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January 12, 2011

Conversion Rate Optimization For Web Developers

What’s the goal of a website? If your answer wouldn’t be agreeable to the marketing types you work with, then you need to know about conversion rate optimization (CRO) – and how it can make all the difference in a site, as well as your own career.

CRO means testing several designs – or versions of a single design – to identify hidden problems with a website that could cost business for the site owner. The simple truth is that esthetics and strategically placed visuals can make a big difference to increase conversions. So, once you know how well visitors are delivering on the business goal(s) of the site, you can figure out what to change to increase the conversion rate. A fresh set of eyes – trained in web copywriting and design – can help you interpret the analytics information, and be a valuable source of recommendations.

Of course, you can get CRO services from any number of places. You can go to a big web design firm and, after you dole out 15 grand or more, you will likely have a design that fits your online target audience.

Search engine optimization (SEO) companies do many aspects of CRO well: testing headlines, the call to action, content, images, etc. But SEO firms don’t address conversion-based web design as well as a web designer or design firm.

Testing designs for conversion should be a normal part of any web design project, if the goal is to get a response from web visitors. But testing different designs doesn’t have to be difficult (or expensive), especially for a talented and reasonably priced web developer. The problem is that most talented, reasonably priced web developers don’t have a clue about testing their designs for conversion. But they might invest in getting the proper resources in place if businesses asked for it. Where are the talented, reasonably priced web developers who engage in conversion-based design?

Working upside-down
I find that many websites are designed upside-down. That is, the site is more about what the company wants to communicate than about what the target audience is after. {Case in point: When was the last time you actually clicked – let alone read the information – on an “About Us” page? Information like that is usually tailored to the ego of the company’s leader(s).}

This kind of upside-down website focuses on getting tons of traffic so they can sell-sell-sell. . . without thinking through how their target audience perceives and interacts with the website.

If conversion is the goal of all marketing, then the key to getting the response you want from a site is to engage the target audience by building the site for and about them and what they want.

Failing to plan is planning. . .
SEO and paid search campaigns play a big part in planning for a good conversion rate, especially when content is designed specifically to engage the target audience. Otherwise, you waste a lot of costly traffic on content that doesn’t convert.

In the past, most web developers did not consider the implications of SEO during the design phase. Thankfully, that has changed, and most web designers now bring in an SEO professional. In fact, it’s rare to find a web designer who does not also attempt SEO, but that’s a discussion for another time.

But that old pattern remains because today, most web developers do not consider the implications of conversion rate optimization during the design phase. Let me illustrate.

Many businesses get into Internet marketing like this:

  • Design or upgrade the website.
  • Implement Google Adwords, social media and/or SEO.
  • Ask what the target market thinks.

It’s a ready-fire-aim approach to internet marketing that wastes time and resources. But there is a better way:

  1. Know the target audience.
  2. Design the site and develop content to tap into the target market’s motivations, following SEO best practices at each step along the way.
  3. Test the site by letting your users’ natural actions help you craft the design and content that gets the best results.
  4. Continue testing to gain optimal ROI.

CRO certainly isn’t difficult, but it does require on-target analysis of a site’s strengths and weaknesses (and, sometimes, the willingness to set aside egos) in order to develop a site that truly functions effectively.

For developers and designers, there’s no downside to conversion-based design. Nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Tom Shivers is an SEO consultant and president of Capture Commerce, founded in 2000 to provide tailored Internet marketing that gets conversions.

5 Responses to “Conversion Rate Optimization For Web Developers

    avatar Jeff says:

    thanks for sharing.

    Hope to get more deeper articles on CRO

    Great advice there, it’s about time I knuckled down and took a deeper look at conversion rates!

    avatar Salvatore says:

    Good article Tom, but I think that expecting web designers to become conversion rate experts (or conversion rate experts to become web designers) is only going to dilute the quality (and quantity) of work they can do.

    I’m not suggesting the skills are mutually exclusive, but the careers tend to attract people with very different strengths. Conversion rate optimization requires a scientific mindset, analytical thinking, and a good understanding of statistics. We design requires an eye for colour, balance, artistic ability and the ability to translate a vision into a finished web page.

    It is important that web designers have a basic understanding of at least the technical requirements for conversion rate optimization (that content may need to be a different size, shape, colour or position on the web page for conversion rate tests, so to design with these potential changes in mind).

    IMHO, the company needs a project manager to manage the web design project, and a project team that includes a web designer and conversion rate expert at a minimum. Search Engine Optimization “experts” have a singular focus on Google rankings (this is the metric they use to sell their services, and by which their performance is measured, and translated into payment) – and this is often at the expense of conversion rate, web design, usability and value of the web page to humans.

    Being a “Jack of all trades” in this space is just no longer possible, not with competition from specialists in each of these fields.


    avatar Tom Shivers says:

    Great point. That reminds me of a proverb: he who knows the most about both sides wins the debate.

    If you know more about the things your prospect really wants, you can create a win-win solution for you and the prospect before your competitor does.

    very informative article

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