Could You Benefit From a Website Redesign?

by Aurélien Bellanger

by Aurélien Bellanger

Today’s interview is by contributing writer Chris Jane (@chrismjane), who does every-other-Wednesday interviews for the 5 On series.


Anyone who pays any attention to my Facebook feed knows that I’m more than a little happy with my newly revised website.

I didn’t understand why, at first.

After all, the previous (and free) template I’d been using did what it was supposed to do: it provided pages and a menu. It was clean and it was simple. What more could it need?

As I discovered, it needed a feeling.

What I hadn’t thought about when creating my own, earlier, sites was the range of reactions I’d typically have when visiting other people’s websites, whether it was an immediate need to click away from the chaos—or an urge to stay a while, admire the professional organization and sharp colors.

When the latest iteration of my website was finished, I said to its designer, Richard Kelsey of Absolute.click, “It’s like wearing a nice suit.”

Not a unique or even very creative observation, but that was how it felt (and feels).

An important question, though: Who but me cares how I feel about my website?

Sure, it gives me more confidence to approach people who might visit it—and that’s a great value—but what really matters is the impression they get from it. Isn’t it?

I wanted to know more about the importance of having a good website—whether “good” translates as flashy functions, easy navigation, or a perfectly appropriate theme—so I asked Richard a few questions.

(“But, he’s a biased website designer,” you say. This is probably true. However, my experience with him has also shown him to be honest and straightforward. I’d have no interest in interviewing him, otherwise.)

I wanted to interview you because you recently redesigned my website, and one of the elements you added was the A-ha, yes! that in one move, with one page, eliminated endless links and redirection and—well, clutter in general.

I’ve had websites in one form or another since 2007, and I’ve never been so satisfied with appearance, organization, and navigability. How did you do that?

Well, essentially, you always want to take a less-is-more approach. Clients sometimes tend to want everything they can possibly think of, right there and now, without a real concept. It smacks you in the face.

Most of the time visitors barely witness half of what is going on, simply because they don’t take the time, let alone want to. Something has to grab their immediate attention, or has to represent at least a sign of something they expected to find.

Most design elements and functions that have come out lately have been clearly developed to meet, match, and improve user experience and behavior—which, interestingly enough, also results in and is beneficial to better search results with Google & Co. What’s easier for users is also usually easier for “spiders” (search engines) to crawl.

In Your Homepage Is Not As Important As You Think, Dan Blank writes that visitors to websites rarely see the website’s home page after being referred to the site via links, social media, search engines, etc. Therefore, every interior page, he argues, “needs to tell your story … reiterate who you are, and provide context at every opportunity.”

In your experience designing websites, you must have seen some existing sites that could be considered a nightmare, either because they were confusing to navigate or because they failed to serve the identity or purpose of the website owner.

What are a couple typical reasons websites fail?

That’s funny about the home page. Our (and my personal) experience has been that it is quite the opposite. When visitors land on any page other than the home page, panic starts to strike (in the worst case). Most people look for the “Home” button.

There might be many reasons for that, the most popular being that people need a sense of starting from the beginning. It’s like the cover of a book. A “Did I miss something?” sort of moment.

I always like to go to the actual URL (the home) to get a “feeling” for the site. What is it that the site wants to do or say? Indeed, if the home doesn’t entrance me, why should the other pages?

So, a home button has to be easy to find. Poor navigation is a fail. Design and colors I think are just as important, even if it really has nothing to do with content. People like eye-candy. Smooth and simple.

In terms of incoming links and needing to tell your story, I agree with Dan. But the home page is what it is: the roof, the door, the window to it all.

But does a website’s appearance and ease-of-use really make that much of a difference to the average visitor?

It is the Alpha and Omega.

Kidding aside, you can just put text up on the white screen and maybe a picture and be done with it. Why would you do that, though, if you can do so much more and make it more enticing?

Now and then I’ll Google an author or other kind of writer and discover they don’t have a website. When I wrote for the newspaper and was sometimes tasked with writing about local bands or musicians appearing in upcoming events, I found that many of them also didn’t have websites. Facebook pages, yes, but not official websites.

You’re a longtime musician. Isn’t it fair to say that if the writing or music or other art is good enough, a website isn’t necessary because audiences will find the work, the artist, in other ways?

But I have to admit that when as a feature writer I didn’t find websites, I was immediately less inclined to contact the artists for articles. I don’t know whether that’s typical or whether I was being uniquely judgmental.

This kind of ties in with the home page topic. Social media can be overrated. … You [should always] have your website to fall back on. Your home, so to speak. It also creates credibility and trust and, in the case of a music artist, shows how serious and passionate you are about your craft and art.

As much as Facebook and Twitter make it possible for new artists to have a following as big as that of known acts, anyone can create a fan page and be done with it. You may run into the danger of not being discovered there at all. A good website with a good search result in Google might be your better ally.

