Time to rebuild your site?

How do I recognise the signs my site is out of date? Renew or update, what’s the best option?

Photo of Koen Platteeuw
Tue, 2013-05-14 12:42By koen

The full redesign of a large website is a long and hard process. The time, energy (and discussions) invested from concept to launch are substantial. Therefore, nobody embarks on such an endeavour without putting in the necessary thought. But for the same reason, organisations often wait too long to update or redo a site. But when is the ideal moment to refresh your site? And what’s the best option? Update a site or start all over? The question has many answers, and for sure this post will still miss a few.

To start, let me propose the following exercise:

Think about when you first started creating the concept of the current site. Make a list of 10 issues that were top of the agenda at your business or organisation at that moment. Now make a second list, identical in concept, but listing issues which are on your agenda today or will be in the coming 12 months.

Is the list any different? Do you still focus on the same challenges? If the answer is “yes, there are only minor differences”, and your site was well thought through at its moment of conception, sure a clean sheet redesign won’t be required. Still there are a number of areas where updates might be required, so keep reading. If, on the other hand, the purpose of your business or organisation and therefore the site has undergone significant changes you’ll need to ask yourself a couple more questions.

1) What would you like the site to do for you?

Provide static information? Be a sales channel? Be a place of interaction with your clients? Be a communication channel for your customer service? Serve as a recruitment place? Be your main marketing channel? A hub for promotional campaigns? Provide content behind a paywall? Also, don’t just think about the public, but also about how the site will be used internally. Will the site be used intensively by your own staff as a knowledge exchange tool? Can it be used as an intranet for the company staff? Can many users contribute to the site through a user friendly workflow? Order these identified priorities. To each of these possible goals you identified, ask if the current site does that already in an effective way and if that goal could be significantly improved.

2) Who will use my site?

Are these the same users as when my site was originally developed? For each of these users, does the site offer the relevant content, service, functionality in a user friendly and efficient way? By now you should have a list of goals as well as users and an assessment of the effectiveness of your current site, which will help you decide on the need for a new site.

Image credit, by CGP Grey and released under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

If you’re still not sure, or you passed the first exercise successfully, lets take a look at some practical questions on your site in order to identify areas that might require an update.

DESIGN

Is the content on the landing page relevant and attractive? If you see a very high bounce rate from your home page combined with a short average stay on the page, it’s clear the page isn’t keeping people’s attention. There is either no relevant and good quality content or the design puts people off or people end up at your home page for the wrong reason. Another explanation for a high bounce rate might be that your site isn’t accessible for the device or operating system the visitor uses. Responsive design, nowadays, is a given, but we don’t need to go too far back to a time when the majority of websites were mainly designed for Internet Explorer on a desktop computer. Another question to think about is how the information is organised on your current site. How many clicks are required from your key users to find the relevant information on your site? The deeper the information is hidden, the less likely your users will find it.

TECHNOLOGY

Is your site using old industry standards that are getting out of use or are not supported any more? Flash is an obvious case. But it doesn’t always have to be a technology that is no longer used. You might be using an old version of a technology which is no longer supported: Drupal 5, Joomla 1.5, Wordpress 2.x. Maybe your technology is still ok, but not performing well on mobile devices.

CONTENT

Is the content on your site of decent quality? Is it regularly updated? Optimised for your audience? Changes in your content strategy don’t always require an update of your site. Nowadays sites are developed in a flexible way. An up to date content mix often combines video, text, images & infographics and that content can easily be shared. Does your site have this capability? Maybe you have good content internally, but updating the site is a technically difficult job. In that case you’re definitely in need of a good CMS and some staff training.

SITE FOCUS CHANGED

Company and organisations websites have moved from a source of information, to a channel to engage with the organisation's audience, not to forget the growth of direct e-commerce. Making your site interactive requires more than the addition of a “follow us on Twitter” link. If your site has become a revenue generator, don’t give the webshop a small corner on the site, but design the site around it. If you want to do these things well, they need to be incorporated in the concept of the site. Adding this kind of functionality as we go isn’t always technically feasible nor recommended.

SEO

The release of Google Penguin has radically changed the way Search Engine Optimization is successfully implemented. Sites that were SEO optimised based on the tools pre April 2012, might have seen their search engine ranking drop dramatically. A whole series of new tools and guidelines have been developed since, and if SEO is key to your site, sooner or later you’ll have to implement these.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of whether or not you need to renew or update your site. If you think you might, we’ll provide you two additional posts in the coming weeks to help you take the next steps:

How to update my site?

A new site: where do I start?