Hack Your Web Developer’s Questionnaire For Higher Conversion

I was recently asked by a prospect to help them complete a website design questionnaire, the document utilized by design firms that drives the design of a website. The company doing the redesign of this site specializes in e-commerce sites, so I had expected their questionnaire to focus on conversion, business goals, etc.

I was mistaken.

Rather than be exasperated by this, I saw it as a teaching moment for my prospect and for you.

If you are driving search traffic to an online store, online service, or subscription site, I recommend that you add some hacks to your website developer’s questionnaire (also called a survey or creative brief) so that your business goals are part of their design process.

Here’s how I would change the one I was given.

Know When You Are The Wrong Person To Ask

This is the most important realization you can come to: you are a business person, marketer or something else. You are not a Web designer. More importantly, you are not your Web visitor.

Don’t let your development and design team pass the buck. They should be asking you for information that helps them make a decision. They should not be asking you for that decision.

Don't try to make decisions. Provide the information your design team needs to make good decisions.

Don’t try to make decisions. Provide the information your design team needs to make good decisions.

Any time they ask you to make specific recommendations, change the question. All questions should ask you for information that informs their decision. If they are not willing to make such decisions, you best let them go about their business and find someone else.

Navigation Has To Make Sense To Your Visitor

The question of how your navigation should be laid out is not one to be decided by your personal taste or by what you believe is cool. Navigation has the burden of getting people off of the home page and into your site. Once a visitor is in your site, the navigation must anticipate their next question.

As such, you should add some questions to your website questionnaire.

Navigation decisions should be based on your visitors' needs. How will they research your on your site?

Navigation decisions should be based on your visitors’ needs. How will they research your on your site?

Your main navigation should guide visitors to the things that move your business forward. These are the things you need your visitors to accopmlish to be successful.

Your sub-navigation, or side navigation should numerate the alternative ways of exploring your site. Usually, information on a commercial website can be categorized, so list your categories there. If there are a lot of categories for your visitors, you may need to have some sort of expandable navigation or use “fly-outs.” Otherwise, just list the categories.

When listing your categories, don’t forget “Most popular,” “Featured Items,” and “Editor’s Choice” categories.

If you have more than two pages on your site, go ahead and include site search. Those visitors who know what they want will use this feature and they will have high expectations for it’s accuracy.

Kill The Slideshow

If there is anything that will define your character as an online marketer, it is your ability to do something that is the opposite of what everyone else is doing because the data tells you so. Such is the case with the homepage slideshow.

In test after test, this little bit of interactivity has shown to reduce conversion rates. Yet it is used on websites all across the Web. This simply means that most marketers aren’t testing this feature.

Nonetheless, there are signs that this feature is falling out of favor with traditionally high-converting websites like keurig.com, proflowers.com, Raoman’s, Woman Within, 1-800-PetMeds and the site that never resorted to slideshows, Amazon.

The Slideshow can be expected to reduce conversion rates. Pick one and go with it.

The Slideshow can be expected to reduce conversion rates. Pick one and go with it.

How can something so universally accepted reduce conversion rates?

We think it works like this: The automatically rotating slideshow creates motion on the page. Our brains are designed to react to motion, and just as we’re getting into the other elements on the page, the hero shot moves, breaking our concentration. We can never really digest the home page because we keep getting distracted by motion, and we totally miss what we were looking for.

Don’t be lazy. Do the hard work of picking one message for your site.

Alternatively, change the rotation rate of your slideshow to once per day (that is 86,400 seconds, if that is how your questionnaire asks). A daily rotation offers variety without motion.

Social Media Icons Are For Rock Stars

If you’ve paid good money to get searchers to visit your site, why send them off to a social media network? Are you really so attention-starved that you need likes, fans and followers instead of sales?

Most knee-jerk designers will assume you want social media icons on every page of your site. You don’t, unless you are a rock star, celebrity, or run a social network.

Don't send your expensive search traffic to some social network. It probably won't ever come back.

Don’t send your expensive search traffic to some social network. It probably won’t ever come back.