The website is the home, and everything else needs to be linked to it. Like a web. The combo makes it a “full meal.”

I know Absolute.click offers website design rates on a sliding scale, but why should a person pay anything for a website when there are quite a few decent templates available for free?

Well, the web design business, as any business these days I imagine, has witnessed dumping prices. There are many factors. The global community and competition, the over-saturation of really good web design agencies and professionals, the amount of educated individuals who, yearly, come out of the schools hungry for work, and all these do-it-yourself kits and platforms—some good, some not that good.

It’s up to you, really. How much time you want to invest, what you want your results to be, how professional it is supposed to look. Even WordPress, with which we work almost exclusively, can be used by any novice. At the same time, WordPress has spun an industry that pays thousands of people worldwide daily, and has produced hundreds of companies that dedicate their time to WordPress alone. What does that tell us?

Clients in any area of service can sometimes have unrealistic demands. What should people be aware of before they contact a website designer, in terms of managing expectations?

Believe it or not, when someone comes up to me and says, “I want (or need) a website,” my first questions are, “What for?” and “Are you really sure?”

This may be dangerous in my business, but essentially what I am asking is, what is the purpose of the site? And usually I hope it has a sole purpose, and not a million different things at once. If the website is for a business that already exists, for example, then it is obvious that a website is a necessity for today’s market. If it’s for a new business idea, I would say do your research first to make sure you have a niche market for it.

Actually, the most critical expectation we have found goes beyond the completion of the website: once it’s done and in the world wide web, most believe that’s that, and all is good. But that’s when their real work begins.

Thank you, Richard.

Posted in Digital Media, Guest Post and tagged , , .
Kristen Tsetsi

Kristen Tsetsi

Kristen Tsetsi is the author of The Age of the Child, which imagines a Citizen Amendment ban on all forms of birth control–and the ban’s consequences. She has been an adjunct English professor, a daily news reporter and feature writer, a cab driver, an instructor of expressive writing, play writing, and screenwriting, and editor of the literary journal American Fiction (New Rivers Press). She lives in Connecticut with one husband, three cats, and one dog.

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14 Comments on "Could You Benefit From a Website Redesign?"

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katrin schumann
Chris: I liked the clean lines of your new website so much I went straight to Absolute click to check them out. Not only did I have trouble finding a “home” page (it turned out to be “overview”) but that page took almost a minute to load. I would not have waited, except that I got really curious to know what was making the page take so long to load and why a company that designs websites would decide that was a risk worth taking. Having published a few books of my own and worked with many authors (incl. advising… Read more »
Jane Friedman

FWIW, absolute.click is using a homepage design that I’m finding more often with sales-oriented sites. PayPal’s homepage, for instance, now has a video playing in the background. I am curious how well that plays across all devices, and if that display is only activated when it detects a device/browser/system that can handle it …

Hannah Jerome

Hi Jane,
I work in digital and I’ve noticed that homepage video loops have become a common trend, esp. in the last 6 months. Here are a few that I’ve recently come across: airbnb.com, wistia.com and urbaninfluence.com (a new favorite). Your concern for how the video will render across browsers and devices is a legitimate one. Many developers have a static image they use as a fallback, especially on mobile, and many companies choose to only render the video on the homepage. Here’s a pretty decent post on the topic if you’re interested: http://www.sitepoint.com/designing-with-video-backgrounds/

Jane Friedman

Much appreciate the insight, Hannah. Thank you!

Leah Cutter
I just went to the Absolute.click website. There’s a button at the bottom of the page that says, “CO Overview” Clicking that takes me to a 404 page: http://absolut.click/overview/ They’re missing an “e” in the URL. On the one hand, this is just an oops. On the other hand, having it happen on a day when they have a review like this is a major issue. I won’t be looking at them for my web redesign. In addition, when I added an “e” to the URL, the page *does* take forever to load. They have a handy bar that shows… Read more »
Mickie Kennedy

A good website or blog is essential for any author these days, especially for independents (the authorpreneurs). When marketing, publicity, web design (and, yes, writing) all fall into your hands, your “brand” has to be as visible and marketable as a Fortune 500 — which begins with a good website.

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Elizabeth G. Marro

Chris, This article was timely for me. I am looking for help to build a new website. FYI, efforts to contact Absolute.click’s sales team through their website or phone have failed. The phone number goes to someone’s personal phone and that person is not affiliated with the company. This is making me feel a little uncomfortable although I very much admire your site.

Richard Kelsey

Elisabeth, thank you for your kind words and apologies for the inconvenience. Please contact me @ service@absolute.click or via Facebook if you would like to discuss your new website. Have a great day and I look forward to hearing from you.

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[…] but many authors also have a blog. Author Chris Jane interviews designer Richard Kelsey to see if your website could benefit from a redesign, and Jeff Goins shares 25 blogging […]

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