How To: Data-Driven Web Design

Getting your public health nonprofit online in a tight timeframe doesn’t mean you also have to jettison your focus on data-driven decision-making.

Retrieving stats about visitors to your page, where they came from, where they go to, and what fonts or color schemes they prefer sounds like a massive data headache, doesn’t it?

Luckily, there are plenty of systems out there that allow you to easily gather such data about your website’s traffic. What’s more, some are free, and it doesn’t take too long to get a handle on the fundamentals.

Google Analytics is the industry standard analytics package, it’s free, and doesn’t take too long to set up. All you need to do is open an Analytics account, plan out your web property, and then copy the tracking snippet into your page’s HTML just before the closing </head> tag. That might sound intimidating, but it shouldn’t be: google has plenty of resources to help get you started. What’s more, most ‘plug-n-play’ website builders (like SquareSpace, WordPress, Google Sites and Wix) make it even easier for you and have ways to get started with Analytics without even coding a single line of HTML!

Aside from all the great data about your web traffic, what does all this have to do with web design?

One of the strengths of online analytics packages is that they permit you to conduct experiments with your users, to see what versions of a page or what versions of a website they prefer. This is called A/B testing: the idea is that you send a randomized segment of traffic to one version of your page (let’s say the version has a green color palette) and another segment of your traffic will be sent to a different version of your page (with a blue color palette). The A/B optimizers will let you see whether people are more likely to fulfill your website’s goal (whether it’s donating money, signing up for a newsletter, or buying a product) on the blue version or the green version. Such testing is powerful, since it lets your users tell you what design they prefer.

 

Be aware that Google Analytics is a very powerful tool, which can be as complicated as you need it to be: it’s used by small mom-and-pop stores, and Fortune 500 companies alike. So, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the possibilities! As long as you set out with a clear goal in mind, read the resources online and plan out your analytics before you implement, you too can slice and dice your web traffic like a pro.

Another more nuanced caveat is this: many a website has been ruined by web designer who have been too enamored with A/B experiments. Yes, if you make a ‘SIGN UP NOW’ button larger and more prominent, then more customers will subscribe to your newsletter… but that shouldn’t be the only goal of your website: you also want to provide a meaningful, enjoyable and informative experience to your users. So make sure you keep those overall business goals in mind when you design and run A/B experiments, otherwise that ‘SIGN UP NOW’ button’s just going to get bigger and bigger until it takes over the whole page – and who benefits from that?

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