Something magical happens in February.
No, we’re not talking about Punxsutawney Phil’s annual winter re-emergence and weather prediction on February 2. And, no, this isn’t about the national flowers-and-chocolate day – otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.
If you guessed National Drink Wine Day (February 18), Cherry Pie Day (February 20) or National Tortilla Chip Day (February 24), we are officially impressed by your knowledge of trivial celebrations. But, no, that’s not what we’re referring to, either.
This “something magical” doesn’t happen every year. In fact, it doesn’t even happen every other year. You’ve got to wait out four trips around the sun before it comes again.
Now, this isn’t a calendar appreciation blog. We’re typically more concerned with keeping your websites running smoothly and supporting your organizational goals effectively. So, what does Leap Day have to do with your website?
It turns out that for many resource-strapped colleges and universities, talk of a web redesign emerges only once every four years. That’s once per graduating class, once every presidential election, once every Olympic Games, or… once every Leap Year (connection landed, whew).
Does that seem too long to go without a site refresh? And, if so, how often should you redesign your website? Let’s find out.
When Should You Redesign Your Website?
This may not be a particularly popular answer, but, a website should be refreshed whenever, a) significant changes are made to your brand, b) the perception of your institution changes (or, needs to change), or, c) new technology raises user expectations beyond the capabilities of your site.
You’ll notice that none of the above are time-driven concerns. As such, time isn’t the definitive metric by which to measure the need for a design refresh. Rather, internal priorities and target audience considerations should drive the decision-making process.
In other words, if your marketing plan features significant changes, or your users show you that things aren’t working for them, it’s time for your website to adjust. Don’t wait for a leap year.
7 Signs Your Website Needs a Refresh
Marketing decisions and other internal signals for change are pretty easy to discern. They are usually presented as directives in a report or some other official presentation.
Your users, however, aren’t likely to send you a bulleted list of requested upgrades. Instead, you have to pay attention to what your visitors care about and identify where your current site might be falling short.
Here are a few situations where a website redesign might be warranted:
Bottom line, if your site isn’t built to be viewed on a smartphone, you need to start over. According to Google, more than 50% of online search queries are completed on mobile devices. So, if you’re not catering to the mobile experience, you’re kissing 50% (or more) of your target audience good-bye. We recommend testing your site on multiple mobile devices and browsers regularly to keep up with mobile technology.
Looks and feels outdated
It’s hard to overcome a bad first impression. That’s why your homepage has to be crafted to capture your visitors’ attention. If your users go “ugh” as soon as your homepage loads, you’re already playing catch-up. A homepage with a modern feel and featuring contemporary design elements can go a long way to meeting your users’ expectations.
That said, an unremarkable homepage experience can be overcome with superior navigation, intuitive information architecture and appealing graphics. If you’re behind the curve in all these factors and your homepage is nothing to write home about, your website’s got problems, friend.
Reviewing your user engagement data at least twice a year will alert you to problems with user experience on your site.
Doesn’t keep up with the competition
You may not need to feature the absolute latest design trends. And, you certainly don’t need to load up your site with the flashiest, most popular-at-the-moment elements. But, you do need to keep an eye on what your closest competitors are doing on their websites, and aim to do just a tad bit better.
Low search rankings
Organic search is a big factor in the success of your website. If you’re not winning in search results, it can be hard to attract the audiences you want. There are many factors that can tank your site’s ranking in search results. These include thin or duplicate content, non-optimized URL structure, low crawlability, slow page speed, insufficient link structure and improper keyword targeting.
If you find your most important pages consistently losing position, you should assess how SEO-friendly your site currently is. Odds are, it could use some help in a few of the above areas.
Plus, search engine algorithms change all the time, causing all sorts of unexpected ranking movements. Pages that historically rank well can drop suddenly.
Designing your new site using the most advanced SEO tactics should help to shield you from significant ranking drops and the associated traffic losses. And, quarterly SEO health checks will help you keep your site in the best shape possible.
Not aligned to your goals
Things change. And, in the online world, things tend to change quickly. Yesterday, you may have been trying to drive campus visits as your major recruitment strategy. Tomorrow, you may prioritize virtual meet-and-greets with your student leaders, or information sessions with your leading faculty members.
Whatever your goals are, your website has to be geared to fulfill those goals. When the goals change, your website needs to, as well. If you introduce a new strategy or sense a decline in activity, pay attention to the data and adjust (or redesign).
Complaints from users
We mentioned above that users aren’t likely to bring you a neat, organized list of improvements they’d like to see. They won’t bring you solutions, but they’ll definitely be more vocal about the problems they perceive. Pay attention to the feedback your users give. It’s truly a gift… because it will make you address issues and improve. If you observe an increasing number of complaints, that’s a sure-fire signal that your site may need a refresh.
Not successful with your target audience
Your site may be bringing in the visitors. But, are they the right kind of visitors?
For colleges and universities, if you’re not seeing prospective students and their parents as a significant portion of your incoming traffic, you’re doing something wrong. That’s as good a signal as any to start considering a redesign that will better align your site with your key performance indicators.
You may not need a complete redesign if one or two of the above factors are problematic. And, there’s no guarantee that some of these issues won’t crop up even after a successful redesign. Watch for the signals, assess the issues, then decide if it’s time for a redesign, or just some enhancements.
It’s important to remember that a website is not a product – or, better put, a website is never a finished product. You should constantly be looking for ways to optimize the performance of your site.
You can always tweak page content, modify a CTA button or introduce a new video. By continually analyzing your user behavior, you can identify the sections of your site that are not performing to expectations and create a plan to attack the problem.
As you can tell by now, the “set it and forget it” approach to website maintenance is not recommended. Waiting for a leap year to start fresh with a new site won’t keep your users happy or help you achieve your marketing goals. As with most things in life, you’ve got to be proactive to stay successful.
Beacon Knows Website Redesigns
Is your website ready for a facelift? Our team of digital marketing experts can help you make that determination. Request a complimentary website audit from Beacon today.