Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Updating Your Website

It's good to occasionally give your site a face lift. It may be to add new features based on advances in technology or on customer requests; it may be just to take your site from that 90's look to a more modern look. Maybe in an effort to increase conversions and sales, to maximize your site’s potential, you're going back to basics & will give everything the once-over.

While it is good to go over your site with a fine-tooth-comb & think about all the changes you could make, the bottom line is to make it better for the user/viewer. There is one fact that you need to keep in mind: any changes on your site will frustrate, confuse & perhaps even piss-off your regular users.

Even the most loyal members, your die-hard daily visitors, will have moments of panic & alienation when they can no longer have their mouse-hand on automatic-pilot & click in the same spot for the same thing, or when there is a new, unfamiliar button staring them in the face. Humans are creatures of habits.

So when looking at your new options, be they bells & whistles or necessary improvements for function, always consider them in relation to your fan-base's reactions.

The easiest way to do this a three-step process.

First, list all the changes you'd like to make, along with the reasons for them.

Second, consider them in relation to the visitor's reaction. Evaluate if the need for change warrants the possible negative reaction.

This is important, not just for the potential loss of members or users, but it's sort of like your bottom-line evaluation: to make the changes costs money & time, and if it isn't going to have a positive pay-off, why do it? (This implies that you have already done this cost v. benefits eval, but if you have not, do so now.)

Third, when making the changes, implement them and educate visitors about them as much as possible.

eBay, for all their other sins, does an excellent job of educating their users prior to site changes. They put up announcements, stating that change X will go into effect in so many days. With this 'warning' comes options for free tours &/or tutorials that not only discuss the change & why they are making the 'improvement,' but show the user what it will all look like.

For those of us who lack employees to carry out the tasks of creating tutorials & contacting members, a simple announcement of pending changes in your newsletter or similar opt-in list will do. Also make an announcement on the home page, in your forums, etc. So that all your members and new visitors can read about the changes.

I also recommend that if you've decided to make several changes that you do so over time, in phases. Too much change at once, even for lovely features requested by users, can throw folks into a tizzy.

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