Web development or web optimisation?
Refining a current website is always a great idea. Regular testing and tweaking increase conversions and traffic. But sometimes building a completely new website is a better decision. You may need to migrate to another, more modern content management system (CMS). Or your site might need a complete redesign given the rise and growth of mobile usage.
Optimisation activities, such as search engine optimisation (SEO) or conversion rate optimisation (CRO), can be low cost and fast options when compared to new web development. However, optimisation activities are usually 'path dependent'. That is, any decisions about optimisation today are tied to decisions made in the past. This could be the choice in CMS, or the quality of content, code and design.
There is a point where breaking out from path dependence and optimising a new website yields the best long term results for a business. In this article, we dive into the questions you should consider when investing in your company website – that is, should you optimise the current site or start with a clean slate?
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#1: What's the budget?
Naturally, your primary business constraint comes down to numbers. What is the value of the website to the business? And what is an appropriate amount to allocate in improving it? You may want to weigh this up by experimenting with numbers.
Take an eCommerce website, for instance. What is the revenue value if there was a hypothetical increase in traffic by ten percent? What about a change in conversion rate? What is the value of a lead? And how could an investment in a website increase the value of leads? Use a spreadsheet to experiment with current numbers and compare hypothetical changes. This will help you determine just how much your website is worth – or could be worth.
If you only have a small budget, then you may only be suited to improving the site incrementally, rather than overhauling it. There may be small tweaks that have a big impact. If this is the case, make sure that CRO and SEO activities are dedicated to the highest value areas of your site to get the most out of your budget.
#2: What are the operating costs?
Starting with a clean slate can mean that your business sheds the baggage of legacy systems. Sometimes a complete overhaul is needed to jettison outdated systems. And this consideration comes down not just to the look and feel of your website, but the services and infrastructure that are tied to your website, too.
It may be that your old host or service provider is no longer the best option. Faster, cheaper or more secure options may now exist, such as cloud hosting. These providers, such as Amazon Web Services, offer much more flexible and cost-effective computing and storage at wholesale prices.
Your business may also be paying for other services that need reviewing, such as optimisation or tracking software. If your business needs better services, then consider a complete website rebuild rather than optimisations on top of your legacy architecture.
#3: Is the CMS difficult to use?
Like legacy hosting providers, upgrading an outdated CMS could be another reason to choose a complete web redevelopment over optimisation. The popular CMSs from even five years ago may not be the right solution for your business today.
Over time, a CMS can be weighed down by bloated plugins and code as it passed through the hands of developers. Your staff or digital agency may be having difficulty collaborating or making simple content updates in the CMS. These days, there are modular web design systems and CMS backends that make websites flexible, adaptable and easy to use, even for mobile.
Even if you’re not using the CMS every week, your digital agency or development team are. If they’re bogged down in a slow backend, even small optimisations can be difficult and time-consuming. Rebuilding a website is a chance to review the CMS and assess whether the solution fits your business needs and the direction of technology trends.
#4: Do we need a mobile-first experience?
In the last few years, the digital consumer has changed dramatically, thanks to instant and ubiquitous computing on smartphones. But the rise of mobile caught many businesses off guard. The changes in consumer behaviour are happening faster than most businesses can adapt.
Only a decade ago, a desktop computer and a search engine made up much of the consumer’s digital experience. Now with the proliferation of smartphones, fast cellular networks, social media, mobile applications and the mobile web, the modern digital consumer is always on and available anywhere.
Even a site that is a few years old can be poorly optimised for mobile experiences – they may be heavy on text, unresponsive to a wide array of new devices and difficult to use on small screens. Most mobile experiences have to be built from the ground up. Out-dated websites made for desktops are hard to be refactored into clean and light mobile experiences. A complete website rebuild, not optimisation, is necessary in this case.
#5: What is SEO performance like?
Most users do not come straight to a website. They come from largely two sources – Google and Facebook. Being 'discoverable' on these platforms is not a digital nicety – it's essential to getting customers online. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the long-standing practice of optimising websites so they can be easily found in search engines.
While most businesses would be familiar with the importance of SEO, many still struggle to see great results. Bouncing between SEO agency to SEO agency, a website may be a mess of various optimisations of varying quality. If SEO performance is flat – or worse, deteriorating – then it could be a sign that your site is not up to scratch from a modern SEO perspective.
Poor SEO performance could be a symptom of a number of issues: site speed, poor content or information architecture. It could also be bad quality links from a previous agency have attracted a Google penalty to the site. In these cases, even a website rebuild may not be enough. In the worst cases, some businesses have needed to rebuild on a fresh domain name.
