How Often Should You Switch Your Site’s Design?

At a web conference today, someone asked me that very question. It is such an excellent question because years ago when the Internet was young, it wasn’t all that easy to change your design without some technical skills. These days, changing a design is as simple as uploading and selecting the theme. Yes, you may still need a little bit of tech work to tweak it but it’s much easier. As a result, I’ve seen people change web site design like they change clothes. To me, that is a problem and here’s why.

Chameleon by Ross Dismore

Let’s forget the branding part of the equation for a moment and talk about usability. Have you ever been to the store to find out they moved the bread aisle? Now you are forced to wander all through the store to find what you need. It is frustrating. While this may be a tactic in retail to get you to stay longer in the store, online, people just click away. Many of us know building traffic is not that easy anymore. You work very hard and in some cases, spend gobs of money to buy that traffic, getting people to come and return to your site. So don’t confuse them every time they turn around.

I prefer to make moderate changes that can still make the site look fresh, new and updated. Things like tweaking a few colors, making background changes, updating the buttons, removing blocks that are not effective, adding interactive tools like a ratings option if it is a store. Tweaking the copy to make it clearer where people stumble most often. The underlying structure is rarely changed. Meaning sidebars are still where they are, login links and buttons still in the same place, contact and support links don’t get moved and so on and forth.

Does that mean you shouldn’t change your site’s design? Not at all. The only thing I’m saying is, don’t make complete changes too often. Overhauls are good and should be done within reasonable time frame. Or if a site changes hands, sometimes an update is a good thing. For example, TechBasedMarketing has had the same design for over 2 years. It is time for a change. This time, I hope to standardize the structure on all our company’s sites including this blog, so there is more uniformity and people can jump from one site to another in the network without getting completely disoriented.

And yes of course, all this is part of our branding process. People need time to familiarize themselves with your brand and if you keep switching your design you look undecided, fickle, flighty. Not exactly characters that you want your brand to have. While there is a lot more that goes into a brand other than design but humans are visual creatures. Imagery and color play a huge part when people are trying to recall your company. If you take a look at some of the largest brands around – have they changed over the years? Sure. But it’s often not done all at once.

Resource you might be interested in:

A book about Web Usability

Lynette Chandler

Lynette Chandler

Co-owner at TechBasedMarketing
A marketing loving geek who thrives on finding ways to use tech to grow businesses and boost productivity. Make tech work for you too. Get her 10-Step Guide to Systemize and Automate Your Business so you can grow without wearing yourself out.
Lynette Chandler

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  1. Hi Lynette. I find that switching every couple of years helps keep things looking modern. You don’t have to change the complete design, but usually major changes (menu styles, flash, new dynamic content, etc) should happen every couple of years from my experience.

    • Yes. It all depends on the existing design of course. The one big reason I am making a more complete change this time is because the themes look and feel dated to me despite adding updated features. But overall it will still maintain a very similar structure.

    • I totally agree with you Aaron. I’ve popped in on sites that are still living in the 90’s, and that’s just insane. Understandably, blogs using a blogging platform (like WordPress) are updated a lot easier than an HTML or PHP coded site (yes, I know WordPress is technically written in PHP). But that shouldn’t stop owners from updating bits and pieces occasionally. Over time, bits and pieces add up to a whole new look.

  2. yes website should change there design after 2-3 years its made them look better

  3. 2-3 years sounds reasonable. You have to keep with the times. If you don’t do anything, people might think the site isn’t maintained anymore. When you’re starting a new site, refinements might be more often, depending on feedbacks.

  4. I think one should change his/her site’s design every 4 or 5 years. If we keep changing designs regularly at short period of time, returning visitors will find it difficult to browse our websites/blogs and they would quit faster.

  5. So this means I probably should update one of my sites design after being succesfully online for 10 years and 2.5 month.
    I am not sure if an update is always of advantage. My site currently loads instantly (not only on broadband, but also on dialup). Not sure if a new design would load as fast as the old.

    Question is, ifthe information seeker is influenced by design? If I find something on an ‘oldfashioned’ site that is of value I like the site more than I would like a site where I find similar information, but have to wait for loading different things before the content displays.

    • Well maybe and maybe not. If it works I don’t see a huge need for a complete re-do. Generally I would update certain features not the entire site.

      What you’re talking about – site speed has little to do with new or old design. Just because some of the newer designs like to sport fancy rotating featured content image galleries don’t mean you have to. And you should always optimize the site old or new.

      As far as how much influence the design has vs. content. I think design does play a huge part. Humans are visual. Sure excellent content is always a good thing but if the design is confusing or something that is dated, it looks like your company is not quite up to date and may post questions in the readers’ mind. That said, I don’t think you will lose people on design alone content still plays a big part but it’s kind of like going to a book shop that is older and traditional vs one that is more up to date. It could influence the people you attract and keep. Whether old or new always stress usability.

      As you pointed out if the design takes too long to load it doesn’t matter if it was built 10 years ago or yesterday, people will leave. Also, navigation is important. Can people find what they want? Can they move on easily from one place to another and does the design lead the reader to something else, dig deeper or explore an offer – this all plays a part in profitability too.

  6. Lynette

    I believe that you can still move on for many years without changing the design, what is counts is how our readers or customers perceive the change. It would be good after a design change to run a survey and see people’s reactions, if results are really bad, i guess we go back to our old design. Entrepreneurs must not pay too much attention on changing designs just because they think is about time for a change, ask your audience first and then decide.


  7. I think there is a fine balance that needs to be found between confusing your readers when redesigning your website and keeping it looking modern and fresh. In my experience nobody likes change, and if you make it hard for your visitors they won’t bother, they will simply click off your site and go elsewhere. Human behaviour is very interesting, and sometimes frustrating! I would suggest implementing small changes over a period of time, so that it’s not so much of a shock for regular visitors.

    • I wholeheartedly agree on the part about people not liking change. I’ve always been interested in web usability and in the last 2 weeks or so have started diving deeper in it.

      I think you can still change without frustrating or confusing people as long as you keep the underlying structure the same. For example if people are used to your main navigation links on the top of your page then you can still make a design change but don’t change the placement, links or sub-links that go on the top navigation.

  8. I agree Sharon. I recently saw an interview of Kevin Rose, Digg founder, he said that one of his biggest mistakes was this, not taking feedback from his users about the new changes he was implementing, whereas Twitter, had on place both old and new version of the site and users could select. This made a huge difference.

    • Twitter is a somewhat good example what I mean by moving things around. While they did maintain some of the original structure, they changed quite a bit where the links and buttons people were getting used to are placed.

      Perhaps inviting people to a beta test before actual switch might be helpful.

  9. I think you should never switch your design! You should only make simple changes because some people will get lost if you change it!