Design Best Practices

5 Areas Where Small Design Changes Can Improve Website Conversions

Best practices. Some people believe in them, some don’t. In fact, there is a clever adage when it comes to websites, “Best Practices work about half the time, and you don’t know which half your website belongs to.”

I believe best practices are important, but only when they are rooted in scientific results around human behavior. Notice I said results, NOT theory. 

Last week, we touched on CRO. What it is, and why it’s often more important than SEO. This week, we’re going to talk about how making small changes to individual site elements can greatly improve the experience visitors have on your website, and ultimately increase conversions. 

WHY DESIGN MATTERS

50 milliseconds. That’s all you get to make a great first impression. Eye-tracking studies have shown visual design is the main driver when it comes to first impressions. And remember, those first impressions hold the key to how people will initially think and feel about your brand. In order for your home page or landing page to make the right impression, it is crucial to choose the right kind of images – and the right messaging. 

Key Components For Making A Great First Impression

  • Be Inspirational
  • Keep It Simple. 
  • Combine Novelty with Familiarity.

Because the brain can process images 60,000 times faster than text – one small thing you can do to help make a great first impression – is choose images that instantly convey necessary information about your product or service – while also invoking a desired feeling in your visitors. We recommend choosing an image that is in some way aspirational. 

This is a great opportunity for us to talk about the fold. 

When your website first loads in a browser window (whether on desktop, tablet, or mobile) the area users can view without having to scroll – is called the fold. There is a common misconception – that your most important information on your website should always be placed above the fold. This is a myth.

The truth is, users love to scroll – as long as they are offered a cue to scroll. One saving grace is users LOVE to scroll – no matter how they are cued to do so. Additionally, most users begin scrolling before a page has fully loaded. 

That said, there are conflicting studies when it comes to the fold. Chartbeat reported “users spend 66% of their time on a web page below the fold”, while the Nielsen Norman Group found “users spend 80% of their time looking above the fold.”

One of the ways we help our clients is by determining what information they need above the fold to best serve their audience, and get the highest conversion rates possible. 

PRIME YOUR AUDIENCE

Generally, the first page visitors come to on your site – will be either the home page, or a designated landing page. 

The purpose of any home page is twofold:

  1. Give Users Information
  2. Provide Intuitive Top-Level Navigation 

We believe your primary goal for your home page should be to prime your audience to be open and receptive to whatever actions you most want them to take. Priming is a psychological technique where through the use of one stimulus you can alter how a second stimulus is perceived.

You can prime your audience to trust you through everything from the use of color, to the choice of words and images. Let’s look at color. In studies, the color blue has been shown to produce Trust. If you have a brand that needs your clients and customers to trust you – blue might be the perfect primary color for your site. Sidenote: Have you ever looked at your phone, and noticed how many of your apps for everything from your bank to your favorite Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) are blue? 

Once you have primed them to feel a certain way – or make certain desired associations to your brand – it’s time to define the desired actions visitors should take. Start by asking, “What is the primary action I want from a new visitor to this page?”

  • Is it to get them to sign up for your newsletter? 
  • Buy a product? 
  • Enroll in a course? 
  • Read a featured article? 

Whatever you most want them to do – is your primary CTA, or Call To Action.

As you’re thinking about these questions – be sure to answer the questions your visitors will likely already have. For example:

  1. What can I do here?
  2. Why should I do it?
  3. How is this better/different from other options?

The secondary goal of your home or landing page is to get people OFF the page, by taking one or more of the desired actions we defined above.

To do this effectively, we advise incorporating the principles of persuasive design as set out by CXL

  1. Clarity Above All
  2. Visual Appeal
  3. Strong Visual Hierarchy
  4. Conserve Attention At All Costs
  5. One Action Per Screen (when they’re ready)

We’ll be diving into the details of these principles in a future post – in the meantime here is a great article by Peep Laja on the topic of Persuasive Design

Now, let’s take a look at some of the typical elements found on pages throughout your site. 

