D&C – Episode 57 Redesign Or Optimization (WP Featured Image)

Drive and Convert (Ep. 057): Do You Need A Website Redesign Or CRO?

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about how to know if your brand truly needs a website redesign, or if you're better off investing in an ongoing conversion optimization program.

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About This Episode:

Marketing leaders love to redesign websites. Putting a fresh coat of paint on your brand’s online presence feels like a meaningful project to undertake. It certainly is a significant effort, but it isn’t always the best decision if you’re goal is to improve your sales performance.

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about how to know if your brand should invest in a full-scale redesign or commit to an ongoing testing and optimization program. There are merits and flaws to each approach, so you’ll want to listen in to figure out which option is right for your business, and what you should do to get started.

Listen to the full episode if you want to learn:

  1. How to know if you should be pursuing optimization or a redesign
  2. What considerations to keep in mind when redesigning your site
  3. What you should know before diving in to optimization
  4. The best step to take after you’ve made a decision between the two

If you have questions, ideas, or feedback to share, hit us up on Twitter. We’re @jonmacdonald and @ryangarrow.

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Episode Transcript:

Announcer:
You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast about helping online brands to build a better e-commerce growth engine, with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow.

Ryan:
Well, Jon, we are at it again here talking and hopefully people are learning as we’re talking. Today, we’ve got a wonderful topic you’ve brought up that I’m actually very surprised we’ve not even talked about this, because I think it’s probably one of the better topics when it comes to conversion rate optimization. But often, we’ll come across brands that believe that a complete site redesign is the only answer to poor site performance and lackluster conversion rates. And I know, because I know you, that that’s obviously not true. But it seems to be the default that people come up with like, “Man, our site’s three years old, it’s not converting well. We must have to just redo it and redo it.” So it’s surprising that people’s brain don’t just be like, “Well, why don’t we look at conversion with optimization first?”

Jon:
That’s because you and I know about it.

Ryan:
It’s true.

Jon:
And I think also, it really goes back to the point of brands just wanting to do… A redesign is sexy.

Ryan:
It is, it makes somebody feel good that they’ve like, “Ooh, I launched that big pretty site.”

Jon:
Exactly. And I get it. I would redo The Good’s website every week if it could be better and cooler and whatever, just to have the team feel good. Right? But would it make it more effective? Probably not, so don’t do that.

Ryan:
You definitely wouldn’t have any hair left.

Jon:
Yeah. My five year old already making me not. So I think that the reality here is this that optimization is not as sexy, but I do agree. This is a great topic and I’m shocked we hadn’t talked about it before.

Ryan:
Yeah. So I mean, simply, how do we know if you need a website redesign or conversion optimization? There are scenarios I’m sure where you do need a website redesign.

Jon:
Well, yeah. Oh yeah. There’s definitely are and we should talk about those and we will, but we see this timing and again at The Good. It’s when a site frustrates visitors or traffic doesn’t convert into revenue, it’s always the system that gets blamed. It’s always, “Oh, you know what? Shopify’s not performing for us so we need to move to BigCommerce.” It’s always the technology. It’s always not the core issue, which is the consumer is frustrated, right? And they’re not frustrated because your brand is not cool. To them, that’s very, very…
I know that might hurt some people to hear that in the sense that direct-to-consumer brands are almost all of them are about having a great brand, right? They’re direct-to-consumer brands first. But the reality is if you look at a scale of one to 10 and a consumer comes to your site and you need them to convert, on a scale of one to 10, if you ask them, how pretty is this site? They’ll give you a number. You ask them, how much does that look and feel of the site, if you will, the visual component impact your purchase? It’s almost always going to be below five.

Ryan:
Yeah, I don’t even know if I could give it a number [inaudible 00:03:20].

Jon:
Yeah. You’re just like, “It doesn’t really impact me.” Yeah, it’s cool. Okay. But does it make me want to buy the product? Maybe a little bit, but is it going to prevent me from buying the product? Hardly at all. Right? But what will prevent people from buying is the usability, is the I have a challenge that I want solved and you’re not clearly telling me what your brand can do to solve or your product can do to solve my challenge.
So those are just problems at the different ends of the spectrum that people aren’t looking at. So I always say that the best place to start is to understand something called Zipf’s law. Now, to not get too technical here and get too into the weeds on math, there’s this cool guy named Zipf that, a long time ago, came up with this law and he basically says that you can improve 90% of something by focusing on just the top 10%. Right? It’s almost like that 80-20 rule.

