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How Often Should Websites Be Redesigned?

By Burkey Belser
December 10, 2012
How Often Should Websites Be Redesigned?

These days, at some point in every meeting, someone asks “How often should our website be redesigned?” Good question. We have a gut instinct as to the answer—every three years. Web technology is changing so fast you’re quite likely to have fallen seriously behind even in that short period. Think about it: social media as we know it today is only five years old! Trends in web design are accelerating, too. A careful observer can almost pinpoint the year in which a site was designed by its style and technology.

We never want to leave you with our gut call. We’d rather provide solid research for you to share with management. So, as we see it, the first question to answer is

  • “How often are sites really being redesigned?” And what is a redesign anyway?

Number two?

  • “What market or internal changes force a redesign?”

And finally,

  • “Is there any way we can extend the life of our site technology?”

We suspect that you want to wait for the pain of the last redesign to subside before you embark on the next redesign. A web project is a lot of work!

Anecdotal evidence confirms site redesign every two to three years

Ask a marketing professional how often firms should redesign their website and you will probably get the response “about every two to three years.” A cursory look at numerous blogs and articles on the subject will tell you the same thing:

“There is no hard and fast answer to the question of how often you should redesign your website, though most marketers and designers suggest updating your site every 2 to 3 years.” Memphis web design firm, RocketFuel.

“The marketer’s conventional wisdom seems to suggest that you should redesign your site every 2 or 3 years to keep your business fresh.” Kris Kiler,http://www.netoneclick.com/redesign-website/

“If your website was built at least two years ago it would be wise to evaluate the platform and technology that was used to build it.”

But how often are firms actually redesigning their websites?

The numbers: Hinge Marketing and Hubspot.com surveys

Two recent studies, one by Hinge Marketing and the other produced by the design website Hubspot, looked at how often firms revamped their websites.

In the Hinge study, “Online Marketing for Professional Services Firms: How Professional Firms can Achieve High Growth and Profits With Online Marketing,” (Hinge Marketing, 2011, www.hingemarketing.com), 500 professional services firms were interviewed along with a panel of twenty marketing experts:

  • Survey sample was 500 professional services firm and a panel of 20 online “marketing leaders.”

  • 25% of firms attract 40% or more of their new hires online

  • The majority of firms updated their websites weekly

  • Nearly half of all firms interviewed have redesigned their websites in the past twelve months (emphasis added)

  • However, they also found that “almost one in five has not done so in more than three years.”

Hubspot’s “The Science of Website Redesign” (Mike Volpe, Chief Marketing Officer, Hubspot, 2011, http://www.hubspot.com/view-the-science-of-website-redesign/) also revealed some interesting discoveries:

Surveyed: 100+ consumers, 100+ marketers, 100+ agencies
Majority of marketers redesigned their website within the last 12 months (68%)
16% redesigned within the last two years
11% between two to three years ago
5% over three years ago

So this is a complicated answer. Hubspot’s takeaway was that “most people think you should redesign your website every 1–2 years.” We’re not so sure. Most website designers recommend the site be designed every 13–36 months. CEOs and marketing teams recommend sites be redesigned on the same schedule. Most interesting were the respondents on both ends of the bell curve who suggest that sites should be redesigned every three months (on the far left) and those who suggest you should never do a complete website redesign (on the far right). Although these individuals are in the minority, we also believe they’ve gotten it right; i.e., a website’s content should always be noodled, massaged and changed in response to what your web traffic tells you should be done. You do read your analytics, don’t you? But we’re getting philosophical. Always work on your website, improving the design and messaging. After three years at most (!), begin a full tilt redesign.

…which leads us to other half of our first question:

What, exactly, is a ‘redesign’?

One thing both surveys omitted is a discussion of what constitutes a redesign. Redesigns are not the same as maintenance, the routine updating all websites require. Hubspot advises: “Your website should be a living, breathing, changing being. Edit and improve constantly.” Think of a well-designed site as a newborn baby. It needs care and coddling. You certainly cannot abandon it once it’s launched, although, in truth, most sites are. “Maintenance” for most simply means updating the news or articles. But your site deserves more love and attention than that—new imagery, new pages and minisites, new messages to correspond with new initiatives, etc.

A redesign is also different from a site refresh. Typically a site refresh means the home- page may be dramatically changed, but the balance of the site, including existing templates and navigation, remains more or less the same. A more intensive refresh might affect the existing templates but never strays far from the core structure of the site design.

A redesign is a makeover from top to bottom. A redesign creates new templates, features and functions. Usually, the navigation is reconsidered as well.

What market changes or internal changes force a redesign?

Changes in the organization’s mission, mergers, new offices, a radical rethinking of the brand can all force a redesign. So can technology.

1. Your web technology was implemented when car phones were the hot new thing.

Fortunately, standards are emerging in what still remains a new field but web technology continues to charge along without pause. Improved bandwidth and compression coding allow you to stream video, use large images and expand your canvas. Screen resolution is constantly on the move; sites designed for 640 x 480 screen resolution are years dead; larger format sites designed for 1024 x 768 screen resolution are moving up to 1280 x 1024 and expanding the 840 downward. Screen resolution may soon not be an issue at all with responsive design, emerging with the tsunami of smart phones and tablets. Content management systems add features constantly. To stay ahead in the Feature Wars, we’ve put our proprietary CMS, Point & Clique, in the cloud so we can push updates to you as they occur to ensure your technology will not go out of date. Who knows what’s next? Just recognize change is the new normal.

2. Yesterday’s website does not reflect your firm today

.A lot can happen in three years. The Great Recession still has its claws around the economy. But firms merge, associations respond to market pressures, organizations create new services or expand into new territories. Of course, that’s one reason why you should update your site constantly, refreshing imagery and messaging and adding new features. But after three years, it probably means an overhaul is overdue.

3. Your competitors’ websites are beating yours up and stealing its lunch money.

Take a hard look at your design and measure it against competitors. That’s usually motivation enough for change. We’ve judged the Webby awards for several years. As judges get together in advance of the competition to share thoughts, we all agree that sites are not judged within their vertical but against all websites. Yes, we understand the tonal differences between industries, but we cut technology and design no breaks.

4. Your navigation would have led Sacagawea to Mexico.

Navigation is the key to site design and user experience. We know where visitors want to go, but can they get there? With a contemporary CMS, you can change your navigation and improve your site yourself in response to metrics on your users.

5. Your content reads and looks like a high school yearbook.

Do your bio photos resemble high school yearbook headshots? Would you read your own bio? Are service or programs descriptions scannable? Tomorrow looks like yesterday sooner than you think. Sometimes rewriting is not enough; the entire page needs to be rethought, refreshed and redesigned.

6. Design trends have changed significantly.

Back in the 1980s, shoulder pads were in just about every jacket. Not so much now. What goes for fashion is also true to an extent about design trends. In the case of websites, design is intimately connected to technology. In 1995, websites reflected the poor bandwidth and early coding strategies of the era. We’ve come light years since then. Remember, your website is generally the first tangible impression a buyer has of your business. Make a good one.

Is there any way we can extend the life of our site technology?

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Technology and design are intimately entwined, much more so than design and the printing press. It behooves the site owner to be smart about the technology. Flexible tech that changes as the Internet changes will give you an edge. You can call off the Feature Wars because a cloud-based CMS, such as Point & Clique, will get those features without forcing you to begin all over with a new content management system. We think that’s just smart.

As for designs that grow stale; design for the bleeding edge—because in three years, it won’t be.

See you in two to three years—at the most!