The Anatomy of a Web Redesign Failure

by Andrew Hanelly |

All of the best practice documents in the world can’t prepare you for a thud that was supposed to be a splash when your big website redesign hits the market.

Or should we say, misses the market.

Designing a website is a difficult endeavor. Sure, everybody and their 11-year-old-nephew seems to be capable of launching their own web magic, but there’s a big difference between plopping a new blog on the web and building a website that serves a purpose, an audience, and a bottom line.

And that’s exactly what yours needs to do. But between the whiteboard, the wireframe, and the “why isn’t this working” discussion in the board room there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you’re not careful.

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Image by ell brown

Here are the potential web redesign land mines you’ll want to avoid:

The redesign was founded on “feeling” rather than evidence or data.
Don’t let the new CEO’s “gut” dictate the redesign strategy unless she’s ready to get punched in said gut by poor performance metrics and frustrated users. Redesigns should be based on feedback from users, larger rebranding efforts, and demonstrated needs in the market.

The new site is set up for an internal audience as opposed to the external audience.
If you find yourself saying things like “Well, let’s just do this to make the ____ department happy,” or “You know, Lucy needs to have a place to promote the _____ initiative”) instead of focusing on setting the new site up to achieve goals and convert, you’re in trouble. (Note, goals and conversions do not always mean you need to have a lead generation funnel feel to every page, sometimes the goal or conversion is simply for a user to click on another article. Set up the site for that).

A thing to remember is that the way your organization refers to things is not always how the outside world refers to them. Label your website with terms used by your industry, not with internal nicknames and nomenclature. Assuming your audience will understand your shorthand is bad user experience and even worse SEO.

You’ve got too many cooks in the kitchen (Or, too many taste-testers in the kitchen and not enough actual cooks.)
People are generally happy to chime in with opinions during meetings, but can sometimes go MIA when it comes to actually completing deliverables. Design-by-committee often leaves a project without one owner who has responsibility for it being completed on time and correctly. (As a client put it to me once, “you need someone’s neck on the line so you know which throat to choke.” Brutal, but true.)

Avoid the tragedy of the commons by having a small group own the redesign project and only have key stakeholders (and user testing groups) check in at key milestones.

The site suffered death by compromise.
Sally wanted a big red button and Tim wanted a lot of white space. Compromise: a big white button. Though dramatized a bit, this happens more than you might think.

The site was not designed with the future in mind.
Websites should be built so that continual updates can be added. Did you design yours just for launch? You can’t predict the future, but try to limit decisions that limit options down the road.

You pressed all the buttons at once.
If you change everything all at once you have no idea what helped performance and what hurt it after the big reveal. Employ iterative style design and make small changes often rather than earth-shattering changes once every 3 years.

If you want to avoid a web redesign failure focus on identifying the core audience you need to serve, lay out and label the content in a way that makes sense to them and allows them to be efficient, and let user needs pave the way.

Otherwise you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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About the Author

Andrew Hanelly

Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.