Website launches aren’t what they used to be. Back in the day, the birth or re-birth of a website would be heralded with a big ‘welcome’ story on the homepage, a press release, a section gushing about its new and improved features (probably none of which anyone had said they wanted) and – if you were really lucky – a scrolling marquee with an animated gif or two.
These days, it’s all a bit more sophisticated. The unified BIS site went live quietly this weekend, without much fanfare either before or after. Our comms plan said:
This plan proposes a soft launch externally, in view of the current political and economic landscape and in line with web users’ attitudes to change. (…) In developing the site, we have deliberately minimised the impact on end users. The site design is an evolution of the current site and all URLs will be redirected. Users have told us in research that they do not want things to ‘keep changing’.
Instead of drawing attention to the features, we hope the site’s visitors will just find it familiar, intuitive and somehow more satisfying to use than the three sites it’s replaced. We don’t want them to notice it’s all that different, particularly, just to feel that it’s better. And if it’s not, to tell us what we’ve got wrong so we can improve.
So we’ve switched it on quietly, added a short reassuring message about what’s happened, asked for feedback via an unobtrusive Get Satisfaction widget, and encouraged our email subscribers and Twitter followers to give us their thoughts.
But while we may not be trumpeting what’s good about it via the official channels, there’s no reason I can’t on this blog. Here are just some of the things I’m most proud of:
- The platform. It’s not quite my fantasy CMS but it’s the best I’ve yet seen of its class. We ran a tough competition, won by a worthy supplier, with a developer team who’ve helped us build an enviable amount of flexibility, usability and control into the CMS (in pretty short order; with the mother of all MoG changes in the middle of it, in good time and on budget).
- The savings. Just by switching this site on and turning the old ones off we’ll save more than £2.5m over the next four years. ‘Nuff said.
- The shared service. We’ve built a system for the enterprise. From the terms of the contract to the adaptability of the templates, this is a platform designed for convergence – and one which I’m confident our partner bodies will actively want to join and help us develop, saving money and effort in the coming years.
- The transparency. For those interested in such things we’ve quietly published the costs of the project, the slides from our user research and given access to our web stats using a clever thing Steph‘s cooked up from the Google Analytics API. And, by dint of the level of accountability intrinsic to Get Satisfaction’s company-customer pact, we’re committing ourselves to dealing openly and frankly with feedback, questions or complaints in the first few weeks of live use.
- Nine-way redirection. Merging three websites into one meant preserving URLs from three domains, with three places to send them: to the new site (for content we’ve kept), to the archives (for content we’ve weeded) and to other sites (for content we’ve relocated). Plus a long list of friendly, short URLs from all three sites. It’s not been easy, but we think we got most of them.
- Manual migration. With 3 months to move around 5,000 pages you’d have forgiven us for automation. But the team and I were dead set on that being a disastrous strategy and we’ve done it the hard way instead – cutting the total number of pages nearly in half and updating what’s left in the process.
- Metadata-driven IA. I’ve written about this before. By ditching hierarchy in favour of serving up content by various metadata fields we’ve flattened the site, reduced the numbers of clicks, brought the stuff people care about closer to the surface, done away with pointless intro pages and – we think – more closely reflected the niche interests of our audience groups. And made the site architecture MoG resistant (if not entirely MoG-proof) in the process.
There are some creases to iron out, both in the content and code, but fewer than you might expect with a project of this size. I hope you’ll agree it’s a move in the right direction and one the BIS team should be proud of.
Well done and thanks in particular to John Turnbull, Will Callaghan, Kevin Herrmann, Ian Azille and the network of web publishers at BIS; and Julie, Jane, Adam and Robin from Eduserv for all working ridiculously hard on this project, bringing so much creativity and doing such a fantastic job.
[Edit, before they notice: I forgot to thank the guys at Redweb for their input on the wireframes and creative design. They pulled out all the stops to turn it around exceptionally quickly back in the late summer last year. ]