All good intentions

It’s been 2 or more years since your last website redesign. Your website is showing warning signs of wear and tear. You yourself feel tired of its look and you feel compelled to begin a site redesign project.

Your opinions about your eCommerce site are further supported by your agency. They are quick to point out all the indicators that your site is outdated and that a full website redesign is required.

You feel confident and eager to charge forward.

Scary stuff

Before pulling the trigger and starting a redesign project you should know that the odds are heavily stacked against you.

The prestige of the agency or the size of the project provides no assurance against failure.

The list of site redesign debacles is very long. Here are a few of the most publicized examples:

  • British retailer Marks & Spencer invested £150 million on an entirely new site. The customers gave it two thumbs down and online sales plunged by 8.1% in the first quarter following the launch of its new website. Post mortem analysis found both usability and performance issues at the core of the problem. The errors were frustrating and hard to correct.
  • Target has gone through more than one such embarrassing website redesign cycle. Each time they negatively impacted their brand equity. In their 2011 redesign, the biggest problems were mundane. Users couldn’t complete purchases or even locate some product categories. The 2013 redesign avoided such dramas. The harsh criticism they received, ‘straying off brand’.
  • Switching to a new ecommerce site backfired for Finish Line Inc. and cost the multichannel retailer of shoes and apparel $3 million in sales.

There is no way around it. You must know that any website redesign project will cause pain.

In the most optimistic case your new website will go through ‘teething’ problems. The conversion rate will first go down causing your to lose revenue.

Warning signs

At the beginning of a redesign project it’s difficult to contain the excitement. There are so many design ideas you just can’t wait to have put into place!

Then reality sets in. Excitement turns into fear. Suddenly it begins to seem more and more like a home construction project.

Finally, you’re lost in so many details that you’re not sure where to start.

Here are the most common red flags that your website redesign is not on the path to providing value and what you can do to avoid them:

1. No clear strategy

How well defined is your redesign strategy?

Did you start the redesign project with the generic business objective of “getting more revenue”.  If yes, this is the first sign of trouble ahead. Unfortunately, “more revenue” is the aspiration and not an actionable strategy. If that’s the only requirement, you may end up with a beautiful website that really does nothing toward meeting your business goals even though the site looks exactly the way you pictured  it.

That is why you should start the redesign by articulating very specific business objectives.

You should also encourage a lot of questioning from those who are helping you. You should have valid business reasons for every website element before you make the decision to incorporate them.  Set a firm deadline for this exercise to make sure your project stays on track. Don’t end up stalled due to avoiding making some tough calls. You’ll likely have to cut some things you have on your wish list in order to add others that offer more value.

2.  “Feeling” rather than evidence or data

Is your new CEO’s or CMO’s “gut” dictating the redesign strategy?

What is the gap between the executive’s perception and poor performance metrics and frustrated users? You must use data and feedback from users to increase the probability to succeed.

3. We know our customers

Is your brand stuck in an inside-out mentality?

Are you focusing on the wrong goals, needs, and attitudes, missing your customers altogether.

If you want to avoid a web redesign failure focus on identifying the core audience you need to serve, lay out and label the content in a way that makes sense to them and allows them to be efficient, and let user needs pave the way.

It takes not only time and effort to define and understand your customers through qualitative and quantitative research but also rigor and discipline to build experiences that are tailored to them. Lose that rigor, and you miss the mark. Don’t assume that you know what’s best for your customers and then build experiences to satisfy those beliefs without vigorously validating them first.

4. Design by committee

Who is in charge?

You must get sales and every stakeholder involved from the get go. You shouldn’t wait for the President or the CEO to give his/her feedback only during the final review.

However, you have to absolutely avoid the trap of design by committee. This rarely works because everyone is eager to chime in with their own opinion. To create a consensus and please everybody you will most likely create a ‘Frankenstein’ instead a successful eCommerce site.

It is essential to appoint a point person internally who will be held accountable and responsible for gathering everyone’s input and creating the final decision.

