Remember when this was the bleeding edge of web design?

Original AOL homepage
If you listen close, you can still hear the static of dial up. Via Reddit.

The digital world moves fast. Dial up gave way to wifi. MS Paint gave way to Photoshop CC. Yahoo! gave way to Google. What’s sleek and shiny one minute is clunky and dated the next. It’s a conundrum that leaves every business owner with a website asking, “when should I start thinking about website redesign?”

If you’re asking that question, the most likely answer is right now.

But redesigning your website seems like such a hassle, like when you got your first ethernet cable and you had to figure out which port it went into. All that effort leaves you wondering, why update your website at all? However, you can only excuse your site’s shortcomings for so long before you realize that, by clinging to the past, you’re only hurting yourself.

The good news is website redesign doesn’t have to be all that difficult. Below, we explain how to do it quickly and easily. You’ll find everything you need to know about redesigning your website from beginning to end, starting with a couple good answers to why update your website in the first place.

Why redesign your website?

There are two very good reasons to redesign your website: traffic and conversions, the lifeblood of online business.

For business people, it’s not always evident how much web design matters on the bottom line. In person, a vender’s sales tactics improve their chances for selling. In the same way, your site’s design can increase your chances of a conversion. The same principles of business psychology are still valid online—you just have to translate them visually.

For example, the right placement and color of your call-to-action button can increase how many people use it. Just look at what Levon Resources did with their CTA button in the redesign compared to their original.

Original Levon Resources homepage.
Redesign by andrei2709.

Redesigning your website can even help before visitors go to your page by enhancing your search engine optimization. SEO tactics change every few years, especially when Google updates its algorithm or a new tech is introduced. The latest example is Alexa and other voice-controlled smart speakers. The words used when people type are different than the ones used when they speak, so companies are now including more speech-specific keywords in their SEO strategies. Tech disturbances like these are why companies should continually update their site designs.

Does design really make a difference? Let’s look at an example.

At 99designs, we rely on the advantages of a website redesign just as much as anyone. We periodically redesign our own home page, not because it doesn’t perform well, but because maybe it can perform even better.

Some time back, we considered whether adding a video might increase conversions. Instead of just blindly going forward with an experimental redesign, we wanted to test our theory to see how effective it was. User testing is essential for redesigns, as it reveals in no uncertain terms which designs can improve traffic and conversions.

We recommend A/B tests, where two versions of the same screen are given to different test groups and their behavior is recorded. It’s best to only test one variable at a time so you don’t misinterpret the data. If one test group responds better to one version than the other, clearly that’s the version you should use in your website redesign.

Our home page before the redesign.
Our tested video variation.

We tested a new version of our homepage, adding a video and copy about one of our clients, and compared it to our original version (the control). We found that the version with video redirected more traffic to our featured category page, but away from our launch page, one of our key conversion pages. Back to the drawing board.

We continued testing different versions, fine-tuning our results based on the previous test’s data. Slowly but surely, the testing revealed the optimal home page that maximized conversions, one with a smaller video in the corner and less copy.

Our current homepage (at time of publishing)

Human behavior is surprisingly predictable, so definitive tactics have emerged and proved themselves throughout the last twenty years of the internet development. Knowing how long to make text, when to insert graphics, how to structure your navigation and thousands more nuanced design choices are all part of this science that grows every day.

We don’t expect you to know all these tiny details yourself. But a good designer will. That’s why we recommend hiring a professional; they know how to handle these areas so you don’t have to.

When is it time for a website redesign?

Without beating around the bush, you should update your website every 3-4 years, give or take. That’s just a loose benchmark, and certain situations and individual companies don’t conform to that schedule. But if you’re looking for a frame of reference, the design agency First Scribe puts it at every “3 years, 3 months, 3 days, 3 hours and 3 minutes on the dot.”

This rule is pretty consistent with the current rate of both design and SEO trends. Anything longer than this, and your website starts to appear old to the casual internet-user.

Now, most companies don’t reach this deadline in time, and a lot of companies can’t because they lack the resources. So, we’ve come up with a list of 7 red flags to let you know you can’t postpone redesigning your website any longer.

1. The tech is out of date.

Is your site mobile responsive? Five years ago, you could have gotten away with using the same site design on desktop and mobile, but no longer. And that’s our point. Every few years, how people browse the internet—the tools they use to interact with it—change and evolve. Your site must evolve with it, or the people will simply stop using it. Just ask the 8 out of 10 people who will stop engaging with a site if the content isn’t displayed well on their device.

Click to enable Adobe Flash Player
Having to click every time you want to use a Flash player is an annoyance modern users won’t tolerate for long.

A good example at the moment is Flash. In the early 2000s, Flash, too, was the bleeding edge of technology, and so for years after that many sites relied on it. But Flash was designed in the desktop era, and when mobile became dominant, using Flash was just holding sites back. When browsers stopped supporting it, sites started throwing it away like old meat. In other words, if your site still uses Flash or any other obsolete tech, you should consider a website redesign.

