Growth-Driven Web Design: Build It, Optimize It, & Grow Your Business
By Tim Russell
The way small businesses build their websites has changed dramatically in the last five years or so. Back in the ‘old’ days (ie ten years ago!), if you wanted your own growth-driven web design, you had to hire a professional web designer. It was expensive, it was slow, and it was risky. And the resulting sites were often very difficult for business owners or marketers to update themselves. After a couple of years, your website would be out of date and you’d need to go through the whole process again. And if the web designer did a bad job, you often had to bring in another one to finish the job or start again from scratch.
In the last few years all that has changed. The transformation of WordPress from a blogging platform to a website CMS, and the arrival of genuinely drag & drop/WYSIWYG website builders such as Wix, Squarespace and Hubspot CMS, has made it easier for non-techies to build their own sites. Sure, if you’re a cutting-edge tech or design company you’ll probably still want a professional to build you a site with the wow factor. And will have the budget to do so. But for most small businesses, a simple, functional site that promotes your business effectively will more than suffice. Your audience cares much more about navigation and being able to find what they’re looking for quickly than they do about bells, whistles and bleeding-edge design concepts.
Image courtesy of Hubspot
This is where the concept of Growth-Driven Design (GDD) comes in. To put it simply, GDD is an agile, lean approach to launching an effective website quickly and with minimal expense, with regular reiterations based on analytics and user feedback. It means clearly establishing your website’s goals, building a minimum viable website, then testing, analysing and optimising as you go. It’s quicker and cheaper than a traditional site build, and it keeps the website’s primary stakeholders – the business owner, the board, the management team, the marketing department – involved and in control, rather than relying on techie gatekeepers. And, as the chart below shows, it gets results.
Image courtesy of Hubspot
So if you’re a new business owner and are currently planning your first website, or if your business is established and your site needs an overhaul, here are some tips on how to get started with growth-driven design.
The first stage of any GDD project is the strategy. Where you map out what the goals of the website are, what your targets and forecasts for the website are, and what metrics you will use to measure its performance. It’s also the stage where you think about the audience you’re trying to attract.
Goals & Forecasts
The first thing you need to think about is, what is your website designed to do? Is it just for brand awareness; is it for lead generation, nurturing, and conversion; or is it for e-commerce or online booking? And then, what are the targets & forecasts? Are you targeting web traffic, leads, downloads, sales, bookings? How will you measure the website’s performance? If your website is simply a brand awareness tool, your key metrics will be things like web traffic and social media shares. If it’s a lead generation engine, you’ll want to measure things like inquiries, newsletter subscriptions, and form submissions. And if you’re in e-commerce or online booking, then it’s cold hard sales & revenue figures. Each type requires a slightly different approach at the strategy stage.
Once you’ve decided on your goals, you need to think about who your audience is. It’s not enough just to say “millennials”, “40-50 year olds in California” or “online wine buyers”. To truly target your audience effectively, you need to dive deeper and build buyer personas. Which are semi-fictional biographies of your target clients based on some real-world stats, feedback from your sales & service teams, and some assumptions or guesswork. Ask yourself: How old is this person? What is their job? Where do they get their information? How do they like me to communicate with them? And most importantly, what challenges or problems do they face that my business can solve? You should end up with 3-4 different personas, and they should look something like the following:
Image courtesy of PropertyConnect
That may seem like a lot of work, but there are plenty of free buyer persona generators online to guide you through the process simply and quickly.
Tied into the concept of buyer personas is an analysis of your audience’s jobs-to-be-done. The jobs-to-be-done process summarises what your buyer personas want to do, how they do it, and why they do it. For example, “When I want to have a meeting with remote colleagues, I use Zoom, so we can have a smooth video call with no glitches or technical issues”. Examining your own business in this way is a very useful exercise when it comes to building your website. It helps in getting the message right, and establishing a smooth and painless buyer journey from landing page to goal or purchase.
Once you’ve finalized your strategy, it’s time to start building the launchpad version of your website. If you’ve ever been involved in a tech startup or new product launch, you’ll know the concept of the MVP, or minimum viable product. A first iteration of your product with just enough functionality and usability to satisfy early users. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to launch to the public to get their feedback. Then use that feedback to optimize it for future releases to give the perfect growth-driven web design. The same principles apply to your launchpad website. It’s a first iteration from which all future optimization and improvement will stem. And the quicker you get it out there the quicker you can begin reaching your goals. As the old saying goes, if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product or website, then you launched too late!
