Did you know that poor web design can hurt conversions and sales? An unattractive site deserves a website redesign. No matter what your company size or industry is, though, it’s crucial that you take a strategic approach to your website redesign. Know what isn’t working, what does currently work, and what goals you wish to achieve. Otherwise, how will you take advantage of your existing web traffic? Worse, what happens if your web design is causing people to avoid visiting your site at all? Let’s look at some of my favorite techniques for creating a website redesign strategy and implementing…
(This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe.) We live in a world where just about every business has an online presence. Let’s say you want to reach out to a business — what would be the first thing you would do? Well, you would probably look up their website to search for answers to your questions or simply any contact details you can find. With no doubt, the first impression of any website is now more important than ever.
There are more than 1.8 billion websites on the Internet right now, and the number is growing. The increase of the competition brings a great interest in examining the factors of success of a website. While no one will argue that it’s essential to have a successful website, it’s still not easy to understand what exactly success means and how to actually measure it.
Define What Site Success Means To You
Set A Global Goal
Finding the answers to questions such as “What are our goals?” and “What do we want to achieve with this website?” should be the first thing to do when starting a new project. Skipping a stage of defining global goals and moving directly to the design stage is a pretty common mistake among many product teams. Without knowing exactly what you want to achieve, your chances of making a positive impact with your website will be poor.
Every website needs a well-defined product strategy. A strategy sets the tone for all of the activities, and it gives a context that helps in making design decisions. When you have a solid understanding of what you expect to get out of your site, it helps you to work towards that goal.
Here are a few tips that help you set a goal:
Tie the purpose to business goals.
The website’s purpose should serve to support the company’s mission and make the business more effective in achieving that mission.
Make it specific.
Instead of saying something like “I want to have a strong online presence,” consider this instead: “Our website should be a place where users submit requests for our services. Our goal is to have 50% of our orders submitted online, not over the phone.”
Conduct competitor research.
List sites of your competitors which you find successful, and try to pinpoint why they are successful.
Strive To Create User-Focused Experience
Because visitors ultimately determine the success of a website, they should be in the spotlight during site’s development. As Dieter Rams says:
“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people.”
Thus, start with gathering this understanding:
Portrait your ideal users.
Try to understand what content they might need/want, their browsing habits (how they prefer to interact with a website) and the level of their technical competence. This knowledge will help you appeal to them better.
Think about the goal of your visitors.
Put yourself in the shoes of your visitor. What do you want them to get done? Place an order? Reach you for a quote? Become a member? Drive the design from the user’s goals and tasks.* *Ideally, each page you design should have a goal for your users.
Create user journey map.
If you have an existing site, you can figure out typical ways people use it by creating user journey maps.
8 Essential Characteristics Of Website Design That Influence Its Success
In this section, we aren’t going to discuss design implementation details (e.g. where a logo should be placed). We’ll be focusing on the main principles and approaches for effective web design. These principles will be reviewed from the angle of the first impression. It’s essential to focus on great user experience during the first-time visit. Generally, the better the first impression, the better the chance that users will stay for longer. But if the first impression is negative, it might make users want to avoid interacting with your product for years.
And how do we leave a good first impression? Good design. First impressions are 94% design related. While it’s impossible to define one-fits-all design decisions that will guarantee a successful site, it is still possible to focus on factors that are able to create a great first impression: the quality of content, usability, and visual aesthetics.
1. High-Quality Content
The copy used on your website is just as important as the website’s design; it’s the reason why people visit your website. More than 95 percent of information on the web is in the form of written language. Even if your site is beautifully designed, it’s no more than an empty frame without good content. A good website has both great design and great content.
“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
Provide information your users expect to see. For example, if you design a website for a chain of restaurants, most visitors will expect to find the restaurants’ menus as well as maps that show where each restaurant is located.
Content That Builds Trust
Trust is what creates a persuasive power; trust makes the user believe in your products or services. That’s why it so important to build a sense of trust on your website. For example, if you design a website that will offer services, you should include content that will bolster a visitor’s confidence in those offerings. A simple way to accomplish this is to provide social proofs — put some testimonials on your site.
One great example is Basecamp. The company lists feedback from its clients together with a data statistic that reinforces the power of the social proof.
Focus On Microcopy
Microcopy is the tiny words we use in user interfaces. These might be field or button labels, or description for forms and other UI objects. Right microcopy can influence business profits. But in order to write good microcopy, it’s essential to understand user’s intentions and emotions.
During the Google I/O 2017, Maggie Stanphill explained the possible business value of writing good microcopy. After the Google team changed ‘Book a room’ to ‘Check availability’ in the Hotel search on Google, the engagement rate increased by 17%. This happened because the first version of microcopy (‘Book a room’) was too committal for that stage of the user journey. Users didn’t want to book a room; they wanted to explore all available options (date range as well as prices).
Text Is Optimized For Scanning
It’s necessary to adjust content to users’ browsing habits. It’s a well-known fact that users don’t read online, they scan. When a new visitor approaches a web page, the first thing s/he does is tries to do is to scan the page and divide the content into digestible pieces of information. By scanning through key parts of the page, they are trying to determine if the content is relevant to their needs.
Here are a few tips on how to format your content to make it easy to scan:
Avoid long blocks of text without images.
With a huge probability, such content will be skipped. Use headings, paragraphs, or bullet points to break up a text.
Optimize layouts for natural scanning patterns.
Eye tracking studies have identified that people scan pages in an “F” pattern. We read the first few lines, but then they start skipping down the page, caching only parts of the message. For this reason, it’s important to keep your text frontloaded — put the most important concepts first, so our eyes catch those important words as we track down.
Quick design tip:You can measure your readability score using a tool called Webpagefx.
