How to know when to say goodbye to your website

Mike Wenger / Posted 10.11.2016

How to know when to say goodbye to your website

Much like computers or cars, websites can enjoy long lives. If you take care of them and treat them to regular updates and maintenance, you will get many good years out of them. However, just like these physical objects, a website will reach a certain age at which it’s time to retire the current iteration and begin the adventure of creating something new. This is an important process for many reasons—it might be that your company or organization is changing directions or rebranding, or it could be that the design is becoming dated and no longer feels current. Or maybe your site looks great, but needs a major tune-up under the hood to keep your codebase clean, current and secure. Whatever the reason, the time will come to scrap your current site and start over. Knowing a bit more about the reasons why you should keep it running longer, or take the leap to start anew, will make the process much less daunting.

There are two primary reasons you should consider a redesign or rebuild: the technical setup and the visual design.

The Technical Aspect

First, we’ll look at the technical side. As with other market segments (phones, computers, etc.) the technology underlying websites changes rapidly. Keeping up with technology can be imperative to building and keeping your target audience. For example, separate mobile-only sites are mostly a thing of the past and have been replaced by responsive web design. Responsive means that your primary site will flex and flow to provide the user with consistent information that fits the display on any device. Because Google considers subdomains an additional entity it will split the SEO authority of your site between your mobile subdomain and your desktop site, and you can lose out on the effectiveness of one primary authority. For example, will have a separate ranking from which will mean you have two rankings to manage. Similarly, if your site is not responsive you will potentially miss out on some additional SEO juice because Google will now take the mobile-friendliness of responsive sites into consideration in its rankings. Another area of change over the last couple of years is the increased use of Javascript over Flash or other elements that require additional browser plugins. If you have any Flash on your site, you are greatly affecting your users’ experience and should evaluate why you are still using it. These are a few examples of the recent large-scale changes, but there are many others that should be considered, to optimize in site performance, user experience, SEO, and security.

Another thing to consider is a whole new codebase (or nearly so, depending on the size of your site or application). If your site is four years old or more, chances are it would benefit greatly from a rebuild. Sites inherently bloat over time with added code for new features, changes, etc. Your developers will have ways to manage this to be as streamlined as possible, but by the time your design needs a refresh, the code probably will too. This is the prime opportunity to take advantage of the latest CSS preprocessor methodologies and compression technologies. Because there has been a focus on performance in the recent past, a site’s assets (Javascript, CSS, and imagery) can be easily and quickly minified to create a smaller page-load package, which aids in your site’s performance, and in minimizing what a mobile user is downloading with each pageview.

Making sure you know your market and have an accurate grasp on it is one of the first steps you’ll want to take in this process. If, for example, your business or organization is centered mostly around an e-commerce store, then making sure the store is usable on a wide variety of devices should be a top priority. It is not enough, however, to just have a mobile site. It must be easy to use, have familiar and thoughtful interactivity and usability, and serve the content your users are looking for in the most efficient way possible. This opens up the conversation around user experience and your site’s design.

The Design Aspect

The second primary area is the aesthetic as it impacts user experience. For the most part, design will become dated. It will become dated due to developing trends (which we’ll discuss shortly)’ may no longer represent your brand, company, or organization; or is no longer the best solution for your users. Portions of a design can be updated over time, but eventually, to keep everything cohesive, a complete redesign will likely be inevitable.

As your outward-facing presence on the web, your site should reflect who you are and what you’re about. This all stems from the design. If your brand or your look and feel changes, so should your website. It is important to make sure you are thinking of your web presence as a primary marketing outlet and opportunity.

The topic of design trends and how your design fits into them is a commonly misunderstood and consistently tricky one. It is important to understand that there are large-scale and small-scale trends. Large-scale ones change slowly over time and represent an awareness of where the web is headed as an entity. Years ago, during the  web 2.0 trend, the industry moved from table-based site construction and started the shift towards what is now HTML5—that was a large-scale trend. The appearance of the web as a whole shifted greatly, away from images and toward CSS to achieve stylistic elements like shadows and rounded corners. This is a prime, concrete example that lasted for years. A large-scale trend today is the use of white space, larger text, and a clean user experience. These are the ideas to look into when discussing trends.

The small-scale trends are much faster-paced—they come about quickly and do not always last long. These are the trends you will want to be very careful and thoughtful with. If you are a fashion or social trends media outlet, you will likely be watching and rolling with these trends to keep your more youthful, trendy audience interested. If you are in another industry, you will not likely want to indulge in these small-scale design trends. A solid, trustworthy design firm or agency, however, will help you navigate the trends and help you understand what will align with your organization’s mission, and what will sidetrack it. Often, this same firm or agency can skillfully integrate the best things about a small-scale trend you like with the large-scale trends that are relevant to you. The most important principle to remember is that you should not follow a trend just because it is trending with the general audience: it must make sense for your purpose and your direction.

See It as an Investment

Often, an entity (owner, company, or organization) will see its website as a necessity,but once it’s up it gets neglected. A site will work best for you (and make your life easier) when you treat it like a living thing that needs care and feeding. This means making relevant, meaningful content updates and general security and functional updates that ensure it continues to work for you. If you see a website as an investment, you will get more out of it.

In a widely discussed, recent shift, Google also now takes into consideration whether your site is running an SSL certificate. Whether you’re accepting payments or not, you should have one (and one that is consistent with current encryption methods). Security will only play a larger and larger role in the future of the web, so making sure you’ve invested in your web presence and its security will become exponentially more important. Keeping up with this particular large-scale trend will show your users that they can trust you, and will give them a reason to keep coming back.

Now What?

After discussing the basic reasons why you might want and/or need a redesign, you probably still have a few questions.

Common questions seem to be “What if my web firm is telling me to redesign my site?” and “Why do they want to?” The answers to these questions will vary. Many will want to execute a redesign for sound reasons, but many just like to follow trends. As discussed above, there are positive trends and distracting trends, so you should decide which ones to follow and when, after considering the advice of your firm. Make sure you’re discussing the direction you are heading in as a company or organization, and that the right decisions are being made by your web partner. Educated, well-informed decisions are always the best.

Another question might be “Do I have to scrap everything?” The short answer is no. If the majority of your site does not need attention, you may be able to get away with a partial rebuild. You could start by exploring new design possibilities to enhance your brand strategy and user experience in a certain area of your site. That could solve your issue, or it could allow you the time to evaluate whether you want to invest in a full redesign. Evaluating a major aesthetic shift in smaller portions could also help you to define a new direction in a way that’s easier for you to roll out to your users.

What other questions do you have? We love answering them, so feel free to contact us.

The Bottom Line

The gist of it all is that there is no simple answer, and a quick answer is not likely to be the best long-term solution. Whether or not to redesign is a conversation you should have with a trusted, knowledgeable design and development partner. A discussion about your concerns and goals is the first step in determining whether you should improve your site with ongoing maintenance and development or invest in a website redesign and rebuild.

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Mike Wenger

Mike Wenger

Front-end Developer and Designer

Mike Wenger is a front-end designer and developer at Q Digital Studio. Mike’s background is in Visual Communications, and his creative roots run deep. A transplant from Ohio, Mike enjoys all the great outdoors that Colorado has to offer. While out and about, Mike can be found kayaking, cycling, backpacking and hiking – and spending time with his wife, Nicole, and their two dogs.