Gumtree Jellies

Success has its challenges. Anyone who has a web presence already popular with visitors, but wanting to increase the use of the site, as well as attracting new audiences, has a tall order on their hands. On Thursday I spent an evening in the company of the Gumtree crew at their Richmond offices, along with a number of notable UK bloggers. It turned out to be an even better evening than expected, as I won a pair of Bose headphones and came home with a nice bag of goodies too.

A New Web Look For an Old Friend

Gumtree just celebrated its 10th birthday, having started as a local London classified ads and community site. It has grown into an international business covering 6 countries and 60 cities, hosting 2 million on-line ads in the UK alone. Clearly it’s not a business that is standing still, and has learnt a lot in 10 years of the on-line world.

Regular visitors to the site might have spotted the “Gumtree’s changing” message and link at the top of the site. Clicking on it lets users take a sneak peak of the site new design. They have managed to pack in lots of new features without completely crowding out the page. It is busy, certainly, but not confusingly so.

Collecting Feedback – Taking Users on the Journey With You

The way that Gumtree are managing the migration is a model example of how to do it:

  • Giving early adopters the chance to opt-in.
  • Explaining the changes and gathering feedback.
  • Providing the option to opt back out,  with the option for feedback.
  • Discussion forum for users to share their thoughts with each other.
  • Rapid iterations, based on customer feedback.

The look and feel of a web site has a huge impact on users’ trust levels too, and Gumtree knows it. The new look feels more ‘solid’ in terms of its appearance and more ‘transparent’ in terms of exposing features and what the site it about. Key functions are grouped together logically and the graphics and icons make things more intelligible. The graphics add, rather than distract. I wish more web designers thought this way. Simplicity should always win.

Even More Local

Back in 2008 I wrote a blog post about going Hyper-local. Location based services weren’t new even back, but now services have matured into location aware (Rummble, foursquare and Gowalla to name just a few) and location-based (services based around a particular locality). While the spotlight has been on the explosive growth of the location-aware services, a quieter revolution has been happening in the location-based arena.

If you have a business with offices, it is fairly straight forward to put them on the various mapping services, and create a page to let users know how far away they are from you, and even to provide directions. Go ahead, scare yourself with the Geo IP Tool.

Things become significantly more complicated for a listings site like Gumtree. Listing and searching by a location name is a complicated matching process. How do you define where you live? It isn’t a simply post code or a city name, e.g. Angel in London, is that NW1? If I am on the edge of a postcode, postcode lookups become fairly meaningless.

Over the last 10 years Gumtree has amassed a huge amount of data about how people describe localities, and they are working on applying this to more user-friendly geographic and radial searches. Doing so will enable then to expand their emphasis from the more central city locations, out to the sprawl of suburbia. It’s clever stuff.

The Old Guard

Going back to where I started this post. The challenge with change is the old guard. Even if something is broken, there will always be people who like it that way. It’s their broken, they know it and are comfortable with it. Whenever you make changes, you are going to upset people. The key is to win the old guard over, and bring them along. It seems like Gumtree are doing a great job of that. A great example for others to follow.