Preparing and Planning for a Redesign

So many businesses out there set up a website and then think, “There, that’s done with” and never bother to re-evaluate their website’s design or position in the marketplace.

But looking at a website as a static, unchanging bit of advertising will put you at a disadvantage sooner or later.

Trends in website design change over the years (and even months). What looked cutting edge in 2006 is going to look incredibly dated in 2009.

Even things that were popular in 2008 are starting to look dated (glossy, Web 2.0-ish designs being one case-in-point).

In this article we’ll review some of the most important aspects of site redesign, so you can use the information below as a guide for your next redesign.

It’s much better to look at your website as a constantly-updating and evolving part of your online presence.

Your design should be updated regularly to reflect new developments both in your business (or personal development if it’s a personal site) and should be redesigned thoroughly whenever necessary. Use the guide below to help you along the path of a redesign.


How to Know if Your Site Needs a Redesign

1. It Uses Outdated Technologies and Techniques

If your site uses technologies or design techniques that have become dated, it’s probably time for a redesign. While deprecated code is the most obvious of these, there are a lot of other things to watch out for, including:

  • Frames
    While the occasional iFrame might not be anything to worry about (and are often used for widgets, affiliate programs, or advertising), if your site makes use of frames for a major portion of its design, it is definitely time for a redesign. Frames have been outdated since around 2000. Get rid of them.
  • Intro Pages
    Intro pages were all the rage in the early 2000s. Most used Flash and/or audio content. While intro pages aren’t necessarily a completely outdated design technique, it’s becoming more rare to see them. If your site has a lengthy Flash intro, it’s probably time for a redesign.
  • Outdated Content
    Modern websites need to be updated on a constant basis. Even if you have a “static” site, you still need to make sure the content on it stays current. Many older sites weren’t built on a content management system and can be a pain to update, especially for people who aren’t comfortable with coding. If your site isn’t built on a CMS, it’s probably time for a redesign.
  • Your Site is Entirely Flash
    Most sites nowadays are not built entirely with Flash. Even those that appear to be, often have content pulled in from XML files, instead of being hard-coded into the Flash files. If your site was built with only Flash, it’s likely you’re suffering in the usability and SEO departments. Consider a redesign.
  • Tables
    Tables were de rigueur a few years ago in website design, but tables were never really meant for laying out the design of a site; they were intended for formatting data. Designers just figured they were handy for creating complex website designs. If your current site is designed using tables, it’s time for a redesign.
  • Trendy Design Elements
    If your site was designed with trendy elements (such as Web 2.0 glossy buttons), it’s probably a good idea to redesign it as soon as those trends start to fade. Don’t wait until you’re the last site around using one trend or another. Stay ahead of the curve and redesign while it still looks at least somewhat fresh. Also, consider steering clear of trendy elements, or at least incorporate them in ways that will be easy to change in six months.

2. Your Site is Largely Unchanged from 2 Years Ago

Websites should be updated continuously. If your website looks largely as it did a couple years ago, it’s likely time for a revamp.

While you don’t necessarily have to do a complete redesign every two years, you should go through your site to see what looks outdated and what could use some improvement. There’s almost certainly some things that could benefit from tweaking.

3. You’re Not Using a CMS

While this was touched upon in #1, it deserves it’s own section. Your website should really be built using a content management system (CMS).

There are a host of reasons why, but it really comes down to your ability to separate the content from the design and for the ease of making updates.

A good CMS makes it simple to add new pages, change text or photos, or even apply a completely new theme to your site without having to recode the whole thing.

Most modern websites are built using a CMS, with the exception of some of the most basic brochure-type sites and extremely Flash-heavy sites, although even these sites can be built on top of a CMS.

A CMS will make your life much easier in the long run by allowing you to make changes to your site whenever needed.

4. You’re Having Limited Luck with Search Engines

Search engine optimization is important to the success of any website. While many SEO changes can be made to existing sites, if you’ve done all those and are still having no luck, it might be time to start over.

This is especially common with table-based designs, where there’s so much extra code in your pages that your content ends up overwhelming the search engine spiders (who look at the entire code of each of your pages, not just the content that your visitors see).

Streamlining your design can make your site rank higher in search engines.

