Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Trapping Hamsters on the Internet.

The other day, I was co-hosting a radio show about online business and technology. As I was doing the marketing/advertising/curmudgeon schtick that I do, found myself face to face with a veritable antique from the internet world. This was a woman whose site had been up since the Neolithic Age -- we're talking early 1990's here -- and was running a fairly successful venture promoting artists and their various products.

So we're schmoozing and plugging and bantering along when she hits me with something totally unexpected. Like a bolt from the blue. Completely out of left field. And this was the comment that caught me completely off guard:

"We're changing our home page design."

SAY WHAT? This woman isn't a fly-by-night spammoid. She's been running a successful business for quite a while. Her site isn't exactly uncomplicated, either. It's a fairly involved design, with artist bio's and samples and cross-links and who knows what else. Most importantly, she's making bucks doing this. So why change it now and risk everything?

Man, that started me thinking about one of the weirdest myths that has become universally accepted by the internet community: changing home page designs.

For some reason -- and don't worry, I think I can tell you why -- some people out there feel the need to change their home pages more often than you and I change socks. I call these types Net Hamsters, because they keep changing and adding stuff to their home page, hoping that a "fresh" look will somehow maintain their novelty and popularity among the rest of us weary travelers.

Wake up, hamsters. The reality is that unless you have a really, really, really good reason for changing your home page, you're not moving ahead one step. In fact, you're actually doing yourself a major disservice and may even be losing business as a result.

Now before all you neo-natal web designers start hurtling cyber-lava at me, let me just explain that I'm not trying to kill your businesses. I know you have to make a buck. But in my humblest of opinions, you should be making your bucks by DESIGNING web pages, not RE-DESIGNING them. I should be able to drift aimlessly into your studio and tell you all about my business, and you should be able to deliver me a site with a home page that doesn't have to change with the weather. The way you do that is by settling in on a marketing strategy for the site BEFORE you hack one line of code.

If you hammer out your marketing position BEFORE you start your design, clients don't have to constantly update their sites. True, you won't get as many repeat visits, but you will likely have far more satisfied clients. Of course, if you have trouble with this phase of your design, you can always contact a firm who specializes in creative/strategic marketing, but we don't have to go into that here.

Right about now, I would expect most of the Net Hamsters to have wrinkled up the fuzzy little noses and retort, "Are you saying that NOBODY should EVER change their home page?" To which I reply, "Of course not. Calm down. Have a kibble." The point is that very few people really need to change web designs too often, nor should they:

First, if you're in any kind of competitive business, you know that while presenting what you're selling to the public is important, it's the WAY you present it that closes the sale. In effect, your style, layout and home page is every bit the brand image that Kellogg's, Ford and General Electric's corporate identities are. And you don't see them changing their logos every few months "to keep looking fresh", do you?

Take it from ol' Rob: people want to do business with people who have been around a long time. They want to know that you were there yesterday, you are here today and you'll be there tomorrow. The one entity they DON'T want to entrust their business to is a flighty, honey-do-these-shoes-look-better-with-this-dress kind of enterprise that can't make up its mind what it wants to be, or to whom.

So when SHOULD you change your home page? There are a couple of instances that I can think of. If you're delivering timely information, for example, you want the layout to change daily to reflect the image of constantly updated information. Even in those cases, however, the basic format doesn't really change as much as the content.

Another example is when you really have a major shift in your company's marketing direction or services. Let's say you transition from merely reviewing incompetent Disney movies to actually offering them for sale through your new secure online system. Hey, that's a substantially new feature set. New functionality. Something that dramatic is well worth a new home page design.

Hell, something that drastic is worth a well-orchestrated public relations campaign.

But if you change you site more often than, say once every 24 months, I'm betting you're a Net Hamster. Running as fast as you can, desperately trying to stay hipper and cooler than the rodent in the next cage, and getting nowhere as a result.

Be smarter than that. Find a design that works. Build your customers loyalty through familiarity, instead of novelty. Otherwise, you may find yourself hopelessly out of breath with nothing more to show for it than a pile of wood shavings.

Rob Frankel

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