Websites change in two ways, big and small.
There’s the big, revolutionary change of the redesign. A process that happens once every four years or so. Then there are the little evolutionary changes that happen in between. These are the tweaks, the enhancements and the support tickets.
Each year, our clients request more than 1200 changes to their websites. Some are simple content changes. Others are serious maintenance with new features and integration.
There are millions of things you can do with a website. Each of them has a cost and a benefit.
So we’ve put together this little guide to help you make decisions about website changes over time and possible website enhancement ideas.
Tweaking that title tag, adding that new section or dropping in a video. Every website update has a return (marketing benefit) on the investment (time and cost). Together, they can be plotted on a chart.
Two things quickly become obvious:
Clearly, we want to make changes that help us reach our goals. Let’s start by taking a closer look at costs and benefits.
Changes to websites take time, money or both. If you have a marketing team in-house and a website with a content management system (CMS), then changes to text and images don’t typically incur out-of-pocket expenses. These are basically free website enhancements.
But design and programming changes mean calling your web developer. These changes don’t take a lot of time from the marketing team, but they ultimately mean getting a quote, approving it and paying an invoice.
Here’s a quick overview of possible website enhancements.
Before making any change to any website, ask yourself this question: what is the intended outcome of this change?
Every investment into your website (or any aspect of your marketing) should align with a goal. Business goals lead to website needs. Online goals are usually sales leads (or ecommerce transactions) through more traffic or a higher conversion rate. That’s how websites make money after all.
There are actually four main goals of website changes:
source: How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell, The Oatmeal
Caution: Beware of opinions! If you’re in a meeting about website changes and someone states an opinion, look for evidence to support or refute that opinion. You can probably find it Analytics, which a great tool for making better decisions about website updates.
Now let’s look at examples of website changes that align with these goals and see how the benefits matchup.
Unfortunately, it’s possible to update websites in ways that actually hurt the marketing results. It happens all the time. Here are a few common examples:
By now, things should be very clear. Look at every possible change to your website in the context of costs and benefits. Here is an example of what the analysis might look like documented in a simple worksheet:
The most important aspect of this little exercise? The goal. Without a clear statement of the purpose, the risks of action without outcomes are too high.
Of course you are. It’s nearly impossible to ever be totally certain about the outcome of any marketing action! But you can still collect the data and then be totally clear about the goals and look carefully at the costs.
If the costs are low, try it quickly and measure the impact. If costs are high, weigh the risk and proceed with it as a test. Or prioritize the lower cost updates, making the bigger changes after you’ve exhausted the smaller, simpler updates.
What about your last change? Go back and check your Analytics to see the results. How did you do? Did you improve traffic or conversions?
Before or after any change, think about your Analytics. Add the tracking code, do the analysis and then make an informed decision. Beyond Analytics, there’s a powerful testing tool within the Google Marketing Platform: Optimize. It makes testing easy.
If you’re not making decisions based on data, you’ll never meet your goals.
Tinkering with a website isn’t the same as marketing
Eventually, you’ll hit the point of diminishing returns with enhancements and updates. The evolutionary changes reach a limit and it’s time for the revolution: the complete redesign.
A well-designed, easily updated website has a lifespan of 3-5 years, depending on the business and the industry. After this time, the site has fallen behind. Updates don’t help anymore. Stop making updates and plan the redesign.
Bring your focus on results into the plan for the redesign, create the plan with a focus on website redesign ROI.
Whether it’s little tweaks or a complete overhaul, remember this: websites are never finished. Digital ink is never dry.
I’m sure some of you have your own thoughts on this. We’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Thanks for these great tips, Andy
Nice, clear decision making process I look forward to sharing with our team. Would love downloadable version of the worksheet(s).
Thanks Andy, Your posts are always so helpful…especially for those of us that may be
SEO challenged. Great read!
Great use of the graph up top Andy! After seeing the diagram, I’d believe everything you say haha.
Also, this is a great handy article. You could have a part 2 about things to keep in mind in order to avoid making marketing worse when making changes to a website.
Andy, as always, thanks for this. I am redesigning both my orgs’ websites, and even though some changes tied to a goal, some were “this just looks outdated.” I’m using your suggestions to revisit each site, ask questions, and then give our developer direction based on our goals, vs. what I think we need.
ps – last thought – I would have loved a downloadable checklist.
Nice article. Here’s a quick litmus test for the benefit side. Ask the question: How will you know that this change was a success? For a great ROI based answer, you’ll be able to substitute “measure” in for the word “know.” We should all beware if the answer is “If the CEO thinks it Pops.”
Love the post, Andy… may need to steal that Worksheet template from you 🙂
Another big Goal I might add would be “Improve User Experience”, where the measurement would be things like Bounce Rate, Time On Site, Pages per Session, etc. Of course, these things may also indirectly improve search engine rankings & conversions as well!
Spot on as always! Thanks Andy.
As always, great information to have and practical. Now, when do you know it’s time to admit the tweaked site needs a total redesign?
What are your thoughts?