Designing a website is a gigantic undertaking regularly costing 10s of thousands or even millions of dollars. A funny thing happens after companies spend substantial sums of money: they tend to resist any new changes or recommendations. Funneling more and more marketing dollars to site design is unpalatable. Out of necessity, they are forced to “love the one (they’re) with.”
As an online marketer, way too often am I left in the difficult position of working with clients who have recently spent a boatload of money on a new design and have no money left over to build dedicated landing pages for paid search, build out a resources section, or test calls to action. “But we just spent $40,000” has little impact on the fact that most sites need to be improved over time.
Companies need to start considering web design as a long-term, ongoing process rather than a project that needs to be addressed every few years. They should look beyond the launch of the site and set aside funds to address site design for new marketing initiatives, testing, and changing technologies.
An Inherently Flawed Process
A rigid focus on initial design limits a site’s sales potential. This problem is endemic to the design process. Web design and interactive agencies focus much of their energy upfront in the research and planning process and devote far too little energy to the ongoing processes of optimization and content creation.
Web design firms often view the process of creating a website as a project. They have built an entire structure around projects employing Project Managers, Senior Project Managers, & Project Leaders. Team members are assigned to finish a project, and projects regularly have an estimated completion date.
This set up is all wrong. Project-focused design is incredibly short-sighted and leaves clients in the unenviable position of managing marketing campaigns around a site that can’t adapt. A better design process would set aside a large portion of web design funds to make regular changes based on new marketing initiatives, the introduction of new technology, and improving onsite conversion rates.
Dedicated Marketing Efforts
Companies need to be able to adapt to seasonality, new products, and changes in marketing strategies. Whether targeting new keywords in paid search or running a new email promotion, a company’s site design needs to adapt as well. Generally, the landing page design directing users to download a whitepaper from an email campaign will be far different from a landing page for PPC keyword targeting the research phase.
Rather than pick and choose from existing page templates, why not design a template for the specific marketing initiative? A better web design process would include regular budgets to develop landing pages and conversion funnels for individual marketing efforts.
Building dedicated landing pages and conversion funnels is not enough if those pages do not lead to conversions. Companies need the ability to test page design in order to increase leads, sales, and site engagement. Does the call to action work best in the upper-right-hand corner, at the bottom of the fold, or both? Does quote form submission increase with an accordion form or a form with multiple steps? How does the top navigation affect sales?
It is highly unlikely for a website to come optimized out of the box. Consumers are a fairly fickle bunch and predicting what layout will best lead them through the checkout process is near impossible. It is much better to test multiple layouts. The top converting ecommerce sites regularly test the layout of the homepage, product pages, and shopping cart. Optimizing for conversion is not a “set it and forget it” process; it requires time and continual redesign.
The digital age is a fast-changing landscape. Flash makes way for HTML5. Designers now need to account for visitors from mobile devices and the iPad. Google TV is on the horizon. Firefox, Chrome, and Explorer regularly release new browsers. Facebook is seemingly announcing a new product each week. Web designs can barely survive 3 months, let alone 3 years.
Furthermore, how products are packaged is constantly changing. Ebooks are outpacing hard covers. Viewers prefer video streaming than getting video by mail. Clearly, a static design process is not suitable for a shifting consumer in a transforming economy.
A Fundamental Shift
The concept of a website redesign needs to be shattered. Web design projects should be limited to campaigns with expiration dates. Rather, companies should focus on web design management, an ongoing process where the site design is regularly updated to improve conversion and address changing marketing initiatives and consumers.
Maybe then we can have web design agencies full of Web Design Managers and Web Design Leaders.