After his appearance at #digitalevolution2014, head of web development Alan Rowe explains why instinct is your worst enemy when it comes to web design in 2014.

I believe 2014 will see a sea change in web design. Developers will make significant steps to free themselves from expensive and limiting development cycles, and from the pervading influence of hippos.

I should explain. Hippo is an acronym for ‘highest paid person’s opinion’. The concept comes from a great book by Chris Goward called You Should Test That.

Goward’s book is a warning to website owners that they should be very careful when planning the next incarnation of their website. In order to succeed, they can’t rely on the gut feelings of the highest paid person in their company.

Simply redesigning without planning can be disastrous for conversion rates.

Simply doing what the boss says can be disastrous for conversion rates.

To explain why, let’s take a moment to look at the concept of scientific marketing.

The idea behind scientific marketing is that because so many testing tools exist, and these are giving us the power to truly find out the facts behind conversions, it’s no longer just about common sense.

We can’t rely on the opinions of so-called ‘experts’ alone – the only way to find out the truth for your own situation is to test.

In 2014, expect to hear a lot about scientific marketing, which is sometimes also called ‘data-led marketing’.

How to escape the hippo stampede

So, instead of throwing your website to the hippos, you should test, test and test some more.

You should analyse Google Analytics, and if you’re using event tracking, look at what people are doing on-page. If you’re not, why not install Crazy Egg, or similar heat mapping software?

After all, it’s easy to make the decision that you need a new website, but it’s likely to be a long time before you put those ideas into action and start working on a new design. Meanwhile, you could be gathering useful information to feed into the design process.

In other words, before you break your current website, find out what’s good about it. When it comes to making your new website, you can incorporate the good, and ditch the bad.

How to let your web design evolve

Even better, you can free yourself from long development cycles altogether.

Ideally, your website will serve a marketing function, and as required by any 21st century business, will be keeping pace with the changes in your industry and your brand.

Making little changes here and there, as you move towards the new aesthetic you desire, all the time looking to improve conversion rates, is what we call ‘evolutionary design’. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about it.

The core of your platform should be updated as security and functionality demand. But this doesn’t mean your design can’t grow – in fact, the design should ideally be updated frequently to produce the best conversion rates. To match up to the findings of your tests. To make sense in the real world.

The only reason you should have to scrap everything and start again, is if you’ve let your website die.

But with us all requiring high efficiency and accountability, this should never happen.

And if your digital marketing agency isn’t being proactive when it comes to issues like this, perhaps it’s time to find a new one.

My big web development tip for 2014

My big tip for 2014 is split testing.

Yes, I know it’s been around for a long time, but most people are scared to even get started with this very useful technique.

Typically, the Americans are ahead of us when it comes to online activity. And even in the US, only 55 per cent of companies online are carrying out UX tests (source: Econsultancy).

In the UK, the figure is much lower.

But as we have seen in 2013, the number of virtual tools to assist web developers and marketers has grown rapidly. Therefore, you can fully expect that if you’re not testing next year, your competitors will be.

So it’s time to get serious about conversion rates, and testing. Perhaps now is the time to try out some intelligent conversion enhancement systems, as discussed in a previous blog of mine.

Split Testing Tools

Finally, here are some of my favourite tools for conversion testing and optimisation.

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About the author:

Alan has 15 years of web development and database engineering experience for companies across a wide range of sectors including projects for Peugeot and Kia. Alan spent five years as Technical Director at a web development company and was also a trainer at Birmingham University teaching database driven web solutions.