Trapping Hamsters on the
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
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",
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.