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(Hopefully) no more tears: CBBC website relaunch

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Phil Buckley Phil Buckley | 09:09 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Relaunching a children's website is a surprisingly perilous business. A relaunch, which is normally accompanied by a large amount of promotion and razzmatazz, often brings a huge spike in traffic to certain areas of the site, in particular to any place where you are able to complain.

To give you a sample, when the CBeebies website was relaunched in 2007, the message boards, also here, were hit by comments like:

Cbeebies comment


cbeebies comment


cbeebies comment


And this is the saddest story I have ever heard:

cbeebies comment


These reactions can reflect real problems: sometimes when sites go live, users see things straight away to which you have become blind while working on the project. At the very least it can provoke the same anger and frustration you get when you walk into a supermarket and discover that they have moved all your favourite stuff around.

So it is with some trepidation that I tell you that we have just completed the relaunch of the CBBC website.

Why have you done that crazy thing?

I wrote a Blackadder-esque romp through the history of the CBBC website a while ago - but to summarise, the feedback we got from children was that while they loved our content, they couldn't find a lot of it. So we have concentrated on unlocking this content by making it easier to find, and when children have finished enjoying a game or a something creative, suggesting something that they might like equally as much Or Even More.

How have we managed the audience through this?

Like most releases, the new work has been heavily user tested, and we have also been warning children of the changes via our message boards.

However, the main thing we have done in an attempt to avoid tears has been to release the new website in stages. So, we began by leaving the design exactly as it was, but improving the functionality. This meant that in January our section of great creative things for children to do went from its old design and being in two sections called 'Grab' and 'Create':

Old Cbeebies Things to do page


To a new and clearer name of 'Things to Do', still within the old design but with better functionality and all the content ordered:

BBC Cbeebies Things to do page


This means - hopefully - that children have become used to moving their mouse into a particular space to do a particular thing. This week we have released the new visual design onto the site, so Things to Do now looks like this:

BBC Things To Do page


Similarly, on February 21 our fantastic children's Games section went from this:

CBBC games website


To this

BBC Cbeebies games page


And yesterday to this:

New CBBC games home page


And in theory at least, children will not have any problems getting around the new site as they have already been doing it.

What didn't we worry about?

Releasing these sections one by one has led us to at times some very lumpy user-journeys. Children will have seen new functionality on some sections before others, animations and noises coming and going, and as each section has been released it has moved to the new BBC masthead which is shorter than our old one.

The old (below)...

old bbc masthead



...was 58 pixels...



...while the new (left) is 38.



So as children have gone between old and updated sections over the last couple of months, the masthead and the content underneath it will have gone up and down like soufflé.

The team did worry about this, but amazingly, we haven't had a single complaint or even comment on the topic: children have apparently just got on with it.

So what has been the audience reaction?

We have directly asked children both in user testing and via our message boards what they thought, and what reaction there has been to the section releases has so far been positive. Things to do's message board got:

things to do comment


While the games messageboard said:

cbbc games comments


And when our section of funny video clips for kids, Watch was released, the watch comments were:

cbbc watch comments


But let me not deceive you.

The main reaction to the releases has been an ocean - an ocean! - of indifference, a pacific lack of comments. We had message board threads open and stuck at the top of the page for days before someone took pity on us and commented. Still, we have user tested and have been able to fold in feedback, and the usage statistics for each section have increased on each release. So, we are optimistic that the lack of comments is because children have had no problems using the site and are simply delighted; but our optimism is cautious.

What has happened now?

Yesterday we layered on the new design across the site. Design changes are the most obvious, and also the homepage itself has not had an interim update, so we expect to hear a bit more about the changes. The homepage did look like this:

Old cbeebies home page


And now looks like this:

New CBBC home page


[Note that the legendary 'pull' navigation system I blogged about earlier has somehow survived in the 'try this' section at the bottom right]

The site has been heavily user tested to positive reactions, but in case we have missed something, we do have still have people working on this project and will be able to fix it. However, there may be a delay of up to a month for our next release as the BBC gears up for a frenzy around the CBBC complaints area Royal Wedding.

Personally I am hugely proud of this release and I hope that the way we have managed the change and the website as a whole are testimonies to increasing collaboration between tech and editorial - great content, easily surfaced - as promised in the recent announcements around Putting Quality First. I would again like to thank the team for their tremendous efforts in getting it out; do let me know if the changes have made you laugh or cry.

