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4 Insights from the Web Design Trenches

By: Chris Horton


As the world goes digital, brand websites are fast becoming the primary go-to source of information for prospects and consumers, supporting – and in some cases replacing – many key business functions of their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. Serving as a company’s virtual storefront, information repository, and principle online distribution channel, today’s brand websites must convert on a number of levels, enticing would-be prospects, nurturing new leads, and servicing existing customers.

With this in mind, I recently sat down with Jacey Gulden, our lead web designer at Synecore, to get her no-nonsense take on some of the things companies should focus on when considering a website redesign. Here’s a transcript of our chat.
Insight #1: Content is Everything
Chris: Jacey, based on your experiences working with clients, what are some insights you’d like to impart to brands contemplating a website redesign?
Jacey: One thing that I think is extremely essential for people to understand is that content is everything in website design. Given this fact, it’s extremely important to allow the content to fuel the design. One example is the Apple website. People say, “oh, I really like the way the Apple website looks,” but if you take away the images and text you’re left with a white background and a gray navigation bar.
Because in web design parlance content refers to literally every on-page element of your site (i.e. text, images, video, etc.), design really becomes a matter of layout and hierarchy and how you want that content to be displayed. Unfortunately, too often you find clients overly focused on design rather than content; they want to rush and see “what is it going to look like” and figure out the rest later. From a design perspective, I can’t say which layout is going to work best for you unless I know what the content is and how it can be best organized to give your site visitors the information they need to take the desired action.
Chris: Ok, so content is king. What then is the governing principle behind how you organize website content?
Insight #2: The Importance of Setting Quantifiable Goals
Jacey: It ultimately comes down to what you want your end user to accomplish on your website. Which leads to the next point, what are the goals of your website, because they are going to fuel decisions about the path you want your visitors to take (which is expressed through the site map), where you put calls-to-action, what you have your on-page text content say, etc.
Chris: When thinking of goals, don’t you have to sort of think of things inside out? From the perspective of a business, my goals might be things like, “earn X revenue, or convert Y website traffic into leads, and Z leads into customers,” but from your perspective as a designer, aren’t you more interested in the customer journey, in seeing things from the perspective of the end user?
Jacey: In a way, but the two are not mutually exclusive. From a business perspective, you might be like, “I want to make X amount of money, so ultimately, I need someone to put this product in their shopping cart and pay for it, or I need someone to download this ebook or webinar and convert into a lead.” From my perspective as a developer, then, I’m trying to figure out “how do I get them to click on this, this, and this to accomplish that.”
Chris: When thinking about website content, isn’t there an analogy to setting up a retail display or a physical in-store layout?
Jacey: Sure, yeah, I mean, why not? For all intents and purposes, your website is your online storefront, so the analogy works. With online websites as with offline stores, your overarching goal is to simplify the path to the purchase. If I’m a grocer and I want people to buy tomatoes this week, I’m going to put them on sale and display them at the front of the store. Content and navigation are important in the sense that they are tools to get your target audience to do what you want them to do – to simplify the path to conversion, whatever that conversion action might be.
When it comes to a website redesign, it’s not enough to say, “I don’t like how my website looks, it’s been like this for years now, we need an update.” Ok, why – why do you want to redesign your website?
Chris: So you need to come up with a list of specific, quantifiable business goals, which in reality should closely mirror your real-world business goals.
Jacey: Yes. I can’t tell you how many times I hear things like, “can you just remove this picture? Our CEO hates this picture on our site.” If you’re going to go through the website redesign process, which is not always a short, painless, or inexpensive one, if you’re going to spend the time and resources on a website redesign, you better hope to get more out of it than a cosmetic facelift.
Chris: It’s almost like saying, “Our business needs a change. Let’s redecorate our front lobby and call it a day.”
Jacey: Right, that doesn’t do anything to further your business. It might indirectly help (by impressing clients when they walk in, etc.), but it’s not going to directly impact a company’s short-or long-term business goals. It’s a band aid and nothing else. Instead, you should set quantifiable website redesign goals so you can measure post-redesign performance.
Chris: To that point, and looking at things from a web developer’s perspective, are there a few common metrics designers look at when judging whether a website is performing well? I know it depends on the business model, but are there some overarching metrics you always tend to fall back on?
Jacey: I think bounce rate is probably a big one, because if someone is leaving your site in the first seven seconds, they’re clearly not getting what they wanted out of it. Lead conversion metrics are important too, but for that you need some type of marketing automation software like Hubspot.
