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.
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:
Basically, everything starts to drop as your website gets older – unless you intervene.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 is Head of Creative at Vertical Leap.
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