Phil Buckley is Portfolio and Product Manager, BBC Childrens and BBC Future Media


  • Comment number 1.

    Just realised I never actually commented on your previous post about how that clip of Toby Anstis reading the URL is one of my favourite clips on YouTube.

    I found the way in which you revamped the website as a series of tweaks rather than in one massive charge interesting, it certainly makes sense that if you move things around to their new location first before revamping the look of the site then people will be less confused than suddenly arriving on a completely new and unfamiliar page.

    It would be interesting (if a tad tricky due to lacking a time machine) to see if using the same technique to relaunch the BBC News site would have reduced the frothing at the mouth outpourings of hatred from the "if it ain't broke" brigade or whether they'd just reinterpret it as "revamping twice" and therefore an even greater "waste of licence payers money".

  • Comment number 2.

    Really interesting post, great to see the positive response - the new site looks really good!

  • Comment number 3.

    Any plans to make aspects of the CBBC web site mobile friendly?

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Steph -

    It's one of the next steps for us. Not all of our content is massively tractable for mobiles - in particular much of the creative content requires printing out and colouring in or folding - but we are actively investigating what we can do. Best wishes -


  • Comment number 5.

    Pete - thank you, yes the Toby Anstis clip is brilliant isn't it? The thing that strikes me watching it again is how incredibly professional he is, in a time long before we had easy-to-read urls.

    Ben - thank you for your kind comments too.

  • Comment number 6.

    Loving the new look, very good. But I've noticed a few of the games go missing, (one I noticed is Iain adn Hacker's Dogs Dinner) is there any plans to being these games back?

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi JB -

    Cor, it's hard to get things past you lot. Yes, we discovered a bug in the Iain and Hacker game last week, we're fixing it now. But we do sometimes need to take down some games, whether because the show is no longer on TV, or in some instances because the codebase is so old that they begin to stop functioning. We do look at how many people are using games before we decommission them though - and I&H are definitely coming back.

    Best wishes -


  • Comment number 8.

    I'll have to let my youngest loose on this, and see what she thinks.

    BTW, yes, I might have five minutes to tell the BBC what I think about the site, but I certainly don't have time to tell them about me first, which is what they then request when I say 'Yes'. Try being a little more upfront with the pop-up...

  • Comment number 9.


    Why can't I customise it anymore? Where is my quote of the day? Why is it ugly and the antithesis of everything I loved about the old one? I don't WANT a new homepage.

  • Comment number 10.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 11.

    Completely with 9 here. What's happened, and why no blog on it? Are you going back to the customisable homepage? If not, can you *please* move weather above spotlight.

    Also, it's really irritating that major stories (i.e. those with a picture), on the new homepage, can't be easily opened in a new tab. Right click and it's not treated as a link. That's been the case in the new magazine format, but I was prepared to live with that without comment, but it's becoming increasingly prevalent. I seriously hope you don't intend to do that with all major sections of the site.

  • Comment number 12.

    IcePhantom - I'm unclear about what you are referring to. This post is about the CBBC website relaunch. Are you talking about the BBC News home page or the main BBC home page? The BBC News page was relaunched in July last year. The main home page hasn't been changed for a while.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the response. I'm talking about the homepage - www.bbc.co.uk. It's no longer possible to customise it: drag & drop, remove content you're not interested in, ets. *sigh* Just spoofed my IP address, and see that it only affects non-UK users. Do you know if that's a permanent change? Can't see why that would be neccessary... surely easier to just have one format for the home page?

  • Comment number 14.

    IcePhantom - this is the line that I have been given about this:

    "Allowing users to customise the homepage significantly increased the time it takes the page to load – even for the 98% of people who never customised and simply used the default page. We felt we could improve the user experience for the greatest number by removing customisation and allowing everyone’s pages to load more quickly."

    Don't forget that the international home page is run by BBC Worldwide. The BBC Complaints page is here.

    This is clearly off topic so no more please.


  • Comment number 15.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 16.

    The CBBC Web site has to be one of the best learning sites on the web. It was certainly instrumental in getting my children to use a computer and they love the new design. I had no idea at the amount of research involved when designing this site. Well done to everyone involved.

    Nigel Shrieves
    Editor Kids Fun London Blog


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