Each year hundreds of companies in Hong Kong redesign their websites. I met with one recently that had just relaunched their website and was excited to show it off and get started with an online marketing campaign.
Sadly, this company, and many others here in Hong Kong and elsewhere, make critical mistakes during the redesign and launch of their new website, erasing value that has been built up over time.
Here are three of the top mistakes you should avoid when redesigning your website.
Ignoring Mobile Users
Go check your website's stats from Google Analytics (not using Google Analytics or another analytics program on your website? Add that to you to-do list.) and see how many of your site visitors are accessing your website from a mobile device. For many websites it is in the 20 to 30% range. If your website isn't mobile friendly, you are driving that percentage of your website visitors into the arms of your competitors.
Making your website mobile friendly used to mean developing an app or a separate mobile site. But today we use what is called “responsive web design,” which means the website is built in such a way that it changes to match any browser size. No more app, no more separate mobile site, just one website that will fit any browser whether it's a desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
Not Following Trends
It used to be the trend to make websites look like they were physical objects you could touch, complete with beveled 3-D buttons, drop shadows that made parts of sites look as though they were raised above other parts, and other elements designed to give a sense of depth. No more.
Today the trend is flat design. Simple design that uses bright, bold colors, and where the non-essential is left out. Consider the website for Paperclip, a co-work space in Sheung Wan. While you may find depth due to the photography, all the designed elements are decidedly flat, giving it a clean look that matches and compliments the physical space Paperclip is marketing.
A trend can be a fad, but often a trend reflects legitimate changes in consumer preferences or technology which affects usability. While one shouldn't jump on a trend just because everyone is doing it, one should be aware of trends and take the time to analyse whether it's the right move. Ignoring flat design, for example, has the effect of making one's website look dated and one's company out of touch.
Forgetting 301 Redirects
Most companies are aware that search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the most cost-effective means of bringing in leads and sales. What many companies are not aware of is that when launching a new website to replace an old one, years of SEO work can be destroyed by forgetting to take the single step of implementing 301 redirects.
301 redirects are important whenever the URL of a webpage changes. For example, let's say a cosmetics brand here in Hong Kong has a flagship product named Product A, and information regarding this product can be found at cosmeticcompany.com/products/product-a.html.
This cosmetics firm launches a new website, and as part of that redesign the information for Product A now shows up at cosmeticcompany.com/products/product-a/. While this is a small change in the URL for Product A, anyone who visits the old URL will get an error saying the page cannot be found. This includes visitors who might search for Product A on Google.
Unless you tell Google where to find the new page, Google won't know. Once it recognises that the page doesn't exist anymore, it will drop it from its search results, and it may take substantial time for it to index the new URL. Once it does, you may have to start all over optimising the page for Product A in order to get back up in the rankings to where you were.
All this can be avoided by setting up a 301 redirect, which is a small snippet of code that tells Google that cosmeticcompany.com/products/product-a.html has been replaced with cosmeticcompany.com/products/product-a/ and that all traffic should be redirected there. Google will transfer the rankings of the old page to the new one and update its database with the new link, without the page being dropped entirely from its index.
How Often Should We Redesign Our Website?
Most websites have a shelf life of 3 to 5 years, although I have seen websites that remained effective for up to 10 years. In order to minimise the frequency of major updates, companies should stay abreast of trends so a new website isn't dated the moment it's launched. Then follow up by making incremental improvements to extend the lifespan of the site.
In truth, your website is never finished, but is a constant work in progress. Treating it as such will give you long term results you can take to the bank.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Joshua Steimle is the founder and CEO of MWI. He is a contributing writer to Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Venture Beat, and is a co-director of Startup Grind's Hong Kong chapter.