5 Important Things to Remember when Redesigning a Site

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

Redesigning sites is an important part of website design as technology and the web is constantly evolving. Staying with a design for too long risks falling behind competition. There are a number of things to consider when redesigning website so don’t think of a redesign as just changing the visuals.


1. Content is King

Its an old saying in the web world but it certainly is one to still take note of. Content is very important. Only by creating great content will users come back to your site and recommend it to friends and colleagues as, ultimately, this is what engages the visitors. For example I read Soccernet.com over any other sport site because the content is extremely well written and I keep coming back to them because of it. The branding and design of the product or service will definitely help push the content forward but ultimately the quality of content is what counts.

Another benefit of great content is improved search engine performance. Search engines are more likely to pick up on well written content and rank it higher. Writing something and loading it with keywords will just irritate readers, reducing the chance of them returning.

Also, good content will be shared across the internet and search engines rates links from sites as an important method of ranking your site. Google places more importance on links from higher quality so the better your content the higher the chance of better quality sites will be linking to you.

The main benefits of great content are:

  • Great content engages readers
  • Search engine performance increase
  • Increases quality of links from other sites

2. Improve Usability

Usability is something that can always be improved. It can never be perfect, its just not possible. Learn lessons from the previous design and see what worked well and what didn’t. After all, you don’t want to degrade usability of something that worked well before and risk turning away previously satisfied users. On the other hand, improving something that just wasn’t working well before can have a positive effect.

Don’t be afraid to remove particular feature of your site that didn’t work well at all unless it really is core to what you do. Sometimes removing a feature can simplify use for a customer and improve their experience by making it less complex and easier to use.

Take note of analytics leading up to the current state of the site to find out more about the users, what they visit and the tools they use to do so. For example, if most users are browsing your site via IE6 and IE7 then you need to take that into account for how the design will be coded in CSS.

Things to do to improve usability:

  • Learn lessons from previous design, find out what worked and what didn’t
  • Don’t be afraid to simplify your site for better focus
  • Make note of analytics (resolutions, browser usage etc.)

3. Use relevant Technologies

Following on from the previous point of evaluating how your users view your site, use relevant techniques to take advantage of that.

If most of your users are using IE6 and IE7 and you want to use things such as rounded corners then you will have to decide whether it is worth the extra time implementing that or simply using CSS3’s border-radius property for modern browsers. If you do decided to implement techniques such as rounded corners in IE then you will need to make sure that you factor them into the development time.

Likewise if the majority of users are using modern browsers then it’s likely you can adopt even more CSS3 properties. Make sure that everything degrades gracefully and doesn’t completely break everything in older browsers while giving the best experience to the majority of your users.

Summary of using relevant technologies:

  • Take advantage of increasing support for CSS3
  • Allow for graceful degradation
  • Use frameworks such as jQuery if it adds something value to your site, not just for the sake of it

4. Understand the Goals

One of the most important aspects is to be aware of are the ambitions of the site. Getting a grasp of what the aims are, is key to getting the design right. As you will see in the next point you can iterate the design once live but getting the design as close to what is required as possible will only ease that process.

Understand what users want from the site. The main benefit to a redesign over starting from scratch is that you should already have a great idea of what the user wants from the site. This crosses over nicely with improving usability as that always be one of the goals of a redesign.

Understanding the goals:

  • Have an understanding of what the redesign wants to achieve
  • Be sure of what the users want

5. Don’t forget about the Site after going Live

Once a site has gone live you can still make improvements and necessary changes as one of the great things about the internet is that we can make immediate changes for users to see. By considering an iterative approach to design, development and content you will be giving a good impression to your users that you are making improvements and progress with your site as time goes on, giving them reasons to keep coming back.

Remembering that content is king, make sure that you update and add content when necessary. Obviously if you’re running an online store you want to be doing this anyway but the same applies to all sites. Keeping content fresh keeps it related and relevant to what your company is doing at the time

Perform some sort of user testing to see how the site is performing. A good way to try a couple of different approaches to the same problem is to do A/B testing to see which method performs the best. This will ensure that you get improved return on investment and is something that is easy to setup.

After a new design goes live:

  • Consider an iterative approach for improvements
  • Update and add content when required
  • Do some form of user testing to find weaknesses and make improvements

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with 9 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.