Think Twice Before Redesigning Your Website
There's a lot of hatred and rage in the world, and you can do your part by redesigning your website. Yes, that's right, redesign your website and be prepared to reap the whirlwind. In a perfect world, your website visitors love you, they love everything you do, and they especially love it when you add functionality to your site every single day. The reality is that many people hate change. The more you give them change, the more they hate it.
When Digg announced its redesign early last year, the company described it as "nice." Users retaliated with over 2,500 inflammatory comments. You see, people become accustomed to a set design. They become familiar with it. They become used to the upper right-hand corner where your search box is located. If you move it (like Wikipedia did), people become confused and outraged. Some users will think that the site has lost functionality even when your intention was to increase it.
Jacob Nielsen, owner of useit.com, is a web usability expert. In his words:
"There is a well-documented psychology finding called the 'mere exposure effect', which says that humans will like something more simply from having seen it many times.
"The mere exposure effect probably evolved to help early humanoids cope with their environment: they would like members of their own tribe and dislike outsiders, and they would feel more happy being on familiar territory than on foreign grounds. And they would prefer eating foods that they had seen before. All good survival instincts, and thus traits that were passed down the generations to us."
It's not that your web visitors are barbarians. In all likelihood, they're very intelligent people. However, they're also probably very busy people. They won't think those "cute" features are as cute as you think they are. Case in point: Gawker Media. After reading the massive backlash by users, founder Nick Denton was force to restore previous functionality that he had ordered changed on Gawker's site. The price for Gawker's redesign? 250,000 subscribers lost the month after the redesign.
That's right, Gawker media was getting 500,000 visitors per month to the blog before the redesign. Afterwords, it lost 50 percent of its visitors. You have been warned.
Your web designer, and even your SEO company, might tell you that your site needs to be "freshened up" every so often. Redesigns are great for design companies. It brings in revenue for them, but there is something to be said about "loss aversion." Loss aversion is when you fear losing something more than you welcome positive change. In a sense, the pain of losing some old website design is more than what the user expects to gain from the new design.
If you're thought is "well, this is my website!" you're right. It technically is your website, but regular users may start to develop a sort of attachment to your site. They may claim some kind of emotional attachment to it. Do you remember Crystal Pepsi? Pepsi owns Pepsi, but customers lashed out when Pepsi tried to "improve" on its original formulation. In the end, Pepsi went back to being... well... Pepsi.
If you're dead-set on changing your website theme or design, then take a cue from sites like Amazon and Facebook. Those companies are able to get away with massive redesigns without ticking off their customer base. Amazon's trick is to actually make all changes more intuitive. It almost feels easier than the last layout. Facebook has made so many changes since its inception, many users just expect it to change frequently. The power-users on Facebook complain for a while, then they eventually become the most ardent supports of the new design.
The general rule of thumb is that if it isn't broken, then don't fix it. If you're going to make changes, or if you really do have a website that's broken (or needs added functionality), do it in stages. Don't shock your website visitors with an entirely new design unless you absolutely have to.