edit Nick Herinckx on September 28, 2011
edit Redesign your site without frustrating loyal visitors
If you've ever gone to a familiar site only to find nothing where it's supposed to be, you know the frustration a redesign can cause. Who can forget the last Facebook update?
Unnerving as they are for loyal customers, we all know that website redesigns are often necessary to ensure a company remains current and competitive.
Here are five tips to help you launch your new website in a way that won't alienate your customers.
edit Communicate the benefits your visitors will receive
It's shocking how many people forget this simple but important rule for launching a new site. I've been involved with more than 10 large site redesigns, and the most common mistake I've seen is focusing the message on how neat or impressive the new site is, without clearly explaining how the changes will benefit site visitors.
Customer or visitor benefit is why you're making the change in the first place, right? So make sure you let people know. You can do this through an email blast, or on the website itself just before the change is made.
Will the new site have better support features? Will downloads or content be organized in a way that's easier to navigate? Are you adding a mobile version of your website, or will the site load faster? Focus on benefits like these when you communicate the upcoming changes, as in the redesign announcement below.
edit Create a dedicated announcement page
Once your site update is live, make sure you create a section at the top of your home page dedicated to announcing the new design. Clearly state that the new website redesign just happened, and link to a page that's dedicated to discussing why the changes were made - that is, what the benefits are for website visitors. This will help to smooth over the transition and ensure you're not leaving your loyal customers behind.
At the very top of your home page, you can say something like, “Welcome to our new & improved website,” along with a link or button pointing to the dedicated announcement page, such as the one pictured below. By doing this, you tell your customers that you care about them and that your site redesign really is for their benefit.
edit Provide the option of returning to the older version
Not everybody has the time or patience to try to figure out your new site design right away. They may be visiting your site to complete a specific action, and are pressed for time. So in the interest of providing the best possible transition experience for your visitors, you should provide a way for them to return to the old version of your website.
Don't worry! You don't have to do this forever - perhaps just a month or two. The best way to do this is to include a button in your website's header that says “Return to the old version.”
Make sure to disallow the old version of your site in your robots.txt file so they don't index the old pages. Otherwise, those old pages could cause ranking issues for you in search results, and cause site traffic to fall. To learn more about how to use the robots.txt file properly, read How To Use Robots.txt.
edit Use PPC to bid on your brand name
Do you have a Google AdWords account? I hope so, because one of the most effective ways I've seen to announce your new website is by creating an ad and bidding to place it beside your own brand name in search results.
You can include your message and announcement right in your ad text, which will show up anytime someone searches on your brand name! This way, you virtually guarantee that many people will see your redesign announcement before they click over to your site from Google search results.
For bonus points, create a custom landing page for your announcement ads. That way you can highlight the primary benefits of the redesign, AND gather data on how well those ads against your brand name actually did. Extra business intelligence for you!
edit Always use a 301 redirect if you change your URLs
Will the URLs on your new website be different from the old ones? If so, don't make the mistake of forgetting to 301 redirect all of your old URLs to the relevant new ones!
When you create a 301 redirect, you're making sure that when someone clicks a link to an old URL on your site, they'll be automatically sent to the new URL, and won't encounter an error message. This is crucial to ensuring a smooth transition and pleasant experience for your site visitors.
Because I'm an SEO practitioner, I must mention that if you fail to 301-redirect your old URLs, you could lose a lot of inbound links, and ruin your search engine rankings! So to cut a long story short, make sure to 301-redirect each old URL to the most relevant new URL.
Read more about keeping the value of links to your old web pages: Read Link Juice: Save Every Drop.
Let me guess...your new (or future) website will involve a lot of time, political battles and maybe even blood, sweat and tears. Make sure all your hard work doesn't go to waste! Follow the guidelines above and you'll ensure a smooth transition to your new website for all your loyal visitors.