The human eye can instantly recognize moving objects. Moving objects such as animated banners or video advertising can capture users’ attention. An abundance of such content can lead to annoying and distracting experience. Thus, put an emphasis on a site with minimal distractions.
Make it easy for people to reach you. This requirement sounds pretty obvious; still, it’s quite a typical situation for first-time visitors to have to hunt for contact information. Don’t let that happen. Make a phone number, email, address and a contact form easily accessible.
Quick design tip:When designing your site, don’t make email or phone number a part of an image. Phone number/email should be in plain text so that users can copy this information.
Remember the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It’s relevant to web design. A simple way to increase visual appeal is to provide high-quality imagery or video content.
One great example is Tesla which doesn’t tell the benefits of its car but rather shows a quick video that makes it clear what it feels like to drive a Tesla:
2. Simple Interactions
According to Hubspot survey, 76% of respondents mentioned ease of use as the most important characteristic of a website. That’s why the “Keep It Simple” principle (KIS) should play a primary role in the process of web design.
Cut Out The Noise
Cluttering a user interface overloads your user with too much information — every added button, image, and line of text makes the screen more complicated. Cutting out the clutter on a website will make the primary message more easily understood by visitors. Include only the elements that are most important for communication, and use enough whitespace. It will help to reduce the cognitive load for the visitors and will make it easier to perceive the information presented on the screen.
Quick design tip:Put more visual weight on important elements. Make important elements such as call-to-action buttons or login forms focal points so visitors see them right away. You can emphasize elements using different sizes or colors.
Strong Visual Hierarchy
The better visual hierarchy your create, the easier your content will be perceived by users (Simon’s law). A grid layout allows you to organize information in a way that makes it easier for visitors to read and comprehend information presented on the page. Using grids makes it much easier to create a layout that feels balanced.
Good navigation is one of the most important aspects of website usability. Even the most beautifully designed website will be useless if users aren’t able to find their way around.
When developing navigation for your website, think about what pages are most likely to be important to visitors, and how they will move from one page to another. Follow users’ expectations — create a predictable navigation structure and place it where users expect to see it.
Quick design tip:Reduce the total number of actions required for users to reach the destination. Try to follow the Three-click rule which means creating a structure that will enable users to find the information they are looking for within three clicks.
Recognizable Design Patterns
Design patterns are designer’s best friends. When designing your site, it’s worth remembering that users spend most of their time on other sites. Every time the user has to learn how something new works, it creates friction. By using recognizable conventions, you can reduce the learning curve. Recognizable UI patterns eventually help users to parse complicated tasks easily. Thus, when you follow users’ expectations and create a familiar experience (e.g. place UI elements in places where users expect to find them), site visitors can use their previous knowledge and act through intuition. This helps reduce the learning curve and the need to figure out how things work.
3. Fast Loading Time
As technology enables faster experiences, users’ willingness to wait has decreased. Slow loading time is one of the main reasons visitors leave websites. A typical user will only wait for a few seconds for your page to load. If nothing happens during this time, they will consider the site to be too slow, and will most likely navigate away to a competitor’s site.
Slow loading not only creates a lousy impression on users, but it also affects site’s search engine ranking, as slow-loading pages are reduced in rank in Google’s Search engine.
Test Your Website
There are tools available that allow you to test website performance. One of them is Google’s Test My Site which gives you an actionable report on how to speed up and improve your site. WebPage Test is another helpful tool which allows you to run a free website speed test from multiple locations around the globe, using real browsers (Internet Explorer and Chrome) at real consumer connection speeds.
Find What Is Causing The Slow Loading Time, And Fix The Problem
If slow loading is a typical situation for your website, try to find out what causes the problem and solve it. Typically, page load times are affected by:
Visual elements (images and animations).
HD images and smooth animation can only create good UX when they don’t affect loading time. Consider reading the article Image Optimization for tips on image optimization.
Like any other asset, it takes some time to download a custom font (and it takes more time if the font is located on a 3rd party service).
Whether or not a solution you’ve developed is optimized for fast loading time. There are a lot of things developers can do to minimize the loading time. For example, it’s possible to use file compression and decompression to improve the performance of а website.
An infrastructure is a place where you host your websites. It includes both hardware and software components as well as internet bandwidth.
Create A Perception Of Speed
If you can’t improve the actual performance of your website, you can try to create a perception of speed — how fast something feels is often more important than how fast it actually is. Employing a technique of skeleton screens can help you with that. A skeleton layout is a version of your page that displays while content is being loaded. Skeletons give the impression of speed — that something is happening more quickly than it really is and improve perceived load time.
Check out this Codepen example of skeleton effect in pure CSS. It uses a pulsation effect to give users a feeling that website is alive and content is loading:
To err is human. Errors occur when people engage with user interfaces. Sometimes, they happen because users make mistakes. Sometimes, they happen because a website fails. Whatever the cause, these errors and how they are handled, have a significant impact on the user experience. Bad error handling paired with useless error messages can fill users with frustration and can lead them to abandon your website. When errors occur, it’s essential to create effective error messages.
Designers can use a tactic called design for failure in which you try to anticipate the places users might face problems and plan for such cases. Whereas implementing the ideal user journey is the end goal, the complexities of an individual user’s experience are rarely so cut and dried. Recognizing potential pain points and preparing for it using tools like failure mapping for error recovery helps to ensure that you’re putting forth the best experience you can for the majority of your users.
No Aggressive Pushers
We all know that feeling. You visit a new website, the content on the page seems to be interesting. You begin to read it and just when you are halfway through the text, you are suddenly interrupted by a huge overlay asking you to either subscribe to a newsletter or take advantage of an offer. In most cases, your immediate reaction will be either to close the overlay or to close the entire page, the overlay along with it.
Aggressive pushers such as pop-ups with promotional content will put most people on the defensive. According to the NN Group, pop-ups are the most hated web experience ever.
