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Website Redesign Lessons from 50+ Digital Professionals

From modernizing the look and feel of a website to addressing employee and end-users' frustrations, a website redesign project can hold a tremendous amount of promise. 

Website redesigns are not without their challenges, of course, so Website Magazine enlisted the help of more than 50 professionals to help you navigate through this rewarding and resource-intensive undertaking. The following advice totals more than 4,000 words, so it might not be conducive to reading through in one sitting. We encourage you to bookmark the page and refer to it as a resource before, during and after your next redesign. 
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warren-dobe-headshot1. Be aware of affiliations and sponsored recommendations when choosing providers such as hosting, CMS, plug-ins etc. Scrutinize reviews against your requirements rather than going from the quantity of reviews out there for a provider.

2. Build from a hand-drawn sketch rather than a pixel perfect design. Address the technical hurdles and user needs in the sketch and add the design flair later.

~ Warren Dobe, Co-Founder of Sling Adventures 

derek_chengEvery site is a work in progress. Web projects are a confluence of disciplines begging to be orchestrated (design, content, UX, corporate, technologies). You're beholden to legacy needs as well as the future. And the stakeholders often "can't see" the vision until they can respond to something. This serves to remind me it's best to get something out, then refine.

~ Derek Cheng Director of Marketing Content at Tipalti
Yuri-MusienkoRedesign is an act of courage. Doesn't matter what others say. When you do it, you have to keep in mind pros and cons. You should realize you can lose a lot simply because users won't accept it. It's a game where the prize is known only for you.

~ Yuri Musienko, Co-Founder & Director of Partnerships at Merehead

pro_shot_16We finished a redesign this year for the premier outdoor paddle sports store and instructional center in the Pacific Northwest (see image). It was one of the largest sites we put together. There was a class booking system, a large e-commerce shopping cart and a very active calendar of events. This project made us really spend more time up front planning before touching a line of code.

~ Travis Buck, Vice President of Northwest Media Collective Inc.
alder-creek
(Image source)

tomGreat design cannot overcome bad UX. Never fall into the trap of "just a re-skin" because most problems sites face are more than just a simple makeover.

~ Tom OlivieriDirector of Strategy & Content Worldmedia Interactive

thomasThe biggest mistake to avoid when redesigning your website is failing to set up proper 301-redirects. If you fail to do so, your new website will likely suffer in the search engines as a consequence of link flow not being passed properly from the old URL structure to the new one.

~ Thomas Jepsen, CEO of Ayudante 24/7

wallerWe make it a point to communicate the design elements that increase user experience.  Sometimes clients ask for changes that don’t align with the initial strategy. As a result, we make it a point to remind the client of their target audience by revisiting the proto-personas we created at the beginning of the project.

~ Dr. Talaya Waller, Personal Branding Consultant at WALLER & COMPANY

stoneyWebsite development isn't done until all content is added. Adding content exposes a number of issues, such as which is baked into the code and what is easily editable. There is a proper place for each. Formatting issues also become apparent, that may require developer re-involvement. Adding content exposes a number of issues that must be worked out before completion.

~ Stoney G deGeyter, Founder & CEO of Pole Position Marketing

stephengibson-headshotThe most memorable website redesign was one where the company decided to build version 2 and version 3 of their product simultaneously. They said they wanted to build version 2 to prepare everyone for version 3, but it effectively became two separate teams building their release, once of which was DOA. The lesson learned is don't do that.

~ Stephen Gibson, Founder of Vyteo.com

dv-2Lesson One:I worked at an agency and we were halfway through building a client’s site when we realized we had the specifications completely wrong. The error was caused by confusion over the definition of a single word. I learned that listening isn’t good enough. You have to put yourself in the stakeholder’s shoes to truly understand their view of the world.

Lesson Two: Everyone hates their new site design the day after launch. After participating in thousands of site launches, I’ve learned that people are never satisfied, nor should they be. It’s helpful to reframe re-designs as the beginning of a process, not the end. Create a plan for fast follow A/B tests to refine and keep your creation fresh and compelling.

~ David Vogelpohl, VP of Web Strategy at WP Engine

stellaAs a professional health expert and author, I decided it was time for a complete redesign of my website. Everything went smoothly until my website viewership increased dramatically in September due to the launch of my book. My shared server plan blacklisted me because of a huge volume in requests on my homepage that happened to be coming from the popup email subscription when viewers landed to the site. 