There are four steps involved in building a launchpad website:
Establish a Website Wishlist
This stage involves making a list of the features you want on your website (eg blog, news page, newsletter signup forms, video, and so on). And then dividing them into essentials (ie those features you have to have in your launchpad), post-launch, and nice-to-have. Then you can make a feature list in order of priority to make sure you’re focusing on the right areas.
Put Together a Tool Stack
Meaning, what tools are you going to use to build and run your website? We’re talking here about a website CMS (eg WordPress or Wix), an email marketing tool (eg Mailchimp), a lead nurturing tool (eg Hubspot), a social share tool etc etc. Think strategy, think ease of use, think future-proofing, think collaboration, think integration, think cost. Is the tool easy for you to implement and use? Does it integrate with your other tools? Will it grow with your business? Will you need to upgrade to a paid version once you reach a certain point and can you afford it?
Do Some User Research
The research process begins even before you’ve started building your site! Talk to your audience about how they get their information, where they buy, and which websites they like. Look at successful competitor websites and learn from how they are built. Use survey tools to ask your audience about their browsing habits. Use what you’ve learned to create your own growth-driven web design for your buyer journey and UX (user experience).
Build Your Launchpad
Now it’s time to set about building your website! If you’re familiar with the concept, begin with sprint workshops with your team and stakeholders. That way you can come up with a website structure and content for individual pages. Prioritize features based on your wishlist. Make sure that whatever CMS you use, the back end is user-friendly so it’s easy for your team to add new content and update existing pages.
And remember, when it comes to your launchpad website, DONE is better than PERFECT! Of course the website should look good and be error-free. And visitors should see no difference between your launchpad and a regular site. But it’s more important to get it out there than it is to achieve perfection from day one. If you wait until your site is 100% perfect, you will never, ever be ready.
Once your site is out there and generating analytics data, you can move onto the third stage of the GDD process.
The old web design method meant spending months to come up with a ‘perfect’ website and publishing it. Then repeat the process a couple of years later. GDD involves launching as quickly as possible. Then treat your site as a work-in-progress and making continual, often minor, improvements on a daily basis. Never think of your website as a finished article, and take on board the Japanese concept of kaizen. A daily process of small, incremental improvements beloved of countless organizations from huge automotive manufacturers to artists and sports teams.
You’ve already planned your strategy and built the first iteration of your website; now it’s time to research, analyze and learn, and transfer those learnings to actual website improvements.
The Establish stage is all about learning. Use Google Analytics to see who’s visiting your site, how long they’re staying, and if they’re not converting, where they’re dropping out. Maybe your homepage isn’t sticky enough; maybe the buyer journey has too many steps; or maybe your signup page or checkout page is confusing. Use survey tools to get feedback on your site; use a heatmap tool to see where your website page’s hotspots are; get friends, colleagues and family to use your site while you watch and see where the bottlenecks are.
Once you’ve established what’s working and what isn’t, you can move onto…
In this stage you’re taking what you learned above and applying it to your website and its pages in order to improve usability, CRO (conversion rate optimization) and personalization. Your homepage has a high bounce rate? Put some more links on there to blog posts or other pages. Your checkout page has a high abandonment rate? Look at the user interface and see where you can streamline the checkout process. Your newsletter signup form isn’t getting many submissions? Maybe you need to simplify it, remove unnecessary fields, or put it in a more prominent position.
Once you’ve optimized, you’re ready to repeat the Establish stage and see if your improvements are working.
Once you are happy that your optimizations are bearing fruit and your website is hitting its goals, you can begin to expand and add those features that didn’t make the cut on the original launchpad. Think about adding new products or services. Think about adding new website features such as a blog or a video page. And think about bringing additional staff members or teams onboard to add input on areas you hadn’t previously included.
And then, of course, once you’ve added new features, use the same Establish/optimize process on them too!
So while the old web design model isn’t necessarily dead, it is increasingly impractical for small businesses on a tight budget who want to get up and running quickly, who want a website that has been validated by user testing and analysis, and who want a site that they can easily change, update and optimize without paying a designer to do so every time. Growth-driven web design speaks to all those needs and is a way for you to minimize cost and build time, and to maximize website performance, lead generation and, ultimately revenue. Watch this space for more articles on growth-driven web design for small businesses!
If you try it out yourself and need some guidance, our team at Booming Businesses is always here to give you support.