Website Refactoring vs Redesign: What Is the Difference?

13 October 2022

Here at Smartweb Canada, we specialize in website design and digital marketing for small businesses and dental practices. A great deal of our work focuses on website refactors and redesigns. The difference between the two is important but really easy to understand, so we thought it would make a good article for our blog!

Website Refactoring: Clean up the CodeSimply put, website refactoring, or code refactoring as it is commonly called, changes the computer code without making significant changes to its display or functionality. Code refactoring can apply to any digital product, but for the sake of this discussion, we are talking about websites.

From Dirty Code to Clean Code

The problem with older websites is that their code can get outdated and disorganized. Indeed, this is one of our pet peeves here at Smartweb Canada where we are all about quick, smart web solutions!

Over time, content additions and fast modifications will naturally be made to a website. Over the years, these changes accumulate. Combined with the technical reality of coding languages and the online environment, the website’s code can become messy. This is referred to as ‘dirty code’.

Too Many Quick Fixes Can Spell Long Term Trouble

Within the tech industry, an accumulation of dirty code is referred to as technical debt. Invoking financial loans as an analogy makes the issue clear.

When you borrow money, it comes with interest. So while you can accelerate your work and accomplish your goals with the loan, there is some debt or ‘dirt’ associated with the efficiency it brings.

The same goes for coding a site. While a quick update or change can help achieve a functionality outcome quickly, like adding a new form or piece of content, these changes can accumulate and may cause issues down the line.

Clean code is exactly how it sounds. During website refactoring, dirty code is simplified and rewritten, making it easier to maintain over time. This results in fewer disruptions to the site’s functionality and makes modifying and updating the site simple. Overall, cleaning up a website’s code saves time and money.

Cleaning and organizing your home makes it easier and more pleasurable to live in. We have all heard about the immense benefits of decluttering your home! And the same goes for a freshly refactored site. When the dirty code is cleaned out and replaced with up-to-date and parsimonious code, it makes the website function smoothly for longer.

Algorithms Penalize Dirty Code

Okay, so you might not mind having an outdated website with a few display hiccups. No biggie, right? Don’t forget the algorithm! As web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox are updated regularly, over time their modernity renders the messy code unreadable. This is one of the goals of the algorithm: to root out ‘bad’ sites.

So while messy code might not be malicious, it can affect your ranking in search engines. These results will slowly degrade over time. If you’ve found yourself wondering why you can’t find your business website in an organic keyword search, it could be dirty code ruining your ranking.

Website Refactoring Won’t Change Functionality

Website refactoring will not result in any changes to the site’s functionality. For example, a refactored information form will still send the completed forms to the original destination, with the same fields, fonts, and layout.

The difference will be on the back end of the website. Here, the developer has smoothed out and simplified the code, ensuring that the form will work properly for longer, in line with current web browser standards. There will be an updated CAPTCHA functionality applied to the form to ensure that your site will remain impervious to the latest hacking and phishing techniques. There is a lot of value that is not visible in website refactoring!

The added benefit of refactoring is that just about any developer can understand the code and modify the site without any issues resulting from complicated, superfluous code.

Website Redesign: Changing the Design and Beyond

A website redesign is like refactoring with functionality and aesthetic changes built-in. When a website is redesigned or created from scratch, it will look and function differently from the original site.

Certainly, there will be plenty of overlap as redesigns are not intended to reinvent the wheel. However, the way the content appears and unfolds will change. Attention will be paid to conciliating branding collateral, content writing, and more, ultimately affecting colours, fonts, images, wording, and other subtle aspects of User Experience Design. This is the ultimate goal of a redesign, to refresh a brand’s aesthetic by updating its online presence.

The Benefits of a Website Redesign

If you’re noticing a reduction in online traffic and conversion on your website, it could be a good time for a redesign. Your site might even be functioning perfectly well, with no urgent need for website refactoring.

Depending on your industry, trends could be shifting rapidly towards a particular service. At Smartweb Canada, many of our clients are dentists or dental practice owners, so we see these trends come and go. We have noticed a sharp increase in Invisalign’s popularity, particularly since the tentative end of the pandemic. Consequently, many dental practices are intensifying their branding and marketing efforts to effectively promote Invisalign and stand out from their competition.

Website Refactoring or Redesign: Which Do You Need?

So you know your site needs an update, but you’re not too sure if you need refactoring or a full redesign. There are no rules for whether you choose one over the other, but here are some general guidelines.

You Need Website Refactoring If…

  1. Your site is 5 years old or more, with no significant changes to the code or backend since.
  2. There are functionality issues that reoccur, like a form not working, or a page element not displaying correctly.
  3. Your website was developed by an amateur developer and consequently has recurring issues.

You Need a Website Redesign If…

All of the above, plus:


  1. You don’t feel like your website reflects your business or brand accurately. This can happen when you buy an already existing business or make changes to the way you operate.
  2. Too many additions and modifications to your site over time have clouded the original parsimony of the design.
  3. Old and outdated content, images, fonts, and layout make your site look outdated, even if everything is functioning properly.

So, which do you need?

If you’re not sure, we’re here to help. You can get in touch and chat with us about your website’s refactoring or redesign needs anytime!


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