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5 reasons to redesign your website

5 reasons to redesign your website Joseph Carrabis

NextStage has been helping businesses worldwide get actionable marketing to online and offline clients since 2001. One thing we've noticed in everything we've seen is that most marketing errors -- especially online marketing errors -- come down to only five things:

  • The site is too complex

  • The site is too eye-catching

  • There are too many steps between landing and conversion

  • There are too few steps between landing and conversion

  • There's a disconnect between your site and your audience

5 reasons to redesign your website 

The good news is that you can figure out which ones are causing you problems with very little effort. The bad news is that each of these five errors and all possible others really come down to one thing -- not knowing your audience.

This article assumes you have accurate online audience information and focuses on the five redesign reasons listed above. We're going to go through each reason, first explaining how to know if a given reason applies to your online property and then explaining how to remedy each problem.

We'll start with some definitions:

  • A conversion is the visitor giving you something you want: a name, an address, money, whatever.

  • Visitors are coming to your site to achieve a goal.

  • Visitors achieving their goal does not equal a conversion.

This article is about helping visitors achieve their goal while giving you a conversion.

The site is too complex

Sites are too complex when the traffic numbers from landing to conversion look like the curve in Figure 1:

Figure 1

There are other reasons for traffic numbers to look like this, and site complexity is the No.1 reason by more than 90 perfect (in our experience). Some people will tell you that this kind of traffic curve is normal and to be expected.

Never accept the norm unless it's in your favor. Your site isn't Vegas, and the house doesn't always have to win.

Consider your site traffic as people traveling from Boston to D.C. Saying the curve in Figure 1 is normal and to be expected is the equivalent of saying people traveling from Boston to D.C. never get to D.C. because they achieve their goal in Hartford, N.Y.C, Philadelphia, or Baltimore instead.

If people’s goal is D.C., they will get to D.C. However, they'll never complete the trip and they'll find some alternative mode of transportation (a competitor's site) to get to D.C. if your travel instructions are too complex.

Remember, visitors are coming to your site to achieve some goal. That goal may be research, purchase, entertainment, et cetera. Achieving any of these goals requires visitors to "start here" and "end there" (Boston and D.C. in the above example). D.C. is the goal, stopping anywhere before D.C. is simply not achieving their goal.

Traffic curves such as in figure one indicate there's either one or two problems:

  • Too much going on and visitors "get lost" before they achieve their goal

  • Getting from A to B requires too many steps, too many decisions, and the decision-tree isn't obvious and intuitive to the visitor.

That "to the visitor" part is extremely important. A major reason for site complexity is that the site is designed by people too familiar with the site's goals to be sensitive to visitors' goals. Often there's too much information, and it's not presented in small enough, easily digestible bites for the visitor to understand.

Think of your site and value proposition as something to be communicated to a novice. Remember, visitors aren't navigating your product, service, or offering; they're navigating your site to get your product, service, or offering. You can be selling rockets and if it's as difficult to buy them as it is to fly them, you're not going to sell any.

The site is too eye-catching

You can have the most award-winning site in the world and if that site doesn't match the audience's experience and expectations, all you have is awards -- you don't have any business.

Sites winning awards and not doing any business were quite common in the early days and, strangely, it hasn't gone away. The traffic curves for these sites look like Figure 2:

Figure 2

Your site is a darling of social communications -- people are emailing each other about it, tweeting it to their friends, maybe even contacting you and letting you know how beautiful, picturesque, stimulating, eye-catching, or whatever it is.

But it's not bringing in business. Do you really care that it's eye-catching but useless? An early client lamented that they'd won awards for best site design for five years running, had an Instructional Design PhD advising on their layout, and yet hadn't done any business except with existing employees.

An audience will not automatically come to a site simply because it has won award after award after award. You can do all the search engine work you want, but it doesn't matter if people can easily find you. What matters is that they can easily find what they want after they’ve found you.

Another example from the late 2000s involved a pet supply site that was getting good traffic, but all "conversions" came from phone sales. The site was greatly simplified, phone sales went down, and online sales went up.

