Are Web Design Best Practices Killing Your Conversion Rate?
by Lydia Ogles • October 23, 2018
When it comes to website design and optimization, everyone has an opinion. With a simple Google search, you can find literally hundreds of best practices that you should be incorporating into your website design.
But are all of those “best practices” really best for your business?
Unfortunately, just because “best practices” work for some businesses and websites, that doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. Every business and website is selling something different, in a different way, to a different audience.
As a result, a certain change that fixes some websites could break yours. To prove this point, let’s take a look at 7 tests we ran with our clients where implementing best practices would have actually hurt their conversion rate.
1. Sticky Navigation Bars
Sticky nav bars are widely considered a web design best practice. After all, if your navigation bar follows people as they scroll through your page, the things you (and hopefully they) most want to click on will always be right in front of them.
However, just because sticky nav bars sound like a good idea, that doesn’t mean they are a good idea for every business.
For example, while working with a top performing pest control company, we found that a sticky nav bar significantly hurt their conversion rate. This site receives over 650,000 visitors a month and they wanted to help people navigate to key pages.
As it turned out, a sticky navigation bar wasn’t the best way to do that. In fact, adding a sticky navigation bar to their site reduced lead volume by almost 3x!
On this particular site, visitors cared more about the screen space than the accessibility of a sticky nav bar. Placing buttons throughout the page actually made the site easier to navigate than the large navigation bar.
2. Value Proposition
Conventional web design “best practices” say that you should place your value propositions near the top of your web pages. That way, you can quickly show potential customers your strong points—even if they don’t scroll down to see the rest of your content.
In theory, this makes sense, but it doesn’t always hold out in practice.
While working with the pest control company mentioned in the first example, we found that placing value propositions high on their homepage decreased lead volume. This particularly pest control company had received a 8 super service awards from Angie’s list and we thought that these awards would be a real selling point to potential customers. To test this hypothesis, we tried adding the client’s awards in a row below the hero image.
Placing the awards near the top of the homepage decreased lead volume by 3%. Placing the awards next to their form was even worse. It decreased form completions by 20%!
A company can have every award in their field, but if these awards are displayed in a prominent location that distract from a critical next step or don’t increase trust from the visitor, their bottom line may suffer.
3. Calls to Action
Every website designer would recommend having a button in the top fold of your website. Like most of the “best practices” on this list, it’s not a bad idea…it’s just not always right for every business.
Case in point, while working with a company who sells exam preparation material to architects, we found that value propositions in the top fold image actually had a bigger impact on sales than buttons linking to the top products.
For this business’s unique type of visitors, the buttons were moving them forward too early. By forcing visitors to learn about the benefits before showing a button, they increased revenue by 69%!
4. Social Media Icons
If you want people to share your stuff, it’s a good idea to include social media icons on your page, right? Maybe, but if you want to make money, this “best practice” may not be the best idea…
One of our clients runs a massive food blog that gets over 1M visitors a month. Their navigation bar included small, unobtrusive social media icons people could use to share recipes—great idea! But, all great ideas deserve to be tested, so we tried removing them.
As it turned out, these social media icons were holding their website back in a big way. When we removed the icons, the client’s monthly revenue jumped up by 50%.
Interestingly, their conversion rate stayed the same, visitors were just purchasing more and higher priced items! This test is not unique. Over and over again I see that careless placement of social media icons—especially at critical purchase points—kill revenue.
5. Strike While the Iron is Hot
Most marketers love to use strong calls to action to try and get people to act now. It’s not a bad idea, for many businesses, people who leave without acting will never be seen again. However, that isn’t true for all businesses.
One of our clients specializes in training pharmacists. After testing a variety of calls-to-action (CTAs), we discovered that their customers don’t like to pushed into the buying process. Switching from commitment-heavy button text like “Get Started” to a more casual CTA like “Learn More” nearly doubled their monthly revenue!
Moral of the story? Don’t rush a medical professional. They are even late when making a purchase…
In all seriousness, though, when forced to choose between “buying now” and not buying at all, some types of customers will choose not to buy. However, if you give them the option to learn more before they fully commit, they’ll be a lot more likely to buy in the long run.
6. Social Proof
Social proof is a great way to allay any doubts or concerns your potential customers may have. Many companies try to capitalize on this by adding a social proof popup that notifies users when other people make a purchase. That way, it creates a sense of community, reputability and urgency around what you’re trying to sell.
Or, at least, that’s the theory.
For some businesses, these social proof popups actually hurt their business. One of my clients loved their social proof popups, but they’d never really tested them. It took a lot of convincing to get them to let me try removing the popups, but when we finally did, their monthly revenue increased by almost 30%!
Ultimately, social proof is great, but if you don’t use it in an effective way, it can actually work against you. In the case of this client, their social proof popups were distracting potential customers—leading them to buy less instead of more.
7. Shorten Your Forms
As a general rule, shorter forms produce more conversions. People hate filling out long, involved forms, so nine times out of ten, companies will make more money when reducing the length of their form.
But what about the other 10% of companies?
For these companies, longer forms can actually be better. They may increase confidence in the website, make the company seem more legitimate or provide additional options that help people feel more comfortable submitting the form.
As a quick example, one of our clients is a large home maintenance company that has a fairly short form: 7 fields, to be exact. However, we wanted to see if removing the 2 least needed fields—preferred contact method (email/telephone) and preferred contact time (morning, noon, night)—would improve their conversion rate.
To our surprise, the longer form actually performed 25% better than our shorter variant.
As it turned out, this client’s web visitors appreciated the ability to customize how and when the client would reach out to them—even if it meant filling out a couple of extra fields on the form.
All companies, products, websites, potential customers are different. It makes sense that there isn’t one method for all. This is why website testing is critical. You not only learn more about your visitors, but you avoid making “best practice” mistakes that could cost you thousands.