Lessons Learned 1 Year In From the SaaStr.com Redesign: Overall, Not a Failure. But Not a Success.

12 months ago, SaaStr.com underwent its second big redesign in its history:

  • The goals weren’t quite agreed at the time — we didn’t have true alignment here, a missed opportunity — but the overall goal was to promote “other” products more, from SaaStrPro.com (our product to train your team for you — check it out!) to Sponsorships at SaaStr Annual and Europa to some new initiatives and more.
  • The site is and certainly was prettier than before.  The redesign was more professional.  That was a win.
  • Very nice pages were added for sponsors, hiring, and other new products.  This was a win, especially since we had nothing here before.
  • The redesign also integrated our non-blog post content much more deeply than before — tripling the content in our feed.  Our Quora answers, our Videos, and our Podcast were now much more integrated into our content feed.
  • Our Academy, one of the more highly-trafficked parts of SaaStr.com, was essentially eliminated. Why is not clear to me, but it was almost entirely removed.

What happened?

First, immediately upon launch, our bounce rate immediately doubled — and with that, traffic fell 40%!!  Oy vey!  What happened?  Well, by deprioritizing our core — content and community — people simply weren’t finding what they came to SaaStr.com for, the content.  In the initial redesign, all the content was all pushed below the fold.  New visitors to SaaStr.com, for a few brief weeks, saw all our amazing products.  But they didn’t even know we had content unless they scrolled down the page.  And so they just … left.

Second, the other goals and products beyond views weren’t positively impacted by their heavier promotion. The experiment of prioritizing other products over content did not work.  It did not lead to more sponsor leads or more subscribers to SaaStr Pro.  In fact, both fell to all-time lows after the relaunch.  Why?  Not sure.  But logic would suggest the drop in engagement was more important / impactful than the greater promotion of these products in the initial relaunch schema.

Third, while it’s a bit hard to tell, our “SEO” may have been negatively impacted by the redesign.  It certainly wasn’t positively impacted.

So … we rolled back to a content-first strategy after about a month, and traffic and time-on-site recovered to prior rates — although it took several months to get all the way back to the old bounce rates (see chart above).

Importantly, and a bit unexpectedly — the explosion of content on the site after the redesign did not lead to a further increase in pageviews or engagement, at least not a huge one compared relative to the growth in the amount of daily and weekly content in the main feed. Rather, the effect of more content seemed — neutral.  More content did not improve engagement, nor did it decrease it, once we reverted back to a content-first site.  And perhaps, by spreading views across more pieces of content, it subtly had the effect of making each individual piece of content … less important.  We’re still thinking on that one.

The meta-lesson?  You have to try things, yes.  But you also have to test things more thoughtfully as you being to scale.  And most importantly, you have to speak with data once you are at Scale.  There were logical reasons to try these changes.  But the reasons weren’t tested with data from 100,000,000+ views of our content over time, and 50,000+ attendees to our global events.  SaaStr is too big today to make large changes without looking at 6+ years of data.  Because the bigger you get, the more complex things get, and often, the more how it all works together is fairly nuanced.

We’re now finally doing that now 😉  We’ll quietly reboot parts of SaaStr.com later this year — based on data.

We started this year with our newsletter subscriptions.  After a stagnant year in newsletter growth last year, we’re back to record growth this year so far.  The key?  Experimenting, yes.  But together with that — speaking with data.  And agreeing on what the goals and KPIs are for all key initiatives.

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Published on May 13, 2019

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