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We were contracted to revise and modernize a static web site that is very active in terms of adding content but had not been significantly reorganized since the mid-2000's. We are migrating them to a CMS and adding a ton of new functionality, reorganizing the content, etc.

However, we are concerned that just throwing the new site out there upon approval from the client will be a bit shocking to their user base and may generate a fair amount of backlash and complaining on social media which we would like to limit/avoid.

Are there any best practices to guide us in preparing the users to "get over it" or otherwise mitigate hostility to something new?

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How about putting the new website up alongside the old website? You could begin with having the old website as the default view, with a link saying 'Try out the new website' at the top, for example. Make it easy for users to provide feedback, so they can tell you about any transition problems they had (you could use something like UserVoice to save hassle).

After a few weeks, then switch to the new design as the default view, but allow users to easily switch back to the old design if they need to. After you've ironed out the major problems that people have, you can finally switch off the old site.

This transitional approach ensures that users get comfortable with the new design before being forced into using it. You should hopefully see people voluntarily moving from the old site to the new site (if it is indeed a better experience).

You could also place a banner at the top of the new site for a couple of months saying wtte "We've made some changes to our website. Find out more.", linking to a blog post or an introduction video, etc.

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This is a great idea. The client torpedoed it though...they don't want the sites running side-by-side. –  JCL1178 Jan 24 '13 at 23:42
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Do a full-fleged video explaining what you are about to do and how the new design will be helpful. I think that's the most powerful way.

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