If you’re looking for ways to get more out of your website, a simple Google search will reveal tons of good advice. It seems like every web designer has their set of “best practices” to recommend that will change your business overnight.
Many of these “best practices” are smart moves, but just because someone else (or even a lot of other people) have had success with a particular tweak, that doesn’t mean it’ll produce the same results for your business.
Unfortunately, every company is unique, so there are no “one size fits all” best practices that you can rely on to improve the performance of your website.
To really find what works for your web visitors, you have to test your website.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at 5 tests we’ve run here at Disruptive Advertising that proved that common web design best practices were not always in the best interests of our clients. Let’s take a look.
1. A Sticky Mess
Ask almost any web designer what they think of sticky navigation bars and you’ll get a near-universal thumbs up. Sticky nav bars are great. They make it easy to get around your site and help nudge users towards your most important pages.
But are they right for your site? Not necessarily.
One of our clients gets hundreds of thousands of visits a month and wanted to make their navigation bar sticky to improve their conversion rate. While it seemed like a good idea, we decided to test the change instead of just updating their site.
It was a good thing, too. Our test revealed that the sticky navigation bar reduced lead volume by two-thirds. Why? Most of this client’s traffic was visiting on their mobile devices and didn’t like how the nav bar was eating up their valuable screen space, so they left without converting.
2. Jumping the Gun
Most web designers will tell you that you should always put your value proposition front and center on your website. As soon as your page loads, people should know what makes you special and why they should buy from you.
Since many people never scroll down on your site, this makes a lot of sense. If your value proposition is buried halfway down your page where no one will ever see it, why would people want to buy from you?
While the logic certainly seems sound, it doesn’t always hold out in real life.
One of our clients was a highly awarded company in the home services industry. Since they were well-recognized as one of the best in the business, they wanted to make sure that anyone who visited their site would immediately see their awards. Their top-notch reliability and skill were their unique value proposition, so it made sense to lead with their awards.
But, when we actually tested putting their awards above the fold, their conversion rate dropped by 20%. Visitors to the site simply didn’t care about the company’s awards. They care about other things and the awards were just getting in the way.
3. A Call to…Inaction?
Your call-to-action (CTA) is one of the most important parts of your website. It tells people what you want them to do and what they’ll get for doing it.
As a result, most designers recommend having a CTA above the fold. That way, people don’t have to search to find your CTA—they can just act.
That’s sound logic…unless including a CTA above the fold is pitching your offer too hard, too fast.
For example, one of our clients sells educational products. When we first took them on as a client, visitors to their website were immediately greeted with the client’s top sellers and an array of “buy it now” CTAs.
It seemed like a good idea, but we wanted to test it. We swapped the featured products section for a CTA-free section focused on the benefits of buying the client’s products. As a result, sales jumped by 70%!
It turned out that most people who arrived on the website weren’t ready to buy yet. They weren’t sold on the product, so battering them with product options and CTAs overwhelmed them. However, if we gave them a chance to get excited about the products before encouraging them to buy, they were a lot more likely to respond to our CTAs.
4. A Social Faux Pas
Any marketer can tell you how important social proof is. People don’t believe marketing very much these days, but they do believe other people. If other people trust you enough to buy from you, then they’ll feel a lot more comfortable making a purchase themselves.
For this reason, many businesses have begun implementing social proof popups that notify visitors on the site when someone completes a transaction. It’s a great way to simultaneously build trust and evoke a feeling of scarcity.
But, it’s not for everyone.
We have a client who runs events. They sell tickets online and were using a social proof popup to create trust and a me-too mentality on their site. The idea certainly made sense, but we still wanted to test it.
So, we tried removing the pop-up to see what would happen. Shockingly, sales went up by 30%! Apparently, the pop-up was more distracting than it was compelling and that distraction was actually preventing people from buying their own tickets.
5. Form Over Function?
No one likes filling out forms. And the longer the form, the less likely people are to fill it out and submit it.
At least, that’s what most web designers will tell you.
It certainly makes sense. The longer your form is, the more effort someone has to put into completing it. To make matters worse, the more information you ask for on your form, the more vulnerable people feel. Most people value their privacy and giving away a lot of personal information can seem risky—even if you have all the right privacy statement and security seals.
Sometimes, however, people actually prefer longer forms. We have a client in the home repair industry that gets a lot of traffic to their site. Their goals is to have people fill out a 7-field form requesting an in-home evaluation.
As we were evaluating this form, we discovered that two of the fields were rather unnecessary: “preferred contact time” and “preferred contact method”. They lengthened the form without really adding value.
Or so we thought.
When we tested removing these fields, the client’s conversion rate dropped by 20%. As it turned out, these supposedly unimportant fields actually made potential customers feel like our client respected them and their preferences. That made them feel more comfortable filling out the client’s form—even if it meant they had to complete a couple of extra sections.
When it comes to designing and optimizing your website, there are no guaranteed wins. Some web design best practices will work for your business, but others just might make your site less effective.
The only real way to get the most out of your site is to test it. If you have an idea that seems logical, set up an A/B test and see which option your customers actually prefer. That way, you only make changes you know will benefit your business.