Website Design: Making Decisions with Data

Many businesses utilize website analytics to determine their site’s overall traffic and visitor count. Analytics can also include many other useful metrics — top ranking pages, popular landing pages, and visits from paid search and online advertising — data that is not only crucial for judging a site’s success but also for planning a website redesign.

In this article, I discuss the value of using data in website design, what to look for, and how to use data to drive decision-making about aesthetics.

What is Data-driven Website Design?

Data-driven website design is the process in which the structure, layout, and functionality of a website is considered, based on actual usage and site analytics. Analytics can guide the design and functionality of a site, to ensure it works efficiently for its users.

Expedia found, for example, that making one small data-driven decision — removing one form field in the checkout process — resulted in an extra $12 million in revenue.

Most small businesses have access to either Google Analytics or another site analytics tool that can provide necessary information.

Visit GAChecker.com to confirm whether or not you have Google Analytics installed on your site. If not, many plugins are available for the more popular content management systems, such as WordPress and Drupal. Site-builder services, like Wix and Squarespace, have easy-to-follow installation instructions as well.

What Data Can Tell You

The first thing your site’s data might reveal is whether a redesign is even necessary. Some businesses may feel the need to do a full redesign when it’s possible that the site is performing well already. Examining the data, comparing against previous months or years, can help determine if that is indeed necessary.

Upon examination, you may be surprised to find exactly how much traffic your site receives or what pages people visit most. If the site is performing well overall, focus attention on improving sections that may be under-performing,

What to Look at First

Whether you run an ecommerce site or local restaurant, three key metrics are always important to review: bounce rate, exit rate, and average session duration.

Bounce rate. A site’s bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. A bounce rate of 60 percent or higher might be a sign that the site needs a refresh or update.

Exit rate. The exit rate measures the amount of time it takes visitors to leave the site, and from which page. By examining your site’s exit rate, you may learn whether or not people find the content valuable.

After reviewing the pages with the highest exit rate, evaluate each to see if people are clicking away to a sister site or third-party vendor. If you find a particular page from which people are leaving, it may be time to redesign or replace the content, to ensure that they stay as long as possible.

Average session duration. Another metric, often overlooked, is the average session duration, which measures the average time a person spends per visit. In most cases, the longer the time spent, the better. It may mean the visitor found the content engaging and felt compelled to continue viewing.

Using Data to Drive Aesthetics

Although many companies may only share website analytics with their principal team members or management, it is critical to share this information with the web designer as well. Before beginning a redesign, good designers will want to know how visitors use the site and which items are the most popular.

By educating yourself on your most visited pages, either you or your designer may be able to eliminate those that aren’t useful or change the layout to display relevant information better.

Data can also aid in defending a proposed site design, based on more than just emotion or aesthetic appeal. For instance, if your contact page receives the most visits, it may help to include a way to navigate to it on every page of the site. Using advanced data, such as A/B testing, can even help you determine which pages, colors, or content visitors engage with the most.

Using Visitor Behavior to Your Advantage

When considering a redesign, look at how a typical user navigates through your site, a principle referred to as “User Flow” or “Behavior Flow.”

Seeing which pages follow another most often may lead you to remove steps from your checkout process or add more advertising or promotional messaging to pages at particular locations along the path. Spotting where users drop off can be just as worthwhile. Changing content or design at a pivotal point may keep visitors moving through the site.

What Devices to Design For

With an average of more than 50 percent of people browsing the web on mobile devices, it is essential that you implement responsive website design.

Examining data regarding the devices people use when they visit your site can help you determine whether the design best suits smaller budget phones, large-screen smartphones, or tablets. If, for example, visitors make most of the site’s purchases using tablets, it may be worth investing more time and resources to improving the tablet design.

Heatmaps and Click-tracking

Heatmaps are another useful resource to support data-driven website design. They provide visual references of where and how often areas of the site visitors click — data that can be extremely helpful in judging what parts of the design that people find the most eye-catching.

By making small changes based on heatmaps, you may be able to shift visitors subtly to click on items that drive the most conversions or sales.

Google Analytics has a basic form of this feature built-in under “Behavior > In-Page Analytics.” Hotjar is an inexpensive service that not only tracks clicks and provides heatmaps but also records a visitor’s activity on video, showing exactly how the person navigated through the site.

Data-driven Design Considerations

Redesigning your website can be much more strategic when paired with data. In addition to site analytics, utilize as many resources as possible, such as surveys or user testing, to learn about your successes and places where you need to improve.

Keep in mind that you must compare the data against your ultimate goals and objectives. If your goal is sales, and your data points to high traffic but low sales volume, your design choices are going to be different than a business that cares about visitors downloading PDFs or reading case studies.

Always keep the data in context. Decisions can be more informed and lead to a more strategic, better-designed website when starting from some form of data.