Imagine that you arrive at your favorite destination (either online or offline) and notice your surroundings are completely different from your last visit. What is your first impression? Are you confused, disorientated, or slightly burdened because you now have to think harder to navigate your way through the new environment?
Commonly mismanaged by brand websites, a website refresh or redesign can baffle repeat visitors just as described above. Not to mention the fact that there is typically not a gradual shift between the old and new site design from the end-users' point of view, even when launching under a sequencing or phase-in approach. As a result, the website visitor suffers from abrupt or jolting changes within their environment often slowing them down. This is not a great impact to have with shrinking attention spans and when investing time, resources, and capitol into something as exciting as a re-design.
With that said, when thinking about re-design of a brand website or any owned digital marketing initiative for that matter, I encourage you to be alerted about the timeline for the "wear in" period. Be prepared to carry out an effective plan for managing the timeline internally at the organizational level. This is very important to note because those that are most impacted by the sudden overnight change are the ones who spend the most time thinking, using, and accessing the brand; usually the repeat visitors to the brands digital properties.
Through the use of digital marketing analytics, we have been able to identify this phenomenon and pinpoint how to shorten the wear-in period while still increasing excitement about (and drive traffic to) the new platform. Ultimately, management of the "wear in" period builds best practices across the organization, and at this point in time, differentiates the brands that care enough to put in the extra communication effort.
The proof: Rebounding KPIs three months out
To prove that wear-in exists, many cases were examined across all categories and were derived at by tracing "voice of customer" website metrics for months before the launch of the re-design, gathering a benchmark read, and then immediately mapping the reported levels to those reported for the newly designed website. On average, we were able to assimilate that a timeline exists for "wear-in", just as noticed when evaluating traditional advertising.
As the metrics are laid out over time, there is a slow build back up to original levels measured before the launch of the redesign, taking about two to three months. Metrics will eventually rebound back to historical levels and perhaps even surpass previously established levels if the re-design is a success, but usually not until three to six months following the launch. This type of tracking analysis leads to the conclusion that the site needs time and multiple exposures to allow for a growth in familiarity with the site. Unfamiliarity is working against the roll-out of the re-design. Regardless of how intriguing the site redesign may be, if some are caught off guard, it can negatively impact the perceptions about the re-design. In essence, the end user must regain a memorized map of the site for the full benefits of the new site to be appreciated, and that takes time.
Two metrics that can particularly show a negative impact after a website re-design are "overall satisfaction" and "likelihood to revisit" the site, which are relationship-oriented metrics. More specifically, these metrics are indicators of website stickiness in terms of the ability to build and maintain a long term affiliations. This is most likely due to a needed "wear-in" period, as is also seen with traditional advertising vehicles.