Another thing to consider, if doing a redesign primarily for SEO purposes, is to make it easier to maintain your SEO efforts with new content. Make sure it’s easy to add the alt tags and meta information to new images, pages and other content.

This will help ensure that your site continues to do well SEO-wise even months after your redesign.

5. Your Site (or Part of Your Site) is Underperforming

Search engine optimization isn’t the only bit of website performance that can suffer from a poorly designed site. Conversion rates can be significantly lowered if your site isn’t designed well.

The analytics program you use should allow you to track conversion paths on your site. If there are parts along that path where your visitors are bottlenecking, this might be a sign for a redesign.

You need to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to perform the tasks that you want them to perform on your site, whether it’s to purchase a product, read a particular article, or contact you.

6. Your Biggest Competitor Just Redesigned Their Site

It’s easy enough to put off a major redesign if all your competitors still have the same websites they had five years ago.

But if your major competitor just redesigned their site, it might be a good time to redo yours too.

This might sound like a very superficial reason for doing a redesign, but if a competitor has added new features that make their site more user friendly for visitors, your site could likely benefit from similar updates.

Whatever you do, don’t copy their new design. Look at what they’ve done and figure out where there’s still room for improvement.

See where there are bottlenecks in their navigation or if anything on the site seems confusing. Learn from their mistakes and make an even better site. Set your site apart from theirs by making it more user friendly and by paying attention to what your visitors are still missing.

Another advantage to redesigning your site right after your competition has done so, is that they’ll likely be hesitant to try to one-up you, since they’ve already spent so much on a recent redesign.


Planning for a Redesign

Just because you’ve decided that your site needs a redesign doesn’t mean you can just turn things over to a designer, sit back and relax.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into a successful redesign. Here’s what you need to consider:

1. What parts of your current site work well?

First you should assess what parts of your current design are working. Look over your analytics and any visitor comments you’ve had on your site.

Go through your site from the perspective of a new visitor (or have someone who’s never been to your site do this for you) and see what parts you like most.

Once you have a list of what parts of your current site seem to work well, try to pinpoint why they’re working. If you can figure this out, you can apply this to the new parts of your site to make them work better.

2. What parts of your site aren’t working well?

Once you’ve identified the parts of your site that work well, it’s time to identify the parts that work really poorly.

Again, your analytics are a good place to start when figuring this out. Where are the bottlenecks on your site? What are the most common exit pages? Identify these and see if you can figure out what the problem might be.

You can then ensure that your redesigned site doesn’t have the same issues as your old site.

3. Are there sections or pages that should be removed, combined, or added?

Make a list of every section and page on your site (if you have a sitemap, you can just print it out) and look at what pages and sections are really necessary.

It’s likely that your site has been added onto through the years and it might not always have been done in the most organized or efficient manner. In many cases, different sections and groupings of pages can be combined. Sometimes there are pages that can be dropped altogether.

On the flip side, you might decide you need some new sections on your site to offer information about additional products or services that you now provide. You might want to add a blog to your site, or an image gallery.

Major additions to sites are most common with redesigns of older sites, where the technology when the site was originally designed could not handle what’s now become an expected part of a website. After all, huge image galleries and video weren’t very popular when most Internet users were still using dial-up.

4. Figure out what attracts visitors to your site.

Look at where your traffic is coming from (both referring sites and the search terms visitors are using), and where they’re going once they’re on your site.

These are the parts of your site that you should focus on in your redesign.

If there are important parts of your site that visitors aren’t reaching, look at where they’re falling short in comparison to your more popular content.

5. Do you need new images and photos for your site?

If the images on your site are more than a few years old, they might look dated, even if your site’s design is current.

If you used stock photos in your original design, see what new images are available that portray the same feeling as the old images. If you took custom photos, it might be time to get new ones done.

While this can be expensive, there’s no sense in redesigning your site to look modern if the photos it includes are obviously from 1999.

Alternatively, you may decide that you want to use photos that give a different impression than the ones you’re currently using.

Maybe you want your site to portray your company in a different light than your current one does. The images you use make as much difference in this as the design and content do.

