The painful, valuable lessons of a website redesign

Going through redesign of a legacy website is a strange process. What starts as an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity rapidly turns into a nightmare, and ends with countless sleepless nights, only a small dent to one’s sanity, if you’re lucky, and a great new site.

Here at Clicktale we recently went through this process. After too many of those sleepless nights, I have learned quite a few lessons, some pretty painfully.

I want to share two of the more important lessons with you:

Keep the baby, toss the bathwater

If you have ever gone through a (re)design you know the feeling: The agency you are working with entices you to dream big and imagine a beautiful, slick site worthy of a prominent place at MOMA. Cue blue skies with birds singing in the background.

And then reality hits. (Sounds of thunder in the distance.)

We realize that though we are redesigning our site to change the target audience and market perception, we also know that some elements are working very well, thank you, just as they are. Beautiful images are great, but for us, as for most businesses, the message we want to get across and site usability trump jaw-dropping beauty. More importantly, because Clicktale’s expertise is in revealing consumer behavior, we knew that elements of our legacy site were triggering our target audience’s attention, exactly which ones, and even why they were working.

When you choose to redesign, don’t throw out your baby with the water! Examine your old site. Cherry pick what works, and bring it along. Find what doesn’t and leave it behind.

Date your website, don’t marry it!!

Any website design focuses on aesthetics, which today equals minimalism. Don’t get me wrong -- I am all for minimalism (you should see my flat, 2 colors, only essential furniture), but nobody knows in advance what will work. We spent hours strategizing about where different videos should be placed, but once we placed them, it was clear that what we thought was an ideal solution wasn’t working at all. The template had to be changed.

Build something that conveys the tone of your business, and is aesthetically pleasing, but build it to be flexible. At Clicktale we have never met a designer, customer experience or digital marketing professional who can fully predict how customers will actually interact once a website is live. The most important “Aha” moments often result from seeing the totally unanticipated ways in which customers interact after a site has launched, making testing and optimization an integral part of the redesign process.

Date your website, but don’t marry it yet. Always look at it with critical eyes. Hard code as little as possible. View launch as the start point – not the end – of the design process. Set customers loose on your site. See what they do, what they fail to do, and what they don’t even try. Test and assess the results. Find mistakes, and check in with best practices again. Fix issues and test again. Fail fast and improve faster.

If you’ve gone through web redesign, we’d love to hear about your experience and about the lessons you learned along the way!

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