Don’t Autoplay Video With Sound
When users arrive on a page, they don’t expect that it will play any sound. Most users don’t use headphones and will be stressed because they’ll need to figure out how to turn the sound off. In most cases, users will leave the website as soon as it plays. Thus, if you use autoplay video content on your site, set audio to off by default, with the option to turn it on.
5. Good Visual Appearance
Does an attractive design lead to more conversion? While there’s no direct connection between attractive design and conversion, visual appearance might increase chances for conversion. As Steven Bradley says:
“Human beings have an attractiveness bias; we perceive beautiful things as being better, regardless of whether they actually are better. All else being equal, we prefer beautiful things, and we believe beautiful things function better. As in nature, function can follow form.”
Capitalize On Trends
Just like with any other area of design, web design is constantly changing. Design trends come and go, and its necessary to be sure that your design doesn’t look dated. Familiarize yourself with latest trends and try to keep your design up to date by tuning your design.
Awwwards and Behance are great places which will help you be familiar with the latest trends.
Avoid Generic Stock Photos
Many corporate websites are notorious for using generic stock photos to build a sense of trust. Such photos rarely hold useful information. Usability tests show that generic photos and other decorative graphic elements don’t add any value to the design and more often impair rather than improve the user experience. Eye-tracking studies show that users usually overlook stock images.
6. Design Is Accessible To All Groups Of Users
You can’t call your design successful if your audience has trouble using it. There’s a direct connection between bad UX and inaccessibility. One typical example of design decisions that often create terrible UX for the sake of beauty is using light grey text on light backgrounds. The example below was taken from one of the most popular powerful platforms for creating websites. Even a person with normal vision will struggle to read a text on this page, and there’s a huge possibility that a visually impaired person wouldn’t be able to read it at all.
Taking into account the fact that almost all business have an online presence today — no matter what product or service you offer online — there are many other websites offering exactly what you do (perhaps even with the same benefits). It’s essential to set your website apart from the competition by crafting really memorable design.
Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman proposed a psychological heuristic called the “peak-end rule” which dictates the way our brain works with information. The peak-end rule states that people judge an experience based mainly on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant. In other words, when we remember experiences, we tend to recall not entire experience but only key events that happened. That’s why it’s essential to create a spark that will stay in a user’s memory for a long time.
Color hugely influences on what people remember, and how vividly they remember it. Selective use of color can trigger the memory and be that one added element that ensures your brand stays memorable and recognizable.
For example, when we think about Spotify, we usually think about vibrant colors. The service uses color as a brand and experience differentiator:
Illustrations are a versatile tool useful in creating a unique design. From small icons to large hand-drawn hero sketches, illustrations bring a sense of fine craftsmanship in digital experience.
A straightforward way of using illustrations in web design is to tailor them to your messaging.
Using brand mascots in web design is another great example when illustrations can create a memorable experience. Mascots become the elements of identity and inter-connector between the user and the product.
Consistency is arguably the key rule to a successful brand. Inconsistency brings a huge problem — users won’t picture a specific thing when they think about a brand, and, as a result, it can quickly become forgettable. That’s why the website’s design should be consistent with your brand. Make sure that basic brand attributes such as brand colors, fonts, logos, and slogans are used consistently on the website.
Quick design tip:An excellent way to boost your ability to maintain a consistent brand design is through a style guide. Prepare it once and use it for each product you design.
Make your experiences fun, so people remember them. One good example is Mailchimp, a service used to schedule and deploy email campaigns. The company fulfills a fairly technical niche, but by using humor it transforms this dry task into an inviting experience. Mailchimp uses a mascot called Freddie von Chimpenheimer. Freddie often cracks jokes, and humor is an effective way to connect with people. This positive attitude will often lead to people sharing and even advocating for the product with their friends.
8. Design Is Optimized For Mobile
Just a decade ago, designing for the web meant designing for a desktop, now it means designing for mobile and desktop. Mobile phones and tablets are driving an increasing amount of web traffic, and the numbers are only going to grow. In 2018, more than 50 percent of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones.
Prioritize Content And Features
Optimizing web design for mobile is a lot more than just making your design responsive. It’s about content and feature prioritization. Taking medium limitations into account, the goal is to show only what your users need in this medium.
Focus on refining the experience around your core objectives. Know what the core purpose of your app is — analyze which features of your app are used the most and put the most effort into making that experience intuitive.
After we’ve defined what makes a site successful, it’s time to understand how to measure the success. Measuring a site’s success requires an in-depth look at the analytics and data. As the first step in the process of measuring usage data, it’s essential to define right metrics. Metrics will make it clear whether your design decision is working or not. There are two groups of metrics — marketing metrics and UX metrics. Both groups of metrics are essential to a site’s success.
Acquisition includes information about site’s visitors — how many people visit your site and how do they find it. Acquisition metrics include:
Number of gross visits.
This is the most basic acquisition metric that you can track. It gives you a good baseline on how your site is doing, but it won’t tell you much without other metrics. For example, an increasing number of visitors does not necessarily mean success, because those visitors might not be relevant to your business goals.
As well as knowing your top-level traffic numbers (number of gross visits), you should also know where your traffic is coming from. If you use Google Analytics, it organizes acquired website traffic into a few broad categories such as Direct, Organic Search, Referral, Social. These groupings allow you to immediately segment your traffic source and identify specific patterns of behavior for each source.
Points of entrance.
An entrance shows you what page people started their session on. You might think this would be the home page, when in fact that’s rarely the case, especially with referral and social traffic. If you go to the Behavior section of Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see your best-performing pages regarding traffic volume. Knowing what pages bring the most traffic is hugely important because it gives you reliable information on what content attracts people.
Engagement measures the amount of time visitors stay on your website, as well as how many pages they visit. Engagement metrics help UX teams understand how much attention visitors give to a website.