Ryan:
But a weird spin on it. That’s interesting.

Jon:
Yeah. Right. And so the statistical concept here that’s known as Zipf’s law says you can improve 90% of your site performance, usability, and all those conversion related issues by improving the user experience of just the top 10% of your site content. 10%. That’s not hard. And if you said 10%, most people are going to be like, “Well, I don’t need a wholesale redesign. I’m looking at 10%.” So I think it’s a completely different way to think about it. So really want to focus on finding those really hidden conversion blockers that are in that 10% that will show you how to transform and fix that experience and then jumpstart conversions on your site. With that mind, it almost always makes sense to do optimization before investing in that large capital investment of a redesign.

Ryan:
It’s interesting when you’re looking at or even conceptualizing that on a site. On most sites, there are a few pages or a few templated pages that contribute the majority of the revenue.

Jon:
Of course.

Ryan:
But site redesigns impact everything. So you’re spending time redesigning a blog for whatever reason and the blog may get traffic, but probably very little sales or conversion value out of it. So just thinking through that vision, I guess, of your site, that does make a lot of sense. Why don’t you just fix your top product landing pages and make them better rather than doing everything else? And you’ve written on this a lot, which is, again, I am so surprised we haven’t actually talked about this. But one of my favorite quotes you have is, which people should be looking at this all the time, “Opinions don’t make money, data does.”

Jon:
I was wondering where you were going with that. I got a lot of things I say that I don’t want to be on the record about.

Ryan:
Me too. I eat my words a lot, but I say things like that a lot when people talk about bounce rates. I don’t care what your bounce rate is, take it to the banks. They’ll you money because you have a cool bounce rate. Your analytics could be broken giving you a good bounce rate for all we know [crosstalk 00:06:18] in the weeds, understanding it. But looking at all that data says, “Hey, let’s figure out what we could or should be doing. Don’t just decide one way or another. Let the data tell you.” Okay. So let’s jump into the weeds a little bit, not on the Zipf’s math, but when does it make sense to do a redesign so we can improve that, but at some point you’re probably going to hit some level that says it’s time to… If you’re on Volusion, by the way, just change. I’ll say that right now.

Jon:
Well, I think you hit one of the first things on the head, but yeah, now that we’ve established that I’m firmly in the camp that you should first improve that 10% of your site. There are times when it does make sense to just do a redesign. At first, I think would be when a brand overhaul necessitates a redesign or a reskin of the site. And so maybe you’re rebranding and you need to update the colors, logo, look and feel, fonts, et cetera. Right? So give it a new coat of paint if you will. That’s a good time to redesign the site. And at that point, evaluate the user experience as well. But you’re not so much doing optimization as you are just wholesale changes, right? Because it’s not that iterative approach, which I think we should talk a little more about as well.
But the second is when your target market changes. So maybe you have a product and it was for folks 20 years ago in their thirties and now they’re all in their fifties and it’s a different target market that you need to advertise to and speak to. Right? So as your product perhaps, we’ve worked with several brands where their product ages with the consumer, or maybe it’s just a new CMO came in and said, “You know what? We’re going to target this other segment that we’re not really speaking to right now.” I’ve seen that happen before too. So when your target market has some adjustments in the strategy, that’s when you would want to do a redesign perhaps. And I think you hit on it too. The technology stack is holding the brand back, right?
So you said Volusion. I think there were a couple, I think I called out Miva Merchant before. Right? So if a site rebuild needs to be done because technology is changing or there’s some change to the site technology that is being facilitated by the fact that maybe you don’t have access to the latest integrations, you can’t use things like you can’t really connect your econ platform to your mail platform. Right?
So Klaviyo doesn’t work with the platform you’re on, or maybe you’re on WooCommerce and it was great for the first year of business, but now you really need to blossom into something that can grow with you and you’re moving at a BigCommerce or Shopify or something. So I think technology is definitely one that 10 years, it can age on you. 10 years ago, people were still on Yahoo stores for goodness’ sake.

Ryan:
I think we still 30 of our clients on Yahoo that we’re [crosstalk 00:09:14] they’re still there.

Jon:
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Ryan:
I don’t understand.

Jon:
For you, for your reps trying to squeeze money out of it, for the brands.

Ryan:
Yeah.

