Why Web Design Testing is Less Important Than You Think
by Trevor Anderson • January 16, 2020
When it comes to conversion rate optimization and website testing, marketers always seem to get fixated on design testing. We love to talk about button placement, color choice, mobile optimization, nav bar design and a hundred other design elements that affect your user experience.
And, for a long time, web design testing was a big deal.
It was all new territory. The internet isn’t that old, so businesses were still trying to figure out how to present their website content in a compelling, user-friendly way. We didn’t know what worked…and what didn’t.
And so, for a long time, web design testing really was the most important part of conversion rate optimization. Sites with good web design sold well, and sites with poor design struggled.
While that’s still true today, things are a lot better now. Most good web design principles are fairly well established and most businesses use some sort of theme that follows those principles. Of course, there are always the truly avant garde sites that push the boundaries of the user experience, but on average, web sites these days tend to be more similar than different.
As a result, web design testing isn’t nearly as important as it used to be. But, because it’s interesting (and we’ve treated as the most important thing for so long), marketers still act like design testing will turn a poor performing site into a goldmine. But that’s more the exception than the rule these days.
So, if web design testing isn’t the right way to improve the performance of your website, what should you be focused on? Let’s take a look.
Why Isn’t Your Traffic Converting?
A lot of business owners and marketers fall into the trap of believing that every visitor to their website is a potential customer. So, when those visitors don’t buy, they assume that there must be some sort of problem with their website design.
But that’s a bit of a leap, don’t you think?
The fact of the matter is, people come to your website for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they’re there to buy. Sometimes they’re in research mode. Sometimes they’re just curious. Sometimes they’re researching the competition. Sometimes they simply arrived by accident.
The fact is, no website converts 100% of its traffic. Most of your traffic isn’t there to “buy now” and there’s not a whole lot you can do change that.
So, when it comes to evaluating your website, the question shouldn’t be “why aren’t all these visitors converting?” Instead, the real question is, “Why aren’t qualified visitors converting?”
Qualified visitors are that subset of your traffic that are in the market for what you’re selling, are a good fit for your goods or services and are ready to convert. These are the critical users that you need to be focused on, and for these users, the thing that usually keeps them from converting isn’t your site design…it’s your site content.
Design Testing vs Content Testing
Unless your website is truly broken—which is fairly rare these days—your potential customers care a lot more about the content on your site than your website design.
Shopify, Magento, WordPress, Wix, Squarespace…most website platforms provide a fundamentally solid user experience. You don’t even have to know that much about UX design to create a functional website—the platforms take care of that for you.
This is great news for you and your traffic, because it frees up your audience to focus on your actual marketing message. Now that people aren’t stuck trying to figure out how to get around your website on their mobile phone, they can actually pay attention to what you’re selling and how you’re selling it.
Now, that’s not to say that design testing is useless. There are always ways to improve your user experience (UX) and customize it for your particular audience’s needs. But, if the actual content on your site isn’t compelling, any gains from design testing will be incremental by comparison.
After all, a turd is a turd—no matter how much you polish it.
As long as your site is generally functional, boring, irrelevant or distracting content will hurt your conversion rate far more than the color of your CTA. So, if you’re trying to improve your conversion rate, the first place you should start is your content—not your design.
The Downside of Starting with Design
To make matters worse, when you prioritize design testing over content testing, you actually set yourself up for failure in a variety of ways!
First off, if your content is poor, it calls into question all of your design testing results. You’re polishing a turd, so there’s no guarantee that any of your findings will still apply when you revise your actual content.
In fact, because you’re testing UX changes rather than messaging changes, the risk of false positives is higher in design testing than content testing. As a result, you may not really know why people converted better with your new design. So, if you’re trying to mitigate your risk of a false positive, content testing is really the best place to start.
In the end, it really is a question of what you’re actually trying to sell. Are you trying to sell people on how stylish your website is? Or are you trying to sell them on your products/services?
For most businesses, a less stylish website with engaging descriptions, clear benefits, compelling photos, optimized price points, etc will usually sell better than a perfectly designed site with crappy content. People don’t convert because your website looks nice, they convert because they believe your products or services will meet their needs.
Testing Your Site Content
So, if design testing isn’t as important as content testing, what’s the best way to test your site content? To answer that, we need to go back to marketing basics.
If you’re looking for easy split testing ideas for your website content, one of the best places to start is by looking at the 4 P’s of marketing: product, price, place and promotion.
