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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Can you trust website design best practices?

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If you want advice on how to design your website, you don’t have to look very far. There are countless articles out there with “best practices” and even more case studies where someone made a specific change to their website and produced incredible results.

The assumption is that if it works for someone else, it should work for you, too.

While there’s nothing wrong with trying these recommendations, not every business will get the same results from the same tactics. In some cases, a tweak that changes someone else’s website for the better could actually hurt your site’s performance.

To avoid this sort of problem, you can’t just change your site on blind faith. You have to test every proposed change and see what works for your business, your audience and your site. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at a few tests we’ve run at Disruptive Advertising that yielded counter-intuitive results.

1. To stick or not to stick?

Most web designers encourage the use of sticky nav bars. Their logic isn’t bad, either. Your navigation bar makes it easy for people to get around your site, so if the nav bar is always easily accessible, people won’t get frustrated.

As a bonus, you can use your navigation bar to guide people towards the most important pages on your site, so they should be more likely to convert with a sticky nav bar, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

One major site we work with wanted to add a sticky navigation bar in the hopes of increasing their conversion rate. But when we tested adding the bar to the site, it cut their lead volume by two-thirds!

As we eventually discovered, this client’s customers placed a high priority on screen spaceespecially on mobile. The nav bar reduced screen space, so it actually caused frustration rather than reducing it.

2. Is your value proposition worthless?

When it comes to web design, conventional wisdom states that you should make your value proposition immediately obvious — above the fold, if possible. After all, you don’t want people to come to your site and then leave because they don’t know what makes your business special.

That sounds good in theory, but “conventional wisdom” doesn’t necessarily mean “universally applicable wisdom.”

For example, during another test on the site in the previous section, the client wanted to place various relevant awards that they had received near the top of the page. These awards were proof that the company was dependable and skilled – which was a key part of the client’s value proposition – so everyone thought that putting the awards front and center would increase conversions.

However, just like the sticky nav bar, this logical tweak actually dropped the client’s conversion rate. It wasn’t a small drop, either. Including the awards reduced form submissions by almost 20 percent.

3. Are you calling them to action…or to abandon?

Website designers love to put call-to-action (CTA) buttons in the top fold. On the surface, it makes sense. You bring traffic to your web pages to get them to do something, so why not make it immediately obvious what you want them to do?

Unless, of course, putting a CTA above-the-fold is too much, too early.

One of our clients sells educational materials. Originally, their above-the-fold experience featured top products with “buy it now” type buttons, but we decided to try something different. Instead of trying to get people to buy immediately, we changed their above-the-fold content to focus on the benefits of the client’s educational materials.

The result? Revenue increased by almost 70 percent.

In the case of this client, asking them to buy before selling them on what they were buying was scaring people off. Once we gave people an opportunity to get excited about the product before asking them to buy, they were much more likely to make a purchase.

4. Social proof or social fail?

Social proof can go a long ways towards convincing people to buy from you. In fact, it can be so powerful that marketers have come up with an incredible variety of ways to show potential customers that your business is trustworthy: testimonials, ratings, reviews, purchase notifications, etc.

All of these options seem like they would help businesses sell more, but that doesn’t always prove to be the case.

One of our clients sells event tickets and they had a purchase notification pop-up that notified visitors to the site every time someone made a purchase. They were confident that it was helping their conversion rate, but we convinced them to let us test it anyway.

To the client’s surprise, removing this social proof element increased sales by about 30 percent. Instead of encouraging people to buy, their pop-up had been distracting people from making a purchase.

5. Is bigger really better?

When it comes to forms, most people will tell you that smaller forms will produce more conversions. Like most of the “best practices” in this article, this hypothesis certainly makes sense. People prefer the path of least resistance, so fewer fields should make people more likely to complete a form.

This often pans out in practice, but sometimes increasing your form length can actually increase your conversion rate.

For example, one of our clients runs a home repair business. Their website gets a sizable amount of traffic that they hope will fill out a quick, seven-field form. However, two of their fields weren’t particularly necessary: preferred contact time and preferred contact method.

Since shorter forms are supposed to produce better results, we decided to test removing these “unnecessary” fields. The results were surprising. Instead of increasing conversion rates, shortening the form reduced conversions by 20 percent.

While the “preferred contact time” and “preferred contact method fields” seemed extraneous, they actually made potential customers feel more confident in the company. As a result, they were more likely to complete the form and request our client’s help.


As you can see from the stories above, there is no guaranteed right or wrong when it comes to website design. The fact that one particular setup works well for another business (or even many other businesses) doesn’t mean that it will work well for you.

While there’s nothing wrong with trying to incorporate “best practices” into your website, the only reliable way to know if a change will benefit your site is to test it. Without good testing, your website is just a collection of guesses. Some will be right and some will be wrong, but you’ll never know unless you test.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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