How often should you redesign your website? Shop this question around the Internet and you’ll get answers that vary from every year, to once every 3-4 years, to “Hey man. If it ain’t broke … don’t fix it.” If you ask me, I’d say that designing a website is an ongoing process. I believe that websites are less a static property and more an evolving microcosm if your company.
Successful businesses are always tweaking their blueprint to get “better” results. This can be something as innocuous as initiating follow-up phone calls after sales, mailing out a promotional t-shirt after service issues, ditching the Twitter “Bubble T” logo for a simpler bird design, or something like a Blockbuster Video style grand renovation where you completely shift your model because NetFlix showed up to your birthday and stole your DVDs. Your website is way more than a bunch of code tucked away on a server so don’t forget about it like it is! Your website is your gateway to the world and it should evolve through ongoing improvements. That is where the philosophy of Kaizen comes in.
Kaizen Sounds like a Cool Guy. Was He The Fifth Ninja Turtle?
No, Kaizen was not Donatello’s BFF. Kaizen was not a person at all. Kaizen is an Eastern business philosophy. It’s a very cool idea for progression that focuses on continuous improvements of all things related to your product (ie management, employee relations, customer relations, etc.). This idea has been applied all over the place in many industries but never compared to web design (that I know of anyway).
So What’s Kaizen All About?
Kaizen is all about daily changes; little changes that circumvent a huge overhaul. And it’s not change for the sake of change. That’s no fun unless you are a web design firm and someone is paying you handsomely for your time. It’s change to eliminate waste and improve functions; like removing five pages on your website that say the same thing (aka SEO fodder) and merging those pages into one to enhance your UX. Your website redesign should not be a massive three-month long exercise that takes place every year. Instead, once you have designed your site, you should follow this formula in an ongoing cycle until the end of time, or until the world ends this year:
- Measure the key metrics
- Tweak your design slightly to improve your metrics
- Revisit your metrics and compare
- Keep those changes that resulted in a positive improvement while reverting on other changes
- Rinse and repeat
Following the above five-step process will ensure that your website is continuously morphing into something better, like a Power Ranger fighting evil where the evil is your competition. The other big advantage of this process is that as the market dynamic shifts and your customer profile changes, you will be able to immediately respond to these changes by changing only those parts of your website that are no longer working without affecting the other parts that are performing well.
An example may be if you are selling shoes online and read an industry report that the AARP is endorsing Air Jordans. You expect sales to explode with your over 50 consumers so you tweak your landing page and add graphics that will appeal to the elderly, like embossed photos of Betty White in a bikini fawning over the Jordans. Conversion metrics go up and continue to improve as you continue to track and tweak that page.
What Metrics Should I Be Tracking?
From my experience as a web designer and being graced with cleaning up other webmasters messes, I have found that most website owners do not measure key metrics, and many of those that do measure the wrong metrics. Google Analytics is such a great service because they provide so much big data, but the end user usually has no idea how to interpret all those numbers or even what figures they should be dwelling on. It’s great if you see your little blue visitor line chart going up and up, but bad if the time on site and conversions are going down. The blue line is cool, but that’s a small part of the formula. You should always have metrics that measure your business goals. The four most important metrics that should be measured in harmony are:
- Traffic: The blue line
- Leads: The people that cared enough to call, email, or complete a contact form
- Conversions: The people that loved your mojo and wanted to embark on a beautiful journey with your company
- Abandonment Rate (for e-commerce eyes only): The people that liked your stuff but may have been turned off by your checkout process or your shipping charges
Today, there are several tools available which help you to track and analyze the statistics of your website. Gather data on the top four metrics above, track them religiously, and drill down to the lowest level possible (ie abandonment rate drilled down to browser type may indicate there is an issue with your website in IE8 which throws SSL errors and makes your company look suspicious). Focus all your website improvement efforts towards optimizing these metrics. Also, do not trust your perceptions about what works and what does not. Instead, let the data speak for itself.
You can try multiple variations of a single element of your website before you decide on the one which you wish to adapt. Making only one change at a time makes it easy for you to measure the exact impact of that change while all other factors remain constant. A massive website redesign exercise on the other hand may give you some changes that work and others that don’t, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint which ones are good and which ones need further tweaking. For example, I’ve seen cases where complete redesigns have gotten websites pushed so far down in the Google results that they have become worthless. These sites have changed the design, title tags, descriptions, and on-page content so outside of a “best guess”, you wouldn’t have any idea where the damage was to repair it. Employing the Kaizen method during the redesign would have been better as any changes could have been closely monitored and repaired.
Don’t Just Put A Band-Aid On The Issue
Kaizen also stresses the need to do a root cause analysis of problems. For example, if you notice that your conversion rates are dropping, then you need to analyze where your traffic is coming from and identify which traffic source is giving you the least conversion rates. Try to understand the reason why traffic from that source does not convert well. Maybe the majority of your traffic is coming from a non-English speaking region and they are finding it difficult to navigate your site. If so, offering multiple-language versions of your site or including more images may be the answer. The typical response of trying to lure visitors to convert into sales by giving offers and discounts may not work in this case. Analyzing the problems with your current design is the first and most important step in tweaking your site.
Check Out Kaizen in Action
To absorb the above a little better, check this hypothetical timeline of design, redesign, and Kaizen kung-fu:
- You run an internal report and discover that your leads generated from inbound phone calls (16% of all leads) yield the highest conversion @ 55%.
- You identify “phone call leads” as your five-star money lead so you check out your analytics and find out that your homepage is your top landing page.
- You change the design of your homepage to make the phone number more prominently displayed. You really need some extra money to justify getting one of those 3D printers in your office so you make the phone number more prominent on every page.
- You revisit your Google analytics versus your internal CRM software and see that inbound calls now account for 26% of all leads (hooray!), but now your conversion rate on the “phone call leads” has dropped to 29%. You start crying.
- The small sales staff you have cannot respond to every lead. They are reducing their follow-up calls and leads are just not getting the attention they got before. You don’t have the working capital to hire another sales person so you revisit the phone number issue.
- You check out your analytics again and identify your top three landing pages. Together, their traffic accounts for a much smaller percentage of total traffic versus that of your homepage alone. You remove the site-wide phone number changes and make it prominent on your top three landing pages only.
- You revisit your metrics and see that by changing those three pages, you were able to get your phone call leads up to 20% of all. It also looks like your current sales staff has stepped up to the plate and your conversion exceeds the original 55% and is currently 59%.
- You follow the above formula of changing the phone number of individual landing pages until the conversion growth begins to plateau. At that point, you have enough extra income to hire another sales person and can experiment with larger changes. You print out a wallet with your new 3D printer to hold all the extra money you now have.
Ultimately, though website design is an easy task (just ask any 10-year-old with Dreamweaver), designing a website that aides you in achieving your organizational goals is a complex science which requires the services of an experienced professional. Investing in a good website design will go a long way towards the success of your business. Remember that website design is not about re-inventing the wheel; it is about offering the customer what he wants in the easiest possible manner. Kaizen is like a tortoise and hare situation where the hare is a massive redesign and the tortoise represents small changes. Ultimately, the tortoise wins the race for business dominance and the hare is left wondering what the heck happened.