I have a confession to make. During the last seven years or so, my success in building websites that actually make money for their owners has been largely hit and miss.
Certainly, I’ve had some great successes and these have helped to build my reputation as a web marketing expert. But I’ve had some failures too. I’ve built sites that look great from a design viewpoint but for some reason they have fallen flat in terms of bringing in new business for my client.
Here’s what I have discovered…
The way a website looks is usually not the best guide as to how it will perform from a marketing viewpoint. In fact, I am continually amazed when I meet people who are quietly making a fortune from a crappy-looking website. The reason is, they’re smart marketers. They know how to make an offer their website visitors can’t refuse.
Could these people do even better with a prettier-looking website? Maybe. But more often than not I’ve seen conversion rates actually fall away when the website has been redesigned.
Website designers need to become marketers
To create a successful website you need to begin with two important things.
1. A clear goal in mind (a certain number of sales, enquiries or some other action you want your website visitors to take)
2. A way to measure that goal.
In other words, you need measurable results. Increasingly, clients will demand this of web design companies. Much as it strikes fear into our hearts, it’s a truth every web professional needs to face, sooner rather than later.
A strategy for optimising websites
I’ve recently begun testing some of my clients’ websites using Google Website Optimizer.
Basically, it works by designing two slightly different versions of the same web page – version A and version B. You might change the headline, or the placement of certain elements of the page, or other changes.
Then you “split test” version A against version B using Google Website Optimizer. This means you send 50% of the traffic to version A and 50% to version B. The whole process is trackable and measurable, so you can see which version of the web page produces better results.
But you don’t have to stop there. You can then come up with versions C, D, E etc and test them against the “winner” from the previous test. As a result of this process, you come up with a web page that is the most effective.
It took me a long time to accept the need for testing
I first heard about the principle of split testing in 2004. Back then, a few of the top American Internet marketers were doing it. But I resisted the idea I could actually do any split testing for my clients.
Firstly, it would involve extra work. My clients would need to pay for my extra time, and they would complain, I reasoned. Furthermore, my clients expected me to know what would work, first time around, without having to test it. It would make me look incompetent if I admitted I didn’t always get it right first time.
So I shelved the idea of testing. I continued to build websites that pleased my clients. But the niggling doubts increased until I recently (late 2010) decided to take the plunge and embrace testing.
So, do we still need “creative” people in the web industry?
Yes, of course! A good creative process gives you strong alternatives to evaluate. If a web designer lacks creative skills, or is lazy, they will simply end up testing “bad version A” against “bad version B”, which will only give a bad result.
The way to build world-class websites is to start with the best you can find, and then to test them against other great alternatives.
No longer will it be good enough to design competitive websites simply as a “creative” – because creative ideas and graphic design are only a fraction of what a website needs to be great.
In the coming new world of web design, we will still use all our creativity to develop several great solutions. But that will be just the start. Then we’ll put those solutions to test… and find the winner!