Redesigning a website is more than just giving it an improved new look. The successes and shortcomings of the existing site are invaluable in knowing how to truly improve the site and make the re-design worth the time, effort, and cost.
Like any site design/development, a clear set of goals and purposes should be established to direct the project. Without knowing specifically why the site is being re-designed or what needs to be improved, you may wind up with a better-looking design, but it is unlikely to be more effective for the business or for the users.
In the past, I’ve redesigned websites for clients that need a fresh look and some usability improvements. One client, in particular, is a service provider and the old site had been effective at attracting new business, but the site had grown and usability had suffered because the navigation was difficult and because the most important content wasn’t consistently prioritized and featured throughout the site. In general, the site needed to be more effective for both users and for the business. The design needed to be updated and the income-generating services that drove the business needed to clearly be the focal point of the website.
That situation led me to evaluate the re-design process and how it should be approached for both the designer and the client/website owner. Throughout the post, we’ll look at some steps and key points in the process and why they have a big impact on the end result. Here is a look at 21 factors that you should be contemplating during your redesign process.
1. What is the goal of the redesign?
Regardless of whether you’re creating a new website or re-designing an existing one, it’s critical to identify the purpose and the key factors for determining the success of the project. Part of a designer’s job is to make things look good, but the more important part is to make the site effective for the business owner and for visitors.
What do you hope to accomplish? It’s always important to have a clear understanding of your reasons and motivations as they should impact the decisions that you make along the way. Without knowing these goals the project will lack direction and you will likely wind up with a website that still doesn’t meet your needs.
Before starting a re-design, take the time, preferably with the client, to list the specific goals of the project and what needs to be accomplished. Once clarity is established in this area you’ll be able to work towards achieving the goals with confidence that the job is being done well.
Part of the goal setting process involves knowing specifically what the website should accomplish for the owner/client. This may seem pretty obvious in some cases, but it’s worth taking some time to consider because the wrong approach here can seriously damage the effectiveness of the site. What is the most important aspect of the website for the business? Selling products? Finding new clients? Is it strictly informational?
2. Is this going to be just a minor upgrade or a complete overhaul?
In almost all cases the current website will have some strengths and weaknesses. Of course, the strengths should be maintained as much as possible through the re-design and the weaknesses should be improved to the point where they can no longer be considered weaknesses.
A redesign could be anything from a minor facelift to an entirely new site. Obviously the time, effort and cost involved will vary, but first, you should determine what types of changes are required for you to meet your goals with the design. If a complete redesign is done you will also want to consider to what extent the new design should resemble the old design. If visitors are coming back to the site, chances are you will want them to notice the new design without feeling like they’ve never been to your site before.
3. What aspects of the current design are most effective?
Most likely there are some things about the current design that work very well, and these may be aspects that you would like to keep or incorporate into the new design. It’s a good idea to make a simple list of your likes and dislikes that will help with decisions on the new design.
Because websites are so important for branding, and also because re-designs can have major impacts on repeat visitors, it’s usually preferable to keep a similar look and feel to a website rather than completely going in a different direction.
In some cases, the current design may be sufficient to the point that it can be retained in some ways, but in other situations, the re-design will need to start from scratch. Of course, it’s helpful to know this as early in the process as possible.
4. What aspects of the current design are not effective?
Building on point #3, if you are redesigning the site you are bound to want to get rid of some specific aspects of the website or the design. Are there some characteristics of the design that do not accurately portray your business to new visitors?
5. Who are your target users?
During any design process, you never want to lose focus on the visitors. By knowing who you are targeting and how you can meet their needs, you will be on your way to building an effective website.
6. What style should the new design feature?
There are obviously many different styles a designer can use to create an attractive and effective website. However, the style of the website should fit with the purpose and content of the site, and visitors should be a major consideration.
The target audience of a website is likely to have certain preferences when it comes to design style, and these should not be ignored. This is the main reason that so many websites in particular niches or industries share a similar style. While you don’t want your designs to look just like everything else, it’s a good idea to factor in the common user expectations and what they will want to see when they arrive at your site.
7. How can the website be more user-friendly?
Improving the functionality and usability of a website is always a good thing. It’s pointless to spend time and money on a redesign that looks great but simply isn’t user-friendly.
8. How does it compare to websites of competitors?
It’s common for websites in specific industries to have some similarities, and it’s easier to compare a website to another in the same industry than it is to compare sites in two completely different industries. Take a look at some of the leaders in the industry, or maybe just some of the most significant competitors, and judge the overall design of the sites to see how yours compares. Visitors to the site are very likely to also be visiting other sites in the same niche or industry, so it’s desirable to have a site that compares favorably to others.
9. Does the logo/branding need to be changed or updated?
Most likely the website will include some form of a logo or branding. Are these items still up-to-date and will they function effectively with a new design? If your logo is out-of-date and not attractive, a new design may not do much good if it is still using the same old logo.
