Web Site Redesign: Knowing When It's Time

Article excerpt

How do you know when it's time to redesign a Web site? Is there some magical milestone, at 1- to 2-year intervals? Maybe some tidy equation that can be applied? Similar to when you know it's time to change the oil in your car? Although information on how to plan a redesign is plentiful, documented best practices to support the question of "timing" is pretty much non-existent. If you are managing a very large site, say hundreds, even thousands of pages, the idea of a redesign is no small matter, and timing, as they say, is everything.

The natural evolution of any Web site implies that some day it will need to be redesigned, either partially or more broadly, depending on what you are hoping to accomplish. Redesigns can be simple, focused on a specific area of the site, or all-encompassing to include the look and feel, navigation, content, and structure of the site. Many redesigns are driven for the same reason kitchens are renovated: to update the style. However, redesigning just for the sake of appearance should not be the primary driver. While appearance can certainly make a site pleasing to the eye, it provides no substantial value to an end user unless combined with true value-adds such as new content, services, products, or increased usability/functionality. Redesigning a site solely to address aesthetic appearance is a common pitfall of many Web managers, who sometimes have the false impression that a new look will drive traffic to the site.

The most challenging redesigns are those best described as an "overhaul." The entire site is inventoried, studied, rearranged, and affected. Sometimes an overhaul is the only way to bring back into shape a Web site that has outgrown its usefulness. A comprehensive approach assures the redesign is approached holistically. However, to understand if a redesign is necessary--lacking any objective measure to address timing--requires you to become familiar with the symptoms or signs preceding many redesigns.

IDENTIFYING THE GROWING PAINS

Simply put, redesigns are inevitable. Just as you're pushing that brand new design out the door, you know at some point you'll be doing another, and then another. Knowing this up front can either make you crazy or send you into a state of denial. The better plan: Accept it and plan for the next redesign as your site evolves.

Redesigns are necessary for a variety of reasons. However, there are common themes pushing seemingly normal Web managers to ask, "Is it time to redesign?" While you're talking to yourself, a good follow-up question would be: "If it is time to redesign, why?" Getting clarity on the drivers of a redesign will help you establish scope and goals. Here are some of the symptoms, or growing pains, that indicate the time is nigh for a redesign project.

AN ISSUE OF BRANDING

The need for consistency drove the first few sitewide redesigns with which I was involved. Organizational Web sites originally developed in isolation apart from the parent site: Each had its own look, navigation, and purpose. The need to rein in Web development activities came on the heels of the acceptance of the organizational Web site--how it looked and what it said--as a primary channel of company information.

A redesign can be triggered when corporate executives begin to take notice of the organizational Web site and take steps to assure communication, regardless of medium, is consistent across all channels. Branding, creating an organization's visual identity and key messages, is an important piece of any marketing effort regardless of the medium used to communicate--print, Web, radio, or television. Lack of consistency in supporting brand awareness is a symptom that may warrant either a small- or large-scale Web site redesign.

WHEN CONTENT IS NO LONGER KING

The ongoing update of the site's content is likely one of the most expensive issues related to Web site development and management. …