Jon:
Yeah. That’s like when you’re surprised that your elderly neighbor still has a company and he only has the company because it keeps spinning off cash, even though he doesn’t touch it at all, that’s what that feels like to me.

Ryan:
Yeah. It totally is. Well, it’s not broken. I’m still making money and I don’t need anything because I’m sitting on the beach. All right, good on you.

Jon:
Yeah. I mean, and then when it falls apart, then we’re done.

Ryan:
Yeah, exactly. Enjoy. So I mean, none of those points talk about diminishing conversion rates.

Jon:
Right.

Ryan:
And so I think if anybody listening this is thinking about site redesign for conversion rates, just stop. That’s not going to be the reason to redesign your site.

Jon:
I agree.

Ryan:
There’s got to be other reasons.

Jon:
And I think that’s a very poor reason. Yeah. It’s a very poor reason to redesign your site, but it is where most people think about this, right? I mean the topic is, should I redesign or optimize? If that’s your question, you should always optimize.

Ryan:
You’re asking a bad question at that point.

Jon:
Exactly.

Announcer:
You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast focused on e-commerce growth. Your hosts are Jon MacDonald, founder of The Good, a conversion rate optimization agency that works with e-commerce brands to help convert more of their visitors into buyers, and Ryan Garrow of Logical Position, the digital marketing agency offering pay per click management, search engine optimization, and website design services to brands of all sizes. If you find this podcast helpful, please help us out by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and sharing it with a friend or colleague. Thank you.

Ryan:
Okay. So if you’re looking at things beyond just conversion rate, but things that conversion rate optimization can help, I guess, why exactly should you focus on conversion rate or if those things don’t fit, what tells somebody, “Ah, conversion rate for sure.”?

Jon:
Right. So I think the first thing to be thinking about here is that a proper plan for optimization challenges is going to be taken through iterative approach. Right? So the difference here is the redesign is going to be like ripping off that Band-Aid. Or I say quite often, when I’m talking to clients, well yeah, you have two options here. You could burn down the house and build a new one or we could go through your house room by room and renovate and which is A, going to be less disruptive because you can still live in the rest of the house, B, you’re going to get what you want in each room, and C, you don’t have to move. You don’t have to relocate for a while and then come back. And often, you can do that piece by piece as opposed to having to go out and get a new construction loan and totally just spend that capital expense, which can be really hard to do.

Ryan:
Yeah. Somebody’s rebuilding their house. Both of those options sound terrible right now. I’m not knocking it down, I’m not remodeling. It’s terrible. No, get me out of construction.

Jon:
But I mean, we’re talking to somebody here who… Right. You knocked the house down and I bet there are times in the past couple of months, if you’ve been going through this, that you wish you had just renovated. Right? And so you can go either way and I’m not suggesting either is bad, but you need to have the right motivations behind it. And if your motivation is that we need to improve the performance of the site, a redesign is not going to always get you there because you are just guessing about what should go into that redesign and you are misguided in what a redesign is going to do for you and you’ve spent all this money, I can’t tell you the number of brands. It’s in the hundreds by now, after a decade, of brands who have come to us and said, “We just redesigned our website and it didn’t fix the problems. We need you to optimize it.” And by the way-

Ryan:
I probably know some of those brands.

Jon:
And by the way, we just spent hundreds of thousands or in some cases of brands we were talking about yesterday even you and I side conversations, spent millions overhauling the site. And then they call us and say, “Hey, our conversion rate actually went down and it’s not better or it looks better, but it’s not performing better. What can we do?” And then we just end up right back where we should have been.

Ryan:
Yeah. It’s always surprising me, I don’t know this to be true, but it feels like it’s really easy to get large capital budgets for a redesign, like a hundred thousand dollars bills are falling out of CFO’s pockets for redesigns all over the place, but saying, “Hey, 10,000 a month for six months for CRO to get the program going.” Oh my gosh, no way. Why would we do that? And you’re like, “Well, interesting how you’re looking at money.”

Jon:
Well, here’s why, because the person who’s selling that through to the CFO can easily explain in a way the CFO understands. We’re going to redesign our site. You’re going to go to our domain name and it’s going to look like a new site. You’re going to know where that money went. And on the surface, they’re going to say, “Yeah, we’re going to fix our website. Like our car broke down, we’re going to go buy a new car.” I mean, that’s what you would do or it’s an option.
And the CFO’s going to be like, “Oh yeah, new money, new car. I get it. You’re going to have a new car that’s going to last us 10 years. I can amortize that capital expense, check. Got it.”

