• http://euroads.dk Johan Micheelsen

    Great post! it illustrates many of the different approaches to webdesign.

    In addition to what you’ve mentioned I think it is important to flag up the difference between a webshop that are focused mainly on sales and a webshop, that to a certain degree, is focused equally on branding and sales.
    I’ve worked with a company that has spent a great amount of money on redesigning their webshop, using Magento as their hosting provider. Visually, the webshop is exquisite, however, looking at usability and CRO it is dreadful. The reason is that there is far too much happening on the website which drags the focus away from the products. In terms of PPC we manage to have an average CTR of almost 15% across product and brand adgroups, however the conversion rate is below 1%.
    In comparison, their UK webshop, which is a basic webshop only focusing on the products, we are seeing lower CTRs and less traffic 8most likely because the UK is not one of their major markets) but the conversion rate is almost 2%. Yes, the website is not as good looking as the new website but it converts much better and generates a higher revenue than their webshop on their main offline market.

    Their branding department has been in charge of designing the new website, and really, they’ve done a GREAT job seen from their perspective, however, from a sales and usability aspect they’ve failed. So focusing on branding in a webshop seems to be a no go.

    What are your thoughts?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/kschachinger Kristine Schachinger

    Good article. I wrote something with some similar points for another publication and just would like to add that IMO often the biggest issue is using graphic, NOT web designers to create websites.

    Graphic designers now how to make pretty pictures (mean that in a very positive way), which means they should be designing your icons, on page elements, ads, buttons or any other factors that go into your page. HOWEVER, web designers know how to make design into functional, converting, accessible, user-friendly, converting, SEO ready WEBSITES and here-in-lies the VERY large difference.

    As someone who has designed and built websites for over 11 years, I know how every design element will effect every aspect of a site build from what technologies it will require to how eliminating a simple line will eliminate 40 hours of trying to get the site out of CSS/HTML browser compliance hell.

    I also know how this design will affect site structure, conversion rate and your SEO. You can also top this off with accessibility compliance and mobile readiness. This is why WEB designers get paid more. It is not because we design for a different medium, but because we have a unique blend of creative, business and technical skills that allow us to create the blueprint for the best house.

    Now it is rare to find one of us, that is why so many companies have a designer, an html person, a css person, a conversion specialist, a usability person etc etc. But even so, your WEB designer will ALWAYS have a working knowledge of all these. (Course now I am a consultant) Your graphic designer will not. They will build you a beautiful unusable house that does not convert or do the million other things that are needed. Is it their fault? No, because they should not have been hired to create your website, just as you do not hire a fine artist to create your house plans.

    The issue is usually one of the three though – someone in charge won’t 1) get this 2) want to pay for it 3) or this is the biggest.. always fancy them somehow a designer too and will argue every point w the designer no matter how experienced..

    But I think you covered those points pretty well :)
    Thanks for letting me share.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hi Johan,
    Since this isn’t a true apples-to-apples comparison, I’d hesitate to blame only branding for the lower conversion rate. I’ll take your word for it that the new site has poor usability & CRO — but even so, you also have a different audience mix (US versus UK), and it sounds like a different ecommerce platform (and hosting provider?) as well. We’ve worked with many clients who run multiple ecommerce sites (under separate brands) and in each case the traffic mix and technical site performance (response speed, etc.) were major factors affecting conversion rate.

    That said, honestly I’d never let a branding department be totally in charge of a site redesign. Seat them on the team, certainly – their viewpoint is important. But they should not have final say.

    Be curious to see the sites, if you’re able to share – e me at sandra (at) closed-loop-marketing.com.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hey Kristine,
    I like your distinction of “web designer” versus “graphic designer”. But in my experience even many web designers with all the skills you describe don’t always have the strategic vision to prioritize effort effectively (should I fine-tune display for IE6, or change the cart functionality?). I think that only comes with adequate in-the-trenches experience.

    Your last points about the “someone in charge” really hit home, as well — I’ve been there many times, both personally as a freelancer and also while with Closed Loop Marketing, big and small clients. So there’s another area that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to web designers – managing the project stakeholders, building the business case, and when all else fails, knowing when to fire the client & move on to someone more deserving of your expertise :)

  • cdorob


    I’ve been writing why it’s important for a Web Designer to know a bit of SEO , a bit of increasing the conversion rates via usability and if it makes sense to learn CSS if you only do small websites.

