A Big Change Isn’t Always the Best Change

What advice can I give to a bunch of techies about websites? Have a thick skin. A very, thick skin. In the two years since we launched our business, the website has been our main focus, going through daily changes and updates. Some of these changes are good and some are less than good. We are keenly focused on making small changes, everyday.

That has been our philosophy from day one. For me, this was a lesson learned way back in 2005 with my now defunct social network, Gimme20. At the time it was one of the fastest growing social networks for health and fitness on the web. We had (at the time) the unique feature of building your own workouts from our library of over 1,000 exercises with video instruction.

At Gimme20’s peak, we grew the site to over 25,000 unique visitors a month, and this was only my part-time gig. With our quick success we decided to make some changes and work towards the future. We hired a branding expert we had forged a relationship with, gave a designer some equity, and began surveying people on what they would like to see.

The feedback was, AWESOME. People loved us and the network continued to grow. As the data piled up, we put in motion a plan for a complete overhaul. I mean head-to-toe, a brand-new site, code, creative, and the whole thing.

Unsurprisingly the most active users on the site, folks who would login once a week or more, generated a mountain of thoughts. This accounted for about 7% of our overall traffic. With our power users on our side, we knew we were building something for everyone.

As our launch date came, we had signed EBAY and Horizon fitness as our launch sponsors. The red carpet was ready to roll and the users were about to be awe-struck.

Have a feeling for where this is about to go?

We failed to take into account that the power users would be with us no matter what. While their input was valuable, it was the bulk of the users we were neglecting. You know, the 83%. When those folks came to our site, they had no idea what to do. They couldn’t find their profiles, the workouts they saved, or anything for that matter.

Yes the site was “greatly improved,” but ripping the band-aid so abruptly was a recipe for disaster. Once the average users began to fade, so too did the power users. Without community, why would they stay around?

Within three months we had gone from a bustling network to a ghost town, losing about 70% of our audience.

To reiterate my earlier point: make small changes, every day.

Famously, Craig Newmark of Craigslist doesn’t make any changes to the site unless people kick down their door. Jeff Bezos of Amazon has also refused to make updates, despite the consumer’s overwhelming demand. These sites look basically the same today as they did ten years ago.

Am I advocating for sticking to the status quo? Absolutely not!

For the fourth time in two years, DoGoodBuyUs is getting some work done. The lessons from the Gimme20 overhaul certainly apply here, however the consumer needs for the everyday use of a social network and an eCommerce site do differ.

The primary driver for our rapid change is the number of partners that we work currently with.

The bigger reason is the changes in technology. Seemingly overnight.

You have to get people to sign up for your newsletter but, you want them to share everything on Facebook or Twitter. Plus you want them to sign up for an account, fill in a mad-lib, upload a video and do it on their tablet.

Did I miss anything?

As we take the next steps on the redesign we are asking ourselves to achieve three business goals and only three. These goals are aimed at keeping us focused on every single thing we do. Thus, every part of the website redesign has to help us achieve these three things, otherwise it’s out.

Our dream is to have an eCommerce site that sells 24/7, consumers love & recommend, and partners want to be a part of. So what have my past lessons taught me to get there?

  1. Think about what the ideal solution would be to solve your users’ problems. Whatever it is, a piece of technology exists or can be built to get you there. After all, without them where would we be?
  2. Cut, cut, cut. Like a movie director in the editing room, not every element needs to make it into the final production. That’s what the sequel is for.
  3. Test and iterate. Boring right? Of course, it is! We have all the data at our fingertips now and we would be crazy not to use it directionally. Focus on the world directionally. Remember, we are still building for humans. Small changes, every day.
  4. Ask for help. There are so many amazing folks out there with the knowledge you are seeking. Many are even willing to roll up their sleeves. You would be surprised how often this piece of advice gets overlooked.

Best of luck to you on the next phase of your sites! We will be iterating away if you would like to come for a visit.

Zack Rosenberg
Founder and CEO
Zack is the Founder of DoGoodBuyUs, a Social enterprise working with NPO's around the world to help them raise money and awareness through selling products.