Why aren't more designers trying to improve their websites?
As a market researcher, I have spent most of my career helping clients measure the experience they offer their customers - both online and through other channels - and providing recommendations on how to improve on it. When I'm not doing this, I'm helping them improve something - be that an idea (through concept testing and development), their view of their customer base (through customer segmentation pieces or customer closeness) or their internal planning and marketing processes. Improvement is always the theme - 'we are doing something, and want to do it better'.
So when I was trying to work out how I might promote this site and what it can offer, I thought that 'improvement' could be its central thread that everything else built from. One use of Google Keyword Planner later; and that hypothesis had a bit of a reality check.
Less than 100 searches a month for each of these search terms - what is going on here? There are certainly enough websites in the world, which would certainly mean there are enough website designers. Wix alone has over 100 million users, and it isn't even the biggest hosting platform (that award goes to Wordpress).
If the potential market is there, then the low search volume must come down to three things:
There just isn't the demand - people don't want to improve their websites.
The demand is there but it is latent - people need reminding of the importance of making changes.
The demand is there but there are significant barriers to taking action.
I've chosen to believe the latter two points here - not just because I want to (if I didn't, then there would be no reason for this site to exist!), but because when I think about it there are lots of potential reasons why this type of search term, and hence this type of advice, isn't as commonly sought as I'd assumed it would be. Here are five of them, along with learnings for you, the budding website improvement enthusiast.
1 - People don't see the point
A commonly-held point of view I've heard in the research world is this:
My website/shop/business is making money and growing year-on-year. We are better focusing energies on growing our customer base than improving our customer experience.
For many businesses this would be fair enough - there are lots of levers to growth, and delivering a better experience is just one of those. But in the website world, experience is absolutely critical. A website's bounce rate (a key indicator of the experience it offers) is felt to be a key factor in search ranking, and bad experiences lead to lost sales, declines in re-visitation and customer detraction. Reducing that bounce rate, through improvements in experience, is always possible and will have a very direct positive impact on other positive business outcomes.
What designers sometimes forget is that measuring the impact of improvements to a website is incredibly easy, and cheap to do. (bricks and mortar stores can spend millions doing the very same thing). Fantastic free analytics software is available, and should be used to see changes in KPIs (such as bounce rate, session length, number of pages visited) after making significant experience improvements. Once you evidence the impact that changes can have, you will quickly see the point of improving, and want to spend time doing it more often.
2 - People don't feel they have things to improve on
Whilst I think it's rare that people see their sites as perfect, it is very hard to see flaws in what we've created ourselves. Not only do we get too attached to the work we've done, but we become too close to it to be able to evaluate it fairly. With website design that is particularly important, as visitors are ruthless. If something isn't perfectly understandable within just a few seconds, for example, they will leave the site. As a designer, you're not able to accurately test this yourself, as you have already spent many long minutes and hours crafting your site in a way you believe works best.
Even the best, most popular sites have things that could be improved. The biggest - the ones staffed by whole teams of professional designers - are always looking to make marginal improvements through A/B testing, because they know that their sites could always be better.
The best way to see if your site could benefit from improvements (spoiler: it can), is to get someone else to look at it quickly. That could be a friend, family member or colleague who is less familiar with it than you. We'll even do it for free to give you a steer. Once you do this, you'll quickly see that there are gains to be had, and you'll want to make changes.
3 - People don't have the time (or can't afford the time)
None of us really feel like we have bags of spare time - that is just the reality of modern life. Making improvements to a website that, for all intents and purposes might be felt to be functioning perfectly fine already, is going to be pretty low down many people's to-do lists.
The reality is that there are so many changes that can be made incredibly quickly - from honing key messages, to fixing spelling errors, to replacing old imagery with something more suitable. Earlier today I spent five minutes better compressing my site imagery and managed to shave a second of its loading time - that'll have a sizeable impact.
You might have a long list of things you want to do with your website, and looking at the total time cost of that work in its entirety might well be daunting. Or, you might have a small list but many other things in life you also want to do. Either way, make a list of improvements you want to make, and keep adding to this list as you find new things. Then allow just 15 minutes a day, every other day, every week - whatever you can afford - and make a handful of small changes. Eventually, this will add up to something meaningful and you'll be paid back for these efforts.
4 - People don't know how, or where, to start
Imagine you want to improve your website - where do you begin? Do you go to Google and search for help (the above results suggest perhaps not!). Do you try and find a book on the topic? Do you ask a friend or a colleague? Knowing what you could work on is often relatively easy - there are tonnes of great free resources out there on changes to make. But knowing what to prioritse is harder. Do you work on the homepage, the visual design, the navigation, your store page?
The first thing we always recommend is ensuring you are clearly articulating your offer in a way that explicitly states the visitor benefit (not always easy). Then make sure that visitors who will have been convinced by this great articulation have a clear next step to take - a call-to-action or a logical progression to further relevant content.
But once you've sorted that, then what? Our advice; think about it systematically.
Which pages are most commonly visited? What is most important for those pages to achieve - are they doing that as well as they could be? Are there signs of certain pages underperforming (low click-through rates, high bounce rates)?
What are the most important visitor journeys? Are these purchase journeys, advice journeys? What pages are important to those?
What visitor groups are most important? How would a particular type of visitor be using your site and how would they react to different parts of it?
Which pages have you not looked at or optimised in a while?
Write a to-do list, if you haven't already. Then try and assign a value to different improvements (this doesn't need to be an actual monetary value - it could just be a qualitative low/middle/high). Consider how long doing each improvement will take (again qualitative is fine - quick/longer/significant work), and then cross these two metrics. Work on the things that are impactful but quick, and ignore the things that take time but don't add value.
5 - People don't think they'll be able to make improvements
It's easy to think that if you're an amateur designer who has built their own site, and are being told your site needs work, that you won't be able to achieve it yourself. You've had a go, and come up short, so you should just quit and leave it to the professionals.
Please don't believe this.
Website builders have allowed many different types of people to make some very good websites. Yes, the sites built by professionals often look more appealing, have flashy visual elements or have cool transitions from page to page. The truth is; your site probably doesn't need to look like this. Most of the time your site needs to look 'good enough' and be technically 'good enough'.
When we're assessing how good a website is, and making recommendations on how to improve it, we consider the visitor experience above all else. Visitors don't care about gimmicks, they care about their time being respected and being told the benefits you offer and why you are better than other options they might have. As such, most of our most impactful recommendations are non-technical, but need thought from the person that knows the business, and knows the website, best - you. Some people might need help implementing technical changes, but most people can make meaningful experience improvements once they know where they need to be made.
If these ring true, or you can think of any other reasons - please leave a comment. And don't forget that helping amateur designers improve their websites is why we're here.