6. Do you want to maintain a consistent image or change it?

You have to consider what you want your image to be in the eyes of your website visitors. If your company’s image has changed since your original website was designed, you’ll likely want to change the impression your new site portrays.

7. Other Considerations

Many of the considerations that go into a site redesign are very similar to those that go into the design of a new site.

These include things like screen resolution, connection speed and the site’s target market. Redesigns have an advantage over new sites on these things, though, in that there’s already traffic data available.

Good analytics programs should be able to give you information about what types of connections your visitors are using, what their screen resolutions are, and where they’re coming from. Use this information to make improvements.

Do You Really Want to do a Complete Redesign?

Sometimes a complete redesign isn’t necessary. If your existing site was built on a content management system, you might just want to give your site a new coat of paint—a new theme design, without changing the structure or content of your site.

If your site’s content is mostly fine as it is, but you just feel like it needs some freshening, a new theme design or even just tweaking your existing theme can add new life to your website and a theme change is generally much less expensive than a complete redesign.

Of course, if your site wasn’t built on a CMS, even if the content and structure isn’t being changed much, you’ll be dealing with a complete redesign.

Make sure at this point that your site is converted to run on a CMS, to make future redesigns and changes easier.


Things to Watch Out For When Redesigning

There are a number of pitfalls when redesigning a website. They range from minor issues to major things that can hurt your site and your business, but if you know what they are ahead of time, you can avoid them or at least be prepared to deal with them.

Make sure you use 301 (permanent) redirects

If you’re changing the URL structure of your site (either because you’ve switched over to a CMS or for SEO purposes), you’ll need to use 301 redirects to tell visitors and search engines that your page has moved.

Some designers opt to simply put a link on the old page that directs to the new page. While this works fine for visitors, it doesn’t work for search engines.

Don’t risk being penalized in your search engine rankings for something that’s relatively simple to set up.

If your site is on an Apache server, you’ll just need to set up the redirects in an .htaccess file. If you’re on a Windows server it’s a bit more complicated, but it’s still possible and well worth the effort.

A Site Redesign Can Upset Returning Visitors

Visitors returning to your site may be upset by a redesign, especially if the structure of your site has changed.

If you have a subscription site or community site, it’s sometimes helpful to announce a redesign prior to actually performing it. Letting existing members test-drive the new site before it launches can also make returning users more comfortable on the site and smooth things over.

Remember, it can be frustrating to someone who’s used a site for months or years to suddenly have to learn how to use a new site.

While hopefully your new site will be more user friendly in the long run, it can still be disconcerting for someone who’s used to doing things a certain way to suddenly have to change their methods.

Work with a Designer Who Has Experience with Redesigns

While designing a new site and redesigning an existing site share a lot of things in common, there are also a lot of differences, especially when it comes to logistics.

A redesign is, in many cases, more complicated than a new design. There are existing links to deal with, existing processes for things like logins, and a multitude of other technical specs that designers need to adhere to in a redesign.

If your site is complex and especially if you want to keep some aspects of the site while making extensive changes to others, you need someone who is experienced in dealing with this kind of project. It will be a much smoother process if they are.

Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman.

What things do you consider when thinking about redesigning your website? When is not a good idea to do a redesign?

  • Laura

    Nice article, thank you I really enjoyed reading it.

    I’m currently undertaking the re-design of my own site, so some very useful information in there for me.

    The reason I’m redesigning my site, even though I’ve only really just designed it in the first place, is because I didn’t do enough planning to begin with, and therefore when I stepped back and took at look at it, I felt it missed the mark.

    But then it is always hardest to design for yourself – ever striving for perfection!

  • zeemiDesign

    Another amazing article from you guys!
    I’m always stunned what high-quality posts you pull out of your head over an over again.

  • Jad Graphics

    Great article. This should have been written a month ago before I redesigned my site.

    Anyways, thanks for another awesome post.

  • z0r

    Well illustrated nice article. That was interesting to read indeed!

  • Kerri

    Nice article. Some good things to keep in mind. Though some points seem to be directed in those who aren’t versed in web design, and some require a person who’s well versed in web design.

