Radical vs Evolutionary Website Redesign
The purpose of conversion rate optimization is to create a website that converts to its fullest potential. You might think that a new website is the answer, but that might not necessarily be the case. There are times when your existing website simply needs to evolve to generate optimum conversions. The rule-of-thumb is if your business changes direction, then it should get a completely redesigned website. However, if it continues in the same direction, you need to determine which option will give you the most conversions.
RESEARCH & TESTING: WHAT’S WORKING & WHAT’S NOT?
The first step towards making a decision is to do research about what on your current site is working and what isn’t. Look at your website’s analytics and do tests. To find out what isn’t working at things like bounce rate, exit rate, checkout abandonment rate and cart drop off rate, to see where people leave your site. Then find out why by doing tests, including A/B tests on visuals, usability and overall experience. The insights gained from these are vital in deciding whether to optimize your website or completely redesign it.
WHEN EVOLUTION IS BETTER
The first-prize option is to evolve your site, because it is much less costly than to scrap it and build a new one from the ground up. This is called continuous optimization, an ongoing process of improvement, not just a once-off. Look at your research results. Is your site working well enough? Are there no major technical issues? Do you have a constant stream of returning visitors (and conversions)? If your answer to all of these is ‘yes’, then a simple ‘face lift’, simple tweaks and polishes, is the best way forward. These include things like updating the look-and-feel (not the same as a redesign), tweaking size and placement of buttons (but not too much), making the site run faster and the check-out process simpler.
Look at each element individually and see if you can make it better.
It’s important that the structure and general layout of your website stays the same, it must be familiar to return visitors. Like giving your kitchen a new coat of paint, or putting in a new stove. Amazon is the perfect example of continuous optimization — over the years their site has stayed virtually the same, with minor tweaks and improvements here and there to improved the customer experience, and increase sales.
Be careful, once you start fiddling with the website’s structure and layout, then you’re wading into radical redesign territory.
WHEN RADICAL REDESIGN IS BETTER
Completely redesigning a site can be very expensive, but sometimes it’s the only way to increase conversions. Here are some rules of thumb:
1. Your website has reached its local maxima
In short, the local maxima refers to the peak conversion ability of your website, meaning no matter how many tweaks and changes you apply, the conversion rate stays stagnant. In a situation like this, the only way to increase conversions is to redesign your site, as shown in the graph below. Unfortunately it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that your website has reached its local maxima, which makes it risky to base your decision solely on this metric. There is no guarantee that a complete redesign will increase the site’s conversion rate.
2. The tech is too old
If your site still uses old or obsolete technology like Flash, outdated versions of HTML and content management systems like WordPress, obsolete back-end systems like PHP, or anything that doesn’t work or scale on mobile devices. In some instances simple upgrades can fix these issues, but very often the upgraded versions can ‘break’ your website, causing features and plug-ins not to function as they should, or the site not displaying properly.
Adobe Flash is a great example. The arrival of HTML5 (the code that is used to build websites) was the death knell of Flash. HTML5 could incorporate seamlessly integrate video into websites, previously the domain of Flash. Flash also didn’t work on mobile devices and had huge potential security flaws.
3. Little traffic, many problems
The fact that your website is not getting a lot of traffic is a clear sign that something needs to be done urgently. Little traffic means few conversions and low revenue. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to redesign the entire site, research and analysis might reveal tweaks and improvements that can increase traffic and conversions. However, often in these cases there are simply too many problems that cost a lot of time and money to fix with tweaks and improvements (and test it).
4. Your site design looks amateur
First impressions count, which is why it is imperative that your website is well-designed and looks professional. This is why money spent on a good web designer or agency is an investment. The website designed by your friend (who “dabbled in web design”) may have been great when you started out, but if you want your business to grow, you need a site that works, looks and feels professional. If it doesn’t, then it’s time for a redesign. The guys at Outbrain have a handy guide.
THE RISKS OF REDESIGN
Building a brand new website can be risky. There’s no way of telling if it will be successful until you’ve actually published it. You need to weigh up the risks with the potential reward. Here are some risks to consider:
1. Difficult to test properly
When you redesign a website, a myriad of changes and new elements get implemented at the same time. This makes it difficult to determine how what impact (positive or negative) each change and/or element will have on the conversion rate. Redesigning a website thus involves a certain amount of intuition, essentially guesses based on their experience and knowledge of the business and its customers.
2. Design by committee
Beware of having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ — too many people trying to get involved, give their opinion or control the project, without having one, clear plan. Very often the opinion that counts most is the opinion of the most senior person in the room. This can seriously compromise the quality and success of the project, and can potentially drag it out and cost a lot of money. Draw up a plan, create a system where everyone’s opinions are heard, evaluated and incorporated, then take the project from there.
