3 Common Design Mistakes that Tank Conversions

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3 common design mistakes

The problem with web design is that it deals with two things rolled into one. The first is aesthetics, the basic look and feel of the web site, and the feeling that the design imputes for the brand. The second is usability and conversion rate optimization, the ability of the design to assign visual prioritization to the things that should stand out.

Many a marketer has fallen into the trap of only thinking of the former - design’s profound ability to say something about the brand, to leave a very specific feeling with the visitor. While that feeling is important, it’s just half of the equation. Optimizing for just that is like building a slick calculator (it’s 2014, so let’s say a calculator app) where no one can find the equals sign. Usability matters.

Rotating Banners

Let’s start with the home page.

If you’re still using those sliding Flash (it’s 2014, so let’s say jQuery-built) banners - I’m looking at you and your ilk, Costco - it really is time to generate the political will to get rid of them. We get it, we really do. Home page sliders provide something of a peace offering to the multiple departments who want a piece of the home page, or the zealous C-suite executive looking to pizzazz it up.

What usually ends up happening is that there are three or four unrelated campaigns that are not that relevant to the home page visitor, all of them competing for attention with the navigation elements using motion.

Costco Unrelated Offers
Don’t use sliders. If the message is important, dedicate real estate to it.

Our own Brian Lewis summed it up nicely during at Conversion Conference San Francisco:

“Every test that has ever been done shows conversion is lifted by removing rotating banners.”

And it’s not just that the campaigns kill conversions. Sliders also affect Google rankings, internal processes, and general usability:

  • The increased number of design elements impact page load time, which affects both users and your own Google rankings
  • You should be the editor of your web site content. If you abandon that and throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, your visual prioritization suffers.
  • The motion grabs visitor attention at the expense of navigation elements. This is like you screaming promos at your visitors after they have entered your brick-and-mortar shop.

Stock Photography

Nothing says “I can’t be bothered to use actual photos” quite like Getty’s image 200022154-001, “woman standing with coworkers in server room.” Come on, fess up, you’ve seen that image. You may have even used it.

And you’ve probably seen its cousins. The smiling people with the headsets for support, or that jumpshot of business executives, presumably after a project launch.

Stock photography is detrimental to trust-building with your visitors, so avoid it as much as possible. However, if you must use stock photos, stay away from the most commonly abused ones. Also, remember that images are bigger draws for the eye than text, so don’t use them just to fill space. They should aid navigation, not get in the way of it. You use images where you want to draw attention: hero shots of the product for your categories, “real” people using your products, or photography that draws user attention towards your calls-to- action.

Inconsistent Design and Image Photography

This is kind of stock photography’s evil step sister. Whereas stock photography can distract and keep users from accomplishing tasks, inconsistent designs just flat out destroy the user experience.

If you’re going to use images, make sure they are formatted consistently, and that they form a harmonious relationship with the page. If the main product image has a transparent background, keep the other backgrounds transparent. If the backgrounds are not transparent, choose a color and stick to a theme per page. If your page starts to look like the New York Barbells home page, you know you have your work cut out for you.

New York Barbells Images

Design for Distraction-Free

There’s no doubt that design isn’t just about usability, isn’t just about conversions. Branding is a science and an art, and you should absolutely impute the right values for your business. Still, good branding should not get in the way of functional design - usability and conversion rate optimization should also be top of mind as you build your brand. If you keep distractions to a minimum, use “real” photos, and stick to a theme, you should be well on your way towards creating a beautiful - and functional - web site.

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