Best practices are like autobiographies of famously successful people — they are examples of how certain practices, methods, and decisions have worked for other people, but it doesn’t mean they will necessarily make you a success.
Conversion rate optimization best practices should serve as starting points on how to solve certain problems, a way to kick-start the problem-solving process towards an ultimately data-driven optimization solution. It is critical to understand that there is no single solution to every problem because there are too many variables that influence both problem and solution.
To design the best, most effective, high-converting website you need to employ a designer that understands this principle. One who uses best practices as a foundation on which to incorporate user data and experiment with solutions that ultimately lead to the most effective website for your needs.
In this multi-part course, we will look at a series of best conversion rate optimization practices that will help guide you through this process, so you can develop conversion rate optimization strategies that work for you.
For Part 1 we ask the important question of whether you should simply improve your existing site or completely rebuild it, have a look at how to design a more persuasive site, look at the importance of visual design and how to use visual hierarchy to guide visitors through the most important parts of your site.
Radical redesign vs. evolutionary design
Getting a new website is exciting, but there are times when an existing one simply needs to evolve to generate optimum conversions. The rule-of-thumb is if your business changes direction, then it should get a completely redesigned site. When your business continues in the same direction, however, you need to determine which option will produce the best results.
Evolve your current site:
The first-prize option is to evolve your site because it is much less costly than to scrap it and build a new one from the ground up. If your site works well enough, has no major tech issues, and you have a large, constant stream of returning visitors, then a simple tweak and polish to the existing site is best.
Rebuild from scratch:
Completely redesigning a site can be very expensive, but sometimes it’s the only way to increase conversions. When you’ve hit the peak of your current site’s conversion ability (the local maxima), your site design looks amateurish, the technology used on it is too old, it’s getting no traffic, and when there are simply too many problems on the site, it’s time to pull the plug and start a-fresh.
Principles of persuasive design
When creating an effective website, the challenge for designers is to persuade visitors using only words and images, similar to creative teams working on traditional print advertising. Modern technology makes meeting this challenge a bit easier by giving site creators access to useful user data which helps them to build high-conversion websites. However, one can’t build a persuasive site on data alone. There are five principles that guide persuasive web design.
Here’s a brief look at these principles:
The site should be clear about what it’s about, what it wants from you, and what it wants you to do. This can be anything from buying a product or service, signing up for a newsletter, or requesting a quote. The best way to achieve this is to find a balance between visuals and copy.
2. Visual appeal
The internet is about visuals, so keep your visuals beautiful, but simple while keeping the design of your site ‘familiar’.
3. Visual hierarchy
We see visuals in a hierarchy, which means that what’s biggest on the site is generally deemed most important. Creating a visual hierarchy lets you guide the visitor to what you want them to see first.
4. Hold their attention
Arguably the most important thing a salesperson needs to do to close a sale is to get the customer’s attention, then holding it. Attention spans online are short, so doing this may prove to be quite a challenge, however, there are several techniques to help achieve this, including types and placement of images, calls to action, and persuasive copy.
5. Only one action per screen, but don’t force it
Every page on your website should have an action you want the visitor to take — sign up for a newsletter, purchase a product, or make a donation. However, it’s important to provide the site visitor with enough information to be able to take that action, else they will leave your site.
Importance of Visual Design in CRO
People are visual beings, and it doesn’t matter whether you know anything about art or design, your eye is usually drawn to something that is designed well. With this in mind, we’re also extremely judgemental based on what we see. There is evidence that suggests that attractive people are more successful in business.
What all of this means is that when it comes to conversions, the design of your website matters…a lot. A beautifully designed site can result in a better user experience, and also increase people’s trust in your business or brand. The opposite is true for a badly designed site. This makes a case for hiring a highly skilled visual designer.
Here’s a quick look at some key aspects of design that play a role in conversion rate optimization strategies:
1. Extremely quick to judge
Research has shown that it takes a mere 0.05 of a second for people to form an opinion of your site, good or bad.
2. First impressions
According to research, the overwhelming majority of people form a first impression based on the look-and-feel of a site.
3. Inspiration impacts first impressions
Visually inspiring images greatly increases first impressions of the site, followed by the site’s ease-of-use and credibility.
4. Simplicity and prototypicality
Simple, more familiar (prototypical) design without unnecessary distractions is best. The clearer it is to the visitor what’s going on the site, the better.
5. Data-driven design is the best design
Using data can help identify what works and what doesn’t, thus allowing designers to improve site performance and design.
One of the five key principles of persuasive design is visual hierarchy — the order in which your eye takes in what it sees. Creating visual hierarchy on your website is extremely important, as it allows you to guide visitors’ attention towards the most important areas, and the actions you would like them to perform, such as ‘go to checkout’ or ‘sign up for a newsletter’.
Elements should be ranked according to the priorities, business objective and desired actions on every page, not just the homepage.
What influences visual hierarchy?
Visual hierarchy is influenced by a variety of things like topography, alignment, and placement. The most prominent of these is size and color.
The bigger an object/button/photo, the more attention it will get, however, there is such a thing as too big. The size of the object should be proportionate to, not overwhelm, the design aesthetic of the site.
Color can also be used to establish a visual hierarchy. It’s not about a specific color, but whatever color makes an element stand out from the rest. That said, the color used must be different enough, but not that different that it clashes with the look-and-feel of your site. If your site has a lot of pastel colors, using a neon color is going to look jarring…and amateurish.
A good designer will create a site with visual hierarchy in mind, allowing space for different sized elements and ‘complementary’ contrasting colors.
In the next part of this Fundamentals course on Best Practices, we will see how web forms can be optimized to gather data more effectively; explore the impact of ‘The Fold’, copywriting and what visitors see (and actually read) on your site, how to use call-to-action buttons to guide potential customers along the route towards conversion.
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