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By Thomas Baekdal - May 2011

A Gawker Redesign Moment

Remember when Nick Denton decided to get rid of the old blog-like format of Gawker and introduce a new app like experience? The result was a dramatic drop in traffic because of three things.

  1. People really do not like big changes. Change should be an evolution over time, not a big new redesign.
  2. Because of their technical implementation, it annihilated links and search engines traffic - in the short term. And because of its fancy jQuery/AJAX implementation, it broke normal web operations. Just one example; You cannot read it in Instapaper nor does it really work with Flipboard etc.
  3. The new site's sidebar doesn't invite you in. It is a list of headlines, not interesting articles to watch. It is too engineered.

Gawker's traffic is slowly coming back. In the short run, it was a disaster, but in the long run - especially for a site like Gawker - it is the right thing to do. The new site focuses heavily on the content itself + other stories to watch. Rather than a blog focus, or worse, a newspaper front page focus, Nick knows that people do not share blogs or front pages. They share individual articles.

He just need to fix the technical problems and he has to do something about the sidebar. Make the content look less like a technical list, and more like interesting articles you might want to read.

It is the right strategy. It just needs to be implemented better.

I am currently having a Gawker redesign moment of my own. I recently moved Baekdal Design, a sub-section of this site, to a new domain - The result is a dramatic drop in "design" traffic simply because the old links have changed.

It is not that the links doesn't work anymore (they do), but the design articles lost their social rank (mostly from Stumbleupon) and all the search engine traffic.

It is not the first time I have experienced this. Back when I was setting up Baekdal Plus, I made a catastrophic mistake of disabling older links to this site. You can see the effect in the graph below.

The error was a just a technical glitch in one line of code, causing Baekdal Plus to hijack the link, and discarding it because the design article wasn't in the Baekdal Plus database. And I fixed it immediately when I discovered it the next day.

But the damage was done. Traffic dropped by 86% in just two days. It continued to drop, even after I fixed the problem. Worse of all, it took more than a month to recover. And, if it wasn't for the two traffic spikes in November, it would probably have taken even longer.

Link consistency is absolutely critical!

The lesson here is simple. Do not change the link. And if you do. Consider your existing social traffic as lost - something that have to be rebuild.

When moving Baekdal Design to 42Concepts, I not only change the link, I also move the whole thing to a completely different domain.

I knew that by doing it, I would lose my social traffic. It is an absolute disaster in the short run. But in the long run it doesn't make much of a difference. Social traffic is a very short term stream.

  1. It last a couple of hours on Twitter
  2. A couple of days on Facebook
  3. A couple of weeks on Stumbleupon
  4. A couple of months on blogs
  5. And a couple of years on Google.

But keep this in mind the next time someone suggest that you should redesign something, or that you should change the structure. You need to have a really good reason for doing so. It is a huge risk to take, and it takes months to recover from the "social shock" it creates.

Of course, if you believe the change is necessary - and that it will help you grow in the long run - it is a risk worth taking.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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