In terms of metrics you can get from free analytics software, Google Analytics will let you view page behavior. GA also uses maps to show what type of devices people are on when visiting your site. So if I’m looking at my current site and see that I have really high bounce rates from mobile devices, I know I need to optimize my site for mobile devices through responsive web design or by creating a separate mobile app.
Chris: I would think that mobile device metric would be especially important for retail brands and companies interested in drawing in customers who are physically proximate to their place of business. The assumption there is that a higher preponderance of such people will be on mobile devices searching for the types of solutions that business provides. I suppose this leads use to a discussion of why you think responsive web design is the best website redesign option for most SMBs.
Insight #3: Responsive Web Design is Key for SMBs
Chris: Whenever I hear people talk about responsive design, the obvious question that comes to mind is, why not just go with a mobile website?
Jacey: First of all, what do you mean when you use the term “mobile?” For example, I know plenty of people who do not have desktops or laptops; for them, their smartphone or tablet is their only computer, whatever its size. A lot of companies, even retail ones, are still not taking this concept seriously. Just the other day I had a retail client say, “someone isn’t going to spend $1,000 buying something on their phone, so I don’t have to worry about that” (mobile).  Well, I know someone who just made a $1,500 purchase from their phone…
Chris: That’s an excellent point. As more people switch to mobile as their primary form of computing and mobile devices become more reliable from an end user perspective, it only makes sense that mobile purchases will increase; this is especially true for people who may not use a laptop or desktop for business purposes, and therefore may be more inclined to switch to a tablet/smartphone/mobile-only setup at home during their next device upgrade.
Jacey: Exactly. For many businesses, the problem with building a “mobile website” is, you don’t really know who is interacting with your site from which device. Why not just build one website that has all of the same information regardless of your device, which responsive web design allows you to do. That way you are not assuming anything about how the end user is interacting with your site.
The problem with mobile websites from a design perspective is that they force you into making assumptions about how the user is interacting with the website merely based on device. This also gets back to how we define “mobile” in the first place. I could be laying on my couch researching something to buy, in which case I’m not very mobile in the strictest sense of the word. Moreover, given the importance of creating a single, seamless user experience over all of your online assets, why add another site into the mix when you don’t have to?
Chris: OK, what about mobile apps? Isn’t another option to build a desktop-centric website and then create a separate mobile app for download?
Jacey: The main problem with this approach is that, by forcing them to download an app, you’re instantly altering your site visitor’s original intended behavior. You’re adding another step into the process. Most people searching on a mobile device are doing so through their mobile browser. Now you’re forcing me to download an app and remember to go to the app whenever I want to interact with your brand. Adding another step is not conducive to simplifying the path to the purchase. Having said that, there are definitely some circumstances where having a specific-use mobile app is a great idea for brands, especially bigger companies who have a lot of products/services and resources. But let’s be honest – this is only a small percentage of companies in the world.
Chris: Good point. Large, multi-national corporations or retail giants like Amazon are probably going to offer all of these solutions for mobile users, but these companies have the resources that allow them to manage seamlessly manage all of these online assets. However, most of the people reading this are not in that position!
Jacey: Exactly.
Insight #4: Keep it Simple
Chris: Ok, any final takeaways from the web design trenches? What are some final thoughts you’d want someone to come away with when considering a website redesign for their brand?
Jacey: Just thinking about design and user experience when creating a website that can be used across all devices, too often people will say, “ok, we want a responsive web design,” but they’re still thinking about their website in the context of the desktop version. For example, I often hear things like, “when I hover over this I want such and such thing to happen.” Well that’s great, but “hover” is not really an option on your smartphone (yet), however touch screen is!
In general, the entire responsive website design movement has led to a type of design that is a little bit more simplistic in an attempt to pack the most value into the least content.
Chris: That’s really a metaphor for the digital age, isn’t it? As consumers continue to get inundated with more and more digital stimuli, we marketers need to think of new ways to convey brand messages as efficiently as possible.
Jacey: Yes. To the extent you can simplify, the better the user experience and the shorter the path to conversion.
Chris: Too true. Thanks for providing such invaluable insight from the web design trenches.
Jacey: Always a pleasure.
This article was originally published by SyneCore
Published: December 9, 2014

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Chris Horton

Chris Horton is a Content Creator and Digital Strategist for Minneapolis-based Integrated Digital Marketing Agency SyneCore Tech. An avid tech enthusiast, Chris has written extensively on a number of topics relevant to the growing Marketing Technology industry, including SEO/targeted discovery, inbound, content, social, mobile, apps, online branding/PR, and Internet trends. Chris' marketing tips can be found on SyneCore's Marketing Technology for Growth blog. You can connect with Chris on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google Plus, or eMail him at chris@synecoretech.com.

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