The Crucial Step in a Successful Website Redesign that Everyone Forgets

Abby J Wilson
4 minutes

JCPenny’s stock surged when they announced Ron Johnson as their new CEO. He was the inventor of the Apple Store as we know it and he was considered a “retail god”. 

So JCPenny figured, if he can make the Apple Store the envy of all retail, he can do it for us too, right? 

At the beginning of his tenure he held a conference that was pretty much a copy cat of the keynotes Apple hosted. 

His speech can be summarized in the words of the great philosopher Sam Cooke, “A Change Gon’ Come.”

Ron Johnson’s first order of business was to get rid of all the sales. JCPenny had run 590 promotions in 2011 but that ship had sailed. In 2012 they would only run 12. The best prices were scheduled for the 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month. 

See, all these sales that JCPenny had going on all the time? Johnson felt like that was just disrespectful. He was going to give customers the dignity of knowing that the price was the price. He even redesigned the logo in the shape of a square in honor of the new “fair and square” pricing. 

Within a year he had destroyed the chain.

The stock went as low as it can go, their core customers left, they missed sales expectations by millions of dollars. It was a mess. 

JCPenny stock Q1 and Q2 of 2012

The Worst Mistake For Your Website

Ron Johnson fell victim to the WORST mistake a marketer can commit. Assuming everyone thinks like you. 


If Johnson had simply watched people in the store. If he had asked questions. If he had surveyed customers, he would realize one very important thing. 

Shopping at JCPennys was a sport. 

The whole point of going to JCPenny was so that you could “beat” the system. You could give your time in exchange for status. If you got there at the right time on the right day and searched for long enough you could “win.” 

Now that wouldn’t really make sense to someone like Ron Johnson who had come from a luxury brand like Apple. Why beat the system when you can afford to play in it? 

But to the core demographic of JCPenny shoppers who only made $20-$50,000 a year, shopping at Penny’s was better than fair. It was a life hack. 

Did Your Web Developer Assume When They Built Your Website?

I see web developers fall into this same trap of assuming all the time. Rather than research how visitors interact with websites, they ASSUME that things need to change. Some developers follow best practices, and that can go a long way. But they run the risk of fixing something that isn’t broken.

For example there may be keywords that the website already ranks for. There may be pages that users really like and help increase the conversion rate. There may be buttons that attract a lot of clicks.

On the flip side there might be copy that people fly past, pictures that no one stops to look at, buttons that no one engages with, pages that are growing cobwebs. 

But if you don’t do the research how will you know what’s working and what isn’t??? 

Riddle me this. Let’s say you take your car to a mechanic because your AC isn’t working. And they tell you that you have to pay $5000 to order a new part and it’ll take a whole day to fix. Without taking one look at your car. 

Would you even believe them? You don’t have to know a dang thing about cars to know that they don’t send telepathic messages to mechanics saying what’s wrong with them. You’ve got to do some investigation here. We need hard evidence.

So what does that investigation look like for websites? I like to use a few things.

1. Heat maps

      A quick visual of where people are clicking and how many clicks an element gets. It’s a   great way to know what’s working, where people are looking for more information, and what people are ignoring. 

2. Scroll maps

     Want to know whether people are reading your entire blog post? Or scrolling down to the end of your sales page? Scroll maps are for you. You can see your whole page through the critical lens of your visitors

3. Confetti maps

     These maps will segment your visitors by new, returning, traffic source, search query, and more. You can split up all of your visitors into categories and see what works best for who. 

4. Screen recordings

    Just so you know, every interaction you have with a website can be tracked. Including how you scroll around. From a web developer standpoint this data is gold. If someone’s confused it’ll be obvious. If someone is engaged with your content, it will also be evident. 

5. A/B Testing

     Once you’ve collected all of the data you possibly can from your website, it’s time to put it to the test. Say people aren’t clicking on your CTA. Will changing the text change that? How about changing the colors? With software like Crazy Egg you can split up visitors to different pages and see which CTA gets the most hits. 

So when it’s time to revamp your website and a web developer comes along and tells you what needs to be fixed. Ask for some data to back up that assumption. If they just rely on experience or they run tests and say that the research can’t be shared - Run. 

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