Industry expert Dave Taylor says that he’s never arrived at a meeting about a site’s SEO redesign to find clients with analytics data. Me neither, unless I bring it with me.
What kind of evidence do people bring with them?
Well, here are some comments from initial SEO site redesign discussions I’ve been involved in recently:
- “We should have more pictures of people. People like looking at people.”
- “We need to do what [competitor] did.”
- “We need something edgy.”
- “We need it to pop.”
- “Perhaps we need Flash?”
These may all be true statements about what these websites need. But, as Erika Andersen has pointed out, starting your meeting with statements about needs means you’re jumping ahead to strategies before defining the problem or the desired outcome. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Hey, let’s try this!”
Starting with analytics allows you to see what’s happening and compare that with what you want to have happen. For one of the sites in question, the owner defined the problem and the desired outcome by referencing the bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave the site without exploring further) from one source. He wants to keep those people hanging around the site longer. He’s arranging for four pages with slight variations so he can test them.
For another, I’ve just installed analytics, so I’m not yet seeing a lot of information, but I can see that this 18 month old site appears to be averaging only one visit each day, and none from his service area. We can easily identify his immediate problem. Once we start bringing him some traffic, we can look at other issues, but making his site findable is clearly the highest priority.
So on the one hand we have
“In order to increase the ROI on our ad campaign with Site X, we need to improve the bounce rate for people coming from our ad by a) testing the effect of a suggested design change, and b) following through with the design that gets the best results”
and on the other hand we have
“We need it to pop!”
I hope the difference is obvious.
What I always tell clients: content is king. It's nice to have a website that "pops", but without unique content that users will identify with, all those fancy images will be wasted.
The other thing I tell clients: form follows function. If you can't navigate a site, it doesn't matter how pretty it is. This is an especially difficult task, as it's hard to get designers to understand function.
Those are good things to tell clients.
Getting the designers on your team as far as function goes is half the battle. I was telling one yesterday — you can think of it as a cool additional challenge: not just to make an art object, but an art object that also works!
But sometimes, as you say, you can end up with designers and clients on one side saying, "Oooh, wouldn't it be cool if we put the wheels on the roof this time?" Then I have to be the one who says, "Yeah, but your customers want to be able to drive it."
The best designers think about usability and optimization and then also make it beautiful. Those are the ones I like to work with.