Ideas & Concepts for Simplistic Web Design

By on UX Design, Web Design

These are some powerful principles you might have never heard about. One of them is being used in the conversion rate optimization industry by world-class companies to skyrocket their conversion rates (getting more people to buy their products, register on sites and so on.)

We’ll also explore why assumptions can be dangerous and how to learn more about your visitors with direct observation. Let’s get started.

1. “You Are Not Optimizing Pages, You Are Optimizing Thought Processes”

This is a quote by Flint McGlaughlin, the founder of MarketingExperiments, a company which cooperates with some of the biggest brands worldwide (NYTimes, Routers etc.) in optimizing their landing pages (usually ‘subscription pages’ in the case of publishers like NYTimes).

If you’ve ever been asked to design 2 separate versions of a webpage (for the purpose of A/B split testing), this “you are not optimizing pages, you are optimizing thought processes” concept can help you tremendously. When a visitor arrives on a web page, his thought process usually starts with asking the following questions:

  1. Where am I?
  2. What can I do/get/buy here?
  3. Why should I do it?

Most landing pages focus on only answering the THIRD question. Research by MarketingExperiments have shown that  pages not answering the questions under 1) and 2) have a significant drop in conversion rate.

What is the lesson here? What are the first two questions above? CLARITY. In order to PERSUADE visitors and make them do what you want them to do, you must first give them some clarity and a sense of orientation. Clarity trumps persuasion.

Let’s take one example. Suppose you’re making a website for a company providing backup software. If we go with the usual ‘try to persuade them first’ mindset, the headline of the page might be something like this:

"Losing your files might cost you millions of dollars!"

"Don’t lose a single file by an accident hard drive crash!"

There are TONS of traditional marketing theories why these headlines might make sense (like the first headline, there’s some solid proof showing that telling people what they stand to lose instead of what they stand to win has up to 2-3 times stronger impact of them).

These headlines would actually make sense for the real world. But this is the Internet! (This is Sparta!!!) People behave differently online than offline. People want to first know what your site/product/page is about before allowing you to give them reasons why they should do/get what you want them to do/get. The 2 headlines above don’t answer the first question "Where am I?" A better headline to answer this question is:

"5-Star Rated Backup Software" (of course, you should put this if you really have a 5-star rating from a site like, for example)

"Avoid data loss with This 5-Star Rated Backup Software"

"Simple Backup Software to Get Your Data Safe"

Now, the answer to the ‘Where am I’ question is: You’re on a page describing a backup software.

You can then go to answering the other questions, "what can I do here" which in this example is pretty much clear (buying/downloading a backup software) and then ‘why’ question by emphasizing the most valuable characteristics of the product.

2. See How Users ACTUALLY Behave and You’ll be Surprised

Incorrect assumptions are among the most common reasons why we make bad decisions. If you don’t have a clue about the people who are already coming on the website, then good luck on estimating how good the overall design will be.

A good way to get started in finding out more about existing visitors is to find out the top 3 things people are trying to do on the site (on some sites people are trying to do less or more than 3 things, so don’t take 3 as a fixed number).

Test Assumptions

Let’s take our example with the backup software company. What are the top 3 things people are probably trying to do on a backup software site? They are:

  1. Learn more about the features/benefits of the software
  2. Buy the software
  3. Having unanswered questions and wanting to contact someone for help (the probability of this increases if the software is more expensive, you might notice that on product pages where the price is very high, instead of ‘buy’ button you have ‘contact us to learn more’ type of request) is an excellent example of a landing page that is promoting a free service, answers all 3 questions (Where am I? What can I do here? Why should I do it) and is focusing on the things people are trying to do (learn more about the web app, register for free, they don’t have a contact-us-for-more-info button because the software is free).


3. Google Chrome – The Best Case Study on Focusing What Matters

The reason why I switched from Firefox from Chrome was because Google was focusing at things I used every day and prioritiezed them. The menus were hidden because I, nor anyone I know, used to click on “Tools” or “Help” that much. Just compare Firefox and Chrome:



Where was the last time you clicked some of the menus in Firefox? You don’t click them that often. That’s why Chrome moved all menus to the right (not immediately visible).

The important principle here is to focus on essentials and what matters. Keep things easy and effortless for users. The easier something is to use, the more people are going to use it. Maybe that was one of the primary reasons so many people switched to Chrome?

4. Scent – Reinforce that Claim

GrokDotCom (a company similar to MarketingExperiments) provides a great introduction of scent. I’ll try to provide an example so you easily understand this word.

Let’s take this time an antivirus company site (enough with backup :) ).

So you have on the home page something like: “The Fastest Anti Virus Software in the World”. That’s what distinguishes you from others. People know the software as fast and doesn’t take much resources. One of the things people are trying to do is to download a trial of the software. How do you improve the % of people who do that?

Just mention and emphasize “The Fastest Anti Virus Software in the World” AGAIN on the download page! A big percentage of people are probably downloading the software because of that feature. You established a ‘scent trail’ by mentioning that the software is fast on the main page. People are now trying to follow that scent by clicking the download page.

What if they have to click 2-3 times to get to download the software but see nowhere the ‘this software is fast’ type of phrase? The scent trail is slowly being lost. More and more people are going to start doubting and decide not to go to the final download page. That’s why you have to REINFORCE the ‘scent trail’ (mention the software is fast multiple times) till people complete the final goal (which is downloading the software).

I hope you found this information to be useful. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.