Engagement metrics include:
Time spent on your site.
Time visitors spend on site is often equated with engagement. Generally, the more time users spend on the site, the more valuable it’s for them. However, there might be an exception to this rule. For example, users might spend more time on a site because it’s hard to complete a specific task (e.g., find the information they need).
Total number of pages visited during user session.
Generally, the more pages people visited, the better. However, it can also be an indicator of dissatisfaction – if people have to visit dozens of pages to find what they’re looking for, that often leads to unhappiness.
The bounce rate (reported as a %) enables you to track how many people visit only one page before leaving your site. Naturally, you want this percentage to be as low as possible. There are some factors which could contribute to a high bounce rate. Generally, a high percentage could point to the lack of relevant content or usability issues. But of course, this rule has exceptions. For example, a visitor may have come to your site just to find contact information about your company. Once they had your phone number or address, there was no need to visit another page.
Create a list of top 10 pages visitors are most engaged with. The pages that users are spending most time may help you determine if your goals are in-line with the goals of users.
Track exit pages. It’s essential not only to track how a user gets to your site but also how they leave it. This metric is different than a bounce rate in that it tracks visitors who visited multiple pages (bounce rate is a single page metric). If a particular page has a high exit rate, it might be an indication of a problem.
There are two types of website visitors: first-time visitors and returning visitors. Retention is the percentage of return visitors — people who continue visiting your website within a specific time frame. When a team measures retention, it becomes much easier to distinguish new users from returning users, and, as a result, see how quickly user base is growing or stabilizing.
Retention can be distilled from the percentage of new sessions. By comparing the percentage of new sessions vs. returning visitors, you can determine if your website is attracting new visitors and whether it offers enough value so people return to it.
The majority of websites have a goal of getting visitors to convert (take action), whether it is to purchase an item or sign up for a newsletter. That’s why conversion is the metric that everyone cares about the most. Aim to maximize the number of people who convert (e.g., buy something after they come to your site). Obviously, the higher the conversion rate, the better your website is doing.
A conversion rate can tell you a lot about the quality of your traffic. For example, having a low conversion rate while having a lot of unique visits can be an indication that you are attracting the wrong traffic.
Here are a few tips for measuring conversion:
It’s always better to select easy-to-measure activities. For example, it might be something as simple as contact form submissions. Contact form submissions can be a great indicator of your site’s success — if users prompt an inquiry this is a great indication that your site has engaged them.
For larger sites, it’s good to have many different conversion goals on one site. For example, an eCommerce store might have three conversion goals — a product purchase, a subscriber to an email list, a social share.
Pirate Metrics (AARRR Framework)
As you can see, there are a lot of metrics that can be used. But how do you figure out which metrics to implement and track?
In the attempt to simplify the task of selecting right metrics, Dave McClure created a framework called AARRR. This framework uses a customer lifecycle as a foundation (the idea that visitors go from being a first-time visitor to a returning visitor), and tracks users through a conversion funnel over time. The life cycle consists of 5 steps:
Users come to the site from various channels.
Users enjoy their first visit (happy user experience).
Users come back and visit the site multiple times
Users like the product enough to refer it to others.
Users conduct some type of monetization behavior.
Pirate metrics can help you determine where you should focus on optimizing your marketing funnel.
User Experience Metrics
While marketing metrics define the success of a product based on the conversion, user experience metrics focus on the quality of interaction with a product. Focusing on business goals does not necessarily lead to a better user experience. UX metrics can complement marketing metrics by concentrating on the critical aspects of user experience.
The Quality Of User Experience (HEART Framework)
When it comes to measuring user experience, it’s always hard to define specific metrics. Of course, there are high-level UX metrics that correlate with the success of user experiences such as usability, engagement, and conversion. But it might be hard to define metrics that will be relevant to a particular product. In the attempt to simplify this task, the Google team created a framework called HEART. This framework is intended to help designers focus on the product they create, and the user experience it provides. HEART uses some metrics that we already mentioned in the marketing section, but from a different angle.
Measures of user attitudes: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, net-promoter score. This metric can be collected via survey.
Level of user involvement. Engagement is typically measured as depth of interaction over some time period. For example, the number of visits per user per month.
Gaining new users of a product or feature. For example, the number of users who tried new product features in the last week.
The rate at which existing users are returning. For example, for a web service this might be the number of active users remaining present over time. For e-commerce website, this might be the number of repeat purchases.
This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are task-focused. It includes behavior metrics such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. For example, for e-commerce website this might be the number of search result success.
The HEART framework is very flexible — it can be applied to a specific feature or a whole product. It’s important to mention that you don’t need to collect metrics in all of HEART categories — you should choose only the most important for your particular project. It’s possible to choose metrics by following a process of Goals-Signals-Metrics.
The Goals-Signals-Metrics Process
The Goals-Signals-Metrics process helps you to identify meaningful metrics you’ll actually use.
The process of selecting metrics you can implement and track starts with goals. To define a goal, you need to focus on knowing what determines success. This is where the HEART categories will be particularly useful. For example, if you create a news site you might set a goal in the engagement category; the aim would be to have users enjoy the articles they read, and to keep them browsing to discover more articles from different categories.
Here are two tips that will help you define better goal:
*Don’t define your goals in terms of your existing metrics. *It’s a common pitfall when a team defines goals based on information it has. As a result, a goal might sound as something like ‘We need to increase traffic to our site.’ Yes, everyone wants to have more visitors, but does more visitors will move you towards your goal? Not necessary.
Work with team and stakeholders to identify the goals. You may not realize that different members of your team have different ideas about the goals of your project. Identifying goals early on in design process provides an opportunity to build consensus about where you are headed. Make sure that everyone on the team understands the proposed solution in sufficient detail.
