Your website: it’s the face of your business. For some, it’s an accompaniment to a brick-and-mortar store, and for others, it IS the store, albeit a virtual one. You’ll be hard pressed to find many successful businesses, large or small, that don’t have a website today.
That said, simply having a website isn’t enough. It needs to reflect your brand. It needs to be user friendly. It needs to invite people in, rather than scare them off.
So how do you know if your website is doing all those things? How can you determine whether it’s time for a makeover? If your website is guilty of any of the “sins” we discuss below, then the answer is NOW.
1. It’s not responsive. Simply put, a website that is “responsive” automatically adjusts to fit whatever device someone is using. Since more and more people are using smartphones and tablets to surf, research, and shop, this is important. In fact, even if your site doesn’t make the other sins we list below, you’ll still want to plan for a makeover because of the responsive design issue. Yes, it’s that important. (Read more about mobile design for small businesses in this article we wrote last fall.)
An important note: if you don’t have the money to invest in creating a site that’s responsive, you do have another option. Companies, such as DudaMobile, can automatically create a mobile version of your site for a nominal monthly fee (your mobile URL will have an “M” at the front of it). Yes, there are definite cons to this option, but you’ll at least be able to keep most site visitors happy (for now) until you can invest in proper responsive design. But consider this a temporary solution, OK?
2. Your spouse’s uncle’s 21-year-old cousin who “dabbles” in web design built your site from his mother’s basement in between marathon sessions on Xbox. We know, we know—it was SUCH a great deal at the time. You only had to pay in the form of pizza and Skittles. And hey, the site looks OK, or at least it did seven years ago when you were starting out and a bit green at this whole Internet-marketing-SEO thingy.
Many of us have been there, and there’s no shame in operating on shoestring budget and taking advantage of free help/trade, especially when you’re first starting out. But here’s the problem: things that are done on the cheap *usually* read that way in real life, especially when pixels are involved (we say *usually* because there are always exceptions to the rule).
So take a hard look at your site right now. REALLY look.
- Does it look professional?
- Does it reflect the business you own today?
- Is it easy to maintain? In other words, do you have access to the backend and can you make updates? Or do you have to rely on the web designer’s wacky schedule at the local burger joint?
Bottom line: if you didn’t have a web pro design your site, now might be the time to re-do it.
3. The site went live before Facebook, YouTube, or the iPhone were born. Facebook turned 10 this year. YouTube will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2015, and the iPhone was introduced seven (!) years ago. While there’s no set guideline about when a small business should re-do its website, a good rule of thumb is to at least consider the idea every three to four years. You don’t necessarily need to gut it, either (responsive design issues notwithstanding). Sometimes simply swapping in some new photography or headers or playing with color, fonts, navigation, and even the copy can give it the “refresh” it needs.
4. You launched the site before you understood the tenets of web marketing. Maybe the site looks good, but it’s not optimized for humans, search engines (hello, SEO!), or mobile devices because you had no idea about any of those things when you launched. Sigh. It might be frustrating, but if that’s the case, then make a plan for redeveloping your site so that it’s working as hard as it should be. (Here’s a great infographic on big things small businesses get wrong with their websites.)
5. You’re seeing other indirect red flags. Do you have customers asking the same questions over and over, even though you know you provide written answers to these questions somewhere on your website (although you have no idea where the actual web page is located)? Does your site have an extraordinarily high bounce rate (something you can see in Google Analytics)? Are there key pages that get very little traffic, even when people are on the site? Do customers and employees complain about load time or other funky tech issues?
Your website doesn’t need to be shrouded in bright purple and pink banners with clip-art images for you to realize it’s “sick.” Sometimes you’ll notice more subtle symptoms.
And don’t forget, when we talk about web design, we’re talking about more than just the look and feel: we’re talking about the navigation. We’re talking about functionality. We’re talking about relevancy (e.g. copy, product/service offerings, and so forth). You might have a site that looks great, but some other issue on the backend is affecting things (such as load time) or the copy might not work with the design.
Pay attention to these red flags and rethink your website, at least on some level.
6. Your brand has evolved, but the site hasn’t. When we talk about “brand,” we mean so much more than your company colors or logo. We’re talking about your company’s essence: its heart, its message, its place in the world. It’s normal for your brand to evolve. But when it does, your website needs to as well; otherwise, you’ll be sending mixed messages. Your site will be all about the “old” brand, while in other places, like social media, you’ll be talking about your new brand. Conflicting messages are never good for business. Make sure your website gets the update it deserves.
7. You’ve conducted user testing. Congrats. Conducting user testing is a great way to get objective, independent feedback on the usability of your site (and any other questions you pose to users). And it doesn’t need to cost as much as you think. Services like UserTesting.com offer cost-effective packages for small businesses. If the user testing reveals issues with your website’s design, functionality, or any other issue, take it to heart.
Of course, just as it’s easy to ignore the real reasons why you should give your website a makeover, it’s also easy to overthink things and decide you need to revise your site constantly.
So, when shouldn’t you redesign your site?
- When you’re bored with it. Don’t forget, you’re surrounded by your company’s message and collateral every day. You might be bored by something you see and experience all the time, but it’s unlikely that your customers feel the same way. So resist the temptation of making a change just because you feel “it’s time.”
- When you don’t have the funds to do it right. Quality websites are an investment. Hold on a little longer until you can make that investment (or try doing some of the “refresh” approaches we mentioned above).
- When your mother-in-law tells you to. Or your sister’s best friend. Or that one customer who complains about everything you do no matter what. In other words, don’t make a change based on a handful of comments or feedback. If you’re ever in doubt that you’re doing it based on the wrong feedback, consider conducting some objective user testing, like we mentioned above.
When’s the last time you redesigned or “refreshed” your site? What metrics do you use to determine when you need to do one or the other? Share in the comments.