Why your website continues to disappoint

Paul Boag

Great design on the web doesn’t come from moments of inspiration. It comes from the continual iteration of every detail.

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Would you like to see one of my favourite pages on the web? It is the hotel page on booking.com. It is a great piece of design. Every element works together to compel you to place a booking. Seriously. Take a moment and look at it.

This is one of my favourite pages on the web. It doesnt look pretty but it works incredibly hard.
This is one of my favourite pages on the web. It doesn’t look pretty but it works incredibly hard.

Check out those reviews, front and centre. They understand what motivates people these days. They understand we care about real users comments, not promotional material.

Then there are the warnings that the room I want is almost gone. I better act soon! This is even more compelling when it pops up a message telling you somebody else is looking at the same hotel. What if they book before me?

The page systematically addresses every concern a user might have:

  • Could I get a cheaper price elsewhere?
  • What if I want to cancel?
  • Do they have free wifi?
  • Do the staff speak my language?
  • Will they take my credit card?

That is just the tip of the iceberg. They craft every nuance of this page from the “reasons to choose” section to the large photo gallery. They have thought of everything and every screen element has to work hard to justify its place. It is not a beautiful web page. It is a hard working page.

Some web pages need to evolve

But here is the thing. It would be impossible for a designer to sit down one day and design this page. This is a web page that can only exist because it has evolved over time based on observing real users behaviour.

In fact at any one time booking.com is running over 100 tests on their website. They are refining and improving each page to ensure the greatest effectiveness possible. Could your organisation do that?

The chances are your organisation will never have a page as effective as the booking.com hotel page. This is because you are approaching digital with the wrong attitude.

The curse of periodic redesign

Your organisation treats your website as something you needs periodic redesign. They view it like any other project. You plan, build and then forget. At least except for a bit a bit of maintenance. You are not investing in it on a regular basis.

You plan your latest redesign in relative ignorance. You don’t know how users will respond. Sure you might do a bit of user testing but until the site is live you cannot know. Yet when your organisation finally launches it they then abandon it. Everyday your analytics fill up with valuable data about what users are doing and how your site is performing. Yet you ignore it all.

An under resourced web team

Hang on I hear you cry, we have a web team. We are investing in our website on an ongoing basis. The problem is that your web team is under resourced. It barely has the capability to do basic support. It certainly cannot continually evolve your website. It can only just maintain the status quo. It doesn’t have the time to review analytics and adjust the site design. It is too busy implementing the latest whim from marketing.

The wrong culture for experimentation

But worst of all there is no place for experimentation. When you pay for some agency to redesign your website you expect results. The same is true for your web team which is under constant pressure to deliver. Yet good web design is born from experimentation. From having an idea, putting it out there and seeing what happens.

I wonder how many features booking.com tested on their site only to drop. For every one experiment that works, many others fail.

Under valuing digital

Of course part of the problem is that organisations undervalue their website. Booking.com can see how a tweak there and an enhancement there leads to sales. But they are the exception. Most organisation don’t do that level of monitoring or think it is impossible in their circumstance.

They see the web as a necessary evil. But how long would they last without it?

One day most organisations will manage their digital presence like booking.com. The question is will your organisation be around to learn from its mistake?

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