#6: Do we need to refresh our brand?
A new web build is also an opportunity to hit the reset button on the visual identity of the whole business, not just a website. After all, tastes, trends and technology change over time. What once worked years ago may not work now.
For instance, the rise of the mobile-first web has influenced not just how websites work, but how they need to look and function too. Users want clean, minimal experiences that show, not tell, the benefits of the business with use of imagery and video content.
Your brand also needs to appear in many places. It needs to work across your website, but also across various platforms such as social media. If your brand – colours, logo, visual assets, tone and voice – are made for an offline or desktop-first world, then it may be time to rethink your brand.
#7: What is our current site’s information architecture like?
Information architecture (IA) is how your website is organised, structured and labelled. Good information architecture ensures your website is easy to use. But good IA is also important for SEO – that is, helping search engines find, read and index your site. Poor IA not only makes your website difficult to use, but it also impacts performance in search engines.
While IA is a broad and technical topic, evaluating IA is like evaluating a CMS. It makes up a big part of legacy infrastructure and optimisation decisions are often path dependent. If the foundations of your website were not build correctly, then your current website may be ‘locked in’ at a point of maximum optimisation. This could be the hierarchy of webpages, internal links and menu structure.
What are the signs of a poor IA? Low traffic to your product categories, low conversions, pages that receive little-to-no traffic, high bounce rates and low entry rates. These symptoms show that your users are not finding the right page or your website categories have not been organised appropriately. These decisions may be affecting the performance of your website today and in the future.
#8: What are the user experience and conversion rate like?
User experience (UX) refers to the ability of a website user to complete their desired goal. UX principles demand intuitive websites for a set of defined users. Simplicity is often the result. If users can't complete the job they set out to do – whether that's filling out a form, reading an article, purchasing a product or watching a video – they get frustrated and leave your site.
Poor UX impacts conversion rates and the number of visitors that turn into paying customers. That means UX is not just a 'nice to have'. It directly impacts business results in a digital world. In fact, many software applications these days rely on UX as a source of competitive advantage and customer retention. Businesses of all sizes and all industries should also take UX seriously.
But UX – much like IA – needs to come from first principles. Like trying to unbake a cake, a website with a poor UX is very difficult to modify. Research and insights into user behaviour need to inform both website content and design. Checking quantitative data, such as conversion rates, as well as running tests and asking users are ways to assess a site's UX. This research should uncover whether you need a complete rebuild of your website, or if optimisation will suffice.
#9: What is the quality of the content?
The biggest part of a website isn’t in the technical development. Much of it is in the content of the site. Yet all too often, site content is the final piece of the website puzzle. But poor quality affects engagement, UX, conversion rates and customer retention rates. If your users can’t find or understand your website’s content, then they’re not going to stick around.
Walls of text that looks poor on mobile and is unconvincing for new prospects. Copy needs to be written for the web. It needs to be persuasive at the right times and informative at others. It needs to be made for mobile. And it needs to be optimised for SEO. You should also review any video content and flag outdated, incorrect imagery that’s either too big or too small.
Once identified, content can be edited and replaced. But sometimes it's more valuable to start from scratch instead of trying to improve poor quality content. This way copy can be written by a professional copywriter, a designer can optimise high quality images, and an SEO specialist can ensure best-practice SEO principles.
#10: What are our page speeds like?
A slow website can come from many sources. It could be a bloated CMS loaded up with various software plugins. It could be a poor caching system (or none at all). It could be bad code. Or it could be large-imagery that has not been optimised for the web. Often, slow page speed is thanks to a combination of these factors.
But page speed is very important. First, for the experience of website visitors and customers. Slow loading pages repel customers – and especially so in a mobile world. Most mobile users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Page speed is also an SEO ranking factor.
Some optimisations can be made to increase page speed. Reducing large images and resizing them for web is one example. Cleaning up the CMS and removing bloated plugins is another. However, there are some speed issues that are hard to simply optimise for. A badly configured CMS, site-wide loading issues and poor caching systems are harder to add in as an after-thought. A very slow site might be another sign it’s time to rebuild your website from the ground up.
To optimise or rebuild?
At the end of the day it’s about maximising your return on investment. Sometimes, an investment in CRO or SEO is the best use of your marketing or website budget. But optimisation can only get your business so far if the foundations of the website are weak.
While making some quick, short term changes might yield faster results, there is a limit on the impact of these changes. Eventually, the performance of your website and the experience of your users will suffer. The more problems in these areas, the stronger you should consider an entire website overhaul rather than optimisation.
For consultation on your website or digital strategy, speak with one of our digital specialists.