As a full time web analytics professional for a global web company I thought it would be worth compiling some of the lessons learned from the relaunch of Blazer's Edge.
1) Test before launch - not applicable here: the major industry standard here is A/B testing where a segment of traffic is routed to the new site and key metrics like time on site, page views, engagement, posts, etc is measured vs. the new site. This normally works on minor modifications vs. a full relaunch which is so jarring that no matter how great it will slow down engagement as users to relearn the site
2) The power of habit - a great book and a worth read to show how people get used to things and how the mental process works. As ugly as the old BE was the most frequent user's could navigate the site with little mental energy as they had the page memorized and habitually could navigate around. Any major shift in design, especially this large, is going to be jarring and will take a while for key users to relearn and make new habits
3) Speed (lack of) kills - as I've found analyzing my companies web site, even fractions of seconds of slowness could equate to significant and measurable decline in sales or in this case engagement. Here with the relaunch we've seen a major decline in speed and performance. I don't think this performance equates to heavier use, but could be a factor of more heavier weight pages (picture worth 1k words).
4) Bigger isn't always better - user feedback about font size and my opinion of large layouts blocks have reduced the data density. If we look at content (words) pre/post relaunch the content density has dramatically dropped causing a user to scroll around to get the same amount of information as they had before. A key example are the stories and their beautiful visuals that have a small blurb vs. the prior site that had headline and a paragraph to talk about the story. The reader just lost the ability to quickly review if they want to know more about the article and is now forced to pogo in/out of each story to stay up to date at a high level
5) Thinking kills - as amazon.com has show in their quest of ecom dominance friction in the user experience is detrimental to happiness. Here in BE land we now have friction blocks all over the place. Examples being a recommendation of other fanposts between a fanpost and the fanposts' comments, the large block here makes the comments farther down, more scroll, more friction, less engagement.
6) Mobile (not) optimized - what more needs to be said
7) Navigation is key and I'm not talking Apple vs. Google - what is quite apparent is the top intra site navigation that we knew and loved is now gone and replaced by a top nav focused on SBnation. While that's great to promote the broader brand, unfortunately we've lost the ability to nav within BE without going "below the fold" to find the intra-site nav. Furthermore the intra-site nav is now "clean" forcing a user to rollover and drop down to do their actions.
8) Logging in - logs you out - using facebook connect to login from an article takes you to SB nation home forcing the user to find their way back home to comment.
What can be done to make this better:
1) Continue to iterate on design of site - 3rd party companies like Monetate may worth exploring. The key here is test small iterations of changes against a limited user base to see how it affects engagement before doing launches. This will ensure successful improvements to the website and user happiness
2) Evolution vs. revolution - focusing on continual evolution like Amazon.com has done vs. a big bang relaunch is a more gradual and habit evolving path to improvement. Major evolutionary changes should, ideally, have a mental reference point.. so if the nav changes the look & feel ok, as long as it stays at top.
3) Faster, faster, faster - look at using Akamai or other content hosting companies to increase the performance here. I'm sure there is a lot of technology tweaks as well (more servers?). Also make sure that page load times and user engagement metrics are constantly being tracked and design changes are put through the filter of speed.
4) Increase data density - look at reducing the font size and layout blocks to minimize friction and engagement. A counter example is craigslist while "ugly" is highly usable and extremely dense and fast. Graphic designers may hate it (underline links wha???), but users love it.
5) Remove friction blockers - look at each piece of the puzzle for blockers & friction points between the users and their ability to interact in the sight. Visual cues, content hurdles, etc.. all should be reviewed
6) Mobile optimize - I'll leave this to normal mobile standards - make it clean, simple and mobile readable. Reduce the drill in/out to move around.
7) Navigation - bring the intra site up to the top under the header SB nav bar, explode out the key links (fanpost/shots) so users don't have to hunt for what they really want to do
8) Log me in- have the facebook connect log you directly in and back to the article you were at. Pretty simple.
Any other lessons learned and ideas?