2. Your template site restricts your future goals.

Template sites are a godsend to small businesses who have limited resources when they’re starting out, but a goldfish can only grow as big as its bowl. At some point, your prosperity will require you to get your own roomier website, one that can scale appropriately.

Leaving your template site behind—or at least expanding it—brings you a wide variety of advantages: Hosting better web apps, richer graphics, unrestrained creativity with your designs or simply adding more pages, which is a necessity for ecommerce sites expanding their product ranges. You can even use your own payment gateways to avoid paying commission fees to your online landlord.

3. You’re targeting a new market.

boy character design
Who’s your ideal customer? Character design by Cassielf for katethompson845.

A website redesign is often a business decision: targeting a new market means new visuals and new usability to appease them. Imagine going from targeting Millennials to targeting Baby-boomers. You’d have to get rid of all your emojis and usage of the word “cray.”

Different demographics, locales and cultures all have different preferences for visuals, text tone, interfaces, interactions, search keywords and even something as massive as your site’s infrastructure. If the shift in market is big enough, you need a website redesign to match. Something like their average income affects which devices they use to browse, for example.

4. You’re rebranding.

Maybe it’s not them, it’s you. Maybe you want to change your brand values or you realized you’ll garner more business if you appear more approachable. As a reflection of your brand personality, your site needs to change alongside you.

Even minor changes like a brand color scheme may require a full-fledged site redesign. The subtle aesthetic change can benefit greatly from consistency, and if your site doesn’t echo your brand new brand, it’ll seem outdated by default.

5. You can’t update it regularly.

The days where you had to know code to post on your site are over. The rise of WordPress and other content management systems (CMSs) shows there’s a vast market of people who want to be able to control what’s on their website.

Google and other search engines have caught on to this wave. Sites that update frequently—like blogs—are rewarded by higher rankings, so redesigning your website to enable faster posting actually benefits to SEO.

If you’re still living in fear that changing something on your site will send it crashing down like Jenga, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to get a CMS these days. Not to mention practical.

6. You want to stay current with modern design trends.

Redesigning a website isn’t always about necessity. Sometimes it’s more superficial. Just like wearing outdated clothes (unironically) can be a turn-off, so too do people think twice about doing business with an outdated site.

Before the website redesign…
… and after. Design by Steve Sen.

Steeped in visuals, web design is far from immune to the whimsies of stylistic trends. Every few years we see aesthetic fads ebb and flow, which is why everyone avoids skeuomorphism even though it was all the rage in the early 2010s. And if you want to come across as a modern company, you have to look the part.

7. You’re not meeting your business goals.

Last, and possibly most important, your website isn’t doing its job. If you’re not meeting your target conversion rate or traffic, if your bounce rate is too high and your email signups too low, maybe the problem is the design itself.

We mentioned this in the first section but it bears repeating: good web design can influence conversions and attract new visitors. If your site is underperforming, you need to revisit and replace your design choices from the ground up.

What kind of redesign do you need?

Redesigning your website isn’t always as easy as going from Point A to Point B. You may want to go to Point C instead, or perhaps somewhere between Points D and E.

Before the groundbreaking of your new website, it’s crucial to know what kind of redesign you want, what your goals are and what you can afford with your budget. Let’s take a look at some common types of redesigns.

Periodic update

ReviewBoost website redesign
ReviewBoost just brought the ol’ girl in for a quick tune-up. Design by Laurra.

This is your standard website redesign, recommended for all websites every few years. This would be like taking your car for a regular tune-up, if the tech for car parts became obsolete within five years.

Periodic updates keep your site continually looking and performing the best it can. This kind of redesign centers around keeping design trends up-to-date—both visuals and usability, such as whatever gesture controls are popular at the moment—and refreshing your SEO strategy to reflect changes within your company and the world at large.

Not everyone has the resources to do a large-scale website redesign every few years, but the good news is these don’t have to break the bank. Periodic updates usually have only minor changes, but the longer you wait to update, the more expensive it becomes. To return to the car analogy, it’s cheaper to perform periodic tune-ups than it is to replace broken parts.

Strategic refocusing

5 Star Productions website redesign
5 Star Productions requested a website redesign that catered more to Millennials, including a 5-star mobile site. Design by SeeerKate.

This type of redesign deals more with changes in your brand, namely targeting a new market, modifying your image or showcasing a big change like promoting an event or a new spokesperson.

Some companies may never need to shift their website focus like this, but when they do it can be sudden and on a tight schedule. How intensive the website redesign is depends on how big the shift is, so costs vary.

Data- or customer-based redesigns

These are like strategic refocusing, except the changes are dictated by the customers or customer data. One example might be that you notice feedback with customers complaining that it’s hard to find things on your site. Another example might be a rapidly declining conversion rate in your analytics.

BetVoyager Casino mobile roulette table
In response to their clientele, BetVoyager needed a new roulette table that worked on smartphones. Design by Had Zic.

The key to understanding your customers is regular user testing, and not just for redesigning your website. Rely on as little guesswork as possible, and instead concentrate on empirical data that tells you precisely what needs to change, and how. Just like with the A/B tests we mentioned in the first section, the right design choices reveal themselves through testing.

