When did the web site design process become a roadblock to launching a site, rather than helping it along?
When did the details of site design and function become a site owner obsession, more important than becoming visible, more compelling than getting a business online, spreading the word and making money?
And yes, before you say anything, we’re fully on board with the concept of details making a difference. We even wrote a book about it (Web Design for ROI). But there’s a point at which the details paralyze the process, preventing real action and forestalling any benefits.
Seth Godin wrote a post along these lines entitled “How to Create a Good Enough Web Site” in which he describes a simple”"some web designers would even say heretical”"process for quickly developing and launching a new site. Start with a design that’s “good enough,” Seth says, and focus on what’s important. By doing things in a practical order, not over-thinking the design, and getting signoffs at the right junctures, a web site can go from concept to launch in much less time and with much less trauma than usual. That’s the agile development approach.
From there, we’d add, it’s time to begin iterating and improving your site based on feedback and metrics. By making and testing small changes to design, copy, supportive advertising, and so forth, you can create an exceptional site that has incorporated valuable input”"real, live, authentic input you had no access to during development. And you’ll be online a lot longer than otherwise.
What inputs matter?
To complement an agile web site launch, we recommend tracking and responding to your selected key metrics. That is, measurements that actually matter to your business goals. But most businesses are swamped with stats and measurements. Which ones matter, which metrics are “key?”
Here are a few to start with:
- Your ‘landing page’ conversion rate. This is the page or pages where you send marketing traffic, whether paid search, natural search, email blast, or offline advertising. Track and watch how effective this landing experience is for you over time. Consider doing A/B or multivariate testing to narrow down what works for your site, company, and audience.
- Your shopping cart completion rate (for e-commerce sites). It’s really not OK to have more than half your customers drop out of your checkout process, despite most sites averaging 60% dropoff. Check your analytics for trouble spots in your checkout, to pinpoint which steps are the worst offenders.
- Your RFQ / Registration process completion rate (for lead generation sites). As with a checkout process, there may be multiple steps, and a few of those steps may be bad apples as far as your prospective customers are concerned. Focus your update attention on those steps with the worst issues, and keep a constant, detailed eye on your stats.
- Your home page abandonment rate. If your home page is visible and receives traffic, then track how effective your home page is at drawing visitors deeper into your site. If your ‘bounce’ rates are very high, this may mean you need to clarify your identity, what you do, or improve your visual credibility. Or it may mean you’re using an advertising source that drives low-quality traffic. Either way, it’s important to know.
- Your end stats. By this we mean sales, contract signings, membership agreements, and so forth. Where things get real, in other words. Can you track your traffic, downloads, and lead through to what really matters? If not, you’re missing the full picture. You won’t know what traffic source is your most valuable, where to focus your iterative site improvements, or what’s actually delivering the best ROI for you, you’re working blind.
If you’ve found these tips valuable or at least intriguing, it’s not too late to register for the Voices that Matter conference in San Francisco (Oct 22-25) where Lance Loveday and I are lucky enough to be speaking alongside web greats such as Dan Brown, Jacob Nielsen, Kelly Goto, and many others. Hope to see you there!