Website redesigns are suddenly on everyone’s minds these days now that both Yahoo and MSN are voting on this strategy to raise their prospects in the popularity stakes. Yahoo has actually managed to have people spend a fifth more time on its website with the new Front End Web Design. When the bigwigs publicly put their stock in an idea, you can be sure that discussion boards around the world will swing into action wondering why they did it, exactly what lessons there are to learn of the situation. But often, people try the DIY route to get the MSN-Yahoo advantage in a hurry. Google’s forums are full of questions about why website page visits go south the moment a website is casually DIY redesigned. The answers from the mediators usually point to how the little things can trip people up: like how appearance and the structure, if done incorrectly, can make it difficult for Google to crawl the site effectively, or how URL-naming protocols can get messed up after a redesign. So what is the general philosophy Yahoo kept in mind for a redesign?

Yahoo seems to have a better measure than Google’s PageRank, of how effective a web page is: Yahoo calls it PageYield; it measures how much time a visitor spends on a page, and how many repeat visits there are. Yahoo’s PageYields have gone up 20% after the redesign. The design philosophy with Yahoo this time has been to give up jealously-guarded personal space on the website to allow people to do just about anything on it. One particularly popular idea has been Yahoo allowing members to customize their homepage not just with Yahoo applications, but any applications on the Internet at all. True innovation comes in small steps like this: opening up in one way or another. Personalization has been the philosophy behind the other popular feature on the new Yahoo; an intelligent Today module for example, targets news to members’ individual interests. The customization philosophy has helped of course, but so has the fact that the Today module happens to be very successful at making relevant suggestions. Customization and localization have been MSN’s mantra too. Basically, the thing to gain from a close look at renovations at these two behemoths could be this: redesign well, but only when it is necessary to enable a great new idea.