    Since the audience of this blog is primarily web designers, I’ll assume that’s the audience this is written for. In that case, I have to disagree with #3 (you need a redesign if you’re “not using a CMS”). It’s perfectly simple to keep the content separated from the design in a well-formed hand-coded web site. In fact, it can be a lot easier to create that way, as opposed to dealing with the restrictions and bulk of CMS plugins/extensions unless their necessary. A well coded site with good style sheets makes it simple to add content or completely change the design as well. Content Management Systems are absolutely necessary, but their purpose is separate from anything to do with site design. If the site’s owners or contributors need access to contolling the content without being knowledgeable in web design, *that’s* when a CMS is required. There just as many situation in which a CMS is *not* ideal as when it *is*.

    • z0r

      Well, that would be interesting to see a person who runs more than 5 sites without even a simple CMS.
      And those who want to run more than just “about me” site need to investigate time in learning principles of html+css, while CMS are usually baked with simple but nice looking templates to choose from.

    • Belinda

      In my experience CMS often leads to more problems than they are worth and are only a necessity for sites that need updating daily or weekly. The cost of setting up a CMS is far higher than paying a developer to make updates regularly.

      Web designers don’t just design the frame around content, they also design how the content flows and make it as readable as possible. If a CMS is handed over to an already time-starved company who has absolutely no skills in design the result can be blocks of illegible, hard to read content.

      I like to think of a CMS as a farm – you could invest in it & save money by planting your own crops but most of us only have time to go to the shops for our weekly veges.

      • chris

        Always the case

    • Bene

      I agree with Kerry. In my case, most common cases are websites only for contact or make to known some kind of services of people. There’s no need of CMS at all.
      And also, I used to run a large website about FamicomFans, wich was pure xhml/css and it went okay, some stuff in php, but no need to use a CMS. CMS are not always a wise choice. I can see so many sites from well known designers with xhtml non-valid ’cause CMS and stuff like that. I will say, only use CMS if you know what are u trying to do and only if necessary.
      Most of my clients don’t want to update their websites by their own. I do it for them. More money for me.

  • Milos Milikic

    Interesting article. Thank you!

  • Logo Bliss

    Great article, before and afters are great to look at.

  • WPswitch (Matt)

    This came at a perfect time. I really need to update my personal portfolio site and these are excellent tips.

  • Eric B.

    These are some very useful tips. I redesigned my website not too long ago, and I did consider some of these things mentioned here. The main reason, though, was because I was a bit rushed in creating the old design, and it showed.

  • Daniel “Diggler” Proczko

    We’re currently revamping our site and will definitely keep a lot of the above elements in mind.

    We’re moving into the single purpose frontpage and will weigh analytics heavily in our decisions of what to highlight and how well the revamp is doing.

  • cypherbox

    Very informative article. Thanks for giving us the tips.

  • Mars

    this is a good point to consider specially when you are maintaining a lot of web site

  • http://csscoffee Csscoffee

    The tips are impressive to see. I will use your advice when i need to re-fresh something

  • Girlie | Digital Room

    Very useful and informative post. You’ve provided almost everything a website owner needs to consider when redesigning their site.

    I love the transformation of Mashable. Redesigning really worked for them.

  • Martin Leblanc

    I don’t entirely agree with reason 1. 2. and 3. to redesign.
    Users love what they know and don’t like change. If your site is underperforming of course you should change something. But if it’s working then don’t change it. Take Craigslist and Google – if you redesign these sites every two years, you loose a lot of users (and money). A total redesign isn’t always good.


    Thank so much for the article. Really interesting and useful.

  • Jake Rocheleau

    Great article, really covers a lot of the best ideas I’ve thought of before. Keep up the awesome work!

  • Socialcouch

    Really a nice post touching on the important things to focus.

    Most of these websites need to stay in line with the latest design trends so as to retain their readers.


    Thanks ! Very useful and informative post.

  • contractor web design

    Sometimes its hard to think of redesigning as you need to do more quality than the current design.

  • Lam Nguyen

    I missed out one. I forgot the redirect link to tell people this post was moved. Thanks for the great article.

  • Connor Crosby

    Thanks for the info! Very nice that you included site redesigns throughout the post.

