Rev up your relaunch by involving the community and getting them excited with sneak-peek campaigns and beta testing.
We always talk about ways to improve a site - that's the point of this column. But we rarely talk about the next step: launching it. We just helped a client launch a new version of their site, and I thought it would be a good idea to share the steps we took to ensure its success. Unfortunately, this is one of those high-profile clients with a non-disclosure agreement that forbids us to talk about them at all. So, I hope you'll forgive the lack of extreme detail this time around. We are working with a different client that we actually can talk about, so when they launch I'll do a follow-up.
The goal of the relaunch was not only to exceed the needs of customers with new features and great new content/products. The larger goal was to get major industry pundits and bloggers on board so they would give a lot of PR to this company. Because affiliate sales are also a heavy driver for them, the redesign was also designed at exciting affiliates, providing them new tools to do their job better (and send more traffic to the company).
The redesign itself was a six-month project, which I am going to skip over for this column. The site has tons of new features, but alas, you'll just have to take my word for it. Sorry.
The Beta Phase
To encourage the ecosystem surrounding this site (bloggers, affiliates, industry pundits) to get excited and involved, we did a public beta test of the site once it was stable enough for visitors. We e-mailed or called the "important" people directly to tell them about the site and solicit their early feedback so we could make any changes necessary before the final launch. In doing this, we also made these new beta testers feel special and like they were on the "inside track," seeing things in advance of anyone else. Plus, we told them they should feel free to write about it. They did, and that started generating buzz that something new (and cool) was coming.
Because affiliate traffic and blogger traffic are important to this client, we reached out specifically to those folks and took a different tactic. Instead of simply having them look and comment, we really dug down deep into their process. How do they decide what to blog about? What tools do they use? What do they do manually (like grabbing product images and resizing them)? And, most importantly, what "killer tools" would make posting about our client a no-brainer? Specifically for those who are affiliates, what tools and reports are you not getting from the systems that you wish you could see? What incentives would you find interesting to encourage you to send more traffic to this site?
We called this our "beta" phase. In reality, it was an alpha phase, as we were still building new features and tools to surround the site. The site itself was basically done. But this phase really had the goal of creating the robust toolset for the rest of the ecosystem surrounding the site.
For the actual launch, we did a campaign to build anticipation. Years ago, I wrote about this idea in a column, and it is still very true. Building anticipation is a cornerstone of most major product launches. We can be fairly certain that Apple has the ability to add new products to its online store without taking the entire store down. But it does it to build anticipation.
We ran a series of "sneak peek" campaigns, similar to when product companies release abstract close-up details of a new product (such as a new car, laptop, etc.). We did it with little features of the site or interactive nuggets we thought were cool. The week of the launch, we had the client put a note on the site that the new version of the site was coming soon, and to watch that space for details.
Then, the day of the launch, we posted a note saying exactly what time the new site was being switched on. We did that partly to build excitement, but also because we were anticipating a little downtime as everything switched over. As it turns out, we were only down for about 25 seconds, thanks to the amazing collaboration of all the tech folks working at exactly the same time, all on a conference call to make sure things were done in perfect synchronization.
We had a huge traffic spike during the minutes before (and then the next several hours after) the relaunch, as people knew to come and look for it. Plus, all the pundits were already ready with their reviews of the site, and bloggers/affiliates were ready to start sending traffic. The new tools they helped us create ensured the rest of the population of bloggers/affiliates would take to the site very quickly and start promoting it.
The new site has now been up for about six weeks and the numbers are already coming in and showing that the launch (and the new site) was amazingly successful.
So, are you almost done with your redesign? If you were simply going to "turn the switch" one night and launch the new site while everyone is sleeping, you are missing a golden opportunity. While I apologize again for the lack of detail, the process we used should be fairly clear and obvious. I highly encourage you to involve the community in your relaunch in a way that will not only make it more exciting, but also bring you more traffic!
Questions, comments? Leave them below.
Until next time...
Jack is off today. This column originally ran on March 19, 2010 on ClickZ.
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