It is the “Thank You” page that is the right place to ask people to pimp you on social media. They’ve just bought your product or subscribed. They’re primed to share their brilliant action with others. Hold off until this point.

The only exception to this hack is this: If you are really good at converting social media fans into record sales, TV viewers, or movie tickets, go for it. Otherwise, keep your hard-won traffic on your site until they buy, subscribe or register.

Sell  Buyers Something Else

When is the best time to sell somebody something? The answer is, “Just after they have bought something.”

That’s right. There is no better time to offer something more than when someone has just “bought” something from you. Clearly, they are “buyers,” right?

Thank You pages are a great opportunity to offer something else to your best visitors: those that buy.

Thank You pages are a great opportunity to offer something else to your best visitors: those that buy.

By “buying” I mean that they’ve paid you in money or have paid with their contact information, in the case of a lead.

You don’t have to offer them something more to buy (but why not?). Now is the time you can ask them to share with their social networks; to friend, fan or follow you; to download something; to join a mailing list, and more.

Why bother? You got their money, right? Well, the thank you page is the most effective place to :

  1. Increase your average order value by selling related items
  2. Open different communication channels for their next purchase
  3. Do something extraordinary to put an exclamation point on the purchase
  4. Minimize buyer’s remorse and the accompanying returns
  5. Teach them how to use your product successfully
  6. Get referrals

I could keep going, but that’s for another column. So, how much time are you spending on your “thank you” pages?

Capitalize On Your Errors

It is hard to be perfect. Sometimes we ask searchers to come to pages that just don’t exist; or they existed once, a long time ago. This doesn’t mean that we need to spit in their faces. Perhaps we can still help them with their problem.

This is the job of the error page.


Every error page is an opportunity. Don't screw up twice.Every error page is an opportunity. Don’t screw up a second time with a lame page.

First of all, the term “404″ should not appear anywhere on your error page. Instead, you should present a helpful resource coupled with a polite mea culpa.

Your 404 page should act like a homepage. If you have a site of any heft, offer a search box. Provide links to the things that you would offer on your home page. However, don’t send these visitors to the home page. You must apologize first.

Nobody Wants To Contact You

If the best thing your design firm can come up with is “Contact Us” just walk away. Instead, look at the question introduced above: “List the three most important things your visitors must do on your site.”

Create a separate page for each of these.


A Contact Us page is the least interesting lead generation page on the Web. Try something else.A Contact Us page is the least interesting lead generation page on the Web. Try something else.

They may include things like:

  • “Find a store nearby.” If this is the case, a map would be nice.
  • “Get a quote.”
  • “Ask a question of our knowledgeable experts.”
  • “Subscribe to our free newsletter.”

In other words, everyone is trying to solve a problem, and their problem is not “I need someone to contact me.” No one wants to contact you – nor do they want you to contact them.

Ask More Of Your Web Design Firm

In all fairness, most Web design firms are responding to the desires of their clients, who are not focused on their visitors, but on their own egos. The market for websites that are driven by the whim of their owners is hundreds of millions of dollars larger than the market for those who are visitor-centric.

Success and high conversion rates go the to the visitor-centric, not the ego-driven. Which are you?

I like to believe that most designers want to do do well by their customers. If you are the kind of marketer or business owner that asks more of their design firm, you might find yourself with a site that serves your visitors (and your business) well.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • http://twitter.com/Conversionista Chief Conversionista

    This stuff is Awesome!  People In Stockholm would be eating out of your hand. What are you waiting for?!

  • http://twitter.com/Conversionista Chief Conversionista

    Actually the “Meta-hack” on top of all this is:
    Web Agencies ask 
     - “What should the site look like?”When they should be asking - “What goals should the page acheive?!”

  • http://twitter.com/NetSpeakDesign NetSpeak Solutions

    The majority of web design/development firms DON’T do SEO/SEM to begin with… Instead, a client should be looking for a web design and marketing company that also can undertake responsive design for mobile devices.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    While this is a SEO/SEM focused site, this column is about converting search traffic after it arrives. Unfortunately, many web design/development firms don’t do that either.

