How Do You Know When It’s Right?

Being a designer is fun. I get paid to play with pictures and colors all day long. How bad can that be? That’s what I and countless thousands of other high school kids thought when we chose graphic design (or "visual communications" as it said in my course book) as our major in college. As a result, nowadays everyone knows someone who designs websites. And chances are, most of those college students and recent grads can design a site that looks pretty darn good.

If you caught the last issue of Revenue, we’re right in the middle of a three-part series on my journey to redesign the corporate site for my design firm, Sostre & Associates. In the previous column, I showed you how I determined that we were in serious need of a redesign. Once it was clear that we needed to redesign, we set about designing some alternative looks for the site.

Now this part should be easy, right? I’m Dr. Makeover for goodness sake. I give presentations around the country talking about how to design great websites and Web design best practices. But, like any redesign, I want to start with the facts. What do users want from our site? For that, I need to review our Web analytics data.

A pretty simple analysis shows that the single most popular link from the home page is the link to our work. Roughly 20 percent of all home page clicks go to that page. Next, users are clicking on About Us, and third, they want to know what we do. If you have an existing site, I always recommend looking to your analytics data before starting any redesign project to make sure that the areas you feature are the same pages your users are really interested in.

With those data points in mind, the new design has a particular focus on showing more work, explaining more about us, and making what we do particularly clear. But there is another step. I know that my current site is not working, and I know what pages are important to my audience, but like many CEOs, I had to ask myself the question, "How do I know when the design is right?"

It’s not enough to come up with a design that looks pretty. How can I be sure a new design is going to perform better than my existing site?

Oftentimes website design reviews go something like this: Is the design attractive and pleasing to the eye? Did they use the colors we asked for? Does it have that cool feature our competitors are all using? Did they make the important stuff "pop"?

These are the honest-to-goodness evaluation criteria I hear on a regular basis. And they’re useless. Let me be clear on this: None of the questions listed above are valid criteria for a good website. Not for a design firm, and not for your business.

So how do we properly evaluate if a website design is going to work? Evaluate the design against our business goals.

After evaluating several mock-ups, we finally settled on one design. While a lot of the structure is very similar to our existing site, there are some notable changes. First, while it’s not apparent in the screenshot, we added a secondary level of navigation. When users roll over the main navigation items, they now see additional options. This will make our site more transparent to users and will let potential clients find the information they’re looking for much more quickly. Second, we added a phone number, email address and contact form on every page, in the top right section of the page. Our previous site did not do a good enough job of making our contact information readily available – this will fix that. Third, and possibly our most important of the three major enhancements, we added images of our work to the home page. The No. 1 link users click on our current site is to see our work. I want to give them what they want.

Now let’s see how it measures up to some of the goals from the previous issue.

Goal: Communicate our services

Our previously generic tagline has been completely removed. We’ll eventually come up with a new tagline, but until then, we’re illustrating our services by making the particular services available from the secondary navigation and by adding images of our work on the home page.

Goal: Convey our thought leadership and expertise

To establish our thought leadership and expertise, we have made a section to feature speaking engagements and white papers. Currently we have a picture of the book cover from my recently released Web Analytics for Dummies. In addition, the website thumbnails take users directly to case studies which explain how we solved tough problems for our clients.

Goal: Showcase our product

Again, by adding images of our work with featured clients on the home page, we are giving important real estate to our work. This was sorely lacking in the previous site.

Goal: Foster strong search engine rankings

The secondary level of navigation we added will allow us to create more pages describing our services and will help with search engine rankings.

By the time you read this article, the new design will be live on our site and we’ll have started crunching the analytics data. In our next installment, we’ll review that data to see whether the new site really does have the impact we’re expecting.

Remember, it’s never too late to put in your two cents. I personally read every email I get from Revenue magazine readers and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new design we’ve chosen. Send me your thoughts, at pedro@

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to ByDesign@SostreAssoc. com. Please put "Revenue’s By Design Makeover" in the subject line.