Misconceptions About Website Optimization:
Website optimization is a test and learn process. If we restrict our ability to learn by listening to commonly held misconceptions about website design and performance we risk undermining the whole optimization process. These myths must die!
1. It’s about improving the customer experience.
Why are people so obsessed with improving the customer experience?
It is certainly desirable for the user experience to meet certain standards (e.g. relevance, clarity, loadspeed, accessibility etc), as otherwise this could harm conversion. But it should not be an isolated goal though, there has to be a return on investment as there is always an opportunity cost for any expenditure.
We could all create a fantastic user experience by giving free access to everything on our site or reducing prices below the market rate. But unless this provides a net-gain to the organisation we could quickly go out of business.
Disney understand this and invest in creating a compelling customer experience because they know it allows them to charge more than your average theme park and people will return for more of the same. On a website we have the advantage that we can precisely measure the ROI though A/B and multivariate testing. Use these tools to ensure that money spent on improving your website has a positive and sustainable impact on important business goals. Otherwise use the money for something else that generates a positive return.
2. Conversion is about good design.
What defines a ‘good’ webpage design is all too often based upon the subjective opinions of people within an organisation rather than the behaviour of visitors. People visit a website because they perceive that it can assist them in achieving a current goal, whether it is your content or the products/services sold. If your design doesn’t assist with this process then it won’t matter whether it is a flat or simple/minimal style because customers won’t return.
Design is definitely important as it helps to create a good first impression, and it ensures content and navigation are presented in a way that is clear and engaging to visitors. But design is an enabler to facilitate the user journey, and ultimately if a beautifully designed page does not help and encourage visitors to complete a key task of some kind it has failed.
Data should determine if a design is up to standard and not the subjective opinions of managers and designers. As Brian Massey points out often “ugly wins” when it comes to A/B tests:
“The specifics of design change from audience to audience. Probably the only general rule, and it’s a bit of a heartbreaker, is that too often we find ugly wins when we do our split tests.” Source: Brian Massey Shares insights on landing pages designed to convert
3. Consistency of design is crucial.
How many times a day do you hear “consistency” given as the reason for why an element on your website looks like it does or why it even exists on a webpage? This is not an answer, it’s an automatic response that hides a lack of thought and is often due to lazy thinking or design.
Sure, if it is to align with a web convention this helps to meet
customer expectations and assists navigation or understanding it may be relevant. But, do you really think your visitors are bothered if your call to action button on one page is a different size or colour to what it is on another page? Do you think they even notice if your website is engaging and has compelling content? I think not.
Your visitor is trying to complete a task and that should be
your priority, not that everything is consistent. If consistency is relevant and helps the customer meet their goal then great, but not if it is solely for your gratification and doesn’t assist the customer achieve their goal. Consistency for its own sake should not be a goal and should be challenged unless you have evidence that it is beneficial to both your customer and your organisation.
4. Brand guidelines must be adhered to.
This is like saying that you won’t use oxygen to breathe underwater if you think the colour of your tank clashes with your swimming gear. If we follow this rule we are basically saying that brand guidelines are more important than the organisation’s goals (e.g. revenue generation). This is not a healthy place to be in and it could contribute to the failure of the business.
Brand guidelines should be ‘guidelines’ and not set in stone. They are often based upon subjective opinions and may have little evidence to support them. Like any aspect of a business they need to have a return on investment (ROI) and if that ROI is not proven it needs to be challenged and if necessary changed. Otherwise the business and the brand will not evolve in response to changing customer needs.
5. Use tips and best practice.
If it was this simple we would all just follow Amazon. Websites are unique ecosystems that attract their own set visitors who do not behave in a generic and predictable way.
Where you don’t have the traffic to test on a website you may have to implement changes that you have tested on another site. However, don’t assume it will necessarily work. Make sure you have appropriate KPI monitoring in place just in case it doesn’t go according to plan.
Similarly, tips about conversion rate optimization may give you ideas for making improvements, but again test them before you implement to ensure they work on your website. The key to any successful website optimisation strategy is that you follow a systematic and proven process to identity and develop tests that have a high chance of making a significant impact on your business KPIs.
Following tips and best practice alone will just lead to a random testing programme that lacks focus and will probably fail to deliver consistent and sustainable results.
6. It’s all about the conversion rate:
Your key conversion metric is just one indicator of many that shows how your site is performing. It should not be viewed in isolation
from other KPIs, such as average order value, returning customer orders, or overall revenues. Any improvement in your conversion rate needs to be sustainable and provide an overall net gain to your business as otherwise it is meaningless. You should never rely on a single metric to measure success as websites are complex systems with many dependencies.
If Website optimization was all about the conversion rate we would all use dark user design patterns to trick visitors into making decisions that may not be in their best interest. Having worked in Gibraltar for a year I frequently had to book flights though Ryanair’s website. Their website employs such practices but it didn’t make me want to use them again if I had any choice. Such practices are
counter productive in the long-run and can damage your brand’s reputation.
The Ryanair website’s travel insurance section is probably the worst culprit of this approach. This states that “If you wish to purchase travel insurance please select your country of residence”. Ok, so why is travel insurance in the country of residence drop-down menu? Below the list of passengers there is a further instruction; “If
you do not wish to purchase travel insurance, please select ‘Don’t insure me’ in the drop-down box.”
Ok, but the “Don’t insure me” is not at the top of the list of options because that would be too easy. Nope, it’s between “Denmark”
and “Finland”. You also have to select this separately for each passenger because it is under country of residence. This is not an enjoyable experience and ironically it probably makes you more alert for any other money-making tactics that Ryanair might
So don’t get obsessed with your conversion rate. See it as one of many important indicators of your site’s health. Ensure you don’t trade off short-term gains for damaging the long-term sustainability of your site.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com. He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback. By aligning each stage of the customer journey with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.