This doesn’t just apply to visuals and usability—user data can also tell you which devices your patrons are using most so you know which ones to prioritize. Data analysis can be surprising, especially if a large segment of your visitors are using a device your site isn’t equipped for.

How do you redesign your site? (The redesign process)

If you’re interested in redesigning your site, here are three simplified steps:

1. Draft goals

To save time and money, you need to know exactly what you want your redesign to accomplish. Is it to make your site look and perform up to modern standards? Attract a new group of visitors? The more specific (and realistic) your goals, the better.

Your goals should also be a group decision. Incorporate representatives from all the different fields within your company: marketing, sales, technical specialists, IT, accounting, customer service, executives—even HR might have something to add. Your site is a microcosm of your entire brand, so it should reflect every aspect.

Optimizely data analytics
Optimizely’s program report page

Even if you’re just doing a periodic update, it’s always worthwhile to check user data. For starters, this could reveal problems you didn’t even know existed, but also you should know which changes to prioritize over others.

Once your know your goals, you can conduct more constructive tests to determine which changes solve the problems most effectively. Again we’ll mention A/B testing (which you can set up yourself online through services like Optimizely), but there are also other ways to get inside your customers’ heads:

  • Surveys—You can easily add a customer survey to your existing site and listen to what your visitors want changed, in their own words.
  • Heat maps—A kind of user test, heat maps show you which areas of your site screen visitors interact with most. This offers valuable insight into screen layout, navigation, use of images, conversion strategies—pretty much everything on your site.
  • Professional assessment—You can simply hire design experts to look at your site and tell you what you should change and how… although this is one of the more expensive options.

Last, before you move forward, double check with your SEO team and see if there’s room for improvement. Check the performance of your current keywords and see if any new ones show potential.

2. Decide who to hire

More than just what you want, you also have to consider what’s best for the company budget. Among the choices below, which would be the most realistic option for your company:

Internal

If you already have in-house web designers and/or developers, see if they’re up to the task. Keep in mind that not all designers are web designers, so this might be out of their league. Also, depending on the scope of the redesign, they might be too busy, but you can always hire a freelance designer to share the workload with them.

Agencies

This is the option for people who want to be less involved in the process—more like a handoff and wait. A good design agency will have a staff of specialists, though, so each aspect of your site should be handled, depending on their quality. The downside of agencies is that they’re the most expensive choice, so if prices are a concern, you might want to choose a cheaper option.

Freelancer

Hiring a freelance designer is the ideal middle route between handling the redesign yourself and using an agency. You get the same design skill of an agency, but at a fraction of the cost. The trick is to find a freelance designer who matches the style you’re aiming for, so use our search tool to filter out designers by which industry they specialize in, their skill level and more.

Design contest

Commissioning a design contest is an alternative method to hiring a freelancer for people who like to “see it before they choose.” In a design contest, you fill out a quick brief explaining what you’re looking for and any other pertinent details. Next, designers from all over the world submit samples based on what you filled out. Then, you choose the finalists and give them notes to further hone in on what you want. Last, you choose the design you like best. It’s worth noting that this is a great way to get your visual concept down, but you may need to do some additional work beyond the scope of the original contest to design your entire site. You can get started with your website redesign content here.

No matter which avenue you choose, you’ll also need to consider how you get your web design developed. Some agencies offer development in their services, but regardless you can always hire a freelancer if you don’t have anyone capable in-staff.

3. Design process

From your end, the design process is pretty easy. Depending on how much or how little you want to be involved, you can choose how often to check in with your designer. But for the most part, the project is now in the hands of whomever is designing your new site.

Wireframe for mobile banking app
A colored wireframe depicting the user flow for a proposed payment system. Design by MarkBond.

Of course, you can always give notes throughout the process to guide the designer in the right direction. Just be sure to communicate everything you want up front to avoid unnecessary delays and misconceptions.

You can read more about this process in our ultimate guide to web design, but to give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a brief overview of the steps:

  • Wireframing—a rough outline of the proposed design
  • Look and feel—setting the right atmospheric tone, depending on your brand and goals
  • Creating the page template—laying the groundwork for the final design
  • Coding—your developer builds the design
  • Fill in content—you and/or your designer add the specific images, words, etc. into the template
  • User testing—see how your users react to your new design and catch any mistakes

How long the design process takes varies, depending on the amount and changes that need to be made and their severity. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can usually pay extra for overtime.

Takeaway: The difference redesigning your website can make

Everyone loves a makeover story, right? We recently had a massive website redesign on our platform that shows just how much of a difference redesigning your website can make.

Crewsware Software, Inc., came to us because they wanted to expand their client base into new territories, with a secondary goal of shortening the amount of time their current clients had to spend on their site for convenience.

After commissioning a design contest, they chose the entry from our designer Wuxo as the winner.

Crewsware Software, Inc. website
Crewsware Software’s original website.
Crewsware Software website redesign
Crewsware Software’s new website. Designed by Wuxo.

The before and after of their website redesign is like night and day. Which would you rather do business with?

Are you ready to redesign your website?
Find an awesome freelance designer to work with.