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Website Planning

Refresh vs redesign - What's the Difference?

Is your website built on solid foundations, or does it feel like it's held together with sticky tape and glue?
Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan April 2022

What is a website refresh?

Website refreshes usually consist of minor adjustments and improvements; the core functionality and structure of the website remains untouched. A website refresh is an effective way to maintain and strengthen your online presence.

Suppose a website is a couple of years old. In that case, a refresh might involve tweaking the colour palette or typography to match revised branding. Or perhaps certain products or services need to be given more prominence on the home page.

It's about editing or creating content within the existing framework, using existing templates. Many small changes to elements like tweaking text, improving call-to-actions, and some fresh, eye-catching images can add up to make a big difference.

Why should you refresh your website?

Over time a website can become stale; design trends that were once popular can age a website and give the wrong impression — auto-playing videos and image sliders, skeuomorphism and confrontational pop-ups, to name a few, can frustrate visitors. Modern websites are much more customer-centric.

A regularly updated website will help improve your site's search presence. Visual trends change; it's essential to move with the times. It doesn't require too much effort to make the difference between an abandoned website and one that feels maintained.

How do I know what to refresh?

Free tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools will reveal a lot of valuable data about your website. Popular pages, scroll depth, engagement rate, completed goals, exit pages, traffic sources and much more.

Combine this with a service like HotJar to include brief on-page surveys to ask visitors pertinent questions on specific pages. This type of feedback will allow you to make changes based on customer feedback rather than guesswork.

Using tools like these can provide everything you need to improve a website incrementally, make a change and track what happens. Ask for feedback, rinse and repeat.

How do you announce an updated website?

A website refresh isn't something you'd lead with on social media or in your newsletter. However, if you have recently made a range of tweaks to your website, it can't hurt to inform your clients and community. Use it as an opportunity to solicit feedback for future updates, especially if you've added something useful.

What is a website redesign?

A redesign is required when significant foundational changes are needed. Think functional rather than aesthetic. The current website is so old it no longer represents the business. The sales team are embarrassed by it and don't think of it as a sales tool.

Perhaps the website has grown into an unmanageable mess. The Content Management System (CMS) can't be updated or is challenging to use. The underlying technology is creaking — all solid reasons for a complete website redesign.

Use the existing website.

If you have decided to redesign a website, it might feel like the existing website no longer has value. This way of thinking is a misconception. If a website receives any traffic, it's worth looking into the analytics to help understand what customers' interests are.

As mentioned above, HotJar is a superb tool - it has a free plan - to embed simple surveys, collect feedback, record sessions and view heat-maps to provide you with all the information you need to make a much better website.

Why should you redesign a website?

There are multiple reasons why a business might decide to redesign a website instead of a simple refresh.

  • The website is very outdated and needs a redesign

  • Managing our website has become impossible

  • Our competitors have better websites, and we are losing business

  • The technology underpinning the website is no longer supported

A redesign is an excellent opportunity to refocus a website and provide a significantly improved experience for visitors and site administrators. Modern CMSs have come a long way in the last five years; managing website content is more intuitive. Even non-technical members of the team can make updates without any hassle.

Website refresh or a website redesign?

If a website isn't too old, it's not using any dated design trends that might put potential customers off, and it's relatively easy to update, then perhaps a refresh will keep you going for another year.

However, if looking at your website makes you shudder. Your team don't or can't make updates via the Content Management System (CMS), or the website isn't working for your business anymore, it might be time to consider a website redesign.

Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan
I'm a Manchester-based web designer and developer, and the founder of D3 Creative since 2005. My expertise includes collaborating with in-house marketing teams to redesign corporate websites.
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