The most effective website redesign strategy

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Editor’s Note: This post was updated on January 10, 2017 for readability, and with a new case study!

I have an exciting case study to share about the Evolutionary Site Redesign (ESR) strategy!

We’ve shown it to be the better website redesign strategy for several companies, from mid-sized for Fortune 500, and the stories are exciting. We’ve literally seen Fortune 500 clients of ours scrap their redesign projects mid-stream in favour of switching to an ESR approach. For real.

Why you should choose Evolutionary Site Redesign (ESR)

Get the 3 graphs I use to illustrate the benefits of ESR: 1) The trouble with traditional redesigns, 2) Wedges of sucky-ness, and 3) ESR in action. Use 'em to convince your boss that ESR is the way to go!



But first, let’s take a step back: What is ESR and how is it the most effective website redesign strategy?

It’s no secret that the traditional website redesign process is broken.

Many a well-meaning web manager has had their hopes dashed in the experience. If you’ve been involved in one, you know what I mean… the white knuckles and sweaty brow on launch Monday, fingers crossed hoping for a smooth transition.

But, it often isn’t smooth. More often than not, redesigns end up over-budget, over-due, and under-performing. We’ve had clients come to us after flipping the switch and seeing a 20 to 40% drop in conversion rates.

Ouch!

Yet companies have become trapped in the website redesign cycle.

They’ve been fooled into thinking a redesign will lead to growth revenue. You might assume a beautiful new design, following the industry-accepted “best practices” will increase customer trust and therefore your sales.

That’s a false hope.

And that’s not the only problem with the traditional “radical” website redesign.

The old website redesign approach

Unfortunately, few agencies and marketing departments consider the risks their creative processes create.

To understand your risk, think about the number of changes you make during a redesign. Multiply that by how drastic a change is for each element. Imagine for a moment the list of changes proposed during a creative meeting.

You’ll change the home page headline, imagery, site-wide template layout, navigation bar design, fonts, shopping cart or form layouts, and many more.

But when do you discuss the risks associated with these changes? In most cases, that discussion doesn’t happen.

Maybe some changes help your conversion rate, and some definitely hurt. But how do you know which have a positive or negative effect?

effects of a website redesign
The potential effects of a website redesign on your conversion rate are unknown without testing them.

Marketers usually go into a redesign without a process in place to test the page templates and landing page elements that are being changed. There’s no way to monitor and justify those changes against key conversion metrics.

Mitigating these risks can only be done with a rigorous conversion optimization strategy. It requires a process that includes understanding the target audience, prioritizing test hypotheses to solve issues obstructing conversions, setting up controlled split tests, and analyzing insights from data to make informed changes.

Companies that are using a structured process that include A/B/n split testing as part of a conversion optimization strategy, like WineExpress, Iron Mountain, Electronic Arts, BabyAge.com and BuildDirect  (see case study below) are getting significant sales lift while reducing risk.

In fact, eConsultancy reports that companies with a structured approach for conversion optimization are twice as likely to have seen a large increase in sales as others.

The better approach: Evolutionary Site Redesign

Testing, and a proven system to execute testing for design changes, is critical for today’s marketer. The risk of making substantial website changes without these is just too great.

This approach to website redesign is called Evolutionary Site Redesign (ESR) and is the most effective website redesign strategy.

The truth is that a dramatic, “radical” redesign is dangerous for most companies.

It’s not that you don’t need a redesign. You probably do. But a better, structured, less risky, iterative design approach involves a process of testing with incremental (and often dramatic) improvements. This ESR approach results in a better visitor experience and results versus the traditional throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater method.

ESR gives continuous results improvement

There are two major differences between ESR and the traditional “radical” site redesign (RSR) approach:

1. It’s faster

After a traditional website redesign, marketing departments are usually so fed-up with the process that they’ll gladly wait another 5 years before trying again. Or, they may spend the next 6 months scrambling to fix the conversion rate drop with their new site. ESR, in contrast, creates a system of continuous improvement so your website is always leading the pack.

radical site redesign
Note the “wedges of sucky-ness” associated with “radical” site redesign.

2. It has the right success criteria

“Gut feeling” and reliance on the so-called “best practices” of designers and UX practitioners leads traditional redesign. While the team may be talented, no batter hits 100% and many of their changes are likely to hurt website results. With ESR, every change is measured in controlled A/B/n split tests against its effect on business goals.

The RSR approach leaves your website lacking and continuously falling behind in the intervals between major redesigns. But, with ESR, your website will continuously keep up and surpass the success of the rest of the web.

ESR essentially uses conversion rate optimization principles to redesign your site.

How ESR eliminates epic website redesign fails

By adopting the evolutionary site redesign approach you can guard against website redesign risks while dramatically improving your website every day.

evolutionary site redesign
Continuous design improvement with A/B testing is a better strategy.

ESR continuously improves your website

With ESR, your website will continuously keep up and surpass the success of the rest of the web. Once you’ve defined your website’s goals clearly, you can test and continuously optimize to improve on them.

ESR works by implementing a system of continuous A/B split testing throughout your entire website and digital marketing. Rather than relying on the gut-feeling and flawed intuition of an art director, your website decisions should be made against the crucible of customer actions.

You should test everything in your marketing:

  • Site-wide design styles
  • Logo, header and tagline
  • Product page templates
  • Landing page design & content
  • Your product or service value proposition statements
  • Lead generation forms, shopping cart and checkout
  • Third-party integration tools
  • Home page design, eyeflow, merchandising
  • Imagery, copywriting, ads, calls to action, and offers
  • And everything in-between!

