Testing to Sell: Meta’s Crusade for Proof in Web Design

March 1, 2011
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One entrepreneurial mom is building a professional organization for… entrepreneurial moms. While many professional societies are struggling to retain members, Jill Salzman has built a network of 25 groups across the US, known as The Founding Moms. On my first visit to one of the meetings here in Chicago, I was delighted to find a remarkably diverse group. Two of these women ran young manufacturing businesses, one already selling around the globe. There was a marketer, a music promoter and a hairdresser, among others. And there were babies, lotsa babies.

One entrepreneurial mom is building a professional organization for… entrepreneurial moms. While many professional societies are struggling to retain members, Jill Salzman has built a network of 25 groups across the US, known as The Founding Moms. On my first visit to one of the meetings here in Chicago, I was delighted to find a remarkably diverse group. Two of these women ran young manufacturing businesses, one already selling around the globe. There was a marketer, a music promoter and a hairdresser, among others. And there were babies, lotsa babies.

When I was invited to speak at a meeting, I wondered what topic would cut across the diverse business interests of this group. It would have to be something relevant to both B2B and B2C, products and services, local and international businesses. It had to be something that could be presented without a computer or projector, because the meeting would take place in a small boutique bakery. It had to be free of jargon and math. And it had to be pretty darned interesting, because I was going to be competing for attention with pastry and babies.

Yes, yes, we’ve all presented to audiences that act like babies. But if you have any tips for dealing with the genuine article, drop me a line. Better yet, leave a comment below.

I went with “Maximize Online Sales with Web Design Testing,” and centered the presentation on samples of real web page and email design tests, showing one pair of designs at a time and inviting people to guess which alternative worked better. If you’ve ever seen the results of these tests, you know that nobody can consistently predict how customers will react to alternate layout, images and copy. (If you’ve never seen real design tests, check the links at the end of this article to websites where you can find great examples.) Quickly, the group had made a few guesses, discovered how wrong they could be, and I had gotten my point across – the only way to know is to test. And all before the babies got crabby.

One participant shared some simple wisdom learned when she worked for a large bank: “You are not your customer.”

Another told a horror story about a business whose email marketing got lousy returns. Correction: no returns.

The bakery owner asked for examples that included the total dollar impact to a business.

Great. Everyone got the point. Now what?

The business owners now understood that trying out designs on real customers could reveal some surprising and valuable information. But they remained dependent on others for services like web design, and these providers don’t all “get it.” Doubt that? Put yourself in the place of these merchants – go to your favorite search engine, use terms a business owner would use and start looking for a web design firm website that even vaguely alludes to testing designs with actual users.

In fact, I had originally intended the “Maximize Online Sales with Web Design Testing” presentation as part of a class for web designers, but scrapped that plan after my research among designers convinced me that it would take an act of Congress to fill the class.

And pity the poor merchant who somehow picks up on a bit of industry lingo and searches for web analytics. Pick a web analytics website, any one you choose. Now picture yourself as the owner of a small business – say, a retailer, a manufacturer or a restaurant. Does the copy speak to you? Can you even understand it? Does it sound like the offering is of any use to you? Not likely. In fairness to the folks in the web analytics biz, these small business owners are probably not their intended market.

Designers, however, have no such excuse.  Cut no slack to those who sell web designs created of little or nothing more than personal taste. Designers who do not understand testing and incorporate it into their practices are amateurs, charlatans, vendors of snake oil sucking value out of an economy that can ill afford such waste. If you claim your designs sell, back it up with concrete evidence.

As for those of us who do understand appreciate the value of testing, let’s start boosting the good guys. This is the kickoff of Meta’s Crusade for Proof in Web Design. Do you know a designer who participates in testing? Who understands the connection between design and sales, and isn’t afraid to put designs to the test, or too proud to make changes? Put the word on the street!

Do you know someone whose designs are effective,  who has test results to prove it? Maybe you know them from your work in web analytics, or maybe from your last job with a retailer. Maybe you are that terrific designer yourself.  Don’t just leave that information in your memory banks, share it!

I’d like to crusade for better design by writing and speaking about some of these examples, and the impact they have on the client’s business. In other words, I’d like to give that bakery owner what she asked for – examples that help her to understand what she stands to gain from web design testing. So, if you have examples you’d like to share, drop me a line. Let’s do our bit for the economy by promoting the best in proven functional web design.

Want to know more?

Professional group for mom entrepreneurs.

The Founding Moms

Web design testing examples:

Which Test Won

Marketing Experiments

SiteTuners