Redesigning a website isn't just about changing the look and feel. We live in a world of ever-changing technologies, and this creates different problems that need to be solved. Redesigning a website can go much deeper than just the way the site looks. The functionality, presentation, load times, and ease of maintenance are all things that can prompt a redesign.
All my links work, and I have lots of content, why should I redesign my site?
Maybe you don't need to, but if it's been awhile, here are some things to consider:
Is Your Site Responsive?
If you're asking yourself "What is responsive design?", then you probably need this far more than you think. I'll explore the details of what a responsive design is in a future post, but the purposes of this post, let's say it basically means your website adapting to various screen sizes. Your site should look good on mobile phones, tablets, and different sized desktops. It is no longer good enough to design a site for only a desktop or a laptop. Yes, it's possible to have your site function on a mobile device still, but is that 'good enough'. Maybe part of the site don't function on mobile devices (are you using Flash?). There are millions of people accessing your site via mobile devices. Do you really want to give anyone a 'good enough' experience?
Does your current site follow the principles of responsive design? Can it easily be viewed on all devices, without negatively affecting the experience? If your answer is "no" or "I'm not sure" than I suggest it's time to at least consider changing the current site to be responsive. Be aware though, that sometimes simply changing the current site isn't an option. If the existing site is old and not designed with responsive in mind, than chances are the entire structure needs to be rewritten.
Is it Hard to Keep Updated?
When was the last time you updated content on your website? Why? If it was awhile ago, and that's was because 'it's hard', then you need to determine what makes it hard to update. It could be an number of reasons, most commonly time or a lack of knowledge of how to update the site. If the reason is time, is it that it's not quick to update? If it's just that you don't have to generate content, than a redesign might not be the answer, but if it's that you don't have time, or knowledge, to follow the current process, than try to consider why that is.
Your solution may be fairly simple. You could have a developer install a content management system (CMS) to make it easy for you to update yourself. A full rebuild might sound frightening, but you could have a developer start from scratch with an all new site, that is more easily updated. In most cases, unless you're comfortable editing HTML, you're probably best to consider a CMS, either way, have a developer customize the site as you need it, and if the site is a challenge to maintain, try to evaluate why.
Are There Features That Are No Longer Used?
As sites grow, we often find that certain parts just aren't working well anymore, and are becoming outdated. One that comes to mind is the Facebook Fan boxes that show your friends who like a particular site. That's so 2011. Do you have something like this on your site that is no longer serving a purpose on your site?
Some designers argue that social media share buttons aren't as effective as they once were, and are removing them from their sites. You can examine their value only if they are actually functioning. As those social media sites grow, they often change the codes needed to do things like show Facebook likes, or show a Twitter feed. Take the time to evaluate if these features add value to your site or not.
Does Your Site Take a Long Time to Load?
Much like responsive design, you need to consider how much information is being loaded onto your site. Many phone carriers place limits on the amount of data we are allowed. With these limits you could be seriously hurt visitors if you make them download too much information, too many images, or too many scripts, just to view your site.
Most web developers agree that if your site takes longer than 2-3 seconds to load, then it's time to consider optimizing your site. After this time, users become disinterested and will leave your site. If your site is taking this long to load, I would recommend you consider hiring a web developer to look into why your site is so slow, or consider a redesign that will allow for faster load times.
Are Visitors Moving Past Your Home Page?
First of all, if you don't know if people are moving beyond your home page, than you have a problem that needs correcting. This is data that is easy to gain access too, and things such as Google Analytics makes it simple to review this data.
If you are starting to lose visitors at the home page, then you should at the very least consider the content of your home page. Is it appealing at first glance. Also, consider the design. Is it easy to navigate to other parts of the site? Does it make users want to navigate to other parts of your site? Consider a design that is familiar to users. Part of what makes a design pattern into a trend is familiarity of users. Think about a redesign that makes it easy for visitors to quickly get to the most vital information you have to offer.
Is Your Site Losing Visitors Over Time?
Closely related to finding out if visitors are moving past your home page, is to see if they are coming to your site at all. Are you finding that visitors aren't coming as often as they once had? If so, it's worth considering kickstarting either your content, or the entire site, to attract both new and returning visitors.
