Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Web Design for ROI

This new book by Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus provides a great primer on taking website design to the next level by identifying and tracking ROI opportunities. While some of the information is obvious, there is plenty for designers, small business owners, and others.

In my profession(s) as a creative director and freelance web designer, one of the things I have learned about the Web over the years — which people much smarter than me have evidently known for a long time — is that good design shows its true value only after metrics are applied. A company might consider the new redesign of their website to be a huge improvement over the old one, but until quantitative research is done into bounce rates, lead conversions, length of time spent within the site, navigation patterns and other analytics, that high-cost revamp is just another write-off at the end of the tax year. The book Web Design for ROI attempts to help companies look at design pragmatically, and as a means to an end, not an end unto itself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I bought this book for two reasons. First, I am interested in the topic. I have to know this stuff; for better or for worse, I am paid to advise corporate leaders on how to turn their website into a lead / sales generating machine. Second, it always pops up in “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section of my book’s Amazon page (cough). I figured I should at least read books Amazon thinks are complementary.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the book is thin. There are just under 175 pages of real content, then a chapter on additional third-party resources, then an appendix. For what it’s worth, the production quality is top notch — nice printing, good design, full-color spreads.

Cover of Web Design for ROI

The authors do a good job of introducing the topic. ROI (“return on investment,” for you marketing noobs) is not always immediately obvious to people who spend their day heads-down in production mode. It’s one of those fuzzy businessy thingies that only execs worry about, right? Well, no.

ROI is really the boldest bottom-line number on the balance sheet when a company makes an investment — if I put X dollars in, how long will it take to recoup that expense, and then how much value will it continue to escalate? (For instance, if I invest $100,000 in a new corporate web presence, and it only returns $25,000 in business in the first year, my ROI for the year is -75%. If it returns $200,000, my ROI is 200%.)

The second half of the book goes into detail about how to design web pages that are built to work toward ROI. The authors wisely admit not all companies seek the same results; some need to drive sales through a shopping cart, others capture visitor information, or collect donations, or just generate leads. The book recognizes and actively identifies these diverse requirments.

Each chapter tackles a layer within the typical website, and details how to develop each for maximum return. These include the following:

  1. Landing Pages
  2. Home Pages
  3. Category Pages
  4. Detail Pages
  5. Forms
  6. Checkout Process

The actual content within these chapters, like the book itself, is fairly thin. Too much of the advice is obvious and common, and focuses (rightly so) on strong usability and clarity of message. Make buttons look like buttons and make the button labels clear. Organize forms intelligently. Make category titles obvious. Make sure detail pages are uncluttered. All of this advice is low-hanging fruit in the world of practical, results-driven web design.

All of the chapters do include some meatier stuff. For instance, there’s information about fundamental metrics sprinkled around — conversion rates, abandonment rates, etc. The end of each chapter also includes exercises for improving design, such as A/B testing, writing scenarios, multivariate testing, and more. And between the obvious usability stuff lies some really smart advice, like putting yourself in the visitor’s shoes when they visit a product detail page, or segmenting landing pages for different audiences.

Yes, this book is good — I just wish there was more to it. For those that live and breathe online marketing, the content might seem sophomoric. For designers, small business owners, generalists and others wanting a primer on what their websites should be doing, Web Design for ROI is a great place to start.

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commentary + criticism

Sandra Niehaus

wrote the following on Thursday February 14, 2008

Hey Kevin,
thanks very much for the review! Lance and I hope the book helps people think differently about their web sites, and it’s meant to reach a number of different audiences. For business folks, we intended to demonstrate the potential power of design. For designers, the goal is to illustrate the importance of business goals and ROI. And for everyone, some foundational usability and testing concepts.

What we’ve found is many design and marketing agencies are buying the book to hand to their clients, to help them broaden their understanding of what’s involved in a web site project – and where to focus.

Thanks again,

Ross Johnson

wrote the following on Friday February 15, 2008

Interesting, it was a book that I had planned to pick up at one point or another. Maybe I will browse through it before I buy if it is pretty thin.

A great book about ROI + Conversions on the web is “Call To Action.” Some of it is common sense and usability again, but I learned some things I had no clue about previously… even thought the opposite of.

Larry Lam

wrote the following on Saturday February 16, 2008

As professional web designers, we have always emphasized ROI in web development. Although most clients would be more interested in absolute cost because web design cost still largely belongs in a realm called cost centre.


wrote the following on Saturday February 16, 2008

@ Sandra — Thanks for chiming in. Glad to hear your book is being passed on to the right people.

@ Ross — Definitely peruse at a book store before buying. It might be just the thing, or it might be completely redundant with what you know. ($40 is a lot for 175 pages. $40 could also buy my book, which is 400 pages of much deeper content. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to it. :) )

@ Larry — You are a rare breed. I know too many web designers who “set it and forget it” and the concept of ROI is completely alien.

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Larry Lam

wrote the following on Saturday February 16, 2008

Hi Kevin, I’m not sure about rare breed haha! Maybe it comes down to survival & trying to bring our business to a higher level rather than competing on price all the time :) BTW your website looks great, feels great. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into it. Most people will not be able to tell the difference, but we can see when you put in the effort!

SEO Bedrijven

wrote the following on Thursday April 10, 2008

@Larry – most webdesigners nowadays only worry about their design and if others like it. Is it hip/cool enough. They worry to much about design and less about the main purpose of the site.