10. Should the color scheme change or remain the same?
In point #2 I mentioned that most of the time you will want to keep the website at least looking familiar to repeat visitors. Using a similar color scheme is one of the best ways to accomplish this. A lot of times it can be a good idea to make some minor changes to the color scheme, such as changing shades of colors or adding a few new colors, just to give the site a fresh look.
11. What screen resolutions are visitors using?
It’s important to know how your visitors are going to be viewing the site. A program such as Google Analytics can easily give you this information. Obviously, a fixed-width design should take into consideration the typical screen resolutions of visitors.
12. What connection speed are visitors using?
Knowing the connection speed will help you to know what types of elements you can include in the design without causing hardships for the average visitor.
13. What should be the focal points of the design?
Every design is going to draw attention to certain parts of the page in one way or another. By knowing what you want to emphasize you will have more control over what gets attention from visitors.
The layout of a website has significantly more significance in terms of content than it does in terms of design. While the layout is important for creating an attractive site, it also helps to determine how the content will be presented to visitors and what will be emphasized the most. Take the time to consider what is most important on the site, and remember the ultimate goals of the site and the re-design. Is there content that needs to get priority by being placed in prime areas of the layout?
14. How can the navigation be made more effective?
Navigation is one of the most critical elements of a site’s usability. If a significant amount of content and/or pages have been added to the site since the last design, it is possible that navigation is no longer optimal. Before designing think about how visitors will want to move through the site, and make it as easy as possible for them.
15. What will visitors want from the website?
Meeting the needs of visitors is important to the success of any website. Will visitors be coming to the site looking for information? If so, make it easy to find the information and make it a prominent part of the design. Will they be coming to the site to find products? Will they be coming for some other reason? Anticipate what your visitors will want and do your best to give it to them.
16. How can increased user interaction be incorporated?
The most successful websites are able to get visitors involved in one way or another. Blogs are great for this purpose because they allow for comments and discussion. Other possibilities are forums, games, user-generated content, polls, quizzes, etc. By making the website more engaging to visitors you are more likely to get a high number of repeat visitors.
17. Who will be doing the maintenance/updates?
Will you be the one doing routine maintenance and updates? Will someone else be doing them? If multiple people will be using the website commenting the code becomes even more important. Code should always be kept as clean as possible, but when others will be doing work on the site has a bigger impact.
18. Is a content management system (CMS) needed?
Many website owners now prefer to use a CMS, such as WordPress, so that the site can easily be updated without requiring a designer. Depending on the amount and type of updates that are anticipated, a CMS may be a good, time-saving decision.
19. How can SEO be improved?
Anytime a website is being designed, search engines should be considered. The current design may or may not be search engine-friendly, but the new one certainly should be. Should the current page titles be kept, or could they be done more effectively? How can internal linking be improved? Where can headers be used? This list could obviously go on for a while.
Search engine visitors are important to just about every website. One of the potential areas for disaster in a re-design is damaged SEO that results in lower rankings and reduced search engine traffic. Obviously, only a portion of the significant SEO factors are influenced by on-page factors, and others are off-page.
For the on-page factors, if the site is currently doing well with search engines, pay close attention to how it is structured and coded in order to avoid damaging the rankings. If the site currently isn’t doing as well as it could, then changing things up and improving the on-page SEO is necessary.
Even off-page SEO needs to be considered to some extent. It’s preferable to keep the URL structure the same as it was before the re-design so search visitors are going to arrive at the right place and so that the exiting pages get the benefits of the existing rankings rather than starting over. If a lot of links are pointing to specific pages, make sure that those URLs are not changed, or if they must be, make sure to use SEO-friendly redirects.
20. What keywords and phrases are being targeted?
Of course, keywords should be used in titles, headers, anchor text, alt tags, etc. Designing a website without knowing what words and phrases you are targeting means that you are most likely targeting none, at least not effectively. Don’t simply consider the search terms that are being targeted with the current site, make sure that these are the most effective terms to go after.
21. What pages and search terms are currently drawing traffic?
If there are pages on the site that are currently doing very well with search engines, you’ll probably not want to make major changes to the content of those pages. This can easily be overlooked during a redesign, but making excessive changes to pages that are ranking well can kill the rankings. Likewise, what search terms are currently producing traffic? Be sure that they are used in the new design.
22. What pages currently have inbound links?
Whatever pages on the site have a significant number of inbound links or are drawing traffic through those links, you’ll want to make sure that any changes do not negatively affect these links. If possible, use the same URL structure. If not, be sure to re-direct visitors to the appropriate page.
23. What will make visitors want to come back?
Most likely you’ve considered how the new design can make a solid first impression, but what is it about the website that will keep visitors coming back for more?