The web design industry takes care of job #1 — making beautiful websites that are unique and special. Web designers have the brand thing down.
It’s Job #2 where everything breaks. Web designers are not properly equipped (or paid) to get a website working.
The best way to explain this is to start by looking at how decisions are made while the website is being created…
– The business owner says, “Pricing should be on the first page.” The designer responds, “I really think page two is better.”
– Business owner, “I don’t like the messaging.” The designer stands their ground, “But your customers will.”
– Business owner, “I want the colors to be softer.” Designer, “But bright is in.”
And on and on.
If you’ve been through this before, you can relate when I say, a lot of times the person with the loudest voice, or most conviction wins.
But most importantly, all of these decisions are being made using assumptions, and these are assumptions about what will convert website visitors into leads or sales.
Everyone is essentially guessing their way through it.
Wait, remind me…
What Is A Conversion?
A conversion is turning a website visitor into something more valuable for the business.
It can be accomplished by getting someone to respond to a Call To Action (a CTA), like: filling out an email address form or a contact form, signing up for a freemium product, purchasing a product, or even clicking through to an app store.
Websites with high Conversion Rates are those that are successful in getting visitors to respond to CTA’s.
Why are conversions important?
Because website visitors are great and all but in order to hit revenue targets you want them to eventually buy from you, right?!
Why So Much Guessing?
Now I have nothing against making assumptions to try to figure out what will get customers to convert. Assumptions are actually very necessary to move any business forward. What’s broken, is that these assumptions are being treated as fact.
It turns out there are good reasons for this…
#1 – The majority of data that web designers have access to is from focus groups and surveys.
This is exactly how I started trying to bring data into my design process. I used many research tools and methods, including AYTM, Survey Monkey, Google Survey, Facebook, and Amazon Mechanical Turk, and while there are certain tools that are very helpful, like User Testing.
What web designers REALLY need is traffic flowing into the website to see what’s working and what isn’t.
But driving traffic is what marketers do, not web designers.
And that brings me to #2 – designers are hired to create the website and that’s it. The budget shifts from design to marketing after the site launches.
And websites don’t convert on the first try anymore. They just don’t.
So design changes WILL be necessary after the site launches. And guess who makes these changes?
Either the marketer, “Who messes up the design.”
Or the designer, who the business owner resents because they didn’t budget for this work.
Everyone is trying to do the right thing, but long story short, the whole system is not set up to get beautiful websites to work.
Out of everything I’ve mentioned that’s broken, lack of traffic during the design phase is what I believe is the biggest root cause.
It’s also one of the main reasons why the web design industry continues to use an outdated method for creating websites called…
The Waterfall Method
What is the Waterfall Method?
It’s a software development term where all the planning happens up front to define the whole project, and it involves creating a long list of to-do’s. As time goes on and the items are checked off the list, the list will get smaller and smaller as the project moves toward completion.
In this approach, web designers start with beautiful designs, write code to bring the designs to life, and deliver a ‘Final’ website which is expected to succeed no matter what.
Designers tend to use a lot of custom code because it gives them to ability to create exactly what they (and the business owner) want. This code locks in the beauty. It also locks in many of the assumptions that were made along the way so the finished product isn’t flexible to change at a later date.
Waterfall allows everyone to stick to a plan and the project can be completed on time and on budget.
Business owners find comfort in this approach. They want to know how their website will look, how much it will cost, and how long it will take.
Waterfall makes the most sense on paper and provides a (false) sense of security.
While this method is useful for many types of projects, web design is not one of them because change is a must.
Why doesn’t Waterfall work for web design?
The reality is that it takes many tests to figure out how to get a website working.
Not only do marketers need to be changing the copy and adding call to actions, but they’ll also need to be moving parts of the page around to help visitors flow through the site easier.
Marketers have a lot of tricks up their sleeve to get a website working but it requires a flexible canvas to work with. It requires change. And none of this is being considered with Waterfall.
A better, more modern method for web design is called The Lean Method, or Agile.
The Lean Method
What is The Lean Method?
It’s where you create a “rough draft” to get started, collect data to learn what is and isn’t working, and then you improve the website over time.
Notice the icon, the loop on top demonstrates that there is a feedback loop and that you are constantly working on the website to make improvements.
The Lean Method, or some variation of it, is the development model that many great software teams use these days, like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, and believe it or not… Bing, “Bill Gates’ favorite engineering team of all time.” This is the engineering team I was on for 8 of my 13 years at Microsoft.
The Lean Method hasn’t yet permeated the Web Design industry because the data required for the feedback loop doesn’t exist in the design phase. It only exists AFTER marketers take over.
So for all these reasons, unfortunately, web design is using an outdated approach to software development that simply doesn’t work.
Let’s Talk About The “Launch”
After the website is complete, typically there’s a launch — sending in a lot of new traffic with a press release.
It’s an exciting time.
But for most business owners the high doesn’t last long. The lack of leads and sales that result from the launch is disorienting and they start to question everything, “That took how many months and how many thousands of dollars… now what?”
Many websites don’t make it beyond launch. Because not only do they not “work”, but the marketer who has taken it over tells the business owner, this website is faulty.
There are typically 2 reasons a marketer will encourage a business owner to throw their website out and start over.
#1. Too much custom code. The marketer can’t make the necessary changes to get the site converting.
#2. Lacks key functionality. The site is created using a website builder or theme that isn’t marketing friendly.
Or a combination of the two.
The Marketing Rat Race
Now, let’s say the faulty website continues to be used, as is the case with many new businesses. This is when the Marketing Rat Race begins.
Business owners tend to bounce from marketer to marketer, from Facebook to SEO to Google Adwords and back again. It’s this never ending cycle of searching for something, anything that will work. And why wouldn’t they keep searching?
Every marketing article you read these days makes sure to tell you “How easy it is!” So they try it. They try everything.
And they don’t give up!
“I’m so tired of writing checks, but I won’t get any sales if I don’t have any customers and I won’t get any customers if I don’t do marketing.” This quote from an entrepreneur who’s been in the marketing rat race for 3 years.
And this brings me back to the beginning… while online marketing may seem expensive and inefficient at times, it’s not the weak link. Websites are.
The Bottom Line
Web designers create the website, and then the marketers drive traffic to it –There’s not much overlap between the two functions if any at all.
I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody is to blame, and also that, nobody is empowered to fix the problem on their own.
But the two people who can make a difference are the business owner and web designer.
So, I’ve written this for you. To help you get through this wasteful maze together and create websites that work.