A crash course in site planning, understanding your goals, and testing
I remember creating my first website ten years ago. There was nothing like the thrill of saving a HTML file in Notepad and opening up Internet Explorer to see my masterpiece. Make a change. Save. See the change. The immediate gratification was thrilling. In the past ten years, I’ve redesigned my website six or seven times.
Ten years later, we live in the generation of website builders that fill you with illusions of grandeur. But ultimately you don’t want a website just for the sake of having a website. You want to stand out. So how do you do that in an over-saturated web (pun intended) of mediocrity?
3 Steps to Make Your Site Stand Out
- Have a killer product / service (or a mediocre product with a huge market).
- Know / learn your market.
- Optimize like your business depends on it (hint: it does).
I’m not going to tell you how to build a killer product. Go read The Lean Startup to get excited about building a business the right way. Then go read The Four Steps To The Epiphany to remind you that you’re actually going to have to change how you’re building products in order to be successful.
I’ll talk briefly about knowing / learning your market, but only in the context of optimization. There are hundreds of tools out there to monitor your website that give invaluable insights into how your site is performing, who your users are, and how they’re using your site. Interestingly enough I’ve found (after years of study) that these tools don’t help if you don’t use them.
Chances are the first time you built your site, it was all about getting online. You needed a web presence and you accomplished that by spinning up a WordPress or paying your nephew $250 to build it for you (that was me). Then maybe a couple years later, you paid someone a couple thousand dollars for a website overhaul. Then last year, you got buy in from your CEO to do a complete redesign. Your site wasn’t working and getting with the times was the only way to make it work, right?
Well, maybe not. The website redesign process can be a nightmare. So first why don’t you ask if it makes sense for your customers? Does it really get you more of what you’re looking for? A lot of the time the answer is no. Why are you doing a redesign? Chances are, your site isn’t performing the way you (or your boss) want it to. Website redesigns seem to be the only way to get your boss off your back.
But what if there was a better way? What if you could incrementally overhaul your website, testing every step of the way so that at the end of the process you have a site that is running like a well oiled machine. You won’t learn what your customers want or how they behave if you change everything all at once.
Five Steps to Website Optimization
- Define the purpose of your website. This seems pretty common sense but often times is either ill defined or not defined at all. Let’s pretend we are a wedding photographer. Thousands of people view our blog and comment on our images which makes us feel like our website is successful. But in reality we are not hitting our actual goal (getting people to request a quote).
- Establish a baseline for how your current site is performing and set goals for how it should be performing. This can be done through a number of different analytic methods (user analytics, click mapping, visitor recording, etc…) Once our baseline is established (e.g. 5 quote requests every month), we need to define the rate that we need to maintain. After some number crunching, we figure out that we need 10 leads every month to sustain our business. Our new goal is now to optimize the site to get more quote submissions.
- Test. Maybe the issue is that our quote form requires 7 fields to be filled before it can be submitted. We can try only requiring an email address and first name to see if we get more submissions.
- Measure. Testing is only as good as the learning it provides. If we make sweeping changes to our contact form (new imagery, new layout, and less fields) we have no insight into what change actually drives the increases or (*gasp*) decreases in conversions.
- Repeat steps 3 – 5. Forever. Your website will never reach its full potential. Your market is constantly changing. As you monitor your website, you’ll learn new things that should drive changes on your site. Heck, you may even find new service lines for your business.
If you have questions about how to get started, let us know!