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When you have to refresh a popular website

October 4, 2011

If you have a really big and very popular website, doing a refresh of the design can be fraught with problems.

  • When do you do it to have the least impact on users?
  • Do you do it in stages? Can you?
  • Do you let your users know that changes are coming?
  • What about when you have to take down the old site and upload the new one and switch over to it? How do you let your users know that changes are afoot?
  • And how do you let them know what’s changed? If the refresh is a major design change, then it will be obvious as the site will look quite different, but there may be additional features you’d like to let users know about.

Here’s how an Australian news site, news.com.au, dealt with the last two points.

This is what we saw on a mid-Saturday afternoon:

Mid-afternoon Saturday 3 September 2011

Mid-afternoon Saturday 3 September 2011

When the site was live again, there was this on the home page:

A simple animation explaining the major changes

A simple animation explaining the major changes

If you scrolled through the animation, you got a link at the end that took you to a more detailed explanation for the changes:

More detailed explanation for the changes

More detailed explanation for the changes

The tone is VERY informal, perhaps aiming to hit their target of younger Australians who aren’t big consumers of news through the more traditional channels of newspapers and TV.

What I was impressed with was how news.com.au had an obvious plan for dealing with all those users who tried to access the site when it was being refreshed, then a follow-up plan to deal with the ‘what the…?’ questions that would arise from those coming to the site after the refresh, whether they visited later the same day or in the days ahead.

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