Thankfully my Web developers knew this was a server issue with CPU max-usage so we disabled the popup emailer and moved to a better server.  

~ Stella Metsovas, Author at www.stellametsovas.com

stanLesson One: Understand the client’s objectives and design preference with the website.

Web design is very subjective. Something that looks nice to you might not suit the client’s taste or their brand style.

Lesson Two: Wireframe, wireframe and wireframe. Provide wireframes first before doing any real design. Wireframes take 10 times less time than the actual Web design.

~ Stan Tan, Digital Marketing Manager at Selby’s

simonThe prep work for migration is absolutely vital to speeding up the redesign process of your site. Having all of your content in order, any technical considerations (MailChimp, Analytics, etc.) and any documents containing DNS information or FTP instructions prepared early can save you a massive headache during crunch time.

~ Simon Ponder, SEO Outreach Manager at Image Freedom

wewe_keithI learned from our first big law firm redesign project that although our lawyer clients are very smart people, they need educating before design begins. It’s imperative to convince the stakeholders from the start that you aren’t designing a website for them, you’re designing it for their clients - the buyers of their services. The difference in approach is huge.

~ Keith N. Wewe, Principal and VP of Strategy & Solutions at Content Pilot


dan-portrait1. Cautionary Tale, never celebrate too early 

A website redesign project we had worked on dragged on for so long that we celebrated its launch with champagne. As we were finishing our second round of cheers, a grumble began growing from the other room. A server had crashed, taking down our newly launched site in the process. We didn't feel much like celebrating after that.

2. Retina Displays

Something we try to remind clients when we're going through a redesign or development project is that the imagery and photography we need to use has to be able to display properly on all devices, including those high-end screens that have a higher pixel density. 72 DPI may have been the law of the land, but we preach 144 nowadays.

~ Dan Schepleng, Creative Director and President of Kapowza

scott-bishopWhen possible plan on keeping the URL structure the same. If you’re able to keep the URL structure the same search engines will have a much easier time crawling the site. Always make sure you set up 301 redirects and have good 404 pages. After launch watch for 404 errors on Google analytics and fix them as soon as possible.
 
~ Scott Bishop, Founder of Up And Social

romain-damery-public_previewWhen redesigning your site, chances are you’ll be using even more JavaScript. If so, make sure to check what the latest developments are for the base frameworks or libraries you’ll be using. I’m thinking directly switching to Angular2 with Universal instead of older AngularJS and dealing with PhantomJS or third-party tools for server-side rendering. This will dramatically speed up your SEO compliance efforts.

~ Romain Damery Digital Strategist, SEO at Path Interactive, Inc.

richWhen creating a site for a large company, it's common for lots of individuals to have an interest in the finalised design. With different opinions to take into account, always ensure that each party is happy with the the final design before moving into development. Overhauling the look if just one person isn't happy at this point will put unnecessary time and cost pressures on the project.

~ Richard Howe, Owner at Colour Rich

patrick-delehanty1. It's imperative that when you're going through a redesign that you solicit user feedback and test designs before going live with them. The reason you should do this is it not only allows you to capture design flaws or pain points early on, but it also ensures that you are implementing the most engaging and conversion focused designs possible. Doing so will help your team better understand what your users are looking for in their experience on your website and also understand what queues they are looking for to convert and keep converting.

2. I can't stress the importance of properly setting up a URL redirect map. Sometimes when websites go through redesigns, URLs will change, and it's important that if a page moves it's properly redirected from it's old URL to it's new URL for backlink and search engine visibility purposes. Failing to do so can cause drops in traffic and, worst of all, potential conversions like sales or leads.

~ Patrick Delehanty, Marketing Manager at Marcel Digital

circle-me-300Before you even start talking about the redesign and plans for the project I learned it's important to have a plan for after the redesign has gone live. I'm now always sure to emphasize to clients the importance of maintenance.

Before I did that sites would sit out there in limbo getting older and more vulnerable by the day.

~ Nick Leffler Owner of Exprance

natasha-kvitkaSpeaking of website redesign, I have to highlight two key points.