  • André

    Nice Post…
    very useful and informative!!! Tkss

  • Mike Kennedy

    At first, I thought this article was about WebDesignerDepot getting a new design, I was like, “Noooooooo!” lol. Great article, though. I know my site needs a redesign!

    • Walter

      Ah that’s funny…. no redesign for WDD for the time being, although if you look closely, you’ll see some small changes from time to time….

  • car chargers

    This has been covered most of the area.i must say a brilliant effort.chears!

  • Web Design Maidstone Kent

    Some really useful tips, I have a folder of ideas for my main site which I keep adding to whenever they pop into my head, these then become the basis for the bi-annual update

  • Simon Ljungberg

    Nice article!
    I need to redesign my site! It’s a year old now.. hehe.

  • fatheads | web design manchester

    Just in the process of redesigning our current site and a lot of things that we had not thought of covered here, many thanks

  • Ramsay Taplin

    Fantastic article. Some really excellent tips there.

    I don’t really agree with number 6 however. If your competitor just redesigned their website it is not necessarily a sign you should re design yours. There are a lot of factors at play, including the fact that they may be badly underperforming.

    If you re design your website you risk losing some branding and loyal visitors. Just because a competitor does it doesn’t mean its a good idea for you.

    What do you think?


  • RoaldA

    good one, thanks!

  • Inspiration Block

    Great read as usual!

    Some great tips and loving the before and after shots of selected redesigns.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Mitch Solway

    This is a fantastic article Cameron, extremely well thought out and articulated.

    One of the most important things to consider before a site design is your actual motivation for the re-design.

    Nobody gets more bored of their site then themselves. So, it’s really important that before you go ahead and take on a re-design you get super clear about why.

    Have you changed your positioning and it is no longer reflected in your site?
    Have you added new services or offerings that are not captured accurately?
    Have you learned a thing or two about what people like, don’t like on your site?
    Are you now looking to attract a different customer?
    Do you need a better showcase for your work?
    Do you want to drive more people to a different action?

    The list goes on.

    So, I am a big fan of setting specific objectives for a redesign so you can remember why you are doing it in the first place and as a point of reference to measure and evaluate how you have done.

    This is even more important to nail down if you are going to hire someone to build and design your new site. It can significantly impact their results.

    Food for thought.



  • Share the Feeling

    thanks for this. i totally need a redesign. eek!

  • Yesenia Chappell

    What a great article! This is actually a perfect timing for me since I’ll be working on our own website redesign.

    As always, your website is an amazing source for information. Thanks for sharing.


  • Tim Rombach

    i will tweet this good article :-)

  • andi

    Such an informative article! …I’m ashamed to say my site has needed updated for ages, I just needed a little inspirational push, thanks so much!

    a : )

  • DT Designs

    Awesome article – a very good read I enjoyed it a lot!

  • Los Angeles web design

    I personally as a visitor when visit a site regularly get bored with its constant same design, so even if a part of the site’s design is changed it gives me a good feeling and the site gets a fresh look rather than the same old one. All sites must get a re-design at least once in a year as it also indicates that the site is updating its software technology and is providing viewers with a new look that can also serve as competition to its rivals or like an inspiration to the rest to keep their sites up-to-date.

  • Isra

    Really nice article! I’m redesigning a website. The transformation of the site is absolute: the identity (from a “news website” to an “online magazine”), the CMS (from php-nuke to WordPress), the design (from a very very ugly and unusable nuke theme to a nice an clean orange design ) and the communication style. To make easier the transition for our users, we will set an interval of time in which registered users can test the new website, report some feedback, etc. We’re also launching social networks groups and sites to keep in touch with our people. We hope this new launching will increase the visits and the fidelization of our users.

    The dark side is the migration of the database (HTML generated by the Nuke editor is horrible, and the structure of the DB is completely different), and also keep the backwards compatibility with old URL (modules.php?module=News&id=123) and the new ones (SEO friendly).

    Thank you and goodbye!

  • Darryl

    Finally something I can send to my clients, who still use 11pt verdana body text and frames.

  • Robert van Hoesel

    Great article. Makes us aware why we’re actually doing some things, and why not.

  • Fabrizio

    Great article!
    I am looking for some time the inspiration for the design of my personal site and find useful tips that you shared in this post.
    Thank you so much and congratulations!