So, as above, with a site being too complex, simplify your design so that even novices can clearly understand your message, your value proposition, and clearly understand what they have to do to convert.

I liken eye-catching but useless sites to TV adverts that we remember without being able to remember the product being advertised. Anybody remember herding cats? How about the hamster being shot from a cannon? Remember the products?

By all means have an attractive site, just make sure it's attractive and gets the job done at the same time. Attractive and doing the job gets you remembered.

There's a disconnect between your site and your audience

Imagine that you have a killer site that's done incredibly well in testing and is doing poorly in use. Chances are sites that test well and perform poorly were tested against a known and specific audience -- the audience you believe is your market -- while your real world audience isn't who you think it is (check your stats carefully and regularly. A client recently confided that they'd learned the traditional, cookie-based audience analysis package they were using had been off by 30 percent -- for more than a year!). Usually traffic charts for this problem look something like Figure 5 and the time-on-page charts look like Figure 5a:

Figure 5

Figure 5a

Traffic shows visitors are staying on the site, navigating the pages, and the drop off almost seems normal (did you read my comments about "normal" above?). However, the time-on-page chart indicates an overall, gradually increasing amount of cognitive work being done on succeeding pages. Further, visitors are putting in more overall cognitive effort as they progress. They’re working and, for the majority of them, they're working too hard.

Rarely do you want visitors to work when they're converting. Ideally, you want the conversion process to be as natural as breathing, so intuitively obvious that they have no choice but to convert. Increasing cognitive load as they navigate isn't the way to do it.

Rephrasing this in terms of tested vs. real audience, your online property is intended for 25-34 year-old males, and you test against this audience (audience "A"). Your property receives incredibly good marks.

However, you're actual "visiting every day" audience is largely 45-54 year-old male/female 50/50 (audience "B"). The site that scores well with audience A will not score well with audience B.

The simple (and costly solution) is to test against multiple panel audiences (and this implies knowing what and how to test. See "A Note About Research Methods (with implications for any kind of analytics)"). Alternatively, find a company that provides tools to help you resolve this.

You'll be shocked, I'm sure, that I know of such a company right off the top of my head.


There are lots of reasons to redesign your online property and redesigning without understanding the underlying problem is throwing good money after bad. The reasons many sites under perform really come down to just five:

  • The property is too complex

  • The property is too eye-catching

  • There are too many steps between landing and conversion

  • There are too few steps between landing and conversion

  • There's a disconnect between the property and the audience

You can quickly determine which über problem is causing all the other problems by matching your traffic and time-on-page data against the simple charts included here.

Solve the obvious problem first. It's usually all that's required (apologies to all my analyst friends out there. It really and for true is this simple most often), done correctly demonstrates immediate gains and provides the most ROI in the long run.

Joseph Carrabis is the founder of and chief research officer for NextStage Evolution.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Under construction" image via Shutterstock.

Joseph Carrabis is Founder and CRO of The NextStage Companies, NextStage Global and NextStage Analytics, companies that specialize in helping clients improve their marketing efforts and understand customer behavior. He's also applied neuroscience,...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2012, November 05

Thank you, Srinivas, your comment is appreciated.
I would suggest being cautious when updating a site simply to update a site without a good marketing reason for the change.
First, a site is just as much as brand image as a logo itself. I explained this years back in "Usability Studies 101: Brand Loyalty" (http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/5440.asp). Modifying sites needs to happen because there's a recognized need. Engineers change things because they can, marketers because they must and successful companies change things because there's sufficient evidence to justify doing so.
Just my opinion, though.
And thanks for reading and commenting.

Commenter: Srinivas Venkataraman

2012, November 03

Just for a Change can be an Ideal reason - Simply!

Commenter: Joseph Carrabis

2012, October 02

Mr. Stamoulis,
Thanks for reading and commenting, and too true! Conversions tend to rise almost like step functions, 10-20% for each page removed from the process.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2012, October 02

Too many steps to conversion is a problem that many sites have. They make it too difficult for visitors to take the next step. Even if you can cut one or two clicks/pages/actions out of the conversion process you should see an uplift.