Never stop experimenting

by Martin Reed on 13 June 2007 in Articles

You have your community – it may be brand new, it may be well established. Whatever stage your community is at in its development, you should always experiment and try new things.

The importance of experimenting

If you don’t experiment with new things, your site and community will suffer. By trying new things, you may improve your site massively.

Similarly you may try something that turns out not to work – this is not a failure though; it is merely something that you have now learnt doesn’t work for your site.

If you fail to experiment your site runs the risk of turning stale. You don’t need to come out with the latest and greatest innovation; simple navigational changes, content updates or new ad placements can work wonders and result in you forgetting any experiments that didn’t go to plan.

Design experiments

No matter how great you think your site’s design is, there is always something that can be changed to improve it.

You can use software such as Google Analytics to find ways of improving your site. Experiment with design changes and evaluate the results just as I did back in April to improve navigation over at Just Chat.

Look hard at your site’s design and listen to your users. Don’t sit back wondering if that change you have in mind will work – try it out and see!

Content experiments

Have you ever tried taking your actual content in a new direction? Perhaps your community is used to your online personality. Have you considered mixing it up a little from time to time?

Try writing in a different style, consider adding content more regularly. Keep trying new things, and see how they work out!

Financial experiments

We all love to make money. How many of us simply throw up Google AdSense without any thought or research into alternatives? How many of us actually experiment with various ad placements and element sizes?

I would argue that only a minority actually bother to experiment in this way – and they are potentially missing out on a lot of revenue.

Trial and error

Trial and error is the best policy when it comes to developing a successful online community. I hate to use the word ‘failure’ when it comes to trying something new that doesn’t work – how can something be a failure when you have learnt what isn’t effective in your community?

In my opinion, you really have nothing to lose by experimenting. Try out new things – you have far more to lose by sitting back and wondering ‘what if’…

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Dave June 13, 2007 at 10:04 pm

This is so true. For my automotive parts manufacturing company, ActiveTuning, by switching the design, my pageviews boosted up, my pages/visit boosted up, and my bounce rate dropped significantly. There were definitely major improvements over the previous design in terms of functionality and UI.

Smiley June 14, 2007 at 3:39 am

Yes, very true. I play around with the site everyday, not making many big, noticeable changes really, just bits and bobs to make something look a bit better, or to explain something a little clearer, or to make navigation a little easier.

I like to go around my site clicking on links and reading through it as if I was brand new to the site, seeing how easy it is to get around and how clearly things are explained.

When making sites, I think a lot of webmasters forget about people who have never been in a chat room or on a message board before, and how they won’t understand certain terms or may get easily lost.

I try making the site as new user-friendly as possible, without dumbing it down so much that it makes it look like I think all chatters are stupid or something.

Experimenting is great and helps you learn new things. It can’t hurt anything at the end of the day, if something doesn’t work – upload the most recent backup and no harm done!

Smiley June 14, 2007 at 3:42 am

I have to say, though, since taking your advice on giving a ‘human face’ to the site, I’ve seen visitor retention increase slightly, and (the people’s choice chat directory) loved the site so much they have included me in their “big chat” page – despite only being one week old and, compared to other sites, pretty much empty!

(Friendly Chat UK)

I really wasn’t fussed about the human face thing before, didn’t see the point. But after just 3-4 days of experimenting, I would recommend everyone to do the same!

Martin Reed June 14, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for your comments, Dave & Smiley – it is good to see you both taking the time and effort to continuously tweak and modify your sites.

Many people do often forget the ‘KISS’ approach – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Chris Guthrie April 8, 2008 at 1:11 am

Agreed. I especially like the point about asking your members for feedback.

It sounds so simple yet it really works. When I was doing a site redesign for one of my forums I have a section where only “elders” (long standing and active members of the community) can post. So I spent a lot of time posting site previews from the designer and asking for input from the members.

Not only did it make them feel like their opinions were valued (they certainly are), but it also allowed me to get great feedback.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 8, 2008 at 10:16 pm

Chris – Inviting member feedback is always a good idea. I would be hesitant to have a separate section of the forums exclusively for long standing members though, for fear of dividing the community and creating resentment amongst those unable to access such areas.

yanuar August 25, 2008 at 9:30 am

Thats right , we should never give up on trying new things. The more you play with it, the more experience you earned. And There is nothing to lose so keep on experimenting

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