Maintenance is the key to a successful website

On Friday’s I always work from home. I will make sure that I do, it is then a day that I don’t have people around me, so I can turn the music up in my office, and get in that work zone to get things done that I wantto get done. But always, around 3 or 4pm I get into the backyard, fire up the lawnmower and the weedwacker and get that piece of grass play-ready for the weekend.

Having a backyard that you want to look nice takes a lot of maintenance. Sure, in the spring you make the yard ready for a warm spring and summer. Then, in the summer you begin to think of what you would like to change in the yard. But you can’t, you know that. Planting a new plant in the middle of summer is nothing short of killing the plant. So you have to wait for Autumn, when you make the yard winter-ready, and then you plant new bulbs, trim down those shrubs, and reorganize, remove or redecorate. You have to do it that way, or otherwise you have an ugly yard for the rest of the summer.

It is not only with yards that way, it applies to everything, even life itself; you first have to educate yourself before you start doing something and make changes. It is normal, we are all used to it. Better even, our whole lives run that way.

Then why is that still not accepted in software. It happens almost with every project, that owners want immediate success, expectimmediate success. And if it is not there, they want to change. Those aprubt changes actually cause a ‘re-launch’ of the software, or in other words, you are right back at the beginning. I mentioned this already in the article How A Better Design Can Kill Your Website.

That post I have created while a client of mine demanded a new design to be implemented on their website and, although the design was good visually, not so good in usability, the amount of users dropped. Not only because of the new design and lack of usability, but also because the owner did not realize that changes always cost existing users who do not like it anymore. New users have to be gathered first, so in a sense, you are always first taking a step back again from where you were.

It is not always renewal that you need; Maintenanceis the keyword. There are sites who absolutely understand this, and who are not in the rat-race for the best design. Craigslist, Ebay, NYTimes. Sure, sometimes there are minor changes, but never complete make-overs. They pay their attention to the quality of the site. Also, you existing users are used to the design and site there is already, they are content with that. So don’t change it, pay attention to why the users are actually on your site.

And ask them what they like or dislike. Do not respond to every single bit of feedback, because not everyone likes everything. I used to work with someone who went through all the feedback that we received on a website, and with every complaint, she got distressed and demanded action. I did not make myself a favorite then to say no. On a site with 100,000 visitors a month one remark on something is not important, unless it is about a bug. But if you receive for example more responses, then you should look into it. I usually think that only 1% of the users would actually deliver feedback. So 1 response equals 100 people. So this results in one promille, or 0.1%. When I receive a number that is reflective of 1% of the users, or in this case 10 responses on a design flaw, then I demand action. Not earlier.

And even then, you have to take time, learn from the responses. Just like summer in your yard; think of what you want to change. And then, in autumn, or in a new cycle of your website, make the change after you thought about it.

But in the meantime, pay attention to you site and how it performs and what it shows and what it is about. Maintenance. It is the key to a succesful website.

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