Being “Dr. Makeover” comes with plenty of pressure. There’s an expectation that everything I touch will be inherently beautiful and optimized for peak performance. I have a dirty little secret, though: I rarely spend much time working on the design aspect of my own sites. What’s that old saying about the cobbler’s children?
So I’ve decided to put some shoes on my own kids’ feet and I’m making the process public. For the next two issues, I’ll provide a behind-the-scenes look into one design firm’s struggle to redesign its own site. I’ll share failed designs. I’ll ask for your objective opinions. And, hopefully, when it’s all said and done, I’ll have a better site and you’ll have a clearer understanding of what it takes to design a successful online venue.
While I generally recommend redesigning websites every 12 months, the site for my design firm – SostreAssoc.com – has had the same look since early 2005. That’s right, over two whole years. Well overdue from a time perspective, but does it really need a redesign?
The current site has a pretty good conversion rate for this type of business. Although I don’t feel it’s the best it could be, some people still like it and by most accounts it doesn’t seem to be overtly hurting sales. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Wrong.
Just because sales are coming in at a normal, healthy pace, doesn’t mean the website is performing optimally. Industry- standard conversion rates are often in the single digits. Three percent. Six percent. That means that roughly 90 percent of your site’s visitors are choosing not to do business with you (or me, in this case)! Of course, a 100 percent conversion rate is nearly impossible for several reasons, but setting your sites to that lofty goal can be more beneficial than simply striving for industry standards.
A good way to determine if your site could perform better is to review how it performs against its transitional goals. Start with a list of all the elements that contribute to the success of your site. Of course, there is the main conversion goal (in our case, increase the number of contacts we receive), but there are also a number of transitional goals we use to get users to take that conversion action. In our case, the list looks like this:
Goal: Communicate our services
Besides the overtly generic tagline, “Consulting, Design, Development,” it’s not immediately clear what services our company provides. If people don’t know what we offer, how can they buy it? Grade: D
Goal: Establish our credibility
The site uses third-party references (citations and client testimonials) to establish credibility. Grade: B
Goal: Convey our thought leadership and expertise
Our clients are always surprised at the level of thought and expertise that we bring to the table, but our website does very little to communicate that expertise. Case studies that explain exactly how we solved tough problems for our clients could help in this situation. Grade: D
Goal: Showcase our product
In the Web design industry, our client websites are our products and they have to shine. While we have a news section that highlights when a client site goes live, there is not even so much as a thumbnail of one of our client’s sites to be found on the home page. This is very, very bad. Grade: F
Goal: Make visitors aware of my writings and conference appearances
Some people visit the site not to hire Sostre & Associates, but to find more of my writings or see me at an industry conference. I wrote a book for a major publishing company. Can you find it on the home page of my site? No. I spoke at several conferences in the past two years. Were those events highlighted on the site? On a good note, I do include a link to this Revenue magazine column. Grade: D
Goal: Foster strong search engine rankings
The current site gets a fair amount of traffic from search engines but it still doesn’t come up for many top-tier, highly trafficked terms. Grade: B
Based on that evaluation, my cumulative grade is a D, and that means it’s definitely time for a redesign.
In the same way we used transitional goals to evaluate our existing site, we’re going to use those goals to drive our redesign priorities. The “problem” with transitional goals is that none of them are really more important than any other one.
In addition, we have outlying goals like generating SEO traffic and promoting my writings and conference appearances that are not directly related to the main goal of getting users to contact us.
The typical, old-school conversion process involved a linear conversion funnel where you took prospects from Step 1 to Step 2 in progressive order to close the sale. Online, there is no linear funnel. Visitors don’t always go from one Step 1, to Step 2, to Step 3 in orderly fashion. Some visitors only want to see the work, while others want to see what services we offer and still others want to start out by reading about our expertise.
Think of it this way: Traditional sales are like being a chauffeur. You drive visitors from one place to another, taking them where they want to go. Online, the visitor is in the driver’s seat and you aren’t even sitting in the car. All you can do is post road signs and hope they’re clear enough to lead the user where they want to go. And that’s where it gets difficult.
Individually, it’s easy to design a site that executes one of the transitional goals. Create a site that communicates services? Easy. Design a site that showcases a product? Simple. Develop a site that improves search engine rankings? No problem. But how do we put it all together so that everything is in balance? That’s exactly what we’ve been struggling with for the past 12 months. Since I started the redesign over a year ago, I’ve designed about 30 different layouts for the site, but I haven’t been happy with any of them.
This is where you come in. Send me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your thoughts on the current site, or on any of the failed designs. Then next issue, we’ll take this discussion to the next level.
PEDRO SOSTRE is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.