Website redesigns are dead – it’s time for a different approach

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Since the dawn of the web, companies have carried out their website redesign every 2-5 years. This is how it’s always been done and, for better or worse, this is what most companies will continue to do – but they are sleepwalking into a cycle that limits sales, growth and even market share.

In this article, we explain why it’s time for the cycle of website redesigns to end.

More importantly, we reveal the alternative approach that’s not only cheaper but also more effective and drives sustainable growth, whether you’re the smallest of companies or a tech giant like Amazon.

Key issues of website redesigns

1. Websites age faster than you think

As with most modern technologies, websites age quickly and a year is a long time. If one dog year is equivalent to seven human years, then your website is ready for retirement before it celebrates a second birthday.

It’s not only the visual design of your website that ages, either. The code ages, loading times increase and technical issues develop while the risk of malware, viruses and other health issues increases.

If you’re waiting several years to address these issues, your website spends most of its life underperforming.

The side effects only get worse with time:

  • Conversion rates drop
  • Engagement drops
  • Search ranking drops
  • Return on investment drops

Basically, everything starts to drop as your website gets older – unless you intervene.

2. Website redesigns are expensive

The issue most businesses complain about with website redesigns is how expensive they are. To make matters worse, this encourages a lot of businesses to hold off on redesigning their websites, which only makes the problems we discussed in the previous section even worse.

The thing is, web design doesn’t need to be this expensive. Businesses typically spend several tens of thousands on a new website every 2-5 years – and for what? An unnecessarily expensive website that spends most of this period underperforming.

It makes far more sense to spend less on constant improvements that help your website perform better every year. More on this later.

3. Website redesigns change too many things at once

Website redesigns are expensive because you’re completely overhauling your site every time. This requires a lot of work, time and money. It also increases the complexity of your project, which multiplies the risk of bugs, errors and technical issues. At the end of your redesign, you face the task of testing and debugging a whole website.

So you have to spend more time and money fixing every issue that comes up. Anything that doesn’t get resolved lingers on and causes more issues until the next redesign (adding yet more work to the next project).

The other big issue with changing everything at once is that you can’t test the impact of your redesign. To run reliable tests, you have to make one change at a time or – at the very most – a few closely linked changes. Website redesigns change too many things at once, which means you’re simply guessing and hoping for the best.

4. Users are confused by website redesigns – or worse

Another issue with changing too many things at once is that you confuse returning website visitors. People who are used to your previous website are lost with the redesign and this is where the gamble can really start to hurt businesses.

Confusion makes it harder for users to complete key tasks (purchases, conversions, etc.) and this adds a lot of sudden friction to the experience.

Snapchat’s infamous 2018 navigation redesign sent many users over to its biggest rival, Instagram.

Snapchat’s infamous 2018 navigation redesign sent many users over to its biggest rival, Instagram.

Hopefully, your new website is technically “better” than the previous version. However, even in this case, returning visitors are plunged into an experience that’s tangibly worse for them, simply by being so different.

As we’ll see from examples later, a complete redesign can force even the most loyal of visitors to quit the session and look elsewhere. 

What’s the alternative to website redesigns?

The alternative to website redesigns is to start with a website that performs from day one and make constant, gradual improvements to get better results every year.

So, instead of completely redesigning your website every 2-5 years, you make smaller changes more often – eg: every month or quarter.

This solves all of the problems with website redesigns:

  • It’s cheaper: Constant improvements cost less to implement and they spread the expense over time – no more horrendous bills every few years.
  • It’s less complicated: Smaller changes are faster to implement and significantly reduce the risk of bugs and other technical issues.
  • Debugging: If anything does go wrong with a small change, it’s easy to identify the issue and fix it quickly.
  • Testing: By making smaller changes, you can run accurate tests to know exactly what impact they make.
  • Constant improvement: Instead of website performance dropping every year, you can constantly improve results.
  • Less disruption: Smaller changes mean returning visitors are never caught out by complete redesigns.
  • Goal-driven: You can set specific goals for every design change (eg: increase conversion rates) and only implement changes that get the results you need.
  • Informative: Smaller changes produce clear outcomes, which you can analyse and use to inform future design choices.
  • Data-driven: This data-driven approach to design optimisation means you’re making calculated, high-impact decisions – no more guesswork.
  • Low stakes: Even when you’re testing high-impact changes, you’re only testing one change at a time – so you’re never gambling everything on a complete redesign.

Adopting a strategy of continual improvement lifts you out of the dead-end cycle of website redesigns. It replaces overhauls with smaller, data-driven changes that allow you to measure success with accuracy.

You spend less on more, high-impact changes and build a long-term strategy of informed decisions that help you make increasingly better design choices over time – based on data, not guesswork.

Examples: Website redesigns vs continual improvements

To put this all into context, let’s look at a couple of examples of major brands taking two different approaches to web design and optimisation. First, we’ve M&S taking the website redesign path and, then, Amazon adopting the tactic of continual improvements.