  • hannah ingham

    Great article Brian, to often user behaviour is seen as an after thought in e-commerce. To often design is focused on creating a pretty picture and not thinking about the psychology or motives behind the buyers behaviour, how is this site going to convince them to buy from you over the other 1000′s of websites selling the same products.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Thanks, Hannah.

  • http://www.BlogAid.net MaAnna

    Oh, Brian, this is good, really good. Most of my clients came to me for their second site and can confirm they learned these lessons the hard way. I’m slowly expanding my reach to attract first time site owners, but they are still of the mindset that the look of the theme is the most important thing, not the content.

    Do you think most folks just have to waste their first year of site ownership before this message gets through to them?

  • Richard Parnaby-King

    The apostrophe in your slug is leading to a 404 page (http://searchengineland.com/hack-your-web-developer's-questionnaire-for-higher-conversion-116935). May I suggest removing it? A good article though.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Thanks for the bug report and for the kind words.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    I do believe that site owners have to go through a first, wasted site, but that may be changing. I also find that site owners have to go through one or two or three SEO companies before they realize that conversion is their problem. We all have to make mistakes in order to learn. You may not like working with first-time site owners as they haven’t learned their lessons yet.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Tim Ash weighs in on the rotating banner issue over at ClickZ. 

  • http://twitter.com/keshabraj Keshab Raj Adhikari

    I am on way to redesigning my site… not all the point you pointed are fit to my site.. however there are some point I wasn’t close to it or missing for my new design. Thank you Brain Massey for healthy post.  Defiantly gonna check again the redesign.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Nothing makes me happier than to know that I’ve been helpful in some way. Thanks for letting me know.

  • RenWalker

    Genius!  The original questionnaire was setting the client up for failure.  We designers should KNOW that things like a search bar, category filter, and a rich thank page aren’t a “yes / no” situation…they SHOULD be on eCommerce sites.  Business owners just need to help us fill in the blanks.  

    I’m tired of open-ended prompts on questionnaires.  A good web designer should be ready to offer solutions and get the client thinking and saying “Yes, I want that!”

    Also, kudos on the “killing the slideshow.”  I can’t waiting until more websites break the big slideshow / 3 box model.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    I agree. Web designers should be making decisions using their Web experience, not asking inexperienced owners and marketers.

  • hannamhel garcia

    This is really helpful, I going to design a website for a learning center soon and your article really gives me ideas on how to design it. Thanks a lot. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dennis-Foreman/513852772 Dennis Foreman

    Thank you Brian, for busting me on the slideshows.

    These things have become so ingrained that everyone (almost everyone :-) ) accepts that they are necessary for “entertainment” of surfers or some such idea. 

    I’ve always disliked them but it has been easier to just put them up rather than arguing with the site owners.

    How about this hybrid idea? Set the slideshow so that it presents only one slide per arriving visitor. Organize it as an ongoing split-test for each of several messages. Viola’, real data and the appearance of variety for the site owner.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    You are the first person to thank me for pointing out that slideshows usually reduce conversion rates. I think that a static picture for each visitor is fine, and certainly make it so you can test one against the other. If we aren’t learning more about our visitors, we are dying on the digital vine.


  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/blog/ Neil Ferree

    I see some mild controversy coming down the pike? I only scanned this article based on a fellow G+ Plusser’s entry. Need to find the hard stats that emphatically prove sliders dont’ convert?

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Controversy is good, and your instinct for proof is very scientific. 

    I reference Wider Funnel’s post in my column, and they claim to have tested the rotating banner multiple times with poor results.http://www.widerfunnel.com/conversion-rate-optimization/rotating-offers-%E2%80%93-the-scourge-of-home-page-design 

    Tim Ash of Sitetuners is a veteran tester, and he literally wrote the book on Landing Pages. He recently published this explanation of why rotating banners impact conversion negatively.
    http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2164452/rotating-banners WhichTestWon.com has a home page study in which the rotating banner homepage lost, but other elements changed on the page [requires subscription].https://whichtestwon.com/ppc-rudder Every audience is different, but this is one aspect of home pages that I wouldn’t test given the evidence against rotating banners.


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