How to update your website without annoying users

Jason Allan

Most people don’t like change. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg. Every major update to Facebook’s user interface is met with a groan from most users. Why? Because the user experience suddenly conflicts with user expectations.

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We all have expectations about how products should look, feel and behave. Cars should have four wheels, smartphones should have app icons and Yahoo! Mail should have tabs.

We’re creatures of habit so when design deviates from expectations, friction goes up. As we adjust to the new changes, friction goes down and the enhanced user experience is revealed.

Users that first complained about Apple iOS7 are now most likely enjoying the new user experience. This demonstrates that even when change leads to a better user experience, there will always be a small group of disgruntled users. 10 years ago this didn’t matter too much but in the age of social media, blogs, forums and online testimonials that small group of users can really make some noise.

While data around engagement and retention tell the true story, no company wants to subject itself to vocal online criticism especially as this can have a negative influence on potential customers.

So how do you approach change? Here are some options:

Option #1: Go Slow

Years ago, when eBay changed their background colour overnight from yellow to white, the user backlash was so severe that the old background colour was immediately reinstated. eBay then decided to alter the background colour gradient — ever so slightly — over many months until eventually the background was white. This time no one noticed.

Option #2: Let Users Decide

When Google launched their new compose window in 2012, they allowed users the choice to experience the new design change. If users didn’t like the user experience they could opt-out. This allowed Google to conduct user testing and refine the product before making it the default option for all users.

You need high traffic to pull off this strategy and it requires extra development work.

Gmail's new compose box

Option #3: Renovate

Just like renovating a house where you focus on one room at a time, you may decide to focus on one part or feature of your product at a time. This won’t always be feasible or make sense but it can allow for an easier transition for users.

An ecommerce website like Etsy, where conversion to checkout is critical, may start by displaying products differently before overhauling other elements that may negatively impact conversion.

Tops Etsy Women

Option #4: A/B Split Test

A good way to introduce new changes within the user experience is to run an A/B split tests. Just make sure you don’t make these 11 mistakes.

A recent website redesign by The New York Times was received well. The only real criticsim from some users was the new pop-up navigation feature. This is a good example of something that could have been A/B tested before being rolled out to everyone.

Talks Over Syria to Begin as Iran Sits on the Sidelines NYTimes.com

Conclusion

People are averse to change, but that doesn’t mean change should be avoided. Rather, change should be approached with respect to user expectations. To minimise user backlash there are strategies you can implement. Just remember though, improving the user experience should always be the goal, not change itself.

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