Firstly, it is a best practice to keep the URL structure no matter what layout changes are implemented in order to keep the website's organic search rankings and traffic.

Secondly, to keep and improve the conversion rates, you will need to transfer the converting features from the old design to the new one. Use heatmaps and clickmaps to evaluate Web page elements’ role in conversions.

~ Natasha Kvitka, Digital Marketing Strategist at GiftBasketsOverseas.com

morgan-mandriotaTrack and measure everything (using Hotjar and Google Analytics), and don’t just follow trends or copy what your competitors are doing. Base all of your design and functionality decisions on data in order to make the necessary changes that will directly benefit your target user/audience/consumer. 

~ Morgan Mandriota, Digital Project Manager at The Powerline Group

mikeWhen left unchecked, websites can quickly fall into various states of disrepair, irrelevance and redundancy. Deciding to “fix a website” is too broad to achieve meaningful change; determining feature demand by reviewing site analytics can reveal clear needs.
 
For one client, we recently discovered that removing excessive information and accommodating mobile devices improved user engagement while enabling improved personalization features.

~ Mike Fossano Vice President of Account Services at Premier Communications Group

michael-flintIn my experience, there are two main things that can derail a Web design process. 

1) If the client is in flux. What I mean is if the company is new, growing or trying to redefine itself while you’re designing, the objectives will change too. That can cause designs to become ineffective until they realign with the client’s goals and messaging. 

2) Content changes. Designs are flexible to a point. But when paragraphs and photos turns into an infographic, that changes layout, hierarchy and even responsive breakdowns. Content changes happen when the team doesn’t fully understand the messaging or goals of a page. Or when content creators are selected late in the game and they have their own ideas of what they want to say.

The trick is to stop the project at those phases, and not move forward until messaging, goals and content have all been agreed upon. This can be painful at the time, but ultimately it’s cheaper and faster to do the job right the first time.

~ Michael Flint, President of Metropolis Creative

nick1. Always make sure your new contact forms are submitting properly. Sometimes the client might not notice that new emails are not coming through for weeks and that can be devastating to a business.

2. Always explain to a client that re-designing a website will most likely lead to a short-term drop in rankings before hopefully bouncing back up above its original position. As an agency specializing in SEO, we see this almost every time, and we learned to manage client's expectations accordingly.

~ Nick Latreille, Web Designer & Developer at seoplus+

annadaugherty_us_headshotOur biggest takeaway from our website redesign is that you need to have a solid plan for capitalizing on years of old and outdated content. We went in with a plan to maintain and grow our SEO presence by updating, reusing, redirecting, or ditching old content, and we've seen a 23 percent increase in organic traffic since our redesign. 

~ Anna Daugherty, Digital Marketing Manager at PITSS

headshot_200x200I learned how critical it is to have a comprehensive list of pre- and post-launch activities documented well in advance. With so many moving parts, it's easy to miss a step, whether that's verifying that you’ve updated error messaging in the cart, or remembering to reindex the website after go-live.  My current list has about 150 items!

~ Antonella Pisani, CEO/Founder of Eyeful Media 

aprilErr on the side of caution when setting expectations. A common pitfall is assuming a level of technical savvy on the part of our clients. For example, when you tell a client they will own their website, do they understand they do not own the parts of the code that are open-source? 

~ April Wier, Founder of Sugar Five Design

ben-headshot-squareThe single most important thing in a website redesign is research. Who are the actual users of this site and how do they behave? What is the one thing we want them to do at the end of their visit (buy something, subscribe to an email list, etc.) and how can everything be designed to help make that happen?

~ Ben Guttmann, Partner and Co-Founder at Digital Natives Group

bobThe primary lesson learned after our last re-design is to put the user first. It sounds cliche, but especially when you’re also part of the target market, it’s easy to let personal bias creep in. Two, realize going in that a site is almost a living thing - it can and should iteratively change, so no need to be perfect out of the gate.

~ Bob Clary, Director of Marketing at DevelopIntelligence

caboheadshotWhen redesigning your website, consider your SEO. If you decide to change URL structure, ensure 301 redirects are done correctly, doublecheck them.  I also suggest running a scan for "broken backlinks" pointing to your site. Old links to your site hitting 404 pages are lost link juice.

