Testing your website’s look and feel

January 31, 2013

Did you know that people form an opinion of your website in a mere fraction of a second? That’s right, a mere fraction of second. Do the math and realize that this impression is formed without reading even one line of your carefully-written web copy. It’s the design, the look and the “feel” that are influencing people’s first impressions of your site, not the content.

According to research, these split-second first impressions are closely associated with trust in the website and, by extension, trust of the organization.  And a university study indicated these first impressions tend to last. This was attributed to confirmation bias – once our mind forms an opinion, we reject contradictory information. In the same study, the visual appeal ratings given to various websites correlated highly with their ratings of numerous other factors – usability, inspiration, interest, etc. All the more reason to make a great first impression…with your visitor’s unconscious mind.

How? Undertake A/B or other usability testing to figure out what design, headlines and imagery resonate with your target audience.

Dan Siroker, the head of the website A/B testing company Optimizely.com and former head of web analytics for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and Tim Ash, head of SiteTuners, a landing page optimization company, counsel their corporate and nonprofit clients that their intuition is often wrong when it comes to the optimal design of their websites. Siroker gives the example of Obama’s campaign website sign-up page. With all the hype and popularity of video, wouldn’t it perform better than a static photo?

Their answer? If you want the best conversion rates, test, test, test. A/B (or split) testing is where you create a “control group or page” and a “variation.” The idea behind A/B testing is to illuminate whether changes to your current website design—different buttons, images, copy, layout—will result in more people signing up for your e-newsletters, adding their names to a petition, or donating to your cause.

In one example from Optimizely, testing showed that the best conversion rates resulted from a switch from static images to 360 degree imagery. While staff thought video would do the trick, it was 360 degree imagery that led to a 40% increase in revenue per customer, again proving that a focus group of a couple staffers is not sufficient.

Want to try this out on your website? Google has a free tool called Google Analytics Content Experiments that will help you track results, and there’s a plug-in for WordPress sites. Or check out the folks at Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer to learn how they can help. Need some ideas for what to test? This post from UnBounce has three good ideas to get you started.

Stay tuned for a post on A/B testing for emails, to maximize open and click through rates.

Liz Banse and Nicole Lampe