and launching the site — that’s probably 60% of your whole budget. If you’re going to spend 60% of the cost of a new website, why don’t you audit your website and actually do a redesign that’ll get you better performance? Knowing that for best practices the code and development have to be revisited in a migration, it makes more sense to do a redesign as opposed a straight migration.
Migrations are not a quick flip of a switch for anybody to do, and the price is indicative of the quality you want out of it. If you want a rip and replace, and you can handle the effects of that internally, you can go with a cheap migration that’ll just duplicate the code you have. But if you want to revisit the code and follow best practices to have a site that’s easily manageable by your marketing team and built specifically to leverage the features of a particular CMS you’ll have to revisit the code anyways — in which case it’s usually better to go with a redesign.
7. We can completely redo the layout and design without changing the content
When you redesign persona-specific navigation, the way you build out the content on the same site will inherently change. It’s okay to be okay with your messaging and your general tone, but the specifics of the content are going to need to change to physically fit into a new layout where word counts and conversion points differ.
People sometimes have the mindset that the website and design should be the primary focus. But you need to start with a content-first approach. A website, really, is a bunch of content. The website serves the content and not vice versa.
Ultimately, web content is more important than design. A great example of this is Craigslist. It looks awful, but the content is valuable and there’s a way to get to it, so it works. It’s still one of the most popular sites in the United States.