  1. Buttons and Calls To Action
  2. Forms
  3. Shopping Cart Pages

BUTTONS & CALLS TO ACTION

Whether a site visitor takes your desired action or not – can be dependent on the following:

  1. A Call To Action That Is Noticeable & HARD TO MISS
  2. A Clear & OBVIOUS Next Step (needs to make logical sense to your visitors)
  3. They See Value In Further Engagement

Recently, we had a client with a large website come to us. He had experienced a significant drop in traffic. While we determined part of this was due to changes in Google’s algorithm – we also noticed he had a 50% bounce rate on his home page.

Immediately, we saw how with a few quick and easy design changes – we could simultaneously lower his bounce rate – and buy ourselves time to make the Google Gods happy again. 

His main issue on the home page was the page design itself. The whole page was one large image. A huge no-no for both seo, and responsive design. What is worse, the image had no clear call to action.

With a quick home page redesign, adding text and a prominent orange button at both the top and repeating again at the bottom – we were able to stop the bleeding – lower his bounce rate – and stabilize his revenue. We chose orange – because multiple studies have shown orange buttons perform well in conversion tests. 


This was a relatively inexpensive fix – buying us time to work on additional strategies to fix his traffic problems. 

FORM MISTAKES THAT ARE KILLING YOUR CONVERSIONS or EXPEDIA’S $12 MILLION DOLLAR BOZO MISTAKE

Believe it or not – the most minute changes to your forms could result in huge gains in ROI. In 2010, Expedia removed the optional “Company” field from their form – and saw a $12 Million Dollar increase in profits. 

Why? CLARITY. Many visitors were confused by the optional field, and as a result would abandon the process of filling out the form altogether. 

When it comes to forms – it’s all about clarity, clarity, clarity. Here are a few principles to keep in mind – when it comes to form design.

  1. Clear Expectations

    Set clear expectations on your forms by letting visitors know both their expected time commitment (or axillary commitments like requiring credit card info, etc) and the benefits they will receive by filling out the form. 
  1. Less Is More
    Think of the most famous form in the world. A form you fill out every single day. A form you might have even filled out to find this article? Are you thinking about the form on the Google homepage? One of the reasons Google won the search engines wars was their clean homepage design – and simple form – with only one form field.

    When it comes to forms, always asking for unnecessary information. 
  1. Help Where You Can

    Have you ever tried filling out the address portion of a form – and had to scroll through a list of all 50 states before you found your state? This is an area where you can make small changes to provide an exceptionally better user experience.

    For example, by asking for their zip code first – you can fill in the state and city automatically. Thereby saving your user time and effort. 
  1. Provide Cues to Decrease Errors in Form Validation

    By providing cues to the correct format form information should take – you can save your users time by cutting down on validation errors. For example, if you have a registration form with a password field – and the field requires a capital letter and numbers or symbols – be sure you detail these requirements near the password field.

  2. Avoid Captchas

    Captchas are an effective tool for preventing spam from bots. Unfortunately, they are also one more point of friction for your visitors. When possible, avoid using them. If your site warrants them, please consider using reCaptcha – so you will be helping to digitize text, annotate images, and build machine learning datasets.

SHOPPING CART PAGES

We could write a series of posts on how to best optimize your shopping cart pages – covering everything from how to best optimize product categories to best practices around adding products to the cart itself. Today, however, we’re going to cover what we consider to be the most important barrier to entry for your potential shoppers.

Forced registration. Don’t be the website that forces your customers to register for an account before they can add items to their shopping cart, or checkout. If your goal is to make a profit, make the process as seamless and easy as possible. Including offering the ability for customers to checkout with a guest account. If you do nothing else to optimize your shopping cart experience – remove forced registration. 


This is a selected overview of some of the best practices we recommend to our clients. When you work with us, we also guide you on using best practices in typography, content, image optimization, search, pricing your products/services, and more.

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