While redesigning a site is the topic of many of my columns, today we’ll talk about the next step, and one that can make or break the new site’s success: the implementation and launch. Here’s a checklist for this crucial stage in development.
Design vs. Implementation
More often than not, our clients have their own technical teams who will implement our designs. We used to just do a clean hand-off to them and hope for the best. Now, however, we tend to stick around during the implementation because the technical crew always makes little changes, or goofs something up. Even though we very carefully spec out everything (including pixel distances, font types and sizes, and all alignment axis), programmers tend to not think like designers and begin to take shortcuts at the expense of design. This is one of the biggest problems companies face. A bunch of little changes, added together, make for a clumsy site that doesn’t look good anymore.
One of our client’s implementers went so far as to add extra check-out steps just because it was easier for them to build. They are obviously not thinking about usability and conversion, and when that check-out process fails, it becomes an issue for all involved.
Revolution vs. Evolution
Is the new site still the same company? What happened to your old site? Everything feels so different! Sites that change incrementally don’t really have this problem, but sites that undergo a drastic change do. When you rebrand your company and dramatically change your site, you will necessarily alienate your customers for a while as they get used to the new site. Even if the new site is better (as it should be), you will probably see a period of adjustment (in terms of conversion) as your users get used to how the new site operates.
To ameliorate this issue, do your best during pre-launch to inform your customers that changes are underway. Send them an e-mail with a sneak peak at the new site. Open up a beta of the new site for people to see. Involve your community (on Twitter or Facebook) in the new design so users feel like they own part of the process.
Finally, once the new site is up, display a banner ad or some other block with the “old” site on the home page for a while as a way to show people that you are still the same company.
Be Prepared to Tweak
No design is ever perfect out of the gate. Once the new site is up, watch it carefully. Make sure your analytics are working, and use them to see what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Expect there to be little things here and there that you will want to change now that the site is getting real traffic. Sure, this can largely be avoided by doing a lot of usability testing, but most companies don’t spend the time and energy to do this. As a result, the usability testing happens at launch (which frankly can cost a lot more if there are lingering issues).
Ask Your Customers
If things aren’t going well, reach out to your customers, and those who abandoned their shopping carts. Try to understand what is making them not check-out. Collect as much information as possible from them, and feed this information back to your designers and your implementers. Between them, they should come up with a solution.
Split testing is the great arbiter. If a new design isn’t going well, you need to pit it against your old design and see if one is performing better than another. That way, you can filter out factors such as: the economy, the time of year, etc. All these things could affect your site regardless of the design. By doing a split test (sending 50 percent of traffic to each site), you can judge fairly how each site is really doing.
As many companies are gearing up for Q4, new designs and site features will be coming online within the next few weeks. Hopefully this checklist will help you avoid some of the common problems that plague new sites when they launch.
Questions, comments? Leave them below!
Until next time…
Jack is off today. This column was originally published on Sept. 17, 2010 on ClickZ.