After identifying your goals, you need to think about what user actions will result in progress toward these goals. These actions are your signals. There are usually a large number of potentially useful signals for a particular goal. Once you have identified some potential signals, you may need to do research or analysis to choose the ones that are most relevant. If we circle back to our example with a news site, an engagement signal for it might be the number of articles users read on the site.
Here are a few tips:
Consider how easy or difficult is to track each signal. It’s preferable to focus on signals that can be monitored automatically (e.g. your product can log the relevant information so you can use it for further analysis).
Try to choose signals that are sensitive to changes in your design. This way you will be able to analyze the data you have to understand whether the design changes benefit your users or not.
Don’t ignore negative signals. Identifying signals for possible missteps (e.g. number of errors during particular interaction) can help you reveal pain points in your product.
Once you’ve chosen signals, you can refine them into metrics you’ll track over time. In our news site engagement example, we might implement “how long users spend reading news” as “the average number of minutes spent reading news per user per day.”
Prioritize your metrics.
Focus on tracking the metrics related to your top goals.
Don’t add metrics for sake of adding metrics.
Avoid the temptation to add “interesting stats” to the list of metrics. Always ask yourself whether you will actually use these numbers to help you make a decision.
The metrics you track should be tied back to design decisions.
When you see a change, you should be absolutely clear on what has caused that change.
What Can Influence Success
Follow TETO Principle
How to make sure that website meets user’s expectations? You can’t just assume that it does — you need to test your design to see how users engage with it. Testing can reveal much more than how usable a site is — it can also demonstrate the users’ emotional response to the design. That’s why TETO-principle (test early, test often) should be applied to every web design project.
Don’t expect to build a perfect product right from the first attempt.
Product design is an ongoing journey for both you and your users. That means that you design something, test it, rework it and then test it again.
Use comparative testing to find the best solution for your users.
If you have multiple solutions to a particular problem and not sure what solution works best for your product, you can use A/B testing to validate it. Compare what users do in one scenario vs. another, and see which design is the most effective.
Collect qualitative feedback.
All measurable data that we’ve talked about in previous sections can tell you a lot of answers on “*how many*” questions. But this data won’t tell you why people interact in a way they do. Facing readability issues, hesitation when filling out a payment form, using search because site’s navigation is really hard to deal with — all of these types of details are critical to understanding the user experience. They might be a reason why people abandon a process and leave the site. It’s possible to find answers to why questions by observing and interviewing your users.
Data-Informed, Not Data-Driven Design
When product teams collect data, they usually follow either data-driven or data-informed design process. The latter is more preferable. Design shouldn’t be driven by data, it should be informed by data.
Don’t Be Obsessed Over Numbers
A lot of metrics get reported simply because they are flowing in from analytics tool. While it’s tempting to report a lot of different things and hope that this will make your report more valuable, in reality, this usually leads to more complex reports that are hard to read.
Don’t Fall Into The Trap Of Complete Redesign
All too often design teams try to introduce a complete rework for a solution which they believe will result in more successful web experience. Jared Spool calls major product redesign a Flip-the-Switch strategy — “the most ineffective way to get major changes into a design.” In the article, “ The Quiet Death of the Major Re-Launch,” he shares a story on the eBay redesign — and it’s a great reminder of why users don’t like dramatic changes. A complete redesign that brings new visual and interaction design might be too much change and have an adverse effect.
If you have an existing website, instead of investing in a large scale redesign focus on subtle evolution, make small and incremental changes that can (over time) improve conversions without visitors even noticing that changes have been made.
So, how do you know that your website is a success? As a product creator, you must first define what success means to you. For that, it’s always important to have a big picture in mind of what it is that you want to achieve.
The next step would be to focus on metrics. Metrics will show you how a site changes over time. They will help you fill in the blanks between what has happened and why.
Landing The Concept: Movie High-Concept Theory And UX Design
Steven Spielberg once famously said, “If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less, it’s going to make a pretty good movie.” He was referring to the notion that the best mass-appeal ‘blockbuster’ movies are able to succinctly state their concept or premise in a single short sentence, such as Jaws (“It’s about a shark terrorizing a small town”) and Toy Story (“It’s about some toys that come to life when nobody’s looking”).
What if the same were true for websites? Do sites that explain their ‘concept’ in a simple way have a better shot at mass-appeal with users? If we look at the super simple layout of Google’s homepage, for example, it gives users a single clear message about its concept equally as well as the Jaws movie poster:
Being aware of the importance of ‘high-concept’ allows us — as designers — to really focus on user’s initial impressions. Taking the time to actually define what you want your simple ‘high-concept’ to be before you even begin designing can really help steer you towards the right user experience.
What Does High-Concept Theory Mean For UX Design?
So let’s take this seriously and look at it from a UX Design standpoint. It stands to reason that if you can explain the ‘concept’ or purpose of your site in a simple way you are lowering the cognitive load on new users when they try and understand it and in doing so, you’re drastically increasing your chances of them engaging.
The parallels between ‘High-Concept’ theory and UX Design best practice are clear. Blockbuster audiences prefer simple easy to relate concepts presented in an uncomplicated way. Web users often prefer simpler, easy to digest, UI (User Interface) design, clean layouts, and no clutter.
Regardless of what your message is, presenting it in a simple way is critical to the success of your site’s user experience. But, what about the message itself? Understanding if your message is ‘high-concept’ enough might also be critical to the site’s success.
What Is The Concept Of ‘High-Concept’ In The Online World?
What do we mean when we say ‘high-concept’? For movies it’s simple — it’s what the film is about, the basic storyline that can be easy to put into a single sentence, e.g. Jurassic Park is “about a theme park where dinosaurs are brought back to life.”
