The Secrets Publishers Don’t Tell You About Redesigns

neilvogelThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community. 

Today’s column is written by Neil Vogel, CEO at About.com.

2014 is proving to be the year of the digital redesign. From Fortune to Cosmo, The New Yorker and Quartz, premium publishers are making bets on the best way to make a beautiful product that improves user experience and increases monetization.

Among the millions of questions publishers ask themselves – How should we feature content? How big should we make the images? Font size? Native? Responsive? Infinite scroll? – the only question they should be asking is, “What’s the real opportunity here?”

This is the opportunity: A redesign is the single biggest chance to redefine a brand to all stakeholders, including users, advertisers, employees and investors. It’s a direct reflection of a publisher’s beliefs and value proposition. It’s also a direct reflection of the company’s culture. If a culture is fearful of change or anchored in old ideas, the product will be a direct reflection of that decision. Deciding to not change is an active choice.

As publishers, we need to tell the world about our (hopefully) ever-improving products. Here is the code publishers use to speak about what they are doing:

When a publisher announces, “Here’s our new product,” they are generally very proud of their work. But what they really mean is, “Here’s our new product until the next iteration.” Users want what they want when they want it. The only strategy should be to have the next iteration to test on the horizon, and the one after, and so on.  It’s exhausting and stressful, but it’s the only way.

When a publisher says, “Users will love it.” What they really mean is, “We hope they will love it because we know users sometimes hate what they aren’t used to.” Search for “redesign disaster” and you’ll get back a number of ugly stories related to redesigns gone wrong. But here’s a secret: All redesigns fail … until they don’t. Publishers make them work through testing and real-time changes.

When a publisher says, “We thought of everything,” what they really mean is, “Don’t make general assumptions. Test, test and test again. Respect the search engines. Work closely with key advertisers. Make tools to feed the new social algorithms, such as Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.” This goes without saying, but when it comes to mobile, users should be able to consume something made for that experience.

We live in a platform-agnostic world where the line between devices is blurry at best, and possibly nonexistent in the near future. Be sure to trust data and share as much of it as you can internally. It’s not a guessing game anymore. Facts are the key to being flexible and making choices. New or different data requires a constant re-evaluation of previous conclusions and embracing outcomes that might look different than you thought they would. There are no opinions on a redesign, only hypotheses to be tested.

So remember, when a publisher says, “We’re redesigning,” what they really mean is, “We are reinventing because we have to.”

When a publisher says, “Here’s our new product,” what they really mean is, “Until the next iteration.”

When a publisher says, “The pace of change has increased,” what they really mean is, “This is really uncomfortable but we need to move 10 times faster.”

When a publisher says, “We’ll optimize for search engines,” what they really mean is, “We respect the search engine.”

When a publisher says, “We’ll be mobile,” what they really mean is, “There’s no difference anymore.”

When a publisher says, “Users will love it,” what they really mean is, “Users hate change, until they don’t.”

That’s really the code.

Follow Neil Vogel (@neilvogel), About.com (@aboutdotcom) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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