    It looks like it’s not in the job description, but to stay competitive, you must at least approach and implement the basic elements. Here is what I wrote:

    * the first thing will happen when the customer will go to a SEO company is that he’s going to receive a report how bad the site is. Which basically means that the customer “finds out that his brand new site is bad and to blame is the … Web designer that built it in the first place”. And that’s unlikely to help you get good references from that customer later.
    * there might be some changes that the SEO company would like to do on its own (yes, overwriting your code and work). And that means the future work on the site might go directly to the SEO company instead of going your way.
    * customers don’t just need a web page, they need a marketing tool. If the tool “doesn’t work” as expected, attract visitors and convert them into buyers it doesn’t serve its purpose. And that’s unlikely to get you more design work from the customer.

    And here I tried to answer if the designer should also learn coding.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hi cdorob,
    I totally should have included SEO and SEM as part of the conversion designer’s skillset. It’s important for designers to understand at least how to meet the expectations of visitors arriving via different traffic channels – and, yes, at least the principles of an SEO-friendly site.

    Having been a “do-it-all” web designer myself, I know it’s often very challenging to cover all the topics with the client. Especially small- to medium-sized business owners who aren’t very web savvy, don’t understand the complexities involved, and very possibly don’t share the vision of a website as a “working” marketing tool. But you’re correct – to do right by the client as well as protect your professional reputation, web designers should minimally make the client aware of the need for, say, SEO, analytics, and other non-design items.

    Thanks for the comments, I look forward to reading your article!

  • http://www.maxymiser.com Mark Simpson

    Companies with this blame problem should consider hiring a conversion management specialist. With the right conversion management platform, companies can test and optimize their websites on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are always producing the optimal website for their visitors and therefore, the highest conversion rates – no blame, or guessing at which design works for that matter– necessary.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hi Mark, I agree in principle – having a specialist managing a company’s conversion optimization effort can make a huge difference. What I often see is companies buying a subscription platform service, then failing to use it effectively or at all. It’s important to prioritize optimization efforts, plan a testing strategy, then test among good options (“TAGO”, as my colleague @loveday would say).

  • http://www.naominiles.com Naomi Niles

    I love this. Thanks, Sandra! I completely agree that it’s totally unrealistic for a web designer to handle so many roles. I’ve written about it several times on my blogs too.

    Personally, when I decided to get into this industry 8 years ago (web design and internet marketing), I knew that it was fast paced and I would constantly have to gain new skills and improve my existing ones to stay ahead.

    I came into web design from a prior biz and with a somewhat strategic perspective. But, when the time came, I learned standards-compliance and usability. I took courses in SEO. I learned a bit here and there about copyrighting and persuasion. I learned how to work with every popular cms and e-commerce software under the sun. I learned how to do the crazy little things clients requested.

    I just think all these things influence each other enough that it doesn’t make sense to at least not have a general knowledge so that you don’t leave big gaps. Or, hire the people to fill in the gaps in knowledge you don’t have, at least.

    All that said, have I felt tired and stretched at the seams more times than I care to admit under the title “web designer”? Oh yeah. But, is it worth it now? Heck yeah!

  • http://conversiondesign.de Manuel Ressel

    Thanks Sandra for this great article!

    I think a big thing you pointed out is the old agency mindset. André Morys also mentioned that topic in “Manifesto for Conversion Optimization Excellence”.

    Kristine Schachinger mentioned another point of discussion. What is a webdesigner and what should they know and do? The same discussion is in the UX field.
    I think a webdesigner should know about surrounding topics of UX and CRO but in fact most people who call themselves webdesigner don’t know anything about that topics. So it’s just legitimate to differentiate and build new fields of competences like UX Design or Conversion Design.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hi Naomi, and thank you!
    It sounds like you and I have similar background experiences, and I’m very glad to hear it’s paying off for you, too. Part of the expectation issue I didn’t really touch on is that web designers themselves often don’t know what’s reasonable for a client to expect – so they don’t know when or how to push back, or bring in additional help, and/or charge more. That is an area I hope to illuminate for more web designers.

  • http://www.closed-loop-marketing.com Sandra Niehaus

    Hey Manuel,
    Yes, Andre’s article states it quite well – that’s an insightful post. The relationship between agencies and clients is complex. Is it up to the agency to educate the client, if the client knows nothing about CRO? or should the agency just give them what they want, make the client happy, and pocket the check? An agency isn’t a school, it’s a business. So clients have a responsibility to self-educate. It may sound harsh, but if clients put themselves blindly in the hands of an agency, they quite simply deserve what they get.

    Regarding role titles, we’re already seeing Interaction Designer, User Experience Designer, and other titles that indicate specialization. But there’s still no standardization of these titles, or of the training & skills required for each. I think I was one of the first to use “Conversion Designer” to indicate web designers with CRO expertise, and I hope it becomes more widely used and understood. Conversion designers deserve their own specialty title that distinguishes them from the general field!