The product (or service) you’re trying to sell is the heart and soul of your marketing efforts. It’s the reason why people come to your website and it’s the reason they give your business money. But, in order to sell your product or service, your potential customers have to want to buy what you’re selling.
The only way to do that is to show them how your product/service will solve their problem(s).
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to predict which problems and pain points will be the most compelling to your audience. You might have a set of features and benefits that you think will sell, but if they don’t work for your target market, they won’t convert. With a solid content testing strategy, however, you can test a variety of selling points and figure out which unique selling points produce the most conversions.
Price is as simple as it sounds. If your product is priced well, people will be more likely to buy it. If it’s priced poorly—or people don’t properly understand the value of the product—people will be inclined to look elsewhere for cheaper options.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors that go into determining the right price point for your product. First off, there’s perceived value. As mentioned above, people need to believe that your product is worth as much (or more) than they are paying.
Take Apple products, for example. From a strictly technical standpoint, you can get a laptop that performs as well as a high-end MacBook for a much lower price. However, Apple has managed to associate a lot of non-technical value with their products (the Apple ecosystem, fashionability, ease-of-use, etc), so their customers feel good about paying a lot more for an Apple product than they would for a similar computer from another company.
You might not be Apple, but even so, there are a lot of ways to use your site content to adjust the perceived value of your goods or services. For example, if people feel like they’re getting a deal, they may be willing to pay the same or even more than they might on another site.
With content testing, you can test a variety of discounts, price points and other tactics that affect the perceived value (and cost) of your goods and services. If you do it right, you may even be able to charge more while simultaneously increasing your conversion rate. All you have to do is figure out how to increase the perceived value of what you’re offering.
These days, when most marketers hear the words “place” or “placement”, they tend to think of online ad placements. In display advertising, Facebook advertising and even paid search advertising, businesses constantly fight for ad placement.
However, that’s not what this P actually refers to.
Instead, place refers to distribution or how your product will be provided to your customer. Now, you might think that this might be a hard P to test, but how you present your distribution network can sometimes have a big effect on your conversion rate.
Take Amazon for example. Why do people love Amazon? Because of their distribution network. Two-day shipping takes away a lot of the inconvenience of online shopping, so it allows Amazon to steal business away from local companies.
You might not be able to advertise two-day shipping, but with a little thought and testing, you can figure out how to present your distribution policies in ways that increase customer trust and ultimately improve your conversion rate.
This last P is perhaps the most important one. Your website doesn’t exist in a vacuum. People don’t show up on your site at random, look around, see something they like and decide to buy.
Marketing and sales is a process and by the time people are on your website, there’s a reason they’re there. Most of the time, that reason is the direct result of some sort of promotion strategy.
Today, marketers have more advertising options than ever before. In addition to conventional marketing channels like billboards, TV spots, PR marketing, direct mail, etc, there are tons of online marketing channels to consider (paid search, social media marketing, email marketing, influencer marketing, etc).
From a site content perspective, it’s important to understand all of the marketing channels that your business is using. How and why people show up on your website is important, because the promotion strategy people respond to directly influences their expectations of your site content. If your site doesn’t meet those expectations, your traffic won’t convert.
As a result, it’s critically important to understand the marketing messaging that is getting people to your website. The better you understand that messaging, the better you can align your site content with your traffic’s expectations. Then, once you understand that messaging, you can test different ways to use those expectations to encourage people to convert.
Of all the site content testing opportunities we’ve just discussed, this is one of the biggest ways to improve your conversion rate. The better aligned your marketing channels and your website are, the more likely people will be to convert. Done right, this sort of testing can be way more influential than testing the overall design of your site.
When you get right down to it, design testing and content testing are both important. However, most UX design concepts are so well-known and widely applicable that they’ve been incorporated into most themes and platforms.
Site content, on the other hand, is usually a lot more business-specific. Mobile optimization is important for every business, but it’s also fairly standard these days. Your business’s unique selling point, though, is by definition unique to your business. To figure out the best way to communicate that, you need to test your site content.
Design testing is important, but only when you know what you are selling, who you are selling to and have tailored your offering to their needs. Until then, content split testing is a viable strategy which will bring more legit, lasting, cross-channel-applicable wins.
By the way, if you’d like some help testing with content split testing, let us know here or in the comments. We’d love to help you improve your conversion rate by nailing your content and then perfecting your design with site testing.
What do you think? Do you agree that content testing is more important than design testing? Leave your thoughts in the comments.