Good Design Matters

by Travis Ketchum · 4 comments

The College Startup

I don’t think anyone argues that designing for conversion is important.

But is there more to it than just A/B testing button colors and copywriting?

Great design isn’t just a luxury of high profile websites anymore, in fact it’s more critical.

Good design is now the price of entry, just like having great content. Tweet This

Sound Testing ≠ Good Design

Well tested sites that still have lots of images, tons of plugins dragging down their load times and copying everyone in their field are really just optimizing what is known as their “local maximum” instead of their “true maximum”.

This theory has been exhausted in design circles when talking about the Google example where they used 41 shades of blue to determine which received the most clicks by users.

The reasoning behind what Google is doing is sound, however it is very unlikely that Google is left with the best possible solution.

What Google has instead found is their local maximum. The best possible solution given their current framework.

That is vastly different than the absolute maximum.

It’s easier to understand when you think about the idea of banner blindness and human conditioning.

If you visit the same site over and over, eventually you become desensitized to the ads and the publisher sees a decline in clicks and total revenue.

Change the color? They see another small blip that eventually goes away, and the process continues.

But what happens if a publisher completely changes the structure of their website?

BOOM, they see a huge spike in all the valuable metrics.

Email optins, sales conversions and ad clicks all sky rocket.

Not being afraid to take a design risk

Taking risks is just part of business and really being successful at just about anything.

If you aren’t willing to take risks – then someone who is willing to do so will walk home disproportionately rewarded for their efforts.

Most people are familiar with the advantage of being a first mover into a market because no one else has done it before, but it works for things even more simple than that.

Think I’m crazy? How many photo sharing sites have you seen over the past few years?

Hundreds if not thousands.

But then the primarily female dominated Pinterest came along and shook things up.

Now? They drive more traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.

They took a design risk and paid off big time.

Creating a lightweight experience

One of the big things people don’t acutely understand is how important load times are for conversion goals.

For instance, Amazon found that for every 100ms in additional load time sales dropped 1% (Kohavi and Longbotham 2007).

To continue with our example above, Google found that going from a 10-results page that loaded in .4 seconds to a 30-results page that loaded in .9 seconds resulted in an ad revenue drop of 20% (Linden 2006). No one can ignore these numbers, but it only means one thing.

You have to cut the fat from your site. Top WordPress design experts like Jason Schuller have done extensive testing on what it takes to make their sites load quickly.

The #1 contributing factor to their slower site? Too many plugins.

If you are running a blog, you need to take a serious look at your plugin list and start cutting the stuff you don’t really need.

Basically all the functions of a plugin can be hard coded in as well, so if it’s something simple like adding Google Analytics find someone who can drop the code in easily or use a framework like Thesis or Genesis to bundle most of that kind of feature set.

I’ve used both of the above frameworks and each has their strengths.

In addition to cutting the functions that happen behind the scenes, there is plenty to cut that is visible to your audience right now.

As Derek Halpern of Social Triggers has been preaching for quite a while, get rid of your search box.

Do you know who uses the search field the most? You do, as the publisher. You have a search built on the backend, so don’t waste valuable engagement space on something that is actually rarely used.

Don’t lose sleep over the idea of people not finding on-site content. Google & Bing are better at helping them find that information anyway.

Action list to improve design

Now on to the awesome stuff, the things you can actually to do.

1. If you have website on WordPress take a serious look at your list of plugins.

Cut what you can, and consider consolidating functionality into Thesis or Genesis if you aren’t a coder and can’t afford to hire one.

2. See what isn’t being used on your site (such as the search box).

This should be treated like backpacking, if you put it in your bag and then never used it. Get rid of it the next time around.

Other culprits to look for are social sharing options that aren’t being used (No one using that LinkedIn Share? dump it). These tools prove to be negative social proof.

3. Take a hard look at the theme or overall design you are using. If it looks exactly like everyone else, do something different.

Does this mean you have to re-invent the wheel? Absolutely not. However, there are enough good themes with flexibility out there that you can infuse your own DNA into the site.

About Travis Ketchum
A smart ass marketer who doesn't take no for an answer and always questions the status quo. Connect with me on Google+. Convinced yet? Get more tips and great content 100% free.

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Building a sustainable business is all about how well you can gather and maintain an audience. An email list is still one of the most viable ways to do just that.

We wanted to find a way to build an email incredibly fast, in a way that people actually find interesting, engaging and well - cool. It took a lot of testing to weed-whack through all the hype and find something that really worked.

The result? We ended up building our own solution, focused around the idea of contests and rewarding people for taking the actions that ultimately led to more leads on our email list. Everyone wins (and some literally do!), because as it turns out people love contests regardless of their market place.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Fuentes February 2, 2012 at 5:04 PM

Hey Travis,

Love the article. Namesake going south broke my heart, but I do love Pinterest…thanks for the insight on load times.


Travis Ketchum February 2, 2012 at 5:18 PM

Andrea, thank you so much for taking the time to read through the article. I too was pretty bummed to see Namesake flare out.

What are your plans to reduce page load times? Anything I can help with?


Blake Waddill February 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM

I think it’s interesting that you mentioned making changes. A fascinating study came out about a well lit work environment. At first, programmers were most productive when the lights were on. After a while their productivity started to drop. They then dimmed the lights and productivity went back up. As you mentioned, noted, the absolute maximum is a moving target. Good stuff.


Travis Ketchum February 3, 2012 at 5:58 PM

It really is pretty fascinating isn’t it? I see at it as never ending proof that there will always be a “human factor” that doesn’t necessarily follow intuitive logic.

The only way to really combat that is to constantly be on top of your numbers and watch for fluctuating trends, and be willing to take a few risks.


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