Ryan:
Yep.

Jon:
You go to them and you say, “Hey, we’re going to optimize. We’re going to spend money every month.” I’m actually in the middle of a conversation with a lead over email right now, who is saying, “Jon, I really want to move forward on this, but I have accountants at our head office who are arguing about whether or not this is a capital expense and it’s been going on for two weeks.”
He’s like, “How would you do this? Have brands come to you before and asked you? Is this a capital expense or is it consulting?” And I can’t answer that question for them. I mean, my answer is whatever that gets it done.

Ryan:
You should sell hundred thousand dollar pens that they could appreciate. And out of that pen you will get for free, conversion rate optimization.

Jon:
Yeah. I mean, this is where I go back it’s like, “Well, which one is going to let you do it?” That’s what I would say because it doesn’t really matter. The money’s getting spent and we’re going to get you a return. And when we get you that return, the CFO’s not going to care as much. Right? They’re going to be like, “Okay, I got the return. That’s what they really want.” But most of the people who are selling this through have a hard time putting it in a manner that the CFO understands and the CFO gets every handful of years, we’re going to redesign. I’ve already got a line item for capital expense.
But when you come in and you say, “Hey, we’re going to hire these essentially consultants to come in and optimize our site.” They go, “Okay, well, yeah, but then we’re still stuck with the ugly site or how do we know that’s going to work?” I know if I redesign, they inherently think they know that they’re going to have a better experience, but that’s not true. It’s not always true.

Ryan:
It’s such a fascinating problem that I would not normally expect like how CFOs look at this and like, oh, the money fits well in the [inaudible 00:16:19] this way and depreciating assets, capital expense. If it doesn’t help on taxes, it’s another hurdle to come over.

Jon:
Yeah. But the expenses a lot less too, right? You can renovate one room in your house and have your enjoyment factor go up by a thousand points or you could go through what you’re going through right now, which is you’re digging a hole of enjoyment, building a new house. By the time you get in there, you’re going to be like, “Damn, this house, I’m so happy I’m in it.”
But at the same time, now you’re having to build that happiness back up about being in the house and the frustration. So yeah. I don’t know. I think that really what we should be thinking about here is that if you want to fix conversion challenges that you need to take an iterative approach. That’s really the key. And we have really found that the initial reaction that I get besides the money issue, let’s say we get over the money issue.
Normally they say, “Okay, we’re going to do this in iterative approach. Won’t that cost more because we’re going to keep investing? And won’t it take longer? Because I know I can redesign in six months, but you’re telling me optimization could go on for a year, 18 months that you typically work with folks, et cetera.” I guess in my experience, I typically say, “No, it’s not going to cost more, but you should really be prepared to take that big lump sum and spend it over a longer period of time while you iterate.” Right? So if you’re renovating the house, I keep going back to the analogy. But if you’re renovating the house, you might still spend $500,000 to renovate the house. But you’re not going to spend it all at once. You’re going to spend 50 K on this room, 150 K on that room. It must be a really nice room, but you’re going to keep spending money like that everywhere in chunks.
But you’re going to start seeing the gains of that happiness and everything else as you finish each room, because now you can start using it. So you start seeing the payoff quicker, right? You start seeing the returns quicker and those returns start to compound. So instead of having that six months while you’re like, “I’ll just wait. I’m not going to make that change because we’re redesigning. We’ll figure that out later.” In which case, you have opportunity costs. So you just let your site stagnate until you redesign it. Because you’re like, “Oh that redesigns going to fix that problem. I’m not going to touch it right now.” And then inevitably, the redesign takes a lot longer. It always almost ends up costing more. There’s always bugs. So you’ve increased the number of challenges.

Ryan:
Yeah. There’s no website that’s ever launched on time.

Jon:
Yeah. And there’s no house that’s ever built on time.