M&S redesign plunged sales by -8.1%

In 2014, British retailer Marks & Spencer redesigned its entire website to the princely sum of £150 million. The bill itself wasn’t the problem, though. As many companies experience when they overhaul their websites, performance tanked when they launched the new version in February 2014.

In the first three months after launch, M&S online sales fell by 8.1% with negative reviews flooding in from disgruntled customers.

The new M&S website in 2014 that customers didn't like

M&S spent two years redesigning its website, using a team of 50 web developers to revamp the back and front ends of the site. Unfortunately, the scale of the project produced a long list of usability issues that hit returning users all at once.

Customers complained of technical issues, navigation problems, poor device optimisation, lacking information (eg: product descriptions) and a range of technical issues. M&S landed itself with a conversion-killing website and a list of technical issues so long it didn’t know where to start.

As UX-REPUBLIC noted in 2016, even if M&S had launched the site without any usability or technical issues, the scale of changes was simply too much for its loyal users.

“It was the big launch that cost M&S ​​the most… changing everything overnight. Loyal consumers who have used the site for years have acquired habits around this old user interface and the functionality of this old site. Such a radical change means that they have to unlearn to re-learn how to use the site.” – UX-Republic; The redesign of the Marks & Spencer site and its 8% decline in sales

To make matters worse, a two-year development project meant the website was already out of date by the time it launched. The company spent years trying to revive a doomed project and fix a deluge of technical issues that caused lasting damage to its reputation – and online revenue.

Amazon: How continual improvement drives growth

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Amazon – a company that drives growth with a pretty aggressive strategy of continual improvement. Ask Amazon developers when they last redesigned the world’s biggest eCommerce website and the answers “never” and “constantly” are equally true.

Amazon founder and former CEO, Jeff Bezos, once famously said: “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” This culture of experimentation built Amazon into the world’s biggest company and – for a while – Jeff Bezos into the world’s richest person.

Annual net sales revenue of Amazon 2004 to 2022

“Amazon values experiments. A lot. Its website is a giant petri dish, experimenting constantly with pricing a/b tests, customization trials, recommendation algorithms and more.” – Forbes; How Does Amazon Do It? Five Critical Factors That Explain Amazon’s Incredible Success

Amazon didn’t always have this ruthless appetite for experimentation, though. Many of the platform’s early innovations were developed without a significant testing strategy – many of which failed while some paid off big.

In 2002, eight years after Amazon first launched, the company started developing its culture of experimentation. Yet progress was still slow. By 2013, Amazon was still only running 1,976 experiments globally, up from 1,092 in 2012 and 546 in 2011.

Within a few more years, Amazon was among the tech giants running over 10,000 experiments per year.

Now, Amazon is constantly testing and improving its website, often with changes that are so small they’re imperceptible to users.

Given the scale of Amazon’s business and its testing strategy, most experiments will fail and quickly revert back to the control version. At the same time, small changes can yield big wins and the company only needs a single-digit win percentage to continue driving growth.

This is how continual improvements drive exponential growth – the wins keep getting bigger over time.

It’s time to end the redesign cycle

To sum up, here’s a quick review of the issues with website redesigns and how a strategy of continual improvements solves all of them.


RedesignContinual improvement
You release a full-scale redesign every 2–5 years. Each new version of the website will typically change the design and functionality, and potentially the backend too.Your website is continually improving. All changes – big and small – are tested, rolled out and used to influence future decisions.
Untested and risky: Harder to test before launch. Then by changing design and functionality across the whole site at the same time, it makes it impossible to identify the cause of any increase or decrease in sales.Tested and scalable: By testing every change, we eliminate risk. If a change decreases the conversion rate, we roll back. If it increases the conversion rate, we roll it out – and see how we can apply it elsewhere.
Opinion-driven: Competing stakeholders and the inability to test the changes mean that the redesign is driven by opinion rather than data.Data-driven: Because every change is tested, it has to be based on a strong hypothesis rather than opinion alone. Analytics and user insight drive the changes – not the HiPPO.
Unfocused: Multiple competing goals, priorities and stakeholders.Focused: Every change has a clear goal and KPI, so we can measure its impact.
Slow: The specification typically becomes bloated with every review, meaning that the redesign overruns and compromises are made to launch on-time or close to it.Fast: Tests are continually being rolled out, and a short-term test roadmap means we can quickly respond to changes in priorities.
Semi-permanent: As redesigns typically happen on a 2–5 year cycle, any issues can be hard to fix and any opportunities hard to implement.Always improving: Rather than randomly redesigning the website – which may increase or decrease performance – the conversion rate is always improving.

Need help with your website redesign?

If you want to make the shift from website redesigns to continual improvement, we can help. Call us on 02392 830 281 to speak to our website team or send us your details and we’ll call you.

Rick Toovey profile picture
Rick Toovey

Rick is Head of Creative at Vertical Leap.

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