3. Because people like it
Just because people say they like what the website looks like, doesn’t mean they will use it. What people say and what they do are often two different things. People may like your website, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will spend more money on it. In 2008, customers told Wal-Mart that they want a less cluttered, cleaner store. The company spend hundreds of millions of dollars on redesigning stores, only to see their sales drop by nearly $2 billion! Don’t believe what people say; do research, collect data, analyze the data, then make informed decisions based thereon.
4. It can backfire
There is no guarantee that a redesign will improve conversions at all, in fact, it can be a monumental failure. Well-known websites have lost a quarter of their traffic, established retailers have dropped millions and millions of dollars on redesigns, only to see a nearly 10% drop in online revenue.
Redesign is a strategy, not just some gut feeling of what you think might work. When it comes to redesigning a high-converting website there are four steps that will help you built the best website for your business.
1. Extensive research
Before even starting to plan your new website, you need to do research, and lots of it. Here are types of research you need to conduct:
To make decisions regarding the design of the site you need to know both how they buy (behavior) and why they buy (motivation) from you, called qualitative research. This can be done via surveys, interviews with customers and sales staff, and customer service conversations.
This type of research will show you the areas where users might experience friction, things that prevent them from buying, distractions, and areas or elements that are unclear. While complex tests exist to gather heuristic information, simply interviewing users/customers can provide you with a lot of insight into this. It’s also important to identify what does work on your site so you can implement those elements in the redesign.
What are people looking at, and where are they clicking? Insights from tracking analysis allow you to identify problem areas of your site (where people are not looking or clicking on). Also pay attention to areas that people look at, but don’t take action. Use tools like heat maps, scroll maps and mouse tracking to gather data.
As mentioned earlier, analyzing your website’s is one of the best ways to determine where your website is falling short and losing money. Look at things like exit rate, bounce rate, checkout abandonment rate and cart drop off rate to identify weak spots.
One of the best ways to get feedback about your website is through user-testing. Look at people using your site and let them comment on where they struggle and what they dislike. You can also conduct A/B tests to evaluate individual elements.
2. Build a prototype
Once you’ve conducted your research, you now know the what, where and why your website is not performing well. Use this information as a foundation to build a prototype, or wireframe, of your website. It’s important that the prototype includes everything you have learned from your research.
The two main pillars of a website, are design and content. Very often people only pay attention to design, while neglecting the actual content on the website. A good looking website is nothing without content. What information do users want and/or need to visit the website, stay on the website, and convert on the website? Writing for conversion is a very specific skill that can make a big difference in your website’s ability to convert. Hiring a good conversion copywriter should be seen as an investment.
When it comes to the visual side of things, designers are very important, but don’t let leave decisions up to them. A designer might know what looks great, but he/she may not know the best place to put a button that converts. Ideally the wireframe should be done by a conversion analyst. The designer then builds the website around this wireframe.
It’s important to note that while the design is based around data, the ‘perfect’ design still involves a bit of guess work. No data can make exact predictions of what will work, so designers and conversion analysts must use their intuition and experience (along with the data) to make the ultimate decision.
3. Analyze performance
With the prototype built, you need to analyze how it performs and what should be tested. While the prototype is built as accurately as possible, there will be questions regarding what certain elements should look like, where they must be placed, and what type of content should be featured.
The best way to identify what needs to be tested is to run a so-called gap analysis. A gap analysis compares the website’s potential performance with the actual performance to see whether the design is on-track to meet the desired needs.
Once elements to be tested have been identified, you can use A/B testing to figure out what needs to be improved, then use that data to make final design decisions. This is a VERY important step in the process of radically redesigning a website.
4. Design, release, optimize (research & testing)
The final step in the redesign process is to incorporate the analysis results, build the actual website from the prototype, and release the website to the real world. This is the true test of how effective the website actually is, because there is only so much you can test in a ‘lab’ setting.
Because of this, designers will often release what is called a beta version of the website to a limited number of users to identify bugs and areas that don’t work as well as expected. They use this feedback to tweak and polish the website, then release it to the world.
But just because the website has been released, doesn’t mean the job is done. It is critical to keep testing the site, especially during the first couple of months after release, so you can identify areas that can be optimized.
Redesigning your website from scratch is a big and risky move, and almost conversion rate optimization agency will advise against it. But there are times when this is your best option. Before you make the decision, make sure you do your research, consider all the risks, and devise a clear and detailed plan. Once your website has been built and launched, remember that optimization is a continuous process, it is never over.
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