Website Redesign Disasters

6 min read

Website redesigns happen for many reasons including company rebranding, feature enhancements, or the desire to make the website more modern. In most cases a redesign will provide a better value and user experience to your visitors, but there are many ways that your redesign can actually make your website worse.

I’ve worked on many redesigns during my career and I ran into some common mistakes that had a negative impact on the site. Let me run you through some examples using my favorite fictitious pastry company Super Donut, who just so happens is looking to redesign their website…

It’s Only A Reskin

The existing Super Donut site is four years old, and the company recently adjusted their branding. At first they only wanted a “Reskin” of their existing site to update the look and feel to match their new brand. They figured it was the cheapest option for updating their site.

I have performed many successful reskin projects in the past, often as a transitional measure before a full site redesign. Although it sounds easy on the surface, a website reskin is prone to scope creep1. With the small scope of a reskin project it’s common to want to make other small changes, “while you’re in there”.

To keep things on track, clearly define each individual element that will be updated during the reskin process. For anything outside that core scope that you identify as needing to change, place it onto a separate list for a “Phase 2” project2.

One of the big limitations of a reskin project is it will have little to no impact on the user experience or performance of your goals. Since Super Donut was looking to increase their sales, it turns out a reskin wasn’t what they were looking for.

Removing Features

To increase sales Super Donut wants to convert their whole site to run on an e-commerce platform. Before abandoning your old site, it’s important to know what your visitors are doing on your site to help maintain key pages and functionality. Reviewing your analytics data or conducting interviews with your customers can help narrow down what is most important and will influence decision making throughout the redesign process.

Removing key content or features from your site can frustrate previous visitors and make them think negatively of your redesign. If certain features or pages are simply being moved for a different area of the site, providing a callout in the first few months of launch pointing them in the right direction could ease their frustration.

From the analytics data on the existing Super Donut site we were able to determine that the location finder and franchise information were extremely popular sections. These popular areas can be implemented into the e-commerce platform to ensure existing visitors can find what they are looking for.

Migrating Content

The team at Super Donut want to pull the content for their Locations and Franchise sections directly into the new site, but we advised against it.

With any site redesign, content should be a major focus of your planning process. People come to websites primarily for information it contains, which influences whether they take action on your goals.

Many website owners know very little about the content on their site. If the site is content managed, there is a higher possibility that over time additional content was added that does not conform to the navigation, breaks the content flow, and doesn’t focus on the key goals of the site.

Early on in your redesign it’s recommended that you create a content inventory3. This is a process where you index all of the content on the site and its meta data into a central location such as a spreadsheet. This provides a great alternate view of the content your site contains and will aid in the restructuring and rewriting of your content for your new site.

During our content audit for Super Donut we discovered that the phone numbers and hours were incorrect on 12 of their 36 locations. Think of all of the customers that couldn’t get their doughnuts because of this error!

SEO Black Hole

Super Donut was excited to make their redesigned website live, but there was additional due diligence that needed to be done with the old website’s content.

When you change details about your content or move your site to a new CMS it’s possible that the address to your content has changed. The web address (e.g., superdonut.gov/locations) tells your web server what content on your site to load.

If the address to your content changes, old links will no longer work and go to a broken page. This is similar to moving without forwarding your mail, it will keep going to the wrong place until you say otherwise. This can have some disastrous effects for your search engine ranking on sites such as Google won’t know where your content is anymore, so they’ll treat that content as deleted and no longer relevant.

It is possible to put redirects in place that will automatically send people to the new location of the content. The redirects are most commonly implemented on your web server by a developer, although there are some content management systems that support simpiler methods for redirecting.

We warned Super Donut that it is possible their site would experience a temporary dip in rankings after implementing redirects. Due to the improvements we made to their copy and navigation, we’re confident that when it bounces back they will rank higher than they did before.

Wrapping Up

Super Donut was able to successfully launch their redesign with minimal headaches thanks to proper planning. The next time you are working on a redesign, don’t forget:

  • Reskins are intended to be purely cosmetic and often lead to scope creep
  • Retain core site features that your visitors use regularly
  • Review and improve your content before moving it to your new site
  • Make sure you redirect old links to avoid a drop in search engine ranking

Have any good stories from a redesign project? Send me an email and let me know.


  1. Scope creep is when the amount of work you signed on for at the start of a project slowly gets larger and larger. This increases the cost and timeline of the project and is generally huge pain. 

  2. Creating phases for your project is a great way to keep everyone focused on the present tasks, while keeping track of future enhancements. There is never a guarantee that future phases phases will happen, but it makes it much easier to keep your project moving forward. 

  3. Content strategy is a much larger topic. A great place to start is reading the book The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane. 

Article images by Matti Mattila Published on March 10th, 2014