Though a challenging project, site redesigns and updates are necessary to ensure consistent user engagement. Are you ready to modify your website? Here are three tips to help you get started.

Remember when websites were considered digital brochures, static extensions of offline marketing materials? We need only visit the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine to appreciate how much things have changed.

coke-1996Brand, publisher, and social media sites are constantly undergoing updates, but in many cases, major changes to media consumption behavior have necessitated much more extensive redesigns. This week, The Huffington Post released a sneak peek of its new site, coming in 2016. At the same time, GrubHub launched a redesign featuring social media content and streamlined functionality. Instagram recently underwent an overhaul, as well. Even the Internet Archive site was redesigned last year.

Site redesigns may be an important part of keeping users engaged, but when should you take the plunge, and what kinds of changes should you make? Here are three steps to start you off right.

1. Ask If It's Time for an Upgrade

Before you launch a redesign, consider what you're currently working with, along with the state of your competitors' sites. You may find that investing in improvements could put you out way ahead.

That's especially true if you're in the travel space. This past spring, global online marketing firm The Search Agency released the results of its investigation into 100 travel accommodation and destination sites. The report found that just eight of those sites use responsive web design, 67 have a dedicated mobile site, and 25 are desktop-only. Although as of last year, mobile - which encompasses both tablets and smartphones - accounts for 60 percent of all time that is spent online.

If you do decide to redesign, don't only focus on mobile, but on (Read more...). "The largest oversight web developers make when addressing mobile sites is forgetting to optimize their resources for mobile bandwidths," says Brandon Schakola, senior director of earned media and strategy with The Search Agency. "Large images, although great for that 4k display on your desktop, aren't so great when browsing from a mobile device if the file size is the same on each."

And whenever you're designing for mobile, it's essential to consider what users hope to get from your site. "[Consumers] expect a mobile-friendly experience that provides the features, functionality and speed in the moment that a need must be met or a question answered," says Stephanie Trunzo, chief digital officer of mobile app development company PointSource. "Pixels are at a premium in mobile design. It forces you to evaluate the importance of each function and screen element."

2. Make It Functional

Indeed, functionality is key. The Huffington Post's redesign, devised by creative agency Code and Theory, highlights both content and data-driven intelligence. Also, one of the added goals was to "make content findable and relevant." While The Huffington Post already has a dedicated mobile site that launched in May of this year to coincide with the publisher's 10th anniversary, the upcoming version includes an overhaul on the backend.

huff-post-todaySays Mike Treff, managing partner of the product design group at Code and Theory, "The experience is crafted around the ways readers interact with content today. So we optimized everything for skimming quick information, then diving deep when you target something that piques your interest." Treff adds that the site was built to change, grow, and be refined over time.

"One of the major problems with most redesigns is that they hang their success on a 'show-stopping feature," Treff says. "At the end of the day, it is never a feature that drives success or failure. Flexibility and the speed to pivot and optimize must be at the heart of every redesign."

3. Consider Content Preferences

As is the case with both The Huffington Post and a growing number of those travel destinations, mobile sites are proving invaluable to the pursuit and retention of customers.

But in order to deliver on user experience, developers must zero in on content. While mobile users have been known to invest time in long-form content, they're also eager for snackable stories that can be consumed on the go. Online video platform Ooyala reports that in Q2 of this year, consumers viewing videos on their phones spent two-thirds of their time on content less than 10 minutes in length.

NBC Sports demonstrates the value of convenient content with its newly-launched redesign, which went live in early September. In addition to being optimized for mobile, the site features short-form, on-demand videos, a cross-platform scoreboard ticker, and a site-wide live schedule.

nbc-sportsRedesigning for today's Internet user is a process of assessing their behavior, identifying their needs, and addressing their evolving requirements. Leave behind those online brochures of old in favor of experiences that speak to the modern, mobile consumer.

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