Redesign Your Small Business Website with Data

Many small businesses rely on Google Analytics and similar tools to gauge their website's overall traffic, visitor count, top ranking pages and visits from paid search and social media.

Most, however, never think of using that same data to guide their website planning and design decisions, yet there is much to gain from applying data to design.

Let's look at what we mean by data-driven design, why businesses should use data for design and how to go about it.

What Is Data-Driven Website Design?

Data-driven website design is a process in which the designer makes decisions regarding the structure, layout, function and aesthetics of the site based on visitor behavior. When done correctly, this approach can not only make the site more user-friendly, improving the overall experience, but also turn it into a lead and sales generating channel.

As a fitting example, travel site Expedia found that making one small data-driven decision — removing a single form field from the checkout process — resulted in an extra $12 million in revenue.

Users with purchase intent clicked the "Buy Now" button but failed to complete the transaction due to confusion over the "Company" field. Analysts examined the data, removed the field and sales picked up almost immediately.

What Data Can Tell You

Pulling back the curtain on data can reveal a great deal of information, including whether the site needs an entire overhaul or merely a redesign of some under-performing sections.

One thing data will certainly uncover is how your visitors use the site, an important metric.

Google Analytics has a report called Behavior Flow, which visualizes the path users travel from one page to the next. It can help you discover what content keeps users engaged and identify where potential problems exist.

Google Analytics Behavior Flow report

Knowing the most common paths visitors take can help you prioritize changes and ensure you put references to valuable pieces of content, such as customer testimonials, how-to videos or blog posts, on the pages where the most people will see them.

Think of those paths as highways and the references billboards; you want to put them on the busiest streets, not on back alleys.

(If you're unsure whether your website has Google Analytics, visit GAChecker.com. It searches the site to find which pages contain the code.)

In addition to behavior flow, it pays to evaluate three critical metrics: bounce rate, exit rate and average session duration.

Bounce rate. The bounce rate shows the percentage of website visitors who leave after viewing a single page. Although estimates vary, a bounce rate of 60 percent or higher might be a sign that you should consider an update or site refresh.

Exit rate. The exit rate measures the percentage of people who left the site from a particular page, regardless of how many pages they viewed in a given session. Examining your site's exit rate can tell you whether your visitors find the content valuable.

It's possible that visitors leave your site after viewing a single page or from a specific page because they found what they were looking for, which isn't a bad thing. That's often the case when someone finds your site from a search engine. You should pay attention to pages with high exit rates, however, as they may benefit from improvement to the content.

Average session duration. The third metric worth evaluating is average session duration. It measures the average amount of time a person spends on the site per visit. Typically, the longer the time spent, the better. It may indicate that the visitor found the site's content interesting and desired to remain.

Mobile Device Use

Another important detail Google Analytics tells you is how many people visit your site via a mobile device as opposed to a desktop computer.

A report from Statista.com found that nearly 52 percent of global web traffic originated from a mobile device, a number that continues to rise. That means having a website that accommodates mobile browsers is essential. Otherwise, you risk losing visitors to your competition in a single click.

Google Analytics includes device reporting under the "Audience" section, so you can see the exact percentage of people who visit your site using either a desktop computer, mobile phone or tablet.

Using Data to Drive Aesthetics

Once you evaluate how visitors use the site and have identified possible problem areas, it's time to get your web designer involved.

With data in hand, a designer will be able to identify what corrections are needed. Most often, these come in the form of the site's layout, navigational structure or aesthetic design (e.g., colors, graphics, logo and other branding elements).

Visualizing Data from Heatmaps

Heatmaps are another way to guide site design with data. They use color to provide visual references to where and how often areas of the site visitors click or tap, providing clues to what they want and care about.

Hotjar heatmap

Adjusting the design based on heatmaps enables you to change user behavior to align with where you want them to go to convert into leads and sales. People scan pages differently on mobile devices versus desktop, so account for that distinction as you plan design changes.

(Hotjar is a popular heatmapping tool that offers free and low-cost options for businesses. It also factors in user behavior by device types: desktop, tablets, smartphones.)

Data-Driven Design Considerations

A good designer will impress on you the need to view the design from the end user's perspective rather than merely defer to what you like. Data can reveal where your site is delivering what they're looking for and where you should make corrections.

When you change course, test that the data proves the corrections were actually beneficial. One approach to this is A/B testing — comparing two versions of a web page against one another — to see which performs best.

Don't let data be your master, however. Instead, let it empower you to meet your goals and objectives.

If, for example, yours is an e-commerce site intended for online sales, set up "E-commerce Tracking," a Google Analytics feature, to correlate sales data with website usage related to metrics such as overall traffic, bounce rate, exit rate and average session duration.

If the goal is to build awareness for your business, then see what the data discloses about where traffic comes from, which the "Acquisition" section reveals. You may find the need is less related to design and more to content keyword-optimization to improve search results or advertising to drive targeted traffic.

The lesson here: Using data in the context of your goals will lead to more strategic design decisions and a site that performs in keeping with your expectations — and those of your end users.

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Friday, November 2, 2018