CT Moore is an SEO and social content strategist with 8 years of experience helping both start-ups and multinational brands build and manage online strategies. He's an accomplished blogger, writer, and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can effectively leverage different online channels. He's most easily cyber stalked through his personal blog, Twitter profile, or LinkedIn.

Anyone who’s ever used Facebook through more than one of its updates knows how poorly users can react to a redesign. Even when a redesign is intended to help users get more out of a site or product, changes to a user-interface (or even just menu options) can often make it more difficult for user to use.

Of course, Facebook’s user retention was probably never really affected by their redesigns, but most of us are not running (or redesigning) Facebook. Rather, we’re running ecommerce portals that should drive sales, content sites that need maximize page views, and/or corporate sites that need to generate leads. And if users don’t like what we do with our websites, we can end up watching our revenues dwindle and dry up a lot like MySpace’s user-base. So when you’re looking to redesign a site, you might want to understand what it is that your customers (or users) want from the user-experience that you’re trying to provide them with. And there are a few ways you can go about it, from actually looking at what they do, to getting their feedback on what they like, don’t like, and want.

Understand Your Userflow

The first step to getting user insight is to understand how users are already using your site. Where are they coming from? How are they getting to your site? Where do they go once they’re on your site? And how long to they spend there before they leave?

Google Analytics provides a lot of this insight in this respect. From traffic sources, average time on site, most popular content, and even nifty user-flow charts (such as the one above), there is a lot of valuable user insight available through Google Analytics -- and it’s all free! This will help you understand what parts of your site (or its features) are most interesting (or important) to users, so you know what aspects of any potential redesign will require the most attention.

Do Some Pre A/B Testing

So you know how you might beta test a new site or product? Well you can do the same with a new design before committing to it and rolling it out across your whole site. Once you have your preliminary re-design concept for the pages that you’ve deemed most important to your users, you can apply it to those pages, and split your traffic between the old and new design. From there, you can compare how users interact differently with the new design and determine how it’s impacting their key behavior metrics such as average time on site, page views per visit, and conversion rates.

Then, to try and isolate what aspects of the new design are having a positive or negative impact, you can tweak the new design, and continue to monitor how new design elements further influence user behaviour. This will allow you to refine your new design and get the most out of it before rolling it out across the entire site.

Get User Feedback

Of course, you don’t have to leave all A/B testing takeaways to conjecture. During your A/B testing phase, you can also solicit some voice of customer feedbackdirectly from the users as you’re exposing them to new design concepts. Just as Twitter or Facebook or Songza offers an option to opt-in to a new interface before it becomes mandatory, you can let your users know that they’re seeing is a different version of your site with the option to provide feedback. From a simple quick multiple choice survey to the option to leave free-form feedback, there’s no better way to understand what your users think than from the horse’s mouth itself.

Givin’ the People What they Want

Marketing is pretty much about filling a need that already exists. From recognizing the need, to devising a way to fill it, to reaching those in the marketplace that have said need, marketing spans the gamut of identifying opportunities to product development and distribution. And we shouldn’t approach design any differently. Whether we’re designing a site, an app, or an actual physical product, we need to execute that design around the actual existing need. And no one can help us understand how to fill that need better than the people who have it. So the next time you’re looking to design (or redesign) something, don’t overlook the opportunity to let your target market (i.e. user-base) help you design the best possible experience for them.