5. Waterfall process

Is you brand organized for agility?

Do you have formal divisions between research, design, and development processes and teams. How overburdened are hierarchies and how quickly are you no longer able to handle incremental changes? Your danger is having 6-9 months of waterfall projects that produces only a drop in primary financial key performance indicators (KPIs).

Web work is iterative in its nature. That is why it is essential that  your brand is organized for close cross-functional collaboration and ongoing feedback and validation. You must be an agile practice that produces a redesign that rolls out progressively over time.

6. Radical changes

How different is your new site design?

In general, existing visitors don’t care much for abrupt change. That’s why large, sudden site makeovers are often met with resistance. Opinionlab notes, “Without fail, there is always disappointment with a big refresh.”

This is a balancing act.  You goal is to update and refresh your site. But you have to be super careful how far you push the limits. Try too much and it will blow up in your face.

Have in mind that if you changed everything all at once you will have no idea what helped performance and what hurt it after the big reveal. That is why iterative style design and ongoing small changes rather than earth-shattering changes once every 3 years are a better approach.

7. Clutter

How simple is your new design?

The rise of mobile and the age of the customer have driven an emphasis on simplification. Your new design must focus on building only what’s necessary and of value and hiding or minimizing complexity. There are many ways for achieving simplicity.

For example, some brands use geo-targeting or personalization solutions to strip away unnecessary clutter, presenting only the information and promotions that were relevant to the customer at that time and in that place.

Another approach is to collapse the number of steps in the funnel. This can quickly increase revenues.

8. No testing

Are you measuring the impact of new designs?

Nobody, no matter how experienced or well intentioned can know in advance what will produce good results. You must use testing to continually learn. That way you will end up with a final design that might be counterintuitive, but very profitable.

That best practice is that you start with tests that focus on the conversion point and then work your way back out and that you avoid being heavy-handed with testing overall.

9. No communication

Are you communicating to your existing customers and visitors about your upcoming site redesign?

Do not launch the new site without advance warning to your existing customer base. Avoid enraged customers taking to social media to express their disbelief that a once-favored service provider no longer valued their repeat business.

Unlike a new site design, a site being redesigned likely already has a user base. Involving that user base from the beginning of your redesign can result in a much better user experience in the end. After all, these are the people who are already using your site, who are already familiar with what you have. Sure, some people are resistant to change in any form, but others may be able to offer you some fantastic insight into what’s great as-is and what could use some revamping.

It’s important to take into account the way visitors use your existing site. Just because you wanted them to use the site in a particular way doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the way it’s being used in the real world. Take this into account when you’re redesigning, and don’t break existing user patterns without a very good reason for doing so.

10. Thinking your work is done once the website goes live

What is the post launch plan?

You can’t have a “launch it and forget it” attitude when it comes to your new website. As with any marketing strategy, your website should be refined for optimal performance. Even the best websites that seemed perfect upon launch need to be improved along the way. Technology, web standards, search algorithms, best practices and even your company are constantly changing over time. This requires ongoing improvements to your website on a regular basis, so be sure to allocate some of your annual budget to your website every year. Your website should be viewed as an investment not a line item expense.

Institutional insanity

So, why the compulsion to risk so many bad outcomes?

Is it that it is still much easier for you to get dedicated funding and resources for a big, sexy, wholesale change than for smaller, incremental, and less obviously visible improvements.

Perhaps your decision is driven by the capital and operations budget allocations or a lack of understanding at the leadership level.

Or, is it you who needs to change? An incremental approach requires a cultural sea of change that too many firms aren’t ready for. That is why brands continue to do the, ‘same old same old’. Undeterred by failure, teams go back to the drawing board again and again, expecting better results next time. The result: yet-another big redesign is burdened with overblown expectations, which becomes even worse when it’s timed to coincide with a new branding launch or product release.

You are not alone. The majority of brands lack the discipline to break the mold.