Ryan:
Yeah. Yeah. I have proof of that. If you take easy math, we’ve got a hundred thousand bucks to spend and you can say, “All right, we’re going to do a hundred thousand on CRO or a hundred thousand website build.” It’s a cheap website. In month two and three, you’re probably starting to make money back on the beginning of those iterations. And so in theory, by the end of that hundred thousand spend, your conversion rate’s up enough that you’re already making a return through the process. Whereas you get to a hundred thousand dollars build, which is going to be delayed again, it’s going to go to 150, it may not even pay off.
What if you tank your conversion rate? Which happens as you’ve seen many times. There’s no guarantee that 150 is going to improve the site enough to justify the cost because there’s also going to be the headache of your SEO drop when you launch. And if you do it wrong, which we’ve seen so many companies do it wrong and come to us after, you’re not getting that traffic back. You’ve got to go re-earn that. And so you just chopped off 40% of your organic traffic because you launched this pretty new site to help things, but you lost all your traffic whereas conversion rate optimization is not going to lose your traffic. It’s going to improve your conversion rates on all of your traffic.

Jon:
Yeah. That’s a great point and something I hadn’t really thought about, but is very, very true. The reality is that you’re taking a bunch of risks by wholesale redesigning. You’re making decisions that even if you do your research and do some user testing and inform your wire frames based on that, which we have helped brands do, that’s better. Right? It’s definitely a step in the right direction. But most brands don’t do that. They just take what they have. They give it to a designer or an agency who comes in and redesigns. It’s like Wizard of Oz to go behind the curtain. You don’t know what happens. You come back and you say, “Here’s a couple options. What do you like?” And it’s unfortunate. Now, I’m not saying every agency is like that. They’re not. There are some who do this extremely well, but you’re going to pay millions to work with them.
You’re not paying a hundred thousand dollars even. That’s not going to get you the same type of experience. So yeah, I hear this all the time. It is a big challenge that I see happening out there. I see it on Twitter once a week, somebody posts about this, “Hey, we relaunched our site. It didn’t work well.” Or the latest trend is, “Hey, we relaunched our website. Can my community, everybody just respond with what they think about it? Can you tear it down? Tell me what’s wrong with this site.”
And I cringe every time because I’m like you’re shocking to your peers. Not your audience, not your customers. This is the worst user testing you could do because you’re going to get feedback about, “Oh, that’s not pretty, or this is spelled wrong or things of that sort.” But not one of these people is going through the checkout process and making sure it works. Not one of these people is actually going to buy your goods and use it and then come back and say, “Well, your description and on your product is off because it doesn’t say A, B and C that I need to know.” Because they’re not your target market. So that goes back to the great book, The Mom Test, right?

Ryan:
Yes.

Jon:
Don’t ask your peers. Don’t ask your mom for feedback because she’s only going to tell you good things. And when she tells you it’s not negative, it probably isn’t helpful.

Ryan:
So even if you’re considering a redesign or that becomes something you think you need, I might even suggest you do some CRO before that to see what you can uncover that maybe you don’t need a redesign because it’s less expensive and easier to bite off smaller pieces, but also that can carry forward into a new design. You can see, oh yeah, there’s some issues here that if you didn’t catch this, you may have redesigned the same issues in the next iteration. I know a lot of brands are moving to Shopify 2 right now, 2.0.

Jon:
Yeah.

Ryan:
I talked to one of the Plus managers today and there’s some things that it’s an easy button depending on your theme and some have to do a little more heavy lifting to move their theme over that, all right, if it’s going to be an expensive move and it’s going to shake things up, maybe take some baby steps, figure out some ways to improve conversion rates, and then all of a sudden that redesign may pay for itself much quicker.

Jon:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s really what it is. It’s baby steps versus-

Ryan:
Jumping off a cliff and regretting it because you decided to tear it down and rebuild it.

Jon:
Ryan, I’m sorry I created you pain today. I swear that was not my goal, but-

Ryan:
No, I’m living it. It’s okay.

Jon:
Poor choice of analogies today, but I think it ended up being a great experience for everyone listening because they really know the analogy makes sense.

Ryan:
Yes, it does. And so thank you, Jon, for educating me on this. And man, I think it’s something a lot of people need to think through because too many companies that we know of or they’re default is, “Oh, we’ll just get a site redesign.” And so now there’s an option for maybe doing something better where you will probably get a better return.

Jon:
Agreed. I think there’s a-

Ryan:
Don’t redesign, talk to Jon first.

Jon:
Hey, thank you. Appreciate that. Well, thanks for the chat today, Ryan. Appreciate.

Ryan:
Thank you, Jon.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to Drive and Convert with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow. To keep up to date with new episodes, you can subscribe at driveandconvert.com.

James Sowers

About the Author

James Sowers

James Sowers is the Director of Marketing at The Good. He has more than a decade of experience helping software and ecommerce companies accelerate their growth and improve their customer experience.