What? I hear business owners across the land and a number of my own clients murmur. The look and feel of my site is intrinsic to my brand. How can he suggest otherwise? He’s the website designer, isn’t he ridiculing his own profession by writing such things? The boy’s gone stone mad. Well, I’ve been driven to this, you’ve made me say it. No longer can I stand by and watch valuable time and talent go to waste on frivolous subjective ideas of what looks good/professional/in keeping with brand insert your own adjective here ______ .
Time and talent that could be spent on a task that might help the success of the project, think bug testing, optimising load times, related keyword research, information architecture, lead magnet placement, automation, competitive analysis, etc etc etc. Think less, what will people think when they see my site? More, How do I get people to see my new website?
What has WordPress got to do with Baseball?
Not a great deal I’ll admit. There are undeniable parallels though, as I see it (Baseball fans beware, I know little or nothing about your fantastic sport) if you haven’t seen the film or read the book Moneyball is a tale about the Oakland A’s Major League team and their coach who realised, much like a small business owner starting out on their web journey, they are trying to win an unfair game. Any new website faces the same battle, whilst the weight Google places on various metrics is constantly changing and evolving, its fair to say that any new site starts out very much on the bottom of the ladder. No backlinks, social media presence, traffic, no age to the domain, so how does any new website compete?
In the above clip Peter Brandt illustrates the problem with the Major Leaguer’s their goal is to buy players,rather than buying wins. Much like your new WordPress project, the vast majority of clients want this to fit their vision of what their website should look like, rather than building something that they can then see if there target audience likes.
This is all very well, you may well be thinking, but how can I change my approach? How do I know what my target audience wants or likes? Unfortunately, until you launch your website, nobody knows, least of all you. What I do know for certain though, that the majority of WordPress projects have the end goal of launch, in my view, fundamentally the wrong approach.
Launching a website is nowhere near as important as what happens to it after launching.
As all too often, nothing happens. The project budget has been eaten by numerous revisions over header logo sizes, or link colours being a slightly darker blue, that there is now no scope for any A/B testing or restructuring or competitive analysis or any of the tasks that would improve its performance. Worse still the business is left with a website which is now a cost, rather than an investment. This breeds a reluctance to invest further into the project, as the initial investment ‘hasn’t worked’. Content dries up, updates don’t happen, the site is neglected until problems start happening that need fixing (more costs) or worse still the site is ignored to such a degree that it is no longer functional, often leading to a redesign, which is often simply a repeat of this process with different adjectives, goodbye professional, cool, modern… Hello minimalist, sleek, clean.
Thankfully, there is a different way. The approach that I try to guide every project I undertake including this very site you are reading as we speak.
Growth/Data driven design
Growth driven design is a term I believe first coined by the bright minds at Hubspot and describes a process where the launch of the site is stage 2 of a 3 stage process. Though there are any number of definitions floating around to me the importance of this approach can be explained by just the shift in focus, the launch becoming part of the project rather than the goal.
No matter what industry you operate in the reason you embark on a Website project should be the end goal of the website, i.e. sell your products or services, inform your target audience, raise awareness of your brand/issue. This is the natural endpoint (though is a website is never ‘finished’) of any project is when it has achieved its aim, rather than to merely exist. You wouldn’t invest in a retail premises only to leave it unstocked, so why do the same with your digital premises? Similarly, if you have shelves full of Cornflakes but are always restocking Coco-Pops, you’d move some Cornflakes, wouldn’t you?
To wrap things up just bear in mind that what seems like the end is just the beginning, you need to get a site out there before you have any idea of what works or not. Once its live you have fantastic, often free tools like Google analytics, Hotjar et al which allow you the opportunity to make these decisions in an informed way. There is no need to speculate once you have accumulated data. Rant over, if you still want to talk to me about your next WordPress project, please do, I promise I’ll be much, much nicer.