Web sites occasionally have to be recoded, even large websites with regular visitors in the hundreds of thousands or millions
It is possible to recode a site’s “back end” without changing the face of the site, but most often, these recodes come with significant cosmetic changes. A webmaster often faces the backlash from users who don’t want their favorite site to change. Fark (fark.com) recently underwent a major redesign, and a recurring sentiment from the users is “put the site back.” How can webmasters, and users, ease the transition from one site layout to the next?
The most significant action for the webmaster to take is to notify the users well before the changes will be held
In fact, the larger the changes, the sooner the users should be informed, thus preventing the sudden shock of the loss of a favorite site. Included in the announcement, or soon after, the webmaster should also list planned and possible changes, including new features or improved functionality. Creating a buzz about how the site will improve can serve to excite users. People do not like change, and springing a new site on them will increase the users’ frustration, especially when they feel they have not been consulted on the new layout.
This points to another step the webmaster can take to ease the transition – consulting with as many users as possible, whether through polls, forums, or e-mail groups
A user is not as likely to object to changes when he has had input into the new site. While it is impossible to please all the users, they like to know that those in authority are listening to their opinions. Feedback is imperative, and users may have ideas that would otherwise never occur to the webmaster.
Webmasters should also acknowledge that many feel the site should not change
In doing so, they can explain the many improvements in the site programming or resources that the users don’t see every day. This may help users understand why the site needs to change.
On the other hand, there are ways that users can help with a new site layout as well
Reporting bugs in the new site to the webmaster is one way. They can also help “newbies” who haven’t figured out the new site yet, especially if the site has forums. Perhaps the most important way to help is to leave detailed feedback. Many users simply say “bring back the old site” or “this new layout sucks.” While that certainly shares a sentiment, it doesn’t provide anything helpful to the webmaster.
Users should realize that after such a massive change, it may not be feasible to go back to the old layout. Therefore, the focus should be on improving the new site. Rather than saying “this is awful,” a user could be more helpful by saying “I don’t like the way the categories are organized,” or “The comments are all squished together over here… can we put more space between them?” This provides accurate feedback, and if a majority feel the same way, the webmaster may be able to remedy the problem quickly.
It can be a shock for users to discover their favorite website has dramatically changed, but usually, the changes are for the best. An open mind is important to realize that the changes will benefit the site in the long run.