When we look at ‘high-concept’ on a website, however, it can really apply to anything: a mission statement, a service offering, or even a new product line. It’s simply the primary message you want to share through your site. If we apply the theory of ‘high-concept’, it tells us that we need to ensure that we convey that message in a simple and succinct style.
What Happens If You Get It Right?
Why is ‘high-concept’ so important? What are the benefits of presenting a ‘high-concept’ UX Design? One of the mistakes we often fall foul of in UX Design is focussing in on the specifics of user tasks and forgetting about the critical importance of initial opinions. In other words, we focus on how users will interact with a site once they’ve chosen to engage with it and miss the decision-making process that comes before everything. Considering ‘high-concept’ allows us to focus on this initial stage.
The basic premise to consider is that we engage better with things we understand and things we feel comfortable with. Ensuring your site presents its message in a simple ‘high-concept’ way will aid initial user engagement. That initial engagement is the critical precursor to all the good stuff that follows: sales, interaction, and a better conversion rate.
How Much Concept Is Too Much Concept?
The real trick is figuring out how much complexity your users can comfortably handle when it comes to positioning your message. You need to focus initially on presenting only high-level information rather than bombarding users with everything upfront. Give users only the level of understanding they need to engage initially with your site and drive them deeper into the journey disclosing more detail as you go.
Netflix does a great job at this. The initial view new users are presented with on the homepage screen is upfront with its super high-concept — ‘we do video content’ once users have engaged with this premise they are taken further into the proposition — more information is disclosed, prices, process, and so on.
When To Land Your High-Concept?
As you decide how to layout the site, another critical factor to consider is when you choose to introduce your initial ‘high-concept’ to your users. It’s key to remember how rare it is that users follow a nice simple linear journey through your site starting at the homepage. The reality is that organic user journeys sometimes start with search results. As a result, the actual interaction with your site begins on the page that’s most relevant to the user’s query. With this in mind, it’s critical to consider how the premise of your site appears to users on key entry pages for your site wherever they appear in the overall hierarchy.
Another key point to consider when introducing the message of your site is that in many scenarios users will be judging whether to engage with you way before they even reach your site. If the first time you present your concept to users is via a Facebook ad or an email campaign, then implementation is drastically different. However, the theory should be the same, i.e. to ensure you present your message in that single sentence ‘high-concept’ style way with potential users.
How To Communicate Your High-Concept
Thus far, we’ve talked about how aiming for ‘high-concept’ messages can increase engagement — but how do we do this? Firstly, let’s focus on the obvious methods such as the wording you use (or don’t use).
Before you even begin designing, sit down and focus in on what you want the premise of your site to be. From there, draw out your straplines or headings to reflect that premise. Make sure you rely on content hierarchy though, use your headings to land the concept, and don’t bury messages that are critical to understanding deep in your body copy.
Here’s a nice example from Spotify. They achieve a ‘high-concept’ way of positioning their service through a simple, uncluttered combination of imagery and wording:
Single Sentence Wording
It’s key to be as succinct as possible: the shorter your message is, the more readable it becomes. The true balancing act comes in deciding where to draw the line between too little to give enough understanding and too much to make it easily readable.
If we take the example of Google Drive — it’s a relatively complex service, but it’s presented in a very basic high-concept way — initially a single sentence that suggests security and simplicity:
Then the next level of site lands just a little more of the concept of the service but still keeping in a simple single sentence under 25 words (Spielberg would be pleased):
It doesn’t just stop with your wording as there is a myriad of other elements on the page that you can leverage to land your concept. The explainer video is used to great effect by Amazon to introduce users to the concept of Amazon Go. In reality, it’s a highly complex technical trial of machine learning, computer visual recognition, and AI (artificial intelligence) to reimagine the shopping experience. As it’s simply framed on the site, it can be explained in a ‘high-concept’ way.
Amazon gives users a single sentence and also, crucially, makes the whole header section a simple explainer video about the service.
The imagery you use can be used to quickly and simply convey powerful messages about your concept without the need to complicate your UI with other elements. Save the Children use imagery to great effect to quickly show the users the critical importance of their work arguably better than they ever could with wording.
Font And Color
It’s key to consider every element of your site as a potential mechanism for helping you communicate your purpose to your users, through the font or the color choices. For example, rather than having to explicitly tell users that your site is aimed at academics or children you can craft your UI to help show that.
Users have existing mental models that you can appeal to. For example, bright colors and childlike fonts suggest the site is aimed at children, serif fonts and limited color use often suggest a much more serious or academic subject matter. Therefore, when it comes to landing the concept of your site, consider these as important allies to communicate with your users without having to complicate your message.
So far, we’ve focused primarily on using messaging to communicate the concept to users. Still, what if the primary goal of your page is just to get users to interact with a specific element? For example, if you offer some kind of tool? If that’s the case, then showing the interface of this tool itself is often the best way to communicate its purpose to users.
This ties in with the concept of ‘Design Affordance’ — the idea that the form of a design should communicate its purpose. It stands to reason that sometimes the best way to tell users about your simple tool with an easy to use interface — is to show them that interface.
If we look at Airbnb, a large part of the Airbnb concept is the online tool that allows the searching and viewing of results; they use this to great effect on this landing page design by showing the data entry view for that search. Showing users how easy it is to search while also presenting them the with simple messaging about the Airbnb concept.
How To Test You’ve Landed It
Now that you’ve designed your site and you’re happy that it pitches its concept almost as well as an 80s blockbuster — but how can you validate that? It would be lovely to check things over with a few rounds of in-depth lab-based user research, but in reality, you’ll seldom have the opportunity, and you’ll find yourself relying on more ‘guerilla’ methods.
One of the simplest and most effective methodologies to check how ‘high-concept’ your site is is the ‘5 second’ or ‘glance’ test. The simple test involves showing someone the site for 5 seconds and then hiding it from view. Then, users can then be asked questions about what they can recall about the site. The idea being that in 5 seconds they only have the opportunity to view what is immediately obvious.
