Web Design Best Practices (part 5): Improving your site through iterations

More and more websites run on content management systems (CMS), enabling companies and organizations to update content and navigation internally, while they turn to their agencies to provide guidance and design for brand-sensitive or tech-heavy updates.

How can an organization best decide what content should be added, changed or removed? And how can an organization ensure that the changes they make are done with end users in mind so as not to fall in the trap of turning a website's content into org-speak? Learn from the big players like Dell, Ebay, and Amazon. They constantly make iterative changes to their sites to improve usability and to drive better returns.

Let's call the principle "change by iteration based on solid metrics". Combining small changes with measurable results can be a powerful tool to improve your website's performance and to help ensure that updates are done in the most user friendly manner possible.

To begin, your site should incorporate snippets of code to enable measurability using a tool such as Google Analytics. This will assist you in seeing what content, pages and text
work in your site.

Second, you should consider what constitutes success. For instance, you may hope that one half of all site visitors should go directly to your products section, and once there, they should spend at least two minutes reading and interacting with content.

Third, break down your goals into discrete elements: the pathway from the landing page to the products section is one element; the amout of time spent in the products section is another.

If you find that your visitation levels are falling short, look closely at the path users are following, and then look critically at content on their path. Then make changes by iteration. For instance, you might try changing the language on a call to action, and then seeing if your statistics improve. If so, good, if not, try including a compelling image or offer with your product call to action.

If you find users aren't spending enough time in your products section, put yourself in the shoes of an end user. We know that site visitors don't read much on the page, so you're unlikely to hook them with more text. What do you like to see when you're visiting another site? Do you spend time viewing videos? Do you like to interact with graphics? Are you interested in reading what other users think of the product? As a principle, it is safer to try iterations, that is, change one thing at a time. Add a video and check the stats. Present testimonials from customers, and test. Incorporate a call for end-user input into the product, and test. And so on.

You needn't stop at page level content. The principle of change by iteration can be applied more broadly than the examples I have shared so far. Main navigation items, the addition of micro-sites to delve deeply into certain site information, and the incorporation of widgets to increase the frequency of visits are some elements that bear iterations well.

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