In April, we relaunched our website with a new design and an “updated” look. The goal was to simplify the design so that users could get to information they wanted right away – all leading to a website that engaged the visitor more and helped us convert more visitors.

Well, we failed.

The design wasn’t terrible. In fact, I received feedback from several people who said that the website looked great. It was cleaner, more colorful, had blogs published on the front page, and was generally “newer.” The whole goal was to have a vibrant look, as our previous version was very monochromatic – and we achieved that goal.

Why did my new website fail?
Maybe the full-page image of an “oops” sign wasn’t the best design for our new website…

A “New Look” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “Better”

During the month of April, we had a great deal more traffic than we did the month prior. If you look at the numbers on the top-level, you’d think that “hey, we redesigned our website, so that must be the reason we have more visitors!” But, in our case, it wasn’t true. Or increased traffic was due to our improving search rankings (due to some great links we earned), our amazing digital engagement specialist being active in social media, and our great team of writers creating quality content that people actively referenced.

So, How Do I Know If My Website Stinks?

When we dug into the content on our website in Google Analytics, we noticed a few things:

  • Our unique users were up 32%
  • Our pageviews were  up 18%
  • Our pages-per-session were down 8%
  • Our average session duration was down 30%
  • Our bounce rate was down 5%

What does this all mean? If you look at the front page of your Analytics account, and there’s more green text than red text, it’s a good thing, right? Not necessarily.

We had 32% more people visiting our website, but only 18% more pageviews – and our pages-per-session numbers were down. That means that people visited the website more, but were less-inclined to explore our content. At first, I thought that it was due to to our recent blogs being on the front page so visitors didn’t have to click to our main blog page first, but once I dug into our visitor behavior, it wasn’t the case. Traffic from our home page to our blog was down 32%!

Also, with the increase in visitors, we didn’t see an increase in leads. In fact, they were down a little bit if you discount solicitations (typically from SEO companies – those wonderful overseas firms that don’t even look at your website before they give you “advice” on getting to the 1st page on Google). These were issues that needed to be addressed.

But, “your bounce rate was down 5%” you say. This was due to tweaking our bounce rate to be something more accurate. We’ve always used “adjusted bounce rate,” but I changed a few settings to include scrolling to more accurately assess when visitors were reading our content.

Divorcing Yourself from a New Website is Tough

We’re fortunate to be a web development firm ourselves, or else rebuilding a website a month after launching a new one would be an expensive pill to swallow. But if your company just spent thousands of dollars on a shiny new website, convincing your boss or your accountant that you need to do it again isn’t easy. Despite the lost income while the new site is live, I’ve seen too many businesses stick to their guns and keep their new website up, despite increasing evidence that the changes aren’t working.

Simply put, if your new website, no matter how pretty it is, isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, maybe you need to abandon “new hotness” and go back to the  “old and busted” version, if possible. If that’s not an option, then calculate the loss-of-income versus the time to develop a new site, and make the best financial decision for yourself.

How Do I Know if My New Site Will Fail?

Seeing as I personally just made the mistake of launching a new, worse website, I have some first-hand experience with what caused the issue. First and foremost, we didn’t dig into the old website to gauge behavior and identify issues. The cobbler’s children have no shoes; for as much as we deeply analyze our clients’ websites, we didn’t do the same for ourselves. If we had, we would have been able to see what the visitor behavior actually looked like, and then built our new website retaining the good while addressing the bad.

Take some time to look at your website’s analytics. What pages do your visitors land on at first? What paths do visitors take to see your content? From which pages do they typically exit?

Identify your old website’s strengths, and keep those. Identify its weaknesses, and address those with the new site. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “it’s new and fancy, so it MUST be better.” Remember that while your brand is important, and a new website can address that, if the website doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is.

So, before you rebuild it, take some time to analyze your website and make sure to sit down with your developer and come up with a purposeful reason to redesign it. Find ways to address your issues while incorporating your new look. Don’t be like us: build a website that you’ll be satisfied with from the get-go.

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