Always run a full SEO audit of the new design, the last thing you want is to go live and leave your website in development mode blocking Google.

~Brad M. Shaw, President and CEO of Dallas Web Design Inc.

carterYou should never be afraid to delete what you’re working on and start over. Whether it's code or copy, creating a website is an iterative process and there’s something to be gained by not allowing yourself to get attached to the progress you’ve made. It’s amazing how much time you can save by simply having the courage to start over.

~ Carter Sowers, Technology Director at SundogHomes.com 

bret-bonnetNever assume ANYTHING.  Via Inspectlet, we monitored customers’ actions/conversions.  When we removed “extra” text because pages looked wordy, conversions decreased--customers liked the explanations!  When we featured specials on our homepage, people weren’t purchasing those products because they already wanted other specific products.  Now, we’re working on reducing the number of offers and making it easier for customers to search/find what THEY want right away.

~ Bret Bonnet, Co-Owner/Founder of Quality Logo Products, Inc.

casanova-lDuring ONTRAPORT’s recent blog redesign (see image), we decided to only transfer over our best-performing articles and focus on creating a great user experience. We quickly realized we had to set up 301 redirects for the outdated articles we weren't keeping. The bottom line? Don't be afraid to cut the fat, and always have a plan in place for redirects.

~ Laura Casanova, Creative Director of ONTRAPORT
blogcd

socialeKeeping expectations realistic with clients is a must! There is often an assumption that once a Web designer puts their finishing touches on a site, then the money will start rolling in. It's better to let them know from the very beginning that a website is just one piece of the puzzle and marketing/promotion is a necessary component. 
 
~ Chris Parks, Owner of Founding City Social

danForgetting to protect your existing SEO is imperative, and when you fail, it hurts. Once, we failed to account for all the disappearing URLs and integrate a 301 redirect strategy. That hurt but was fixable. We also failed to protect the keywords and pages that had SEO equity built-up. That really hurt. It took awhile to regain our SERP positions.
 
~ Daniel Davidson, Founder of By Dan Design Co.
david-erickson-headshotPlan extensively to maintain your Web presence. All too often, a redesign of a website will destroy valuable traffic to that site by failing to account for search engine ranking and inbound links. A complete online visibility audit should inform any site redesign. 

~ David Erickson, VP of Online Marketing at Karwoski & Courage

dennisThe biggest no-no I see many companies, and/or freelancers do is put up a "under construction" page while they are redesigning their website. Don't do it! You are still open for business and people are still looking for your services. You are losing leads and money as well as precious SEO rankings.

~ Dennis Michael Owner/Visual Problem Solver of Wake Creative

donna-s-duncanDo not underestimate the value of checklists. Last year I assembled a four-person team from three different organizations to redesign and optimize an outdated 925-page website on a new hosting platform. We collaboratively developed and used detailed prelaunch, launch, and post-launch checklists that enabled on-time, in-budget delivery of a website that exceeded customer expectations. Nothing fell through the cracks!  

~ Donna Duncan, SEO/Content Marketing Consultant at B-SeenOnTop LLC

img_1109When a client says that the content is almost ready and the designer can start designing, ALWAYS say no! We have had projects where the number of templates required to accommodate the final version of content went from 3 to 12 and delayed the project significantly. The lesson learned is to never start the redesign process without the finalized version of the content in hand.

~ Elyssa Respaut, Project Manager at AmDee

jennifer-phillips_headshotI'd say the biggest website redesign lesson I’ve learned is about communication as a whole. If specifications are not clearly documented then it's likely they will not be executed on. In order to avoid communication issues, we include a business requirements document and a thorough discovery phase on website projects so that the team is always on the same page.

~ Jennifer Phillips, VP of Marketing & Client Services at Traktek Partners

headshot-petercHave a clear set of objectives from the outset and create a detailed plan. Evaluate the relationship and possible effect different elements of the site will have on each other, such as design, user experience, functionality, conversion optimisation and SEO. You need a detailed view of each individual element along with a holistic view of how they will come together. 

~ Peter Collins, Director at English Blinds

giselaHave someone outside of the project proofread the site. Mistakes can be overlooked if you have stared at the website too long. Not just copy mistakes, but incorrect links, images, and UX errors. Someone who hasn’t navigated the website before will have a more honest interaction with the site, and can give feedback on functionality. 

