Instead of a total redesign small businesses may be better off making incremental changes.
Small businesses were notoriously hesitant to build out their online presence even after the power of the internet became clear. Now that many of them have finally built websites that deliver results, they often risk all of their progress when the time comes for a full site redesign. But there's a better, safer approach they should consider instead.
Although it's hard to recall a time when the majority of businesses operated without any significant online presence, the truth is that it hasn't been as long as you might imagine. And when it comes to small businesses, it wasn't until 2018 that a bare majority – 64%, in fact – had a website of any kind.
That delay in embracing digitization was due in large part to the sheer expense of building and maintaining a small business website. But the truth is, the up-front costs that small businesses invest in a website are nothing compared to the time and effort they then have to make to turn it into a revenue-producing destination for consumers in their target market.
Between content marketing, pay-per-click advertising campaigns, and extensive search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, it doesn't take long for a website to become a significant cost center for a small business. And for that reason, most business owners and managers are loath to do anything whatsoever that might jeopardize all of their hard work and even harder-won website traffic.
But now, as the internet continues to evolve, it's becoming clear that small business websites have a limited shelf life. For various reasons ranging from technical limitations and a lack of support for the latest mobile devices to the need to maintain a modern, up-to-date outward appearance, the average small business faces the prospect of a full website redesign approximately every two to three years.
The trouble is, even a perfectly-executed website overhaul can have unintended consequences. First, there's the chance of doing damage to the site's SEO performance. And there's also a chance that an all-new website will fail to outperform its predecessor. And in that case, the whole effort may do more harm than good.
The good news is that small businesses that find themselves in the unhappy position of needing a website redesign don't have to risk those poor outcomes. They can instead implement a strategy that has helped turn the sites of well-known digital giants like Amazon into the best-in-class platforms we know today. It's called Evolutionary Site Redesign (ESR) – and here's everything small business decision-makers need to know about it and why it's superior to the traditional full-site overhaul they may have been considering.
What is an evolutionary site redesign?
As the name suggests, an evolutionary site redesign is a practice whereby a business website undergoes a process of continual improvement. Think of it as more of an incremental upgrade process rather than a redesign. If you remember the changes that have happened to Amazon's website over the years, you've already seen it in action.
The idea is to examine your existing small business website looking for opportunities for incremental improvement. The most common targets are site navigation elements, fonts and graphic design choices, and page layouts. But instead of trying to devise a full-blown replacement for everything at once, the ESR process calls for tackling each change one at a time, with A/B testing validating the results of each change.
Handling website redesigns in this manner reduces the risks involved because no single change is too big to reverse mid-stream. And even though ESR implies a lengthy ongoing process rather than a short-sprint effort as in a traditional site redesign, it often carries lower overall costs. But those aren't the only benefits.
Why ESR is a better option than traditional site redesigns
There are some significant advantages of an ESR process when compared to a traditional website redesign. For small businesses, any one of these benefits is enough to make the process an attractive alternative. They include:
1. Faster results
Since one of the primary reasons that a business might want to redesign its website is to make it more competitive with others in their industry, it's important to recognize that an ESR approach will bring faster results. The reason is simple. It's that a website's overall performance is not based on the big picture, but rather on the individual performance of different site components.
For example, updating a business website's landing pages can increase overall conversion rates. But if it's done at the same time as a whole-site redesign, the disruption of incoming traffic can negate whatever benefits would have come from the changes. This not only muddies the water when gauging results but also lengthens the time it takes to achieve optimal performance. By using an ESR process, each change to the site is evaluated on its own, allowing the business to reap immediate and measurable rewards after each successful element design change.
2. Smoother user experience transition
If you've ever returned to an oft-visited website that has undergone a complete redesign, you've probably had the experience of being somewhat disoriented while trying to navigate the changes. For a business website, that kind of disruption to the user experience can be catastrophic. The first consequence of an abrupt change like that is typically a sharp increase in the site's bounce rate.
Even if the totality of the changes is beneficial – as evidenced by better engagement with first-time visitors – there's a good chance that your most loyal customers will suffer in the process. By using an ESR approach, it's possible to roll out changes to your site's UX in a way that lets visitors adjust gradually. It's a method that works equally well for new visitors and returning customers alike. And, it also allows time to collect user feedback to make sure that the people your site is designed to serve are happy with what you're doing.
3. Cost certainty and containment
One of the biggest reasons that so many small businesses waited so long to build websites in the first place was the high up-front costs associated with doing so. Well, the same logic applies to traditional full-site redesigns. When approaching the task, small businesses face the prospect of beginning a project that could end up costing them more than they're willing or able to spend. More often than not, by the time they realize that there's going to be cost overruns, they're too far into the project to back out or take a pause.
With an ESR approach, the incremental changes are small enough that the costs are much easier to estimate, and are less likely to go over-budget. This means small businesses can tackle a website redesign in phases that suit their budgetary restrictions and can pause the process whenever a need arises. Plus, they don't have to take the risk of a full redesign process taking so long that they end up with a finished new website that no longer meets their business needs and objectives.
4. A website always a step ahead of competitors
The final most critical advantage of the ESR approach over a traditional full-site redesign is that it leads to a business website that's agile, always up-to-date, and that remains at least a step ahead of the competition. It eliminates the feast-and-famine cycle of a typical business website, where companies with the newest sites have a technological and design advantage over businesses in the middle and tail-end of their site redesign windows.
Instead, an ESR approach allows a small business to keep their website in a constant state of renewal and improvement. That way, they can react to market changes and technological advancements as they happen, rather than having to wait for their existing site designs to reach the end of their useful life. A perfect example may be found in the upcoming end of support for Adobe Flash – which will force major site overhauls for plenty of businesses with sites still reliant on the aging technology. If they had been making continuous improvements with an ESR design approach, they'd have long since replaced Flash content once it became clear it was going to be discontinued.
In the end, the biggest factor that seems to prevent more small businesses from embracing an ESR website design process is that they continue to buy into the idea that 'newer is always better'. In other words, they cling to the notion that budgetary outlays on website redesign should result in major, highly visible changes – particularly when the person proposing the redesign is trying to convince a hesitant business owner.
But in reality, small businesses have quite a bit to gain, financially and otherwise, from making more incremental changes to their existing websites. They can spread out their expenditures while making constant operational improvements to their websites that bring increased sales and customer satisfaction. In many cases, the changes end up paying for themselves in short order. And all of it can happen without taking the risks of unintended consequences that come with full site redesigns.
So, there's plenty of reasons that small business owners and decision-makers who are considering undertaking a full site redesign should weigh their options with care. After all, the ESR approach seems to be working quite well for Amazon – and small businesses could do worse than emulating one of the most successful web-based businesses the world has ever known.