  • Hezi

    rockn’roll! next stop – twitterland!

  • John Samuel

    You have covered very important points. I keep updating my sites once in a while.

  • Mark Carter

    I was interested in your inclusion of ‘use a CMS’ amongst this list. Some of the CMS’s I’ve worked with have been a nightmare …. Umbraco for one …. not sure it’s *always* the right step in redesigning a site … other than my doubts on that one … thanks for a really useful summary of considerations.

  • Sam

    A site design/redesign should first and foremost draw upon a summary or mission statement (or a clearly outlined personal goal if a personal site). There is no mention of this anywhere. Instead, we have:

    1. It Uses Outdated Technologies and Techniques – This may call for a re-assessment of front- and back-end coding for the site, but does not neccessitate a redesign. Coming to the conclusion that re-engineering the code that drives the site calls for a redesign would be understandable, but design techniques and the technology use to implement them are fully independant of each other.

    2. Your Site is Largely Unchanged from 2 Years Ago – This is so remarkably untrue. Where is the data to backup the 2-year figure? If returning customers make up the bulk of your site traffic, they may have something to say about this point.

    3. You’re Not Using a CMS – While data should largely drive design, data management has nothing to do with it. If a need for a CMS is determined, implementation can by done wholly seperate from altering design and layout.

    4. Figure out what attracts visitors to your site – This goes without saying.

    5. Do you need new images and photos for your site? – New photos drive a sites design how?

    In addition, whether yur competitors redesign or not should have know bearing on your own site. This trend makes you a follower.

  • Arun Krishnan

    Nice article…its very informational…

  • Photoshopedia

    Nice post, helpfully for me because I really think about redesigning one of my site.

  • jake pucan

    Woooh! Thank you,. help me a lot

  • James

    It was believable until you said a major competitor redesigned their website as if that was a reason why you should redesign yours.

    Sounds like a hard sell… and every point after that is lost…

    How exactly is redesigning the website going to increase your rankings in the search engines?

    Don’t you need content for that? I mean except the whole frames thing…

    Less blogs… more websites I say…

  • discount tiffany jewelry

    Thank you,. help me a lot

  • SD Designs

    Great article on most points but the CMS issue.

    I feel CMS are only good for either A. People who simply cant design or learn code and B. Large websites with constant updates.

    It will go to the wayside just like 2.0 design

  • Emlak

    Very useful and informative post. You’ve provided almost everything a website owner needs to consider when redesigning their site.

    I love the transformation of Mashable. Redesigning really worked for them

  • lono

    great article. the web/world is always changing and its important to keep things fresh

  • Andrew Odendaal

    I like how you layed out the before and after pics, very nice!

  • Isabelle

    I’ve just finished my re-design and this article helped me a lot!!

  • Laurie

    Pulled many disparate ideas into one tidy package. This aligns yet another arrow to the bull’s eye of creating seamless continuity+ authenticity to the client’s brand. Well done. Perfect timing to move forward with MY web redesign.

  • Craig

    Great article, and a redesign does help bring the standards of your website up so great for SEO.

  • Lisa Thomason

    We’ve just finished a re-design and this article helped us a lot! LT

  • Jeff Jones

    I found this a really inspiring redesign article, and I have bookmarked it for future reference and for our website redesign which should be soon. Cheers

  • Amanda

    The planning for the re-design had the best advice, always try to plan as much as possible, this will always help the further you advance with the project.

  • Florian

    I think you forget to speak about Brand and Rebrand issues in that case.

  • Mammut Medien

    I can only say: Nice article. But I have to support Florian here. If you Re-Brand your company this can be the perfect time for a redesign.

  • Chris

    Really comprehensive website redesign article. We recently surveyed small business owners about website redesign and the top reasons for doing so. 85.7% of survey respondents said website redesign is important to avoid an outdated look and feel, while 64.3% considered a redesign due to difficulty updating website content and information.

  • BAM

    Thank you for great idea

  • m a r c o

    Excellent article. Very good and valid points. Thank you!

  • atv yayin akisi

    nice to share what i need the content.. Thank you very much

  • El

    Nice article and some very good points in it