Real life example: BuildDirect.com

Now, after having run this strategy for several of our clients, we can say that it’s an unabashed success.

Let me show you how ESR works in practice and correct some misconceptions.

After working with WiderFunnel for several months and achieving significant conversion rate improvements, we implemented an ESR strategy for BuildDirect.

Our goal was to improve the dated website design without hurting conversion rates and, ideally, boosting revenue in the process.

We began by redesigning the look and feel of the entire website. WiderFunnel’s designers and BuildDirect’s internal team came up with contemporary look and feel options that would respect the brand.

Rather than changing everything at once to match the new design as a traditional redesign would, we tested the major elements of the website iteratively, focusing on improving user experience and conversion results. So, how does one test each new design element while maintaining consistency of user experience?

Great question.

The answer depends on how a website is structured. Since there are are several ways to approach ESR, plans are unique to the website being redesigned.

The goal is to isolate the elements that contribute to design in a way that minimizes design dissonance.

In the case of BuildDirect, the left column was an important part of the user experience. We saw through click heatmap analysis that a high proportion of visitors used the left-nav to find and filter their products. At the same time, the design needed a lot of improvement, and the left-nav was contributing directly to the dated design.

So, we isolated the left column and ran A/B tests of new design options.

esr blog 1

As shown above, the new design met the goal of improving the look and feel while, at the same time, lifting conversion rates by 16% across the entire website!

With that first winning test, we moved on to the other site-wide elements, including the right-column, header and top-nav, subhead design, css, shopping cart, etc.

esr blog 2

Every page on the website has been redesigned through this method and the results have been incredible.

We met our goals of updating the look and feel, while staying on brand and increasing conversions.  But the best result of all…

How about an extra million dollars per month!

That’s right, this strategy for BuildDirect resulted in more than $1 million in revenue, per month! That’s incremental revenue directly as a result of the A/B testing and ESR.

Want a more detailed overview of the BuildDirect process and how ESR can work for your website? Contact us to set-up a consultation.

If you’re considering using ESR (and you should be) you may need to have a chat with your CXO.  Below are some good talking points.

The top 7 reasons to use Evolutionary Site Redesign

Here’s why ESR is the most effective website redesign strategy:

  1. You get a new site “look and feel”, and lift conversions at the same time
  2. You learn which elements actually improve results
  3. You maintain your team’s focus on the important business metrics rather than “aesthetic” redesign
  4. Your website never faces lags in results in-between redesigns
  5. You avoid the risks of a “radical” site redesign
  6. It’s actually faster and more effective than traditional website redesign
  7. Your website testing can be used to evolve your brand positioning, messaging, and design based on real customer persuasion insights

Update: Another case study showing ESR in action with doubled conversion rate

After 7 months of testing with weBoost, an electronics manufacturer, their website looks radically different and the company has seen an over 100% lift in their year-over-year conversion rate. This is evolutionary site redesign (ESR) at work.

What do you think?

Have you experienced the post-website-redesign conversion rate drop? What barriers does your organization face to redesign by testing? We love to hear about your experiences.

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  • Mike

    I agree with the strategy. However, I'm curious why the BuildDirect site you mentioned is not responsive nor mobile friendly?

    • As with all websites, it's a work in progress, Mike. Mobile-friendliness on its way!

  • Luke

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article! It hits home on a lot of very frequent redesign challenges.

    At Optimizely, I lead our Customer Success Manager team. The most frequent issue we see, particularly in the Media industry, is that the redesign becomes a resource black hole.

    Given the importance of a redesign, developers are pulled off other projects to focus exclusively on coding the new site.

    As a result, the marketing, product and optimization teams often stop testing altogether until "after the dust settles" which creates all the symptoms you aptly diagnose. Eyes wide shut.

    • Thanks for sharing from the Optimizely perspective, Luke! It's great to hear your experience lines up with what WiderFunnel sees.

  • So if the website needs to be transferred to a new CMS altogether or upgraded to a newer version, how do you apply the approach above?

    • In the best case scenario, the platform will be independent of the customer experience. The website design, IA and content shouldn't be driven by the CMS.

      The best approach would be to create the same website onto the new CMS and then test adding the new features the new CMS enables.

      In practice, that might be difficult for some companies to justify, though. In that case, the worst case scenario is to A/B test both websites on separate servers with www and www2 domains. At least then you'll know if the new site helps or hurts your conversion rate. You still won't know which changes made the impact, though.

  • hashe house

    just say Great great great …… 🙂

  • Mario Rodriguez

    Highly paradigmatic and a very good starting point for a real and brain breaker problem. Sometimes should be better to make it all from scratch but is also known all the consequences for returning and loyal users.

    Anyway I would like to add some perspective to one of the main problems: How to decide where to begin? I think that a premise should be reminded, business goals and user experience first.

    If we want really put off gut feelings and best practices pitfalls it will be necessary to make a steps flow like the following: 1-Which are the main business goals the company is trying to achieve with the website? 2-Are these goals being really achieved (What do analytics and user testing say about it)? I think there are the questions and answers for starting and prioritizing any redesign. I would run the evolutionary redesign over these rails, fixing the worst achieving elements, introducing new ones for improving goals, etc. Thanks Chris Goward and all WiderFunnel team for this blog