Reddit Redesign Shows How To Pull Off A Facelift Without Losing Your Audience
by James G. Brooks, Jr. , Op-Ed Contributor
If there was ever a site that was begging for a redesign, it was Reddit.
For those who don't regularly visit Reddit, until recently the site hadn't updated its look since 2005 and was often compared to Craigslist and that site's barebones aesthetic. In April, the new Reddit made its first appearance and now the comparison is to Facebook. Like the social media giant, Reddit offers a feed that's composed of stories and ads. The latter are delivered sparsely — I counted one ad for every 15 posts the other day, though there is a prime "promoted” slot in the fourth position on the front page. That's an increase over the old Reddit, which only had one "in-stream” ad per page.
What's amazing is that Reddit's famously cranky users are okay with it. While 1.2 million Snapchat users signed a Change.org petition to remove the new update, there was no similar movement among Redditors. Here are three reasons why the design worked:
1. The ads aren't in your face. On a continuum of publisher advertising strategies from most intrusive to least intrusive, Reddit's falls firmly on the latter end. The video ads are autoplay, but don't blast sound at readers. Smart advertisers try to fit in with Reddit's general vibe. An ad from the U.S. Post Office for instance read, "Hey, Redditors, we heard you like awesome things in your inbox,” and encouraged readers to sign up for "Informed Delivery” updates to get notifications about what's coming in the mail. In contrast, Snapchat's redesign subjected users to forced-view ads that could not be skipped.
2. There's a "classic” design for change-resistant users. Redditors who really hate the redesign, meanwhile, can visit Old Reddit and pretend the whole change never happened. That's not unusual. Many publishers and bloggers provide a "classic” view of their pages for users who liked things better the old way.
3. Reddit kept its community informed about the changes. Instead of springing the redesign on users and aiming for an air of mystery, Reddit instead chose to use its own platform to keep readers up to date. In addition, Reddit first rolled out the site to 1% of its reader base, so if the redesign was actually a disaster, the damage would be limited. Contrast Reddit's response to that of Digg. After loyal Digg users flooded its front page with pleas to try rival Reddit, Digg's CEO at the time, Kevin Rose, responded by promising to fix some 16 common complaints that users had about the redesign. Rose also annoyed loyal users by stating that there were thousands of new registrations, an attempt at redirection that fooled no one. (The site lost more than a quarter of its audience in the first month of its redesign.)
What publishers can learn from this redesign
Publishers always have to balance the ability to garner an audience with the ability to monetize that audience. It can be hard to find a balance between the two. If anything, Reddit left money on the table for years by maintaining a site design that accommodated too few ads. At the other end of the extreme, the financially troubled Snapchat had no choice but to try to appease its investors by prominently placing ads in front of users.
With its redesign, Reddit has found a middle ground between the two extremes that is pleasing users as well as advertisers. Other publishers should take note.