New Year, New Design?

With 2009 drawing to a close (a little to quickly if you ask me) I am once again being bombarded with a number of questions about how a company can "update" the look and feel of a website / brand.

I first wrote this type of post around this time last year, and it well down a storm ... so with my inbox full of the same questions I think it's just about time I approached the question again! - don't you?

Over the past few years I've come across many perceptions of what happens after a website goes live and it still staggers me that around 95% of my clients believe "it's done with" ... "it's complete nothing needs to be done now until we need a new one" ... erm well "can I ask you to read my articles" is my general response to this. They soon realise they shouldn't just leave it sat doing nothing for them or their company image. However, generally by this time it's a little late (which is why they come to me).

This article is intended as a "rough" lecture on the more important aspects of website redesign.

A website is not a static entity.

A website is an ever evolving being, the content should be updated often as should the design (or aspects of), if it becomes static you could be harming your online presence and brand image.

There are many reasons for a redesign here are a few

Splash / Intro Pages

Always good for the 90's splash pages are those little "welcome to" pages you get on older sites. Generally they appear on multiple domains too, acting as doorway pages (very grey seo tactics). Mostly created using flash, video and/or audio these pages are also pretty damn hard to make accessible & waste your users time and energy in trying to find you "skip intro" or "enter site" link.

Old Content

As you move through the weeks / months / years your content will begin to slowly become irrelevant and more often than not will have no place in the modern world. (I recall one client site was still apparently selling dot matrix printers which he hadn't stocked since 2001! and this was just a few weeks ago!). Still not convinced? Imagine your a user trying to find the latest information about a football club ... you get to the site but the news is from 2003, you wanted last nights score... keep your content upto date and relevant for your audience.

Table Layout

For a number of years before the take up of CSS table layouts were the building blocks of a website, as were spacer gifs (1x1 pixel images for spacing). These designs are likely to not only look old and boring but are also not accessible, you will be making your users life and the search engines life harder than it needs to be.

Frames

Embedded frames (iFrames) are used to show content from one page in another ... or rather they used to be. Now they are seen as a nuisance because of accessibility and search engine issues. Add to that there are now easier and more friendly ways to include content and you will see frames are a bad idea!

Little and Often is enough!

Now it sounds a cliché, however its true. If you make little content changes, little design modifications then you will not only be optimising your website for your user - and so increase ROI - but you will also keep search engines happy as fresh content is something they love.

A great example of minor design changes which are little and often are the Google Logo changes ... every few days or weeks Google will adopt a "new" logo for a few days, each one with a different meaning. This idea was adopted by Bing (formerly MSN / Live Search) who on their homepage use full images with interesting facts around them.

Content Management

One of the primary reasons when I ask website owners why content is not updates is understandable... they don't have a content management system, and the designer wants X amount to update the content. Well now whilst I can understand a charge per month for maintenance (which is necessary in most cases of new sites) I fail to grasp why a designer/developer would leave a client without a method of changing content.

Content Management Systems (CMS's) have been around for long enough now for all fairly new sites to be using them, even if only for part of a site! They are freely available if you want a simple site, or you may need something totally bespoke (as many of AK Designs clients do). Either way you are left with a solution where you can update: text, graphics, video, sounds, add and remove pages and much more!

Remember when talking to a designer: a website is for life, not just for christmas.

Search Engines not giving you any love?

Another common reason for a redesign and/or content change is that search engines love fresh things. Search Engines love accessible code, they don't like inaccessible flash or javascript, they just want your content as fast as possible.

Another thing to consider in your design is that if you design for SEO and with SEO in mind your efforts to keep SEO maintained in the future will be halved. An initial setup for SEO means the journey of SEO is with less hardship and effort that if you have to go back and "inject" SEO into an existing website.

Under performing aspects of a site

Websites are funny, sometimes things work sometimes they don't... thats life. Take a call to action in 2005 like "free trial" ... still sounds useful to some people ... however a more successful CTA in 2009 has been "XX days free" or "Try me Now for Free" ... people are seeming to be scared of trials ... and free trials makes people think are they hooked into something after the trial.  - Just updating this CTA can reap dividends.

Maybe part of your site is a store, but the layout doesn't load properly because it was designed for Internet Explorer 5 ... so in IE7 or 8... or any browser today it doesn't render correctly ... or some script doesn't work or is insecure! ... many payment gateway modules written pre-2007 are now insecure and dangerous to use.

A Competitor has just redesigned

This has to be the most common reason I am given when I ask why they want a redesign. They want to regain that "competitive edge" over the competition who have just redesign and it looks much much better than the clients site.

Now this appears on the surface to be a worthless reason if ever there was one. But when I've scratched the surface in 99% of cases it is just the straw that broke the clients back and convinced the board to take action which someone has been trying to push through for months sometimes.

One of the major things I say to these particular clients is that they should never attempt to simply "photocopy" an existing site, all sites are successful in some respects and not others, sure take some good bits but leave the bad. Oh and the last thing you want to be thought of (as a company) is that you are copy-cats or that you steal your competitors ideas, no matter how good they are.

This is post one of two in the series, next time we take a look at planning a redesign and taking a design forward.

If you are interested in redesigning your website visit the Andy Kinsey Designs website @ http://andykinsey.co.uk