How To Design Your Website For Dollars, Not Your Ego


Traditional design is different from designing for dollars.

My partner Joel Harvey is fond of saying, “My favorite part of a design is the money.”

He’s been part of many a web design project. His perspective comes in response to the number of times he’s heard things like:

“I want the design to pop!”

“I want my site’s design to be groundbreaking like nothing else out there!”

“Let’s turn it up a notch on the design.”

“I want the site’s design to reflect the high value of our product.”

In and of themselves, none of the above statements are unworthy pursuits.

But if your goal is to increase conversion and fill your coffers to the brim, you will fall woefully short if you believe that web design alone can do the heavy lifting of convincing your visitors to take action.

A while back, a client sent us a couple of different mocks of some new designs they were entertaining. They ask which one I liked. The first thing I said is I like the one that makes you the most money. Up until that time their team was arguing over color palettes, white space,and rounded edges.

When I reminded them about the bigger goal, their conversation evolved. In a clock tick, we were all discussing the quality of content on the pages rather than the design elements. When their offer and call to action were right, everyone seemed to forget about the trivia of the actual design.

Designing For Your Ego

Another client brought to us a new landing page campaign they had just launched and were baffled and disappointed in the early results.

They went on to explain that they thought this was the best designed landing page they had ever done. They had just hired a new graphic designer that ‘got it’, and even the CEO was impressed with his work. One problem, their paying customers didn’t seem to agree.

No doubt, the design was gorgeous. Rich colors, curvy rectangles, sexy images, even the header and body fonts were crisp and clean. So why wasn’t this campaign working?

We had them show us their most recent successful campaign. The design was a tad dated, and compared to the new landing page it looked like a high school hobbyist in the company basement eating Cheetos and suckling energy drinks.

Still, by comparing we immediately saw the problem with the new landing page.

The copy on the old page was much better. The headers screamed the product’s value proposition and benefits. The body copy answered relevant questions, and helped the reader imagine themselves buying the product. The call to action button was big, bold, and in your face.

The new page looked stunningly attractive but said very little. To add insult, the hot shot designer was a minimalist and had an aversion to big gawky buttons, so his primary call to action was tiny button that blended in with the hero image, and , by design, was easy to ignore.

We instructed them to use the old page copy on the new design (they had to make a few adjustments to make it all fit), and we asked the designer to create a bigger and bolder call to action button.

They obliged us and that new design finally beat the old landing page, but only slightly.

How Much Time Are You Spending With Your Designer vs. Your Banker?

So my lesson is this. Beautiful, eye-popping design and effective, profitable web design are two different things. And it always seems easier to mistake those eye-popping designs for profitable ones.

Some companies spend more on design than they do on organic SEO, and almost all companies spend more on design than on Conversion Rate OptimizationSearch engine spiders don’t evaluate site design, only content and links. And I have yet to see a company design their way into a better conversion rate and better RO.

Some companies spend way more time going back and forth about a design element than they do actually testing it. Makes you wonder how far ahead of your competitors you could get if you spent more time and resources on conversion optimization and testing.

So when considering a redesign of your entire site, of a successful landing page, or even a banner ad, do the following:

  • Ask and list what about the page experience(not just he design) works? Keep those in the new design.
  • What about the experience doesn’t work?
  • Why do we want to change this(especially if it working)?
  • Before you launch a radically new design, test what you believe is NOT working about the current design.

Above all, use web designers that deeply understand the web and principles of conversion. Otherwise they are just an artist, and the value of an artists works usually increases only after their demise. Can you wait that long?

Photo courtesy ilco via

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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  • TammyLuck

    I once had a client hire me to teach them the basics of SEO. They were in the process of a website redesign, and they wanted to make the most of it. As I was explaining current best practice, they told me that their designer found words to be ugly and wanted their homepage to be word free except for navigation.

    I agreed that the new design was beautiful (the mock up was gorgeous!), and then asked them if they wanted a beautiful site that no one visited or an attractive site that people would be lead to by the search engines. They hadn’t thought of it that way.

  • Paul

    Excellent post, thanks… now back to rounded corners, different shades of gray, the latest color palette, and the most recent layout :\

  • Brian Massey

    Paul, I feel your pain. Thanks for the comment.

  • Brian Massey

    TammyLuck, if our only job as consultants was to be smart, the Web would be a much more enjoyable place to surf and a much more profitable place for businesses. But, we have to be as persuasive with our clients as our sites are with their clients. Glad they had you on their team (and I bet they are too).

  • Jordan Koschei

    This is quite the straw man you’ve set up here.

    Design that serves any purpose besides the greater business goals of the client isn’t design at all, it’s art. This article makes the assumption that design is about how something looks rather than how it feels; anyone who’s worth a dollar in this profession will tell you the truth is otherwise.

    You’re right, the business is more important than the aesthetics. Thankfully, we have a name for that sentiment, and that name is “design.”

  • Anthony D.

    What Would Bernbach Do? You described a timeless problem in advertising and marketing, how to have copy and design fornicate to produce a love child of incredible messaging. Do what Bill Bernbach did in the ’60s, put your copywriter and designer literally in the same room. Have them critique each other’s work and build the presentation together. Great copy is King, I agree. And, his Queen is design that compliments the message to the Kingdom. Their torrid love affair has us all rejoice and respond by forking up our hard earned dollars. Long live the King and his beautiful Queen!

  • Brian Massey

    Anthony D.,

    You speak wisely and eloquently. The answer is YES! Put two heady pros together and let them make sweet persuasion. The challenge in the online world is that everyone believes they are a writer, while designers enjoy the view that their art is a rarified talent. Give designers and copywriters equal standing and all should be well in the kingdom.


  • Brian Massey


    I love that distinction: Aesthetics in the service of business is “Design”. Thanks for commenting.


  • ShellyKramer

    There are no words for how much I love this post. #thatisall


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