The Big, Dirty Secret of Redesigns.

The most successful sites consistently, incrementally evolve to best meet the company and the user’s needs — they don’t do infrequent overhauls.

Aaron Shapiro
October 8, 2010

Google products are constantly evolving. Gmail, for instance, during the 5 years it was in beta, was updated several times, adding services like chat, SMS messaging, Google Buzz, offline access and other innovations. Facebook, too, evolves through incremental updates (particularly to their privacy settings). Neither of these incredibly popular sites has gone through a complete redesign or overhaul.

Websites are like living things. They are networks of interconnected systems that interact with ever-changing external stimuli. Content changes affect traffic; traffic trends can influence the content of a well-maintained site. Design impacts user flow; user flow, in a well-maintained site, affects design. The most successful sites consistently, incrementally evolve to best meet the company and the user’s needs — they don’t do infrequent overhauls.

"The dirty secret is that it’s actually cheaper to continually evolve a website than spend a big chunk of money every few years on a full site overhaul."

Many non-Internet companies implement massive redesigns every couple of years. Between these rebuilds they hardly change the site at all, outside of content updates. For years at a stretch, a site’s structure, design and interactivity remains the same, no matter the changes in user behavior and analytics. Over time, the site gets less and less relevant to users; eventually, users go somewhere else. The company then implements a comprehensive redesign, signifying to the community that it’s changing for the better. But then it goes stagnant again. This cycle repeats itself.

Consistent site maintenance is key. But many companies are hesitant to commit to this tactic because of budget. Most webmasters can get a hefty budget approved for a redesign, but once the redesign is complete, their money has all been spent. No money is left and no budget has been approved for continual site development. The mentality is that the site is redesigned, which means the project is complete, and now it’s time to spend CAPEX somewhere else. But the project is not complete; it’s never complete. The web continually changes; websites must as well.

The dirty secret is that it’s actually cheaper to continually evolve a website than spend a big chunk of money every few years on a full site overhaul. A well maintained website never needs the singular, big CAPEX spend and it performs better over time. What’s needed is a U-turn in corporate thinking and budgeting. That, unlike a massive redesign, would be a welcomed big change.

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