When To Change Your Website

This article was originally written for ArrowQuick Solutions, a technology consultancy for small businesses.

Posted on February 25, 2010

Often, when we speak with clients about their websites, the number one reason they want to redesign is because they want something “new” or “fresh”. While it’s good to constantly improve your site and keep it updated, I would argue that website owners are often misguided when it comes to the reasons for redesigning their sites.

Many owners feel the need to change their websites because they are bored with them. As the business owner or marketing person  for the site, you probably look at your website all the time. But your customers use your site far less than you do, and they use Facebook, Yahoo, and many other sites in the course of a day. It will take them much longer to become bored with your site.

Users hate change, even good changes. It’s simply human nature to be more comfortable with what we’ve already been using. The best approach is to make small changes incrementally over time. This can be cheaper too, and lends itself well to testing (see below).

Also, recognize that your website is marketing collateral, not advertising. It is natural to revise your ad campaigns regularly. But your website is a marketing piece — it should not change unless your business undergoes major marketing changes (new branding, for example).

Finally, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Google homepage is virtually the same now as it was in 2000. Why? Because it worked for them then, and it’s still working now. (Google dominates the search engine market, accounting for about 60%-80% of all searches in the U.S.)

So, exactly how do you know when a change is needed? Two words: user testing. Testing asks your users what they think of your website. Testing gathers actual data from the people who matter — your customers. If you’re not testing, you’re just guessing. And guessing is much more expensive.

There are many different ways to test websites, and all of them are effective and should be considered. Tests include active participation (sit-down sessions) and passive participation (A/B testing). They can be cheap and informal (hallway tests) or sophisticated (eyetracking). Best of all, good testing will tell you exactly what needs to change and why.

Call it “tweaking”, or changing your site continually and gradually. Testing should occur regularly — small reviews should occur monthly to yearly, depending on your budget and how frequently you update your site. Each design change and new feature should also be tested to see if it actually improves the site. Google makes decisions regarding their sites based on data from user testing. It is very easy to do — it’s just a matter of budgeting some time and money for it.

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