Website redesigns have become an addiction. Every year or two, Marketing decides it's due time to "freshen up the ol' site." And so begins the long, expensive process of recreating a website.

Unfortunately, businesses rarely take the proper approach to a website redesign, resulting in a project that goes over budget, launches late, and fails to deliver results.

So before you go out and hire a Web designer and developer to rebuild the most important weapon in your marketing arsenal, make sure you have a well-defined plan for success.

Do You Really Need Another Redesign?

It seems an obvious question, but too many times the reasons for embarking on a redesign are less than convincing. Here are just a few...

I'm sick of looking at the same website every day!

Using the same website day after day can get tiresome, but keep in mind that many, if not most, of your visitors don't see your site every day. So although it may seem to you that it's time for a change, your visitors are likely just starting to get used to your website.

It can take years for visitors to begin to associate your Web design with your brand and get comfortable with the layout and navigation.

We received a customer complaint!

Sometimes the decision for a redesign is a knee-jerk reaction. A customer or boss complains about a "serious" issue with the website that needs to be addressed immediately. The marketing team takes it as a cue to revamp the website.

Despite its good intentions, Marketing must realize that complaints are inevitable. You can't make everyone happy. In some cases, the problem may be serious and should be addressed, but rarely does it necessitate a full-scale redesign. Instead, look for consistent complaint patterns, and simple ways to fix "serious" problems.

The decision to redesign should always be based on a specific business objective related to the bottom line. With some creative planning, you can often improve usability and conversion rates by making minor adjustments, avoiding the time and cost of a redesign.

Developing a Website Redesign Plan

If you decide that a redesign is still the way to go, be sure to dedicate sufficient time and resources to developing a clear, specific plan. A detailed plan will help keep your project on track, avoiding costly changes and strategy realignments after the new site is live.

Start developing a plan by collecting feedback on your website from customers and experts.

1. Get feedback from your customers

Customers have a unique perspective on your website, and they can offer valuable insights to help you create a user-friendly experience. Unlike you and your team, customers are more removed from your website, which allows them to quickly uncover usability issues and points of confusion.

Recommended Tools:

  • Kampyle: A virtual suggestion box, Kampyle allows you to collect feedback from your visitors, including suggestions and bug reports, using an on-site feedback form. Analyze results using dashboards and reports, and even respond to visitor inquiries. Alternatives are Flash Feedback and UserVoice.
  • 4Q Survey: This free pop-up survey solution helps you figure out why visitors are on your website and whether they are able to do what they need to do. You can also try ForeSee Results.

2. Get feedback from professionals

It's also important to solicit feedback from independent professionals who can offer specific recommendations. Although customers are good at pointing out problems, most customer feedback is based on personal preferences and fails to offer solutions. Even your internal team, which may consist of seasoned marketing professionals, may be too close to the project to identify the vital issues related to your website performance.

Experts can help direct your redesign by providing time-tested advice based on Web design, usability, and strategy principles. Though art may be subjective, Web design is not. In Web design, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach layout, navigation, copy, white space, and other critical website components.

Trained professionals can ensure that you have the right plan in place before implementing a redesign, as well as help you avoid a "design by committee" situation within your company.

Recommended Tools:

  • Concept Feedback: Instead of hiring expensive consultants, or putting all of your trust in your Web designer, Concept Feedback (a company I founded) offers fast, affordable website evaluations from Web design, usability, strategy, and copy experts. [Editor's note: Concept Feedback has been retired. Another option might be Crowdsourcia.]
  • Though its users are not considered "professionals," provides video of people completing predefined tasks on your website. It's a quick way to find out where users are getting stuck. Alternatives are Feedback Army and ClickTale.

Once you've collected enough customer and expert feedback on your current website, compile and prioritize a list of recommendations to be included in the redesign specification. Not every suggestion will be appropriate, or even possible, but make sure the critical ones are included.

3. Create a detailed specification document

With the prioritized recommendations in hand, start developing a detailed project-specification document. It should include as much detail as possible, including the proposed site structure, wireframe sketches, page content (using a cohesive keyword strategy), design preferences (style, color, and examples), and any other relevant information.

If your requirement list starts to exceed the original scope, begin breaking the spec into multiple phases. A well-defined spec is integral to an efficient, cost-effective, and on-time project. And your Web design and development team will love you for it.

4. Determine measurable objectives

Your company should agree on clear, measurable objectives before launching a new website. A redesign without measurable impact is ultimately a failure.

Goals should be based on current site performance, using average conversion rates as a benchmark (if you don't have this kind of data, start using Google Analytics today). Defining objectives also forces you to think critically about the redesign from a business perspective, and how you plan to contribute to the bottom line.

The next time you get an itch to do a redesign, take a close look at your objectives, and don't start anything without a plan in place.

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Andrew Follett is the founder of Demo Duck, which helps businesses create animated and live-action explainer videos. He also runs Video Brewery, a corporate video production marketplace. You can follow him on his blog, Google+, and Twitter.