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Part One: Web Design

Your bland website needs a redesign Add to ...

Four years may not seem like much, but on the Internet it’s a lifetime.

Technology moves fast, and its easy for a once-cutting-edge website to suddenly seem bland and stale. How do you know when your online property is ready for a redesign? That’s not always an easy question to answer, but there are some common indicators:

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Your site doesn’t work for you

Mike Moffat is a part-time lecturer at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, and co-founder of Nexreg Compliance Inc., a chemical regulatory compliance company that helps clients in the United States and Canada sell products outside of their own jurisdiction. “We’ve had that version of the site for about four years now,” Mr. Moffat explains, “and it was starting to visually look a little stale to us.”

For example, Nexreg’s home page is currently hard-coded in “old-school” HTML, which, besides looking especially dated, also makes it difficult for his company’s nine employees to make changes. Even seemingly simple modifications — such as new menu options — require edits on multiple pages across the site.

“On the one hand we just wanted a face lift,” Mr. Moffat says. “But we also realized that we really had to go to a content management system because what we were doing simply didn’t scale.”

Chris Tindal, director of interactive at the free daily newspaper publisher Metro Canada, is also in the process of orchestrating a redesign of his company’s website — a platform that is also four years old.

“After a while, any website starts to become a bit cluttered and Frankenstein-ish,” he explains. “No one in your organization will ever ask you to remove something from the home page or move it further down. You will only ever hear people asking you to add something to the homepage and move it further up.”

Over time, Mr. Tindal says, those additions begin to accumulate — and not in a good way — which makes the opportunity to start fresh especially attractive.

Your site doesn’t work for your users

Because Nexreg deals in complicated policy and regulatory issues, it’s important that Mr. Moffat present this information to his clients in an easily accessible manner. Though the site does have a wiki, he realizes there are ways that a redesign could make certain pieces of information more clear.

“We seem to be answering the same questions over and over again,” he says. “If we put that information on the site, I’m sure half of the people won’t read it, but the other half will, and that will sort of save time.”

In a post for Smashing Magazine late last year, Jeff Gothelf, director of user experience at TheLadders.com, lists a few additional indications it may be time to start fresh. For example, a decline in traffic and user engagement over a period of months or years (gleamed from site metrics and analytics) might suggest a problem with the existing design that needs to be fixed.

In other cases— as with Craigslist, for example—your users may be more vocal, to the point where their feedback indicates a new design is needed.

But a big indicator is what Mr. Gothelf refers to as user experience debt.

“This debt is made up of all the things you should have done during the initial build but either didn’t get around to or had to cut corners on in order to ship the product on time,” he writes.

At Metro, Mr. Tindal has been building just such as list. For example, during the company’s previous website design process, the iPad didn’t even exist, and HTML5 was hardly the internet buzzword it is now. The new design, however, will be built from the ground up with new devices and technologies in mind.

“We’ve made a lot of changes and improvements and upgrades, and we’ve had a few design refreshes,” he says.

But after four years, “There were challenges and problems that we couldn’t overcome without rebuilding the fundamental architecture.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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