Having led the development of hundreds of websites, landing pages, online display ads and the like, I always find the challenge between creativity and achieving conversions to be one of the most critical elements to online success. After all, finding the optimal balance between creativity and good usability is what separates “the men from the boys” when it comes to effective web design and development. We experienced a recent example of this and here’s the story.
We were working with one of our ad agency partners recently to achieve online conversions via search and online display marketing. The goal was to achieve a certain non-financial oriented conversion for a non-profit organization. The purpose of the campaign was fantastic and at the same time it was difficult to define demographics or specific target markets. The nature of the campaign appealed to just about anyone 18 years or older.
A very creative micro-site was built by another design company and it had some great functionality and a unique presentation. Upon reviewing the website we were concerned that some things weren’t labeled well and calls-to-action were a bit more subdued than we’d suggest. However, our style in situations like this is to let the data (web analytics data that is) do the talking. So, we organized and launched the online marketing campaign with a plan to review several engagement and conversion metrics on a daily basis.
After only a few days what we saw confirmed our web design concerns. Bounce rates were higher than we expected and conversions were weak. It was time to step in and suggest some changes. The changes we pushed included more obvious calls-to-action, make links and navigation paths much more intuitive, and make page formats less cool and creative, and more usable and intuitive.
The designer who created the site did a great job integrating the suggested improvements and the site remained unique, appealing and creative. Best of all, the changes resulted in much higher visitor engagement and higher conversions. Specifically, conversions increased by 28% and bounce rates declined by nearly 10%.
This was a classic example of focusing too much attention on creativity at the expense of the user’s experience and/or the desired business goals. Here are some guidelines for optimizing and evaluating a user’s experience:
Don’t be ambiguous or “cutesy” with labeling. Make your links mean something to the user. Make your headlines and titles relevant and intuitive.
- Determine the business goals you want to achieve with your website or landing page. Then, identify the main action you want the user to take and make sure that’s prominently displayed above the fold on the web-page.
- Use engaging headlines to grab the attention of your visitor and interrupt his/her sub-conscious.
- Don’t make me read and don’t make me think. With the exception of doing deep research, the attention span of the typical internet user is short, so minimize marketing copy and make action intuitive.
Most clients are wonderful to work with and most creative designers are extraordinary people. I wish I had a fraction of their creative talent. But, too often clients value cool and mysterious over good usability standards. They spend so much energy and countless hours striving for some special look/feel. But they fail to realize the risk of a poor user experience and/or the fact that once the person has visited a website, the value they put on this unique look during subsequent visits is much less meaningful. Also, too often creative people want to showcase their abilities and end up creating something that is graphically rich but the average user doesn’t know how to deal with it.
It’s OK to have a really awesome graphic design, but don’t let “awesomeness” get in the way of making sure your website or landing page visitor has a great experience. Remember the days of those cool, interactive Intro pages – those you had to sit through before entering the real website or click the Skip Intro button? There’s a reason why you don’t see them any more – they simply got in the way of the user getting to what he/she came to the site for in the first place. Oh, they were surely creative, but lacked substance and added little value to good usability.
In the end it’s all about whether you are achieving the goals you set out to achieve online. Look at your web analytics data. Ask some objective users who fit your target market what they think about the usability and credibility of your website. Remember a song of old - “beauty is only skin-deep”.