The world of website design can feel like a black box for those not in the industry. For organizations like nonprofits, whose sole business operations do not revolve around web design, it can be hard to know when—and if—you need a new website to better serve your stakeholders.
Overhaul vs.“plank by plank”
Website enhancement typically falls into two categories: a complete website overhaul or a “plank by plank” adjustment.
The “plank by plank” website enhancement
A famous, ancient historian named Plutarch once asked: does a ship become a different ship once all of the planks are replaced? If every few months or years, a new plank is added or restored, can it possibly be the original ship it was?
“Plank by plank” website enhancement mirrors a similar situation. For organizations that either don’t have the time, energy, or resources to commit to an entire website overhaul, a “plank by plank” solution can help to keep their ship (or website) afloat and working. Instead of an overhaul, they might enhance specific pages for better user experience, or fix specific errors or bugs.
Pros of the “plank by plank” website build:
- Less of an up-front investment
- Takes less time and energy in the moment
- Is great for organizations that already have a great site, but need a few fixes
Cons of the “plank by plank” website build:
- Can cause more issues in the long run if website isn’t approached holistically
- Often delays the inevitable of having to overhaul the website completely
- Can be more expensive in the long run if website continues to fail
- Can make the website feel incohesive and disjointed
The website overhaul
Of course, unlike the “plank by plank” method, the website overhaul is exactly what it sounds like: an overhaul. The overhaul is an end-to-end build of an entirely new website, from scratch.
Pros of the website overhaul:
- All bugs and issues are dealt with holistically
- Website is cohesive and on brand throughout
- Allows team to completely rebrand, if necessary
- Is often an easier solution for websites that have baggage, are are frankensteined (more on this later!)
Cons of the website overhaul
- Depending on the partner, an overhaul can be a bit expensive
- It takes more time to launch
While both website solutions will eventually result in a new website, each option has pros and cons. However, for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on identifying when and if you need an entire website overhaul.
The 3 reasons to invest in a new website
1. Your website is a house of cards
One of the most straightforward reasons for rebuilding your website from scratch is dysfunction. When organizations initially build their websites—usually with initial, faulty choices—they accrue “technical debt”. Technical debt is a term used in the software industry that refers to the cost associated with resolving problems that stem from bad initial decisions. These decisions are typically made early on during the software development or software selection stage and they could be motivated by the desire for cost savings or faster production.
Technical debt can be subtle or it can be pervasive. Either way, it can be incredibly damaging to an organization—and can build over time, just like credit card debt. The longer you ignore it, the worst it gets.
Technical debt happens when you choose a platform that:
- Can’t scale with your business
- Isn’t compatible with necessary integrations for your organization
- Isn’t user-friendly or adaptable
- Uses outdated software with limited customer support or knowledge bases
How to know if you’re dealing with technical debt:
- You’re constantly having to fix your website for bugs
- Your software decision resulted in poor functionality that only seems to get worse
- Your platform is much too difficult to navigate without the help of an expert developer, making the smallest changes a pain
- Poor maintenance of the site over time has led to outdated software, slow load times, and more
2. Your design has gotten out of control
Another main reason for investing in a full redesign over the plank-by-plank approach is that your organization’s website has been Frankensteined.
A Frankensteined website can be defined as:
“A website that displays inconsistencies in design as a result of poor administration or content management.”
Frankenstein “syndrome” is a common phenomenon in organizations where administrators start playing the role of a designer. Rather than go through their web team for changes, these administrators begin to add content, images, and design elements throughout the website—without any expert knowledge or training.
How to know if your website is Frankensteined:
- It has inconsistent fonts throughout each page
- Brand colors and fonts are not correct, or lack cohesiveness
- It has slow load times on some pages than others
- Some pages look entirely different than others, though they serve the same purpose
- Buttons, links, tabs, and other clickable content is not correctly formatted
- There is little to no strategy behind the placement of certain additions on the website
While asking your administrator or marketing team to handle website updates might seem cost-effective in the short term, it can accrue—like we’ve discovered—lots of technical debt. Meaning that eventually, it will cost even more to keep fixing it.
Unlike frankensteining your website, a professional developer or designer typically:
- Creates mockups and detailed plans for the website
- Develops website based upon brand style and standards
- Performs a UX audit (if necessary)
- Designs with user experience, audience, and goals in mind
- Offers a professional end-to-end experience
Working with a trained professional that specializes in web development might be more of an up front cost, but it’s the cheaper solution in the long run. And for nonprofits that depend on online donations and visibility, a well-designed, user-friendly site is essential, and can’t be left up to chance.
You’re working with a new partner
If you’ve decided to start a relationship with a new web partner, it may make sense to begin the partnership with a new website.
Whether or not an overhaul is necessary depends largely on the website “baggage” being brought to this new partnership: technical baggage or strategy baggage.
Technical baggage vs. strategy baggage
Technical baggage refers to the accumulation of decisions regarding development and technology made by a past partner.
If your site has a lot of technical baggage, your new web partner might not want to be responsible for fixing your site. Instead, they may offer you the option of re-platforming, or, copying your existing design onto a better platform, with better development practices.
This second type of baggage is more complex.
Much like the disparity in development practices across partners in the industry, there exist similar differences in the philosophies and approaches of different web teams in regard to what makes a website successful.
Different kinds of website strategies:
- Minimalist approach
- UX-centered design approach
- Engaging and interactive “fun” approach (pop-ups, widgets, etc.)
Of course, some strategies are a combination of the above. Regardless, when joining with a new partner, it quickly becomes evident whether or not you have the same strategy in mind.
If the differences between the respective strategies of your new partner and your old partner are too significant, your new team may encourage or require that they rebuild the website in order to commit to its success.
You trust the input and expertise of this new partner
Most web design firms are incentivized to sell full redesign projects as they present the greatest opportunities for revenue. For this reason, it is important to first develop trust with your new web team—and understand their audit of your site— before agreeing to invest in a new website for any of the reasons outlined above.
A discovery process, for example, is a great way to build this trust. Most discovery processes often include:
- An audit of your site in order to diagnose overarching issues
- Aligning on strategy, goals, and deliverables
- Vetting the potential partner and their fit for your team
- The opportunity to develop rapport
A formal discovery process usually includes a detailed outline of what will happen in the discovery process, as well as the results of that process (usually in the form of a report). In the end, your trust in a new web partner will largely come down to instincts. However, the more conversations you are able to have early on, the quicker you’ll discover if you’re the right fit for one another.
Every organization is different, therefore, every website is different. That means each organization has its own sets of needs, goals, and baggage when it comes to designing a new site.
However, if your website feels like a house of cards, has an inconsistent design, or you’re embarking on a new partnership, a website overhaul is often the best solution.