Need a website redesign? Stop right there.

Again and again, I come across companies which want to get more website enquiries and whose first thought is: “redesign the site”. I’m sure there will even have been people who read the article a couple of days back and who thought: “we could do with improved results like that, let’s get a website redesign under way”.

To which I’d say: stop right there.

Read the article again. The company I was highlighting did everything other than redesign their website in that five-year period. Making the website work better was achieved through making the website better – not throwing it away and starting again. It’s amazing how many companies wouldn’t dream of spending £5,000 on getting some advice on how to improve their website content, and getting that content written – but would spend £20,000 to tear up what they’ve got and start again. This makes no sense.

Of course, there are many good reasons for redesigning your website. But now we come down to terminology. What often happens is that a marketing meeting (or a board meeting) decides that the company needs a website redesign. Often this is done as much through lack of imagination as any concrete data, but it’s with the best of intentions. However, what the meeting really means by a ‘website redesign’ is a website restyling: making it look more contemporary, making it mobile-friendly, etc. There’s always a place for improvements like that, and they can be surprisingly inexpensive.

This isn’t what ends up happening. The desire to have a website restyle somehow turns into an project to start a new website from scratch. All the traction which the old website has built over the years is simply thrown away. Content is rewritten for no justifiable reason, other than to fit some new template which has been created, on a graphic designer’s whim. How can it be that a company which has had the same website for 10 years ends up spending the same on a new website as a company with similar product range which is just launching? But that’s exactly what happens.

Instead of this, look at the your website from three different angles and work out which ones need improvement. They can each be done separately, without changing the other two.

Firstly, there’s the structure. Is it just a pyramid, where once you’re on the bottom level, the only way to get to an adjoining room is to go back up to the top where you started? Proper cross-linking is easy to introduce, so that products link to related products and resources, rather than just relying on a one-size-fits-every-page template. If I’m reading about fast blue widgets, I’ve told you what I’m interested in. You should be offering me information about slow blue widgets, or how fast blue widgets work, not links to sprocket flanges.

Secondly, there’s the content. Maybe the real problem with the website isn’t how it looks (Google doesn’t care about that, for example), but what’s on it. Or, more likely, what isn’t on it. If the real problem is that nobody’s finding your website, you can paint it bright yellow, but they’re still not going to find it.

Thirdly, there’s the styling. If you’re mulling over a website redesign, have a long hard think about what you really want, because it might just be a different look and feel. This can be done without touching the structure or the content, if they’re not a priority. If your site is already in a content management system, a restyling will take a web designer a few days, whereas a typical website redesign seems to take anything between about two months and two years, if my experience is anything to go by. Even if your site isn’t in a content management system, it shouldn’t be a massive exercise to put it in one. Take a look at the brilliant CSS Zengarden. Click on the links on the right. You’re seeing exactly the same content in each case. All that’s changing are the styling instructions.

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