One of the most common points of contention in client organizations is the idea of how often a website should get a new coat of paint. I’m often asked by clients the very same question… “My site is X years old, do I need a redesign?”. Well, the answer is complicated, and more so than most because it is determined based on a variety of factors, some of which can be quantified and others that often are no more than just a feeling or preference.
Truth be told, there is no set timeframe that you should consider when it comes to redesign cycles for your website. I’ve read of an agency that did a study of the top 200 sites according to Alexa – by studying the internet archive, they were able to figure out that the average redesign period was 2.66 years. I think this is about right, but, it varies by industry and other factors.
So what are those factors you should consider when determining an appropriate timeframe for your next redesign? I haven’t a formula or workflow that makes this easy, but rather just some thoughts and ideas you can contemplate as you are laying out your future plans.
Time Alone Isn’t Always a Primary Factor
The length of time since your last redesign is a factor, but it shouldn’t always be your primary consideration when determining if it’s time to redesign. The age of a website must be cross-referenced to its functionality and ability to perform what it needs to accomplish. Typically, an older site isn’t going to be as functional as it should be, and that is because technology changes at a brisk pace, as does design trends. So in many cases, time is merely an indicator of staleness. But, not always. Sometimes you hit the right mixture of design and function resulting in a site design that stands the test of time. I’ve seen sites that are 4 or more years old and still manage to get the job done.
Let The Data Guide You
Decision making on the web should be made much easier if you have concrete data. Metrics and statistics should show continuous, steady improvement. If you start to notice negative or stagnant trends, it could be time to consider if your user interface is due for a refresh. Metrics to look at include conversion rates – are your rates not improving or going lower? This could be an indicator that your design is actually less appealing than what consumers are seeing elsewhere. What about bounce/exit rates? Are visitors abandoning ship quickly?
Statistics are tricky in that they can be interpreted in any number of ways. There isn’t any single statistic that can concretely tell you that your website stinks, or the design is poor. So you have to use your judgment in studying statistics, particularly trends. Trends are the key here, especially when considering how your site is aging. They are even more apparent if your previous site was relatively successful – the early success is a baseline for comparison. Overall, I’d rely on data as the most critical factor in determining if you are ready for a new look and feel, but, it should still be just one factor of many.
Listen to Feedback
A quick way to know if your website is useful is to ask customers. Or, even better, having customers tell you they like it. This is entirely non-scientific, but when we hear of customers who relay the compliments their sites receive, we feel a level of satisfaction that the design is smart, capable and hits a delicate balance of design versus functionality. Nothing beats unsolicited compliments, right?
If you aren’t receiving any, it’s time to ask questions. Perhaps a short survey of customers is in order. Or, if that isn’t possible, have a look at some user-tracking tools such as SessionCam or Inspectlet. These are useful tools to use which help analyze and replay user behavior. It’s easy to tell if a customer is engaged or not with these tools.
This is one factor that is out of your control, but you can respond to it. I believe that one of the significant ways that smaller up-starts are interrupting key players is with an effective and well-designed digital presence. You can see this in many industries. For example, Oscar healthcare has a well-designed UI/UX for their site, patient portal, and web app. Compare that against some other insurance companies, and you’ll see how the website isn’t just informational but also is a selling point because it’s a feature as well.
Almost every industry has examples of this. Tesla’s website is quick and easy to use, laid out nicely, and actually used for purchasing cars. JetBlue revolutionized airline websites at a time when they were stale and ordinary. Scores of new start-up players are bringing modern design aesthetics to previously boring industries such as building supplies and manufacturing. Design matters, and it matters when your company is poorly represented in comparison to your competitors.
If you are in a tightly competitive space with limited players, you need to keep an eye on the competition. First impressions matter, and consumers, whether B2B or B2C, judge companies based on how they keep their digital presence. Analyze your competitors and contemplate how you match up – this factor matters, even if the facts to support your findings may be a bit less tangible and more based on opinion.
Problems Under the Hood
Have you found that making routine changes to your site as of late has been a burden? Or, has it been difficult to manage updates or upgrades of your core technology? Sometimes, a tech problem leads to a redesign, in that the underlying software that powers your site needs a refresh, therefore driving up to a redesign initiative.
CMSs that power websites today must be flexible, allowing marketers and management to make iterative changes quickly, integrate into third-party tools, and be extensible with many possible software packages that can extend the capabilities of the system. If you can’t do these things, or if the software is a bit overloaded and overburdened after many years of use, you may be dealing with a situation where the CMS needs updating, and a redesign may be worth considering.
I don’t think that this is a hard and fast rule, but, your specific industry may also determine how often you need to redesign. This is more applicable to specific industries, especially those that are design-centric. Naturally, luxury brands, fashion, to a certain extent travel and automotive – these are industries that have relatively quick redesign cycles. Consumers are always expecting the latest and greatest when shopping for these items. It makes sense – people buying luxury watches are going to assume a sophisticated experience. People shopping for cars typically do so on three-year cycles (for lessors), which is pretty much the cycle automotive companies go by. Travel websites such as hotel chains and airlines tend to work on these timeframes, though other more utilitarian travel companies such as car rental move a bit slower.
You really need to understand your customer and their motivations in addition to industry trends to understand what your redesign time should be. If you are in one of those more consumer-driven areas, B2C, then you probably have a quicker cycle. B2B in some cases can move slower, but, again, depends on the industry and the vertical.
What your website does should also affect the cycle. If its informational, quick cycles are typical. If it’s lead generation, believe it or not, these sites have slower cycles. Often it is out of fear of conversion rates declining as a result of the redesign. Those sites typically are rebuilt piece by piece rather than wholesale.
If you are running an application that has regular usage – tread carefully and slowly with a redesign. Typically, a rebuild will lead to consumer dissatisfaction, even if you hit it out of the park. Regular users tend to hate change. The point here: study your purpose, and how it would benefit (or be hurt) from a redesign initiative.
As we said, the average redesign time is 2.66 years, which is probably about right across the board. However, that may or may not be the case for you. It’s essential that you consider the many factors we reviewed above – these factors, when studied carefully, should lead you in the right direction when considering your timeframe and planning phase. With that said, be sure to remember one thing: give yourself time to complete a redesign. A website redesign timeline can lengthen easily, so you must make sure your current site can handle the time required to complete the design of its own replacement.