It’s tempting when you have a website that’s a few years old, to want to give it a “fresh, modern look”. But over the years I’ve seen many examples of website re-designs that have flopped. They’ve had a serious negative effect on the business, particularly those that rely on their websites to generate the bulk of their sales.
Two recent examples have driven home this point
The first is a company that sells products online in the home renovation market. They had a good, solid website for several years, which was generating strong sales but was admittedly rather plain and boring in appearance. So the company decided to get the site re-designed. They spent several thousand dollars and implemented all the latest design trends – a large slider at the top of the home page, a cool-looking “mega menu” that drops down when you hover over it, nice “modern” fonts and so on.
They launched the new site full of expectation. But almost immediately their online sales plummeted. And they continued to stagnate despite several tweaks by the web agency to try to improve the conversion rate. Now, six months later, sales are still stagnant and the company is in serious trouble with it’s income drying up.
The old site was more trustworthy and user-friendly
I was able to find an archive of the old site (using www.archive.org) and when I compared it with the new one I could see immediately why the old site worked better. Although it didn’t look slick and modern, it was welcoming and user-friendly. The full range of products was easily visible on one page, with a list of categories and a sidebar menu. (Sidebar menus are supposedly “old fashioned” on e-commerce sites at the moment but I still like them for ease of use.)
I am now working with this company to try to figure out the best solution going forward. My advice is to re-instate the old site as quickly as possible, so they can at least get some sales going again. The agency that built the new website is, naturally, resisting this advice. But to me it makes sense to go back to what was previously working and then gradually makes changes to see if site can be improved further.
The second case is of a local service business, which has a website about eight years old. The business owner approached me a few months ago to re-design the website and then run a Google AdWords campaign. The owner was apologetic about his “awful” website. He was so ashamed of it but just hadn’t got around to updating it.
When I looked at the website, I could see some weaknesses, for example it didn’t display well on a phone. But overall, my gut feeling was that it would still be effective in generating leads for the business if we sent traffic to it via Google AdWords.
I recommended we start an AdWords campaign immediately, so at the least the company could get some new clients coming through the door, without having to wait until the new website was built. We started running AdWords and, sure enough, the company’s phone started ringing with enquiries.
Now, they are so busy handling all the extra work they haven’t had time to meet to discuss the new website! In fact, I suspect the business owner is having second thoughts about whether he really needs a new website at all. (I still think he does because the site is not mobile friendly. But I will take care when designing the new site to keep the positive features of the current one, rather than just diving into a wholesale re-design to make it look trendy.)
People go by ‘gut feeling’ when they land on a website
What the websites in these two examples have in common, is that they both come across as trustworthy and user-friendly. This is something that is communicated sub-consciously when you first land on a website. It’s a “gut feeling”. In some markets, a website that looks plain and simple can build trust, while one that looks slick and trendy will make the customer feel uneasy. As I said, it’s all sub-conscious. But real, nevertheless and it can drastically hurt your business if you get it wrong.
A big part of the problem with website re-designs is that web designers like to implement all the latest trends. This is natural. Web designers are creative and like to experiment with cool effects. There’s nothing wrong with this, up to a point. But creativity and trendiness alone are not enough if you are relying on your website to generate sales and put food on the table.
Clarity and simplicity will always outsell creativity
During the 13 years that I’ve been in the web business, I have always favoured a clear, simple approach to building websites and selling online. This means my websites will never win design awards. That’s fine. It also means some people will look at my portfolio and think the sites are not “creative” enough. Nevertheless, the websites I have built have helped to generate millions of dollars in revenue for more than 200 businesses. That’s the bottom line.
So, if you are looking at your current website and thinking it needs a re-design – think twice. You might be right. If your current site is not bringing in a steady stream of enquiries and sales, it may well need a revamp. But if you are getting a good response from your current site, be careful who you ask to re-design it. Make sure they don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.