Here are some examples of questions to ask to get a sense of how well the concept of your site comes across:
Can you remember the name of the site you just saw?
What do you think is the purpose of the page you just saw?
Was it obvious what the site you just saw offers?
Do you think you would use the site you just saw?
Using this test with a decent number of people who match your target users should give some really valuable insight into how well your design conveys the purpose of your site and if indeed you’ve managed to achieve ‘high-concept’.
Putting It All Into Practice
Let’s try implementing all this knowledge in the real world? In terms of taking this and turning it into a practical approach, I try and follow these simple steps for every project:
Aim For High-Concept When you’re establishing the purpose of any new site (or page or ad) try and boil it down to a single, simple, overarching ‘High-Concept.’
Write It Down Document what you want that key concept to be in 25 words or less.
Refer Back Constantly refer back to that concept throughout the design process. From picking your fonts and colors to crafting your headline content — ensure that it all supports that High-Concept you wrote down.
Test It Once complete use the 5-second test on your design with a number of users and compare their initial thoughts to your initial High-Concept. If they correlate, then great, if not head back to step 3 and try again.
In this article, we have discussed the simple rule of making blockbuster movies, and we have applied that wisdom to web design. No ‘shock plot twist’ — just some common sense. The first time someone comes into contact with your website, it’s vital to think about what you want the initial message to be. If you want mass market appeal, then craft it into a ‘high-concept’ message that Spielberg himself would be proud of!
Every customer base is unique. Your ability to win your own marketing victories depends on understanding the users visiting your website each and every day. If you’ve spent any amount of time on The Daily Egg or similarly focused blogs, you know that thorough testing is paramount to your web business’ success. You might be intuitive (or lucky) enough to correctly read your customers on any given campaign, but over the long run, success WILL depend on data analysis. Despite the hundreds of voices claiming that marketing is an art, you’ve heard of Neil Patel, Avinash Kaushik, Danny Sullivan, and…
There are lots of ways to measure the performance of a web page and the most popular one is by far Google Analytics. But knowing exactly what images, words, or elements on your site catch your site visitor’s specific attention is not possible with these tools alone.
Sometimes, you simply want to know what makes your page great in terms of design, layout, content structure (you name it) and what prompts people to take one intentional action instead of another. You will be probably surprised to learn that there’s actually a solution to your question: heatmaps.
Unlike Google Analytics, which works with numbers and statistics, the heatmaps show you the exact spots that receive the most engagement on a given page. Through heatmaps, you will know what are the most clicked areas on a page, what paragraphs people select while scanning your content, and what is the scrolling behavior of your clients (e.g., how many went below the fold or how many reached the bottom of the page).
In this article, we will talk about why heatmaps are so efficient for your marketing goals and how they can be integrated with your WordPress site.
Why Use Heatmaps On Your WordPress Site
Before progressing to the “how to” part, you might want to know why it’s worth it to dedicate valuable time on implementing heatmaps for your WordPress site and what their actual role is.
First off, visual marketing is constantly growing as many more people now respond positively to a modern and user-friendly interface and skip a plain, non-interactive one. If a certain action requires too many steps and a hard to maneuver platform, they eventually give up, and you lose clients.
Of course, great content is still the key, but the way your site is structured and combines various elements will influence the activity of your visitors, which is either convert (engage) or leave.
Marketing experts researched this kind of behavior over time:
37% of marketers think visual marketing is the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging (38%);
But what were heatmaps built for specifically? A heatmap can help you discover valuable and, sometimes, surprising facts about your audience.
If you add one to your WordPress site, you can:
Track your visitors’ clicks and become aware of their expectations while browsing through your site. This way, you can adjust your pages and make them catchier and more compelling.
Find out what is of interest for people. You’ll know what information they are looking for, so you can put it in the spotlight and use it to your favor.
Analyze the scrolling behavior. See how many visitors reached the bottom area of the site and how many left immediately without browsing further through the sections.
Keep an eye on the cursor movement and see what pieces of content your audience is hovering over (or selecting) in a text.
Again, using heatmaps is not only about tracking clicks for fun, it can have many implications for your business’ growth. They can influence purchases or conversions of any kind (it depends on what you want to achieve with your site).
You will know if your call-to-action buttons get the attention you intended, compared to other elements on the same page. Maybe other design elements you placed on your sales page distract people from clicking the buy button, and this can be seen on the hot spots map. Based on the results, you can change the way they look, their position, their styling, etc., hence sales increase.
Bloggers can also use the heatmaps because this way they will know how to create customer-friendly, appealing layouts for their content. Some layouts generate more traffic than others, and it’s up to you to find out which ones.
If people linger on a certain piece of information, it means it’s valuable for them, and you can use it to your favor by placing a link or a button nearby. Or you can simply create a separate post with even more information on that topic.
How To Add A Heatmap To Your WordPress Site
No matter if we are talking about plugins originally made for WordPress or third-party tools, the integration is not difficult at all. Usually, the most difficult part about heatmaps is the interpretation of the results — the conclusions along with the implications they have on your business and how to use them to your advantage.
It’s important to mention that all these tools (except for Heatmap for WordPress) work with other website builders as well, not only WordPress. They are universal; it’s just that the WordPress developers found an easy way to integrate them with the latter so that the non-coders won’t struggle much with it. To integrate them with any other website builder, such as Squarespace for instance, you need to play with the code a little bit.
So, how to set up the heatmaps on your site? Let’s use Hotjar because it does a good job overall. It is intuitive, modern, and quick to implement in WordPress.
In this case, let’s take Hotjar Connecticator plugin as an example. After installing and activating it, you need to create an account on hotjar.com, add the URL of the site you want to monitor (you can add more sites later), and copy the provided tracking code to the plugin’s page in your WordPress dashboard (as seen below).
