How to ensure your web project has a successful launch

A 5 minute read written by Phil April 14, 2015

An illustration of a plant growing in a dirt mound.

It’s launch day, and after weeks or even months of sometimes painstaking work, you’re finally ready to pull the trigger and reveal your new website to the world. The site finally goes live and now all you have to do is sit back, relax, and let the compliments roll in. Then the unthinkable happens: the first negative feedback.

It can be disappointing, or even crushing. No one wants launch day to be like this. Having experienced all sorts of launch days, I wanted to share some advice on how to make sure your launch day is a complete success.

An ounce of prevention

Launching a website isn’t as simple as pressing “play.” In some ways, it’s like planting a garden: you need to prepare the soil, sow the seeds, and water them regularly. Skip any of those essential steps and your garden probably won’t yield much. Similarly, the best way to launch a successful website is to begin with a solid process. Start by understanding the core problems you are trying to solve, focusing on the needs and expectations of your customers.

Once you have the foundation in place, you need to test your assumptions and designs with your users. You should user-test your site/application at several points throughout the process. Why? This allows you to validate your design decisions, helps avoid costly missteps and assumptions, and helps you defend your choices and build a solid case for your approach with key stakeholders. Yes, this adds time and budget to the project, but it saves a lot of problems later on…. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that jazz.

Change is hard… make it gradual

You’ve heard this time and again, and that’s because it’s true: change is hard. Your current users already have a relationship with your site. They know the ins and outs, have learned the little UX quirks, and have developed their own routines and processes for getting to the information they need. Don’t be tempted to make wholesale changes and expect everyone to fall in love with your new site immediately. Ease them in gently.

A beta preview is a great way of making the change more gradual, allowing your users to see the new version, without losing what they are used to. This lets them get accustomed to the new design and functionality before launch, and it also gives you another opportunity to find out what they think of the new design before it goes live.

Have a contingency plan

No one wants to plan for a worst-case scenario, but it sure beats scrambling like crazy to try and make sense of things when something does go wrong. And even with the best planning and preparation, things can – and often will – fall off the rails.

A good contingency plan needs to include the following:

  • A clear and simple communications plan that outlines your project and helps provide answers to key questions such as:
    • What you did and how things changed
    • What the timelines and process of the project were
    • Clear and empathetic responses to users’ dissatisfaction
  • A plan for collecting feedback
  • Feedback for client complaints
    • Try to provide clear responses on how they can find what they are looking for and reassure them that you will look into their issue
    • Capture the users’ names and contact information so you can follow-up with them once the issues have been addressed

Houston, we have a problem

So, you’ve flicked the switch and then, it happens — the first negative tweet or email, followed by another, and another. It can be incredibly difficult to read negative comments, especially on social media. Take some deep breaths and stay calm.

Now that you have taken a few deep breaths, it’s time to keep things in perspective. How much negative feedback is there? How does this compare to your overall site traffic? Are there patterns developing? Is this bad enough that you need to roll back, or can you move forward and put out any fires as you go?

Assess the situation

You need to learn as much as possible from the negative feedback as you possibly can. Start with a simple spreadsheet or document so you can start to group and analyze the comments. Try to capture things like channel, type of feedback, categories, rough demographics of the person. This can be really helpful in revealing patterns and themes and can help identify underlying functional and usability issues with the site vs. negative opinions and resistance to change. This list will also help you prioritize any changes and fixes you need to make.

I’ve found feedback comes in three main varieties, and I have developed a game plan for dealing with each one:

  1. Venting: This is the hardest type of feedback to read, and often the least helpful. Try to reach out to these users and empathize where possible. Acknowledge users’ frustration, and invite them to participate in online surveys in order to get more structured feedback.

  2. Confusion: People are creatures of habit. They’re used to doing things a certain way, and you have changed everything for them. These users can benefit from some simple tips on how to use new functionality, which may help alleviate their frustrations. Invite them to provide more concrete feedback via an online survey tool or via email.

  3. Helpful tips: These are the rare gems of the post-launch feedback world. Users share meaningful insights and try to give solutions on how to fix things, or the types of changes that can help. Once you have heard from users like this, reach out and ask people for more feedback, and bring them in for user testing if possible. Try to understand what they are trying to accomplish, and where the gaps are with your current design. This will prove to be invaluable when you’re trying to improve your site.

Make the quick changes now

Now that you’ve looked through the feedback and identified some of the key concerns and patterns, is there anything you really need to address, or was the feedback mainly a reaction to change?

You know the saying: pick the low-hanging fruit first. If you can, identify high value, quick fixes, such as changing or clarifying labels, adding explanatory copy to pages, or making simple UX tweaks. Those should be tackled as soon as possible. At the same time, avoid making knee-jerk changes just because a few people asked for them. Try to understand the problems your users are having and come up with the best solution for your key users. After all, you’ll never be able to please everyone, no matter what changes you put in place.

Launch day is a new beginning, not the end of the line

Celebrate launch day: you deserve it. But consider it a great milestone, not the end of your web project. In fact, it should be the first day of working on ongoing enhancements and improvements. There are very few sites that are perfect when they come out of the gate: usually time and budget mean that some of the nice-to-have features don’t make it in for the initial launch, and there are improvements you would like to make.

If it looks like there are more systemic issues with parts of the site, this is something you can tackle as part of an ongoing improvements phase. Make sure to include more in-depth user testing to identify the core problems and validate your approach.

As much as negative feedback can hurt, it is a sign that people care about your site and that they want things to improve. Try to think of it as a healthy part of iterative development. Remember to take feedback in stride. A website is like a garden: it can do fine on its own for a while, but does better with some occasional weeding, a good pruning and some solid fertilizing here and there.