The current “upside down” web site design process
Typically web site design starts with the home page, laboring over the look and feel. As designers wait for content, the site is built following standard formulas and the goal of selling a product or service often becomes secondary.
Deadlines are often missed between the unpredictability of the creative process and the struggle to gather content. The creative process is always unpredictable at best anyway whether you are writing code or painting a portrait.
However we believe that most of the delays in web site design are content related, which is typically the weakest point of the site designers skills. By carefully orchestrating the content, sales path and site architecture before code is written, we relieve the designers of the need to develop content thus accelerating the design process.
Otherwise as artificial deadlines pass, the management command usually becomes an exasperated: “Get the site up and fix it later!” Rarely is the essential testing or refinement process completed as everyone feels less enthusiastic about the site and instead of smiles, there is often finger pointing.
More importantly, the all important conversion pages receive minimal attention. Sales are lackluster and visitors abandon early. This is when conversion experts get involved. What we hear most often is: “The site is getting traffic but not enough sales…”
How to design web sites that convert users into leads business
We developed and recommend a completely opposite path to this design model. We call it Conversion Point Architecture . This model is based upon our usability and conversion experience and places primary design focus on the sale or conversion, regardless of whether you are selling a product or a service.
This approach helps sites launch faster and score higher conversion rates right out of the box. It begins at the “goal posts” not at the home page. We focus first on what is the site/business objective(s)! After all, what else really matters? Sites rarely win awards for beauty but they are all measured by their success.
We trust that a good designer will provide us an attractive site but in my experience far too many conversion decisions are left to the designers. Chasing clients for content is typically the designer’s least favorite job. Ask any designer how long it would take to build a 20 page site when the site architecture and page elements, including text are completely in place.
On the other hand, when designers are responsible for assembling content the time to build is either much longer or they are unable to make a firm commitment. This additional time translates to higher cost on the design side and lost opportunity for sales until the site is launched. Designers are rarely conversion experts.
Here’s how we design or redesign web sites using Conversion Point Architecture
- Begin the design process with an extensive client interview to understand the business, its goals and the prospective customer groups. Focus on identifying the final site objective(s), forget starting at the home page. Our interview format typically covers everything from analyzing the current site experience and frustrations to a thorough psychological understanding of their client(s) persona. Focus primarily on what they sell, how they currently sell it, and what people like and dislike about the product and the current web site (if one exists).
- Brainstorm a list of everything a customer would need to know to be comfortable making a purchase. It may not all eventually make the site but if selling a house for example, include everything from area school details to landscape plans. I mean everything; take the time to do this right. Ask everyone. If you sell dozens of products, approach this from each product category. If in doubt, we err on the side of too much information.
- Next organize this information into logical groups, in the example of the house: utilities, town, layout etc. These “information groups” may become pages. You can certainly include one element into several groups. Build in ideas for graphics which are not decoration but actively illustrate products.
- Look at the sales process, and visualize how customers proceed to the objective; when might each information group arise? Sequence the information groups in a “ladder” which mimics the sales process. , start with this ladder. Confirm how complete your copy is by testing with either experts or prospects. The architecture now begins when we expand the ladder and begin organizing pages from the information groups. Since many of the information groups will be available via text links from even the first or second page in the sales sequence, it may not end up as “linear” as it appears during this organization phase. People actually do shop differently and take more of a “hub and spoke” approach to information gathering on the web but DO NOT overlook the basics such as: do you have credibility, do people need testimonials, do they need price comparisons, what is the warranty and how much does shipping costs, what is your client list etc.
- Don’t spend time on the text yet, just gather information outlines. Start the page layout as a rough story board. I use Visio as a great tool for both the architecture and page layout but don’t spend more then 10 – 15 minutes per page and hand draw each page (or use Visio). I include placeholders for relevant images. Mark obvious links to other relevant groups. Insure that each page directly relates to the objective. I couldn’t expand on this in this post but what I mean is that each element be it image, headline or body text, must contribute to the sales objective and the call to action on each page must move someone along the sales path. Each page is information, but each page is also a step towards the objective. ALSO good navigation including bread crumbs is necessary since people often need to review earlier info so they can jump back and forth easily.
- Now we review our understanding of the typical prospect. Can we make assumptions about preferred communication style, interests, motivations or focus? Tools like Myers Briggs and Learning styles research help understand this but the essential element is that most content developers assume that people read and learn the same way that they do. This is natural, but wrong. If you are dealing with a niche market, focus on improving your understanding of their psychological profiles. Sales training courses in the offline world work hard at reading and understanding clients, it can be done online as well.
The goal is to create content that speaks in the language of the reader, via the learning style of the reader and focusing on the motivations which most move the reader.
Also most people assume their sites speak to the public at large which is also false. By asking, testing and spending time with sales staff you can begin to understand how your clients think and how much narrower your market may actually be. Use this information to refine your communication style, or you can work with us.
Either way, every informed step you take will improve your site’s success. Don’t trust me on it though, make sure you keep accurate traffic metrics and you test your assumptions. As an example, when selling a house, which is more important, the investment value or neighborhood schools? We would build a different sales path (ladder sequence) for each of these motivators.
Test your assumptions with typical buyers or experts, they don’t have to be active buyers, you can work with friends but try to create the right atmosphere.
Typically we build multiple sales paths based upon each customer persona group. (Multiple paths are a topic for another article but are a key part of Conversion Point Architecture.)
- With the path architected from beginning to end; we build out the architecture/navigation map with standard site elements that users expect like “About Us”, FAQ’s etc. Readers expect certain site elements like these. If you don’t include them, readers get nervous and doubt the professionalism of the site. If you fail to establish credibility for example, you have no chance of a sale. This is not the time to explore new creative presentation ideas unless you are selling creativity to a receptive market. With your visio or hand drawn site map, add these standard elements to the architecture.
- Designers are called when content is set and architectural elements are clearly laid out. Discuss look and feel, content delivery and explain how to place the graphics to utilize eye tracking to support key messages. Remember for example the importance of captions. Over 90% of visitors will read a caption below a nice photo (assuming there are only a couple on the page), if you have something essential, find the right photo and use the caption to get your message across.
- Color choices and images often follow our understandings of the persona groups when considering look and feel. Same thing applies to font and page complexity. Certain groups can only absorb information from a simple uncomplicated page layout. Others want lengthy narratives. Still others will only read bulleted text which back up all assumptions with facts.
- Discuss this information with your designers and when the look and feel is done, build out the site. Designers deliver best when provided with detailed content and site plans and can focus on visuals.
- With the right look and feel in place, the “beta” is tested on several prospective clients for: navigational confusion, sales blocks, functional problems like browser compatibility and finally, content problems or unanswered product questions. I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
- Launch the site, note your metrics. Plan to continually monitor and refine site elements. Set conversion goals and explore new presentations and elements. Test, Refine, Improve.
Conversion Point Architecture is building the site with the objectives in mind and insuring that all sales elements are in place and clearly communicated. It is that simple and that complex.
Note: I should add that testing paper prototypes and early site iterations is something we support and recommend. We admit that we have not addressed that thoroughly here but we do believe it is a part of proper Conversion Point Architecture. Testing should drive all design processes.
For more information