It's the same for nearly every company we assist. Before anyone decides whether to buy anything from them or do any business with them, they check out the website. And they do it even if they first learn about the company offline. So it's hard to overstate the importance of getting your web design right.
That's why companies spend about 3 months on average just on the planning phase of each redesign. The time between redesigns is 1 1/2 to 2 years. That means they're devoting between 1/8th and 1/6th of the site's total lifespan to upfront planning.
Since the design remains static once it goes live, they're doing all that planning for an interface with customers that basically either works or doesn't. If it doesn't—well, maybe they can schedule that next redesign a little earlier. However, agile web development approaches are proving more successful.
Speedy, Relevant, and Useful
Business leaders understand their company's website is their face to the world. They know the importance of quality design, navigation, and functionality. What they don't know is what specifically prospects are looking for on their website, or what they'll respond
Even if you do happen to know what visitors are responding to today, you can't be sure they'll respond the same way in the future. As Scott Brinker writes in Hacking Marketing
, his book on agile digital marketing:"Perhaps the scariest think in a digital world is the speed at which things change. Markets, opinions, competition, expectations, opportunities—all evolve at an incredibly rapid pace."
Brinker argues that the sheer speed of change in the online realm results in a "culture of now." He gives the following example:"We expect to be able to go to an insurance company's website and get a quote on demand, as fast as we can fill out a form. And the shorter the form is, the better, because we want to move faster. It's quite a contrast with scheduling an appointment to sit down with an insurance agent in a week."
Assuming you don't have a huge web design team with a large budget, how can you hope to either achieve or maintain this level of utility or relevance?
Bridging the Agile User Feedback Gap
Any software engineer making the move into digital marketing, as Brinker did, sees right away that most businesses are taking a waterfall approach to their web development projects; they're planning everything beforehand and then building the whole site to function as is, indefinitely.
Software developers, meanwhile, are moving en masse
to adopt agile methodologies like scrum
. The most basic goal of these approaches is to shorten the cycle of feedback. Instead of planning and executing on a design all at once, a scrum team breaks projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks called user stories. They then create a software feature to support each story, tackling them in order of priority, progressing incrementally.
The really crucial part, however, is that the team gets feedback on each feature before moving to the next. Agile approaches are thus more successful because they allow you to make much smaller bets—and they build in opportunities to correct course before your losses add up.
While agile methodologies like scrum may seem like an obvious solution to the difficulties of web design—ensuring both relevance and utility—there was (until recently) one major obstacle to implementing them. Scrum calls for multiple rounds of feedback from someone representing business users. That's fine when you're developing business applications, but the end-users for your website are usually your customers. How do you get actionable feedback from them?
It turns out there are several new ways to see what visitors are doing on your site. New features to old standbys like Google Analytics, along with new technologies for usage tracking and conversion path analysis like Hotjar are starting to fill the user feedback gap for agile web development.
HubSpot, for instance, relies on some of its own analytics to support its Growth-Driven Design offering. Aptera meanwhile can use any of these technologies, along with tools like Sitefinity's Digital Experience Cloud
, for Results-Driven Design, our own agile web development process.
The Agile Web Design Process
The first step is to set goals based on what you need your website to accomplish. If you're a retail or ecommerce company, your primary goal is probably to increase sales. If you're a B2B company you probably want to generate more leads. If you're a media company, you want to increase traffic or the average time visitors spend on your site. Or, you may have other goals.
Next, you create a list of the features and design elements that are most likely to positively impact your site's performance. You then prioritize the items on the list according to their estimated impact. This wish list of features is analogous to the product backlog scrum software teams create when developing applications.
Scrum teams also rely on a concept known as the Minimum Viable Product, which lets the developers deliver a feature quickly to users for assessment and feedback. Agile web development processes like Results-Driven Design
rely on a similar principle. You essentially create a fully-functioning but minimalist site built around the highest-priority wish list items.
Then you launch and immediately start measuring performance. This is where those new technologies like Hotjar and Digital Experience Cloud come in. Your choice of performance-tracking tool will be based on the specific goals you've set. And the data that starts rolling in will help you refine and reprioritize the items in your wish list.
Just as you would with scrum software development, you then tackle the next highest-priority feature on the list over the course of the following sprint. Develop, launch, measure, and then move on to the next sprint. This is the key to remaining relevant and useful—and the key as well to outpacing your competition.
About our guest contributor
Dennis Junk is a Content Strategist with Aptera, a digital marketing and technology firm specializing in helping clients connect with customers using the most effective methodologies supported by the latest technologies. Our approach encompasses digital marketing strategies, agile development processes, and expertise in providing advanced IT services.