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So you’ve just built a new website, or maybe you’ve had one for a while now. The last thing you want to think about is when you have to do this again — it was time-consuming, it cost more than you wanted to spend, maybe it was even frustrating that you had to give up control to someone else when you’re used to handling everything yourself. (Oh, don’t look at me like that. I know you’re out there. I know.) Maybe you were thrilled with the results of your site design — or maybe you weren’t. Maybe you just wanted to check “build website” off your list, and it didn’t really matter to you what it looked like or how it functioned.

I’m going to raise a topic that’s unpopular with a lot of people now: How long is it going to be before you need to redesign your site?

I know (oh, I know) that plenty of business owners don’t really care about how “nice” or “current” their website looks. I also know that a lot of business owners, when asked, will admit they’re embarrassed by their site. The problem is — your customers really do care. So you have to, too. A whopping 48% of people believe a website’s design is the number one factor in determining the credibility of a business. Beyond that, millennials were born with this eerie, innate sense of website design and architecture, and they have serious expectations. So it’s really important that you keep your site looking like it was designed sometime before the stone ages.

So back to the question: How long? There’s actually no easy answer to this question, because there are a lot of factors involved. Surprise! But I’m actually going to skip straight to the punchline and give you the answer. The general recommendation is that you redesign your site every 2-3 years. Now, is that a hard and fast rule? I would say no, definitely not. But much like fashion, web design has trends, and things can just start to look… wrong.

Let’s talk about some of the factors that affect how often you really need to redesign.

How forward-thinking was your designer?

Some designers want to push the envelope design-wise, and some just sort of pump out what was popular a year or two ago (or five, let’s not kid ourselves here). To some degree, this factor is, unfortunately for you, going to fluctuate with price. And your designer’s talent level in this regard is going to strongly affect how long it’ll be before you need a new site. The ones who design what’s going to be hip next year are going to leave you in good shape — barring a total shift in technology, you’re probably good to go for 3 to 5 years before your site starts to look like fashion from another decade.

How backward-thinking was your designer?

Yeah, so let’s talk about the other end of this spectrum. Let’s just do it, let’s rip it off like a Band-Aid. You didn’t want to pay much, or maybe you just couldn’t. It happens. You hired someone who designs sites on nights and weekend, and maybe s/he does accounting or sells insurance by day. You hired your friend’s friend’s nephew. You hired someone who, plain and simple, agreed not to charge you anything resembling market rate. What this means: You’re probably not getting a professional website. It might do the job for 1-2 years, but odds are it already looks like last year’s model. Part of being a professional designer is being way out ahead of the trends, specifically so that you can make sure your clients’ sites have a nice, long life.

Did technology do a total switcheroo on you?

Now this one hurts. Let’s talk about restaurant websites as an example of the way technology trends can cost you money. Once upon a time, every restaurant website just had to have a fancy Flash intro, and it had to play catchy music. A lot of these sites were what I like to call the “tiny dancer” model — a teeeeny little box in the middle of the page, usually with a fancy little show that had a button that said “Skip Intro.” These were actually quite chic back in the day, before monitors got a lot bigger and the little boxes started to seem a lot smaller. A big part of the reason for the little box was that Flash was slow-loading, and making the site physically smaller meant it didn’t hurt quite so much for the user.

The next popular design style was a set-width site (meaning it had gutters on both sides) with a Flash carousel up top that showed glorious rotating slideshows of food. The Flash was still popular, but the “Skip Intro” razzle-dazzle show went out of style (i.e. became really laughable in its pointlessness). Most of these sites didn’t play music, so I’m going to say this was a great step forward. A lot of sites managed to work with this design style for a good five years or more. (Actually, some restaurants are still using these sites.)

Then came the mobile era, and Flash no longer worked. I mean, it literally didn’t work on phones. Suddenly, these restaurants had a problem: Redesign or die. So a lot of them did this stopgap thing where they made a “mobile only” site that was just monstrously ugly — but at least it worked. Then, finally, responsive design became the standard, allowing sites to look nice, and roughly the same, on both computers and phones. (Responsive basically means that the site cleverly expands and contracts based on the size of the screen.)

The long and short of this (long and not short) story is: Sometimes technology changes. And when it does, there’s not much you’re going to be able to do about it. You can’t not have a website in the 21st century. Estimated timeline for redesign: totally out of your hands.

Did you change your brand?

This one is a no-brainer. If you redesign your brand, redesign your site. We’re not going to get wordy about this one. Just do it. Don’t wait. Your regulars know you, but everyone else is most likely going to encounter your business through your website first. Make sure you put your best foot forward, across the board.

Have you goals changed?

Has something affected the flow of your business? Have you decided to start selling your product line via e-commerce? These are both good reasons for a redesign, for different reasons. Let’s say you have new local competitors, and you want to start attracting a wider regional audience. A rockin’ new website could be a good way to convince people to drive a little further and check out your business. Likewise, let’s say a competitor is biting into your profits, and you want to start selling online — investing in an e-commerce store could mean an entirely new life for your business.

Redesign checklist

I feel like I should leave you with a checklist, because the answer we’ve come to so far is: Wow, it really varies, huh? So let’s summarize:

  • Does your site look modern or does it look really old? (If you’re not sure, ask a kid. Kids know these things.)
  • Are you embarrassed by your site? When it comes up, do you go, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been meaning to do something about that,” and sort of shove it under the rug with your toe?
  • Does your site still work? I mean, literally, is it functional?
  • Have you changed your brand?
  • Does your competitor have a better site?
  • Have you business goals changed?
  • Have you updated the content in the past year? The past five years? (I’m just throwing that one in for good measure. If not, think about all of the above questions.)

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Tami Heaton
Tami Heaton
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Tami Heaton is a serial entrepreneur and longtime digital marketer who worked as a consultant in the corporate world for more than 15 years. She has worked as a strategist, producer, project manager, writer, designer and front-end developer for companies including MTV, VH1, Nicktoons Network, SyFy, The Village Voice, Disney, Gotham Girls Roller Derby and for Rosie O’Donnell’s production company. She currently divides her time between Austin, TX, and St. Louis, MO — with her 15-year-old chow chow, Clover, in tow.

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