~ Gisela Borrageiros, Marketing Manager at QNY Creative

ian-wright-headshotThe biggest lesson I've learned from a website redesign gone wrong is to always make sure your plans to redirect your old pages to new ones is implemented properly. You don't want to be scrambling after a redesign trying to fix a 90 percent drop in website traffic.  

~ Ian Wright, Founder of Merchant Machine

jp-headshotMake sure to add the noIndex tag to your dev site pages. The agency we hired to redesign our site failed to do this and our dev site was being indexed by Google, creating duplicate content issues. Better still, use htaccess password to prevent indexation and potential hacking of your dev site.

~ Jennifer Poole, J.D., Director of Marketing of Nadrich & Cohen, LLP

cliffordPlay with type. Your old site probably came from the era of only a handful of typeface options. The possibilities have grown exponentially in the last few years with Adobe Typekit and Google Fonts, and there are so many more ways to play with contrast, establish hierarchy, create more readable text, and illustrate with typography. Explore!

~ John Clifford, Creative Director/Designer and Founder of Think Studio

jon-saxton-headshotBreak approval into smaller, more frequent phases. The worst thing you can do is finish a project, send it to the client or the team, and have them change something foundational. Instead, get buy-in and feedback at every stage (content architecture, design, specific functionality) to avoid huge work duplications at the tail end of a project.

~ Jon Saxton, Project Manager at PHOS Creative

zelenskayaWhen it comes to a new design concept, some recently hired consultants and Web designers lose sight of the old content value. The old content value should not be underestimated because it has actually brought profit to the company for years and generated a budget for the current Web redesign project. At the same time, the shift to the new concept might also be difficult for the ‘old’ employees who are so much used to the old concept. The main lesson for a successful Web redesign project is to evaluate and combine the legacy and innovation while continuing to reach your targets.

The future website design is attached. Here is an example of the ‘old’ Web page for one of our products and the new:

Old: https://www.paragon-software.com/home/camptune/

New: https://backstage.paragon-software.com/home/camptune/

~ Liliya Zelenskaya, Lead Web Project Manager at Paragon Software Group 

davidThe homepage is becoming less important and internal pages more important, as more visitors are coming in from search and social. So the biggest lesson I have learned is to make sure we are spending the most time focused on how we can redesign and improve the experience of the pages of our site that are getting the most traffic. 

~ David Waring, Co-Founder of Fit Small Business

lukeOne of the greatest lessons we learned was that redesigns always cost more in time and money than you expect. If you really do your homework and find what you want before approaching a designer, you can reduce the expense, but be prepared for multiple iterations and lots of changes.

~ Luke Shaffer, Chief Operations Officer at Prendus

Tanya-Lord_ColorDuring One North’s website redesign, I learned that it’s best to design with real content. By providing designers with drafts of the content, they were able to highlight key messages and deliver information in more thoughtful ways. It also made it easier for my team to choose our favorite concepts when we were able to see actual content at play.  

- Tanya Lord, marketing manager at One North 

martin-khanTo craft an effective CTA for any of our clients, we implement Fitt's law. It says that the larger you make the clickable area of essential links and elements, the faster and easier it is for users to click on it. It also works the other way around, and cancel and unsubscribe buttons should take up a smaller area.

~ Martin Khan, Digital Marketing Consultant at Result Fuel

michaelWhen redesigning a website the most important thing is to reconsider the users of your website and I'll say that the last website redesign I tried out was an absolute nightmare. I changed from Blogger to WordPress and changed my permalinks to match the URL structure of Blogger to avoid 404 errors and loosing pagerank. I had over 208 pages returning 404 errors. I also tried a new plug in, unfortunately the plug in ruined my website's design so at the end of everything I returned back to my previous CMS and old design.

I learnt quite a couple of things. First, it's not always necessary to change your CMS if you're redesigning a website unless you're looking to add features not available on your CMS. Secondly, if you're redesigning your website make sure you turn on maintenance mode, you don't want your users getting into dead ends on your website. 

~ Michael Ajah, Editor of NaijaTechGuy

Have a lesson to add? Let us know in the comments below.

 
 

 

 
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