Now, it’s time to create the heatmap, which can be done right from the Hotjar platform (you can’t customize anything on your WordPress dashboard). So, click on Heatmaps, then New Heatmap.
Next, you need to choose your Page Targeting preferences. Do you want to track the hot spots on a single page? Do you test several pages at the same time to compare their results? That works too. If you need the latter, you have some URL formats available, so you can make sure you can target all the pages from a specific category (sorted by type, publishing date, etc.) You can even write the exact words that the links contain and Hotjar starts tracking the pages.
An interesting thing about Hotjar is that it lets you exclude page elements that you don’t want to monitor by adding their CSS selectors. This way, you can avoid being distracted by unneeded things when you compare or analyze the results and can focus only on the ones that you want to test.
After you create the heatmap, the first screenshot with the hot spots will be provided only after the page starts to get visitors and clicks, so don’t expect results right away. The tool tracks all the views you had on that page since the heatmap was created so that you can make reports based on the views and the number of clicks. This kind of reports let you know you how clickable (or not) your content is.
Here’s how the first screenshot provided by Hotjar looks (the testing was done on an uncustomized version of Hestia WordPress theme):
Another awesome thing about this tool is that it provides you the option to create simple and interactive polls to ask your users why they’re leaving your page or what were the things they didn’t enjoy about your page.
Case Study: How We Improved Landing Pages On ThemeIsle And CodeinWP With Heatmaps
The theory sounds captivating, and it’s almost always easier than the practice itself. But does this method really work? Is it efficient? Do you get pertinent results and insights at the end of the day?
The answer is: Yes, if you have patience.
We love heatmaps at ThemeIsle and use them on many of our pages. The pages are mostly related to WordPress themes since the company is an online shop that sells themes and plugins for this particular platform.
One of the most popular pieces of content from CodeinWP blog is related to themes as well. We have a large range of listings, and many of them rank in top three of Google results page. Lately, we have experimented with two types of layouts for the lists: one that has a single screenshot presenting the theme’s homepage and another providing three screenshots: homepage, single post page, and mobile display.
The main thing we noticed after comparing the two versions was that quite the same number of people reached to end of the list, but the clicks distribution was different: the listing with more visuals didn’t get as many clicks in the bottom half as the one with only one screenshot. This means that the list with more visuals is more explanatory because it offers more samples from the theme’s design, which helps people realize faster which ones are appealing to them. Given this fact, there’s no need for extra clicks to see how a theme looks.
In the one-screenshot case, people dig deeper to find more details about a theme, since there’s only the homepage that they can see from the picture. Hence, they will click more to get to the theme’s page and launch its live demo.
Another example of using heatmaps is Hestia theme’s documentation page. During the testing process, we noticed that a significant number of users are interested in upgrading to the premium version after seeing the number of clicks on the word “Upgrade”, which convinced us to move the upgrade button to a more obvious place and improve the destination page that contains the premium features of the theme.
Speaking of premium features, another experiment of ours was to track the cursor movement and see what are the features people are hovering over more when checking the documentation. Based on the results, we used the most popular items on many landing pages that were seeking conversion – which, in this case, was the upgrade to the premium theme by our free users.
We also created a heatmap for our FAQ page to track the less clicked questions, which we replaced subsequently with other relevant ones. The test is still in progress, as we are trying to improve our support services and offer the customers smoother experiences with our products.
The Importance Of A/B Testing
After getting great insights from the heatmaps, you don’t have to stop there. Create alternatives for your pages based on the results and use the A/B testing method to see which ones perform better.
A/B testing is probably the most popular method with which you can compare two or more versions of the same page. The end goal is to find out which one converts better. You should try it because it definitely helps you get closer to your goals and offers you a new perspective on how your content is being consumed by your audience.
So, after using heatmaps for a while and tracking the behavior of your users, start to make a plan on how to improve your site’s usability. Create alternatives, don’t stick with only one. If you have more than one idea, put them all to test and observe people’s reactions. The goal here is to create the most efficient landing page, the one that has the best chances to convert or to receive the expected engagement.
But how does A/B testing work?
Well, there are several plugins built to make this method work on your WordPress site, but Nelio A/B Testing is the most popular based on the reviews it has on WordPress.org directory (and it’s also free). After installing the plugin, you can choose the type of experiment you want to run. It has a large range of options to compare: pages, posts, headlines, widgets, and more.
Now, starting an experiment is really easy, it takes a few minutes. When you create it, you need to add the original page you want to run tests on, the alternative you want to compare it to, and the goal (what you are trying to achieve with the experiment: get page views, clicks, or direct people to an external source). After stopping the experiments, the plugin will show you detailed results that revolve around the goal you set in the first place. So, at the end of the test, you can tell which page performed better, and you can use it on your site… until a new idea comes to your mind and you should start testing again. Because digital marketing is not about assuming and hoping that things will happen, it’s about making things happen. That’s why you should always test, test, and test again.
By the way, with Nelio A/B Testing plugin, you can create heatmaps too, but they are not as sophisticated as the plugins listed earlier and don’t deliver as many insights. But you can try it out if you want to run quick experiments and need some basic information about a page.
If you want to have a successful business or to be the author of a bold project, keep adjusting your strategies. Try new things every day, every week. To be able to adjust, it’s not enough to simply know your audience but to also test its behavior and make the next moves based on that.
Marketing is not about guessing what your customers want; it’s about finding it yourself and offering them that one thing they need. The heatmaps method will help you along the way by sketching people’s behavior on your site and highlighting what they care most about. It’s simple, fast, visual (you don’t need to dig too much into statistics to understand your audience), and fun.
Knowing what your users’ actions are when they land on your web pages could be something truly fascinating, and you can learn a lot from it.
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