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.
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.