What to do when you can’t afford a website redesign

February 27, 2013

Website redesigns are expensive (for a reason, say the the designers at the back).

What do you do when you know that your site needs significant improvement, but right now you don’t have the budget for it?

Let’s start with triage. How bad are things, really?

Most website problems end up falling into three rough categories.

#1  The site is essentially fine but it looks dated

If this is your situation: brilliant.

Yes, good visual design is important but it only enhances what is already there. If your core approach is working, you are already well ahead of the game. Save up, look at the suggestions below, but you’re good.

#2 Things are genuinely broken

In this situation, the best thing you can do now is find a good design studio.

I have come across this most commonly when doing small business web reviews, where the business owner has ended up with a site which is really not fit for its purpose.  I can usually spot these in a few, heartsinking moments. This tends to happen when the site owner is very new to web design and they don’t quite understand how it all works.

If you think you’re in this situation: get honest feedback and decide whether you can soldier on or whether an informed redesign will get you back on track quickly.

#3 It’s OK, but it could be much better.

This is typical. You suspect there are some major issues and you would love to have a designer solve it for you – you just know it’s going to cost and that’s not a cost you can justify right now.

The seven suggestions below should help you focus your energies on the critical parts.

Start by fixing any weak transactions

By ‘transactions’ I mean all those places where your site visitor is actively trying to do something more complex than simply browsing: choosing and buying stuff, registering for your site, downloading resources, booking an appointment.

These are likely to be key to the success of your site.

So start by looking at them through the eyes of your users. Ask some real users if at all possible. Get honest feedback from people who don’t work for you or live with you. Processes may be standardised (for example, setting up a user acount), but there is usually scope to change wordings and improve the customer experience substantially.

Look at your language used in transactions: is it smooth and easy? Do users feel welcomed in? What happens when someone enters the wrong information? Are they gently nudged towards the right action, or nagged in red capitals?

Remind yourself what success should look like

Next, list out the goals you have for your site. Put them into some sort of order of priority – perhaps the primary, secondary and nice to have.

How well is your site performing right now on each of these? Quick marks out of 10.

Can you take action on these, in the absence of a redesign?

Is there one particular section of your site that’s underperforming? Tackle that.

Is it a general issue, like plenty of visitors but lots of them bounce away quickly? You need to find out why.

Do your research

Now look at your site analytics to see what is working and what isn’t.

Talk to your customers about your site, what they love and hate.

If at all possible talk to actual customers/external visitors, not internal people. Internal people will quite often hate the site because it reminds them of the big fight that IT is having with Sales, or whatever. Staff even more so. All staff hate the company website. Well, mostly.

Put a survey together on Surveymonkey, and add the link on your site. Ask your email subscribers, if you have them. Add a question about your site when you talk to your customers, at the end of a meeting. (If they never visit that’s also a data point…)

Review your site

It’s time to take a cold hard look at your site. Ideally get several people to go through this process so that you can pool your thinking and balance each other out.

Check out:

  • Transactions, downloads, signups, search, forms (if you haven’t already)
  • The quality of product images and product information – in product based business, poor photography and weak descriptions will stop your site visitors in their tracks.
  • Is it easy for people to find what they are looking for?
  • Is it accessible to your audience? Can they view your videos on Internet Explorer? Can they read your site on their mobiles? Is your text easy to read?
  • How does it look and feel? Does that match your desired brand image?
  • What about the written content? Are your words working for you?

Look at your competition

Not in a teeth-gnashing sort of way but just logging what they do and what you like about it. You can go the whole hog and benchmark, if you like, checking out a shortlist of competitors against your own critical factors. If you find that Website X has product photos to die for, that might shape your thinking.

Improve your SEO

Are people finding you through search? What terms are they using and are you optimised for these? Is your content generally findable? Do you use all the absolute basics of good SEO, like using meaningful names for pages and search-friendly titles for news items and blog posts?

Work your content better

Take a look at all your content: could be news, stories, blog posts, video, press releases. How can you make it better?

Is it easy to read? Long screeds of text are hard work.

Is it interesting to your audience, not landfill? Does it address their interests and needs?

Is the language right? Websites are generally written in a more informal, personal style, but some organisations find it hard to adjust to that.

Are you making the best use of the content that is not on the home page? Can you feature it, link it, edit to make it easier to find?

Now you’re ready to do some brainstorming.

  • Where are you going with all this?
  • What needs to be fixed right now?
  • What can wait?
  • What needs some further thinking?

At the end of this process you will be far more informed about your site and exactly how it’s performing. That will enable you to have a better conversation with designers/developers, when the budget is available; which makes it more likely that your redesign gives you a site that genuinely takes your web presence to the next level. You don’t want to waste your budget on a cosmetic change that will need to be updated very quickly.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up. Web design is often a compromise, and the web vision inevitably evolves over time.  It is easy to grow out of something that seemed perfect 18 months ago.

What have I left out? Tell me below. And if you found this helpful you can also check out my Website to Wonderful series, for more ideas on how to make things better.

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