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Evolutionary vs Revolutionary Site Redesign; Why Not Both?

Conversion Rate Optimisation

Optimisation is an ongoing process of analysing, improving, analysing, improving, always striving for better.

It’s not news to say that website redesigns affect website conversions. Kissmetrics’ list of 100 conversion optimization case studies shows design can boost conversions by between 2.2% and 33%. These cases studies range from whole site redesigns and single page revisions to tweaks.

One of our clients tweaked their form design and achieved 11% increase in conversions by changing just a single field.

Bar graph showing 11% increase in conversions

Conversion rate optimisation goes hand in hand with continual tweaks to design, a strategy often referred to as Evolutionary Site Design (ESR).

ESR is a term coined by Chris Goward of WiderFunnel. For Goward, it’s the alternative to RSR, Revolutionary Site Redesign. RSR describes big redesign projects, usually few and far between, that change the fundamental design.

Improving on a continuous basis is a great way to stay modern and up to date with current best practice and design trends. Changes to individual elements of your site are faster to implement and so keep the site fresh. This also allows you to react to analytics data. Data on your site or form performance can reveal weaknesses to target with design tweaks. And through tracking you can continue to optimise the element.

Is there a stage when small tweaks stop improving your conversion rate? I.e. is there a point when you should give up tweaking and overhaul your site and if so when?

Reaching Local Maximum

Local Maxima or local maximum are maths terms to describe the highest point on a graph within a certain range. Marketing guru Andrew Chen has applied this theory to website performance.

On the graph below you can see two peaks. These are both local maxima within specified ranges. You can use a graph like this to illustrate your conversion rate fluctuations. The Global Maximum is the highest point the function reaches on the graph.

Graph showing local and global maximums

ESR strives for optimal performance without undergoing big structural changes. Which means there’s a chance you’re not reaching your greatest potential. Your conversions are rising but are they as high as they could be?

Small tweaks are superficial, leaving the underlying design structure the same. This will become old and tired, both in appearance and functionality.

How do you know if you’ve reached the local maximum?

If you start to have ‘diminishing returns’ this is an indicator that you reached (and passed) local maximum. In the context of optimisation, diminishing returns mean you’re not achieving higher conversions from your optimisation efforts.

52 Weeks of UX propose that you exhaust design tweaks until you run out or they don’t result in high enough lifts in conversions. At which point “stop optimizing and return to other kinds of analysis to figure out the next steps.” A more planned approach would be to continue to use ESR but maintain a strategy for website overhauls as well.

Why Evolution of Design is Imperative

There’s plenty to argue in favour of ESR:

  • Facilitates ongoing optimisation (fixing problem areas and testing ideas for improvement)

  • Allows quick adoption of latest recommendations for user experience

  • Keeps site looking fresh and modern

And using a data driven approach means you can measure the effect of changes. Data highlights urgent issues to target with specific changes. 52 Weeks of UX refer to this as picking ‘low hanging fruit’. Go for the easy stuff first to banish pain points in your design.

As you pick these off you may need to reach higher. When the best possible design is no longer what you can achieve with small changes, you’ve reached your local maximum.

This doesn’t mean evolutionary design should be foregone in favour of a complete overhaul though. Continuous improvement through ESR reduces the amount of work required for a design refresh. There’s also no substitute for the analytics data you can gather as you make tweaks to your design. Don’t throw out these insights when you overhaul the design.

How to Combine Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies

What’s to say that if ESR has stopped producing improvements in your site’s conversion rate that a refresh will?

As the ruling design of your site ages it can become dated in appearance and functionality. Take for example Craigslist, which has maintained the same site design for years. It looks behind the times compared with new websites.

Craigslist Manchester Homepage

Craigslist is the exception that proves the rule. If your company is cutting edge, choose a cutting edge design to reflect that. Is it important to your potential customers or users that you be modern and design orientated?

Ask yourself these 5 questions (compiled by design blog VisualSwirl.com) when deciding whether it’s time for a design refresh:

  1. Are there major problems in the conversion process of my site?

  2. Are my users having trouble accessing my site? Is it too slow?

  3. Are there useful features that I want to add that won’t fit in the current design?

  4. Is the look of my site causing it to lose visitors to competing sites?

  5. Do I have the time and resources to devote to a complete redesign?

Data Data Data

Chen recommends combining quantitative and qualitative data to inform your design decisions. As he says, you have “to make sure you have views of the local maxima as well as potential paths into global maxima.

  • Quantitative Data for ESR: the sort you get from a/b testing, analytics tracking etc that will produce measurable metrics for you to target.

  • Qualitative Data for Design Refresh; the sort you get from user testing and interviews. Use these to guide decisions on more fundamental changes e.g. changing the site architecture or aesthetic.

You can gather this data in parallel. Ensuring that data, quantitative and qualitative, is always part of your strategy avoids playing a guessing game. Intuition isn’t always reliable as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried the Test of the Week on www.whichtestwon.com.

Frank Spillers (of Demystifying Usability and Experience Dynamics) has a 3-step guide to progressing to revolutionary design:

  • Step 1- Get real, in depth user input.

  • Step 2- Assess the value and priority of release features for how much impact they will make to users.

  • Step 3- Make the redesign or improvement the big-bang (and emphasise the benefits for your users).

If you’re ready to tackle a design refresh take a look at Crazy Egg’s Website Redesign Workflow. It’s aimed at helping you achieve the most from overhauling your site.