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The risk of website redesign (and a better approach)

By Jonny Longden, Conversion director

Journey Further

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November 24, 2022 | 8 min read

Websites can sometimes suffer from style over functionality. Jonny Longden of Journey Further encourages those thinking about a full redesign to carefully reconsider.

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When changing the visual style of your website, don’t lose sight of the most core element: functionality / Jackson Sophat via Unsplash

Many years ago, I worked for an agency that worked on the full redesign of a high-profile retailer’s website. It cost them around £1m in total to design, build and deploy the new website. There was very little research done and the project was driven by user experience (UX) ‘expert’ opinion.

Within three weeks of launching the new site, the business had lost nearly £1m in revenue due to a huge drop in conversion rate, and they were forced to revert to the previous version of the site. It ditched the vast majority of the work and simply updated the visual look and feel of the new site. A lot of money was wasted.

Anyone who has worked in digital marketing for any length of time can share similar stories. But what is far more common – which you won’t hear about – is big redesign projects where there is very little impact on performance. Many businesses consider this to be a success, but what was the point of doing it? Why spend £1m on something that doesn’t improve performance?

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Why are you redesigning your website anyway?

On average, only around one in 10 experiments can prove an uplift on whatever they are measuring. This means that 90% of ideas are a waste of time, or worse. When you redesign your website, you are essentially applying opinion and guesswork to everything, and it risks a lot of investment; there is genuinely very little reason or logic for anyone to redesign a website. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons that people give.

‘The style and brand are outdated and need refreshing’: OK, so just reskin the website then. You can update the visual look and feel (styling, fonts, images) without remotely touching the UX or functionality. So why redesign the way it works as well?

‘We need to re-platform’: Re-platforming a website is inevitable sometimes; however, the point of doing this is to make the process of managing the back end and content more efficient or effective. This has absolutely nothing to do with the front-end experience for the user, so why are you redesigning it?

‘It doesn’t work very well’: Really? Says who? This is mostly just another way of saying, ‘I don’t like it.’ Well, what about your entire customer base? Even if there are fundamental issues with the site, then just resolve those specific things. Why redesign the entire site?

Evolution, not revolution

Amazon, in its entire history, has never completely redesigned its website. There have been times when a significant difference was made, but primarily to its look and feel. Otherwise, it’s a very gradual process of evolution and iterative development.

Instead of a full redesign, you need to evolve your website through careful iterative experimentation and learning. If you think there are things wrong with your website, break them down into separate things and test them. You will be wrong nine out of 10 times, but when you are right, you can then develop and build on those ideas.

Proper experimentation takes far more skill than most people realize, but given the alternative massive spend associated with large redesigns, investing in these skills will be a fraction of that cost.

But if you absolutely must

OK, so sometimes – for whatever reason – you are going to redesign the website. And if you have to do this, then this is the best way to go about it:

  1. Break down all the things you think are wrong with the existing site and all the things you want to see in the new site (list them separately)

  1. Find a way to test these things on your existing site. You can’t always test things in full, but you can always find a way to test something smaller in order to validate whether your reasoning seems correct

  1. Learn, learn, learn. Very few people understand the real point of experimentation, which is learning. What do the results of your tests tell you about your theories and how people behave?

  1. Consolidate all this learning into a design brief

  1. Continue to test on your existing site throughout the redesign. Anything new the designer wants to include, test it on the existing site

  1. Build and deploy

  1. Once live, continue to test. You should have a really good idea at this point about the different hypotheses and theories that have gone into the redesign, so keep testing

  1. Never stop testing

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Journey Further

Journey Further is a performance brand agency based in Leeds, Manchester, London and New York.

Designed to deliver Clarity at Speed for the world’s leading...

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