A downward trend in traffic may not indicate a total redesign is nice, it's a pretty good indication that your site has some SEO issues, or your content has become stale. Visitors will stop coming to your site regularly if they don't see frequent updates to your content. If it's the same old thing, they have no need to come back. Search engines will also rank your pages lower, in favour of sites that are constantly being updated with new content. Content aside, a redesign, or at least a reworking, can be a good way to ensure your site has proper SEO.
When Was the Last Time You Did a Major Redesign?
My customers have never complained, so what difference does it make?
Your website is your first impression to a potentially huge number of visitors. Visitors that you, likely, want to turn into customers. If you walk into a store and the decor is from the mid-80s, or it looks like it hasn't been vaccumed in months, would you tell the store owner? More than likely you would just leave, and probably never return. Retail design trends don't change nearly as fast as on the web, so you can get away with maybe revamping your look every 10 - 15 years, but the web is a very different place.
My general rule, is design should be looked at every 3 years, and functions should at least be revisited every 5 years. True, these don't match up at all, but that's because even though web technologies change quickly, they don't change anywhere near as fast as design trends. You don't need to be on the very cusp of design trends, and it's actually a bad idea to be leading or creating the trend, but you should try to at least be current. A major consideration in your design should be the familiarity for users. Can they find menus? Can they find your contact info, or pricing easily?
If you can't remember the last time you gave your site a full redesign, then it's a very good sign that you need to update your site, if nothing else, to bring it up to date with current technologies and designs. This may may not be a strong indicator, however. Different sites serve different purposes. If this is the only reason you want to redesign, you may want to reconsider. What other benefits would you gain?
Are Parts of Your Site Not Functioning Properly?
Is there anything on your site that doesn't work? Are there pages that give errors, or "404 Not Found" messages? This can often be a simple fix, but it may also indicate a bigger problem. It could mean that your site is disorganized, or being mishandled. This can sometimes be corrected by using a CMS to manage content. This can reduce the lose of pictures, or broken links, that are sometimes caused by improper management, or mistakes, made on your site.
If you have a large number of broken links, missing images, error message, etc., then I would recommend a full redesign of your site that includes a CMS. If you only have a handful of these issues, then take some time to have those fixed as soon as you can.
Do Search Engines Even Know You Exist?
The topic of SEO is a tough one. There is a lot that can be said about good SEO when it relates to getting your site on search engines, but it's actually not that hard to do. There are a few certain things that you should make happen that can result in very positive SEO results. Search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, prefer sites that have content that is updated frequently, coded properly, and doesn't have a lot of images. There are many other things that can positively or negatively effect your ranking. In some cases you may be able to fix issues yourself by keeping your site up to date, but things like making sure it's coded properly may need to be investigated by a web developer with SEO experience. They can take a look and let you know if there are code issues that could be hurting your search engine optimization.
If you have trouble finding your site, or your not able to at all, it might be time for a fresh website to help boost your SEO. For most websites, the majority of visitors come from Google, rather than typing your URL directly, so it's important to play nice with search engines so that they will find your site, and rank you higher in search results. Remeber, SEO can help get people to your site, but it's still up to you to make them stay.
What's the Copyright Year in the Footer of Your Site?
Make a Decision
Your site might fall exactly inline with many of the points above, but this may not mean you need to do a complete overhaul. If your site takes a long time to load, you could start by having a developer take a look to see exactly which parts are slow, and focusing on fixing those issues. If you're losing traffic, this could be because of poor SEO, or stale content. Take a look at those items to see if you can revive your site a little.
If you are affected by several items above, I would suggest it's time to hire a web designer/developer and rebuild your site, so you aren't left behind the competition. I stress the part about hire a web designer/developer. If you are not one, or do not have one on staff, do not take this on yourself. It's important for you to have input into the look, feel, and function of your site, but it's critical to know that a professional has dedicated themselves to keeping up on design and technology trends. They are the expert, and you need them.
In the end, you have to make a decision on whether or not your site needs a full redesign or not. If you're getting the feeling you need a redesign, contact a designer or developer (me for example), and have a chat about why you think your site needs some updating. From there you can determine together if the best course of action is simply some updates, or a full redesign.