By Rand Fishkin , from Moz Blog –

In a way, we often treat our websites like our children. No matter how awful they might be, we rationalize their behavior and tell everyone else how wonderful they are. Those blinders can stop marketing efforts before they even begin. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shows us how to remove the blindfold and make objective decisions to move our businesses forward.

Online Tools Mentioned This Week


Feedback Army

User Testing


Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to chat about ugly websites.

Now what if it’s the case that you’re investing a ton of energy and effort into your marketing efforts and it’s your ugly website that’s holding you back from the kinds of levels of engagement and progress that you could be making? I know how this goes.

What happens is a lot of times marketers are brought in after a website or web property has already been developed and built. Much like parents, it’s often the case that a CEO or a CMO or VP of marketing or a business owner, small business owners in particular, they look at their website and they go, “Oh, it’s so beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s just what I wanted. It’s perfect.” They can rationalize that even while looking at just a junky, horrifying piece of crap.

This happens all the time. Human beings rationalize our decisions. We rationalize the investments that we’ve made. So when we see terrible crap, we think it’s a pile of gold.

This is frustrating, and it’s particularly frustrating for marketers who then have to take this pig and smear lipstick all over it and try and sell it as a side of beef or something that is actually going to convert visitors. That’s insanely hard to do.

I’ve got this handy chart here, which will help to visually illustrate exactly how dramatic this math problem is. Now it’s the case, in my opinion, that baby and website attractiveness probably fall along a similar scale. All parents think that their children are five stars, just like all website owners think that their websites are five stars.

Yet, if you were to ask them what percent of babies are absolutely stunningly beautiful, what percent of websites are absolutely stunningly beautiful, parents would be like, “Well, maybe 5% or 10%.”

Well then, somebody’s math is off. What’s probably going on here is a lot of people who are in this group think they are in this group, and that’s very frustrating.

What’s not easy to do is go directly to a CMO, a CEO, your manager, your new team at a company you joined or at a company you’re consulting with, or with a small business owner who you’re working with and say, “Well, this is just a terrible website, and we’re going to have to rebuild it if you want me to make the improvements that I need to make.”

That does not fly. It just doesn’t work. It’s not reasonable. What is reasonable is to use data to help support your arguments. This is a process that I used to follow a little bit when I was a consultant, that I’ve seen other consultants and, in fact, other marketers who joined teams use. I’ve seen professional design teams do this as well.

Essentially, they’ll put together a list of top competitors and then ask a brief survey. It doesn’t have to be many people. You can get a few dozen folks who fall into three different groups.

You want to ask current customers, potential new customers, and, if you can, a few industry influencers or bloggers, journalists, the kinds of people that you might be seeking press attention, brand mentions, links awareness, those kinds of things from. Especially if you’re doing any type of content production or content marketing, blogging, you want to see if the people who would be your content customers are enjoying and appreciating your website versus your competitors. Then just ask them to rate you versus your competition one through five. Make sure you’re marking who these are.

A lot of times what happens is that your current customer group will say, “Yeah, we like the website just fine. Your website is great.” This is whom your CEOs, your VPs of marketing, the small business owner, that’s who they’re interacting with. So their experience is, “I talk to customers, our customers all the time. They like the website.” Maybe they do.

But if the potential new customers and the industry influencers are saying otherwise, are rating you much lower than your competition, well now you’ve identified a dramatic gap in why you can’t accomplish the kinds of marketing that you might want to do. Marketing from earning social media signals, to earning shares, to getting links, to getting customers and conversions, all that stuff can be impacted that this.

If you are rated in that lower half, look at the top of the funnel metrics. By top of the tunnel metrics, I’m really talking about things like bounce rate, time on site, and browse rate, browse rate being the number of pages on average that are visited per visitor session. If these numbers, based on your past experience or, if you can get them, industry averages — industry averages can be super helpful here. For many industries there are a lot of people who aggregate and publish these kinds of things on the web — if they feel like major areas of opportunity, then a new design is looking like it’s something that should go onto your list.

You should also be asking yourself from a context of the business as a growing company, as an effort that you want to put your resources into, “Does this feel more important than any other change?”

Is it the case that if we were able to change the trajectory of social sharing, content engagement, new links and citations, all these top of site metrics, bounce rates, time on site, browse rate, would those things be things that would really move the needle for the business? Sometimes the answer is actually no.

In a lot of the cases with consulting and services businesses, it’s the case that other investments in other areas of the business would be better uses of time and energy, even if you are not in these high groups. For those of you who are doing commerce on the web of any kind, software as a service, or a subscription business, or an ecommerce business, a lot of local businesses where their early customers engage with them first on the web, this is probably going to be key.

Number three, if formal usability testing is too expensive, and for most small and medium sizes business it really is, try these three apps:,, and I’ve heard a mix of opinions about all three of them in terms of which of them is a favorite. But all of them are potentially good in getting lots of new people to your site and collecting feedback about the problems and potential solutions you’ve got there. That can help lead you to a great design.

I didn’t put it in here, but if you don’t already have a design team or designer in mind, one of my personal favorite things to do, and this is sort of a little Rand hack here, I like going to If you are not already familiar somehow, that’s

I like looking on Dribbble for the designers who have very well-rated stuff; very beautiful stuff, stuff that fits your aesthetic preferences, but do not yet have a large portfolio. That usually means that their prices will be lower since while they’re still building up their portfolio of work.

Those designers who have tremendously well-rated projects and who have a large portfolio are going to be fairly expensive or at least on the very pricey scale. But you can find a lot of independent folks using that methodology on Dribbble if you’re looking for a new designer.

Then when you get a new design in hand, make sure that you’re trying that test. Design is one of those things that is extremely hard to A/B test. My best recommendation is to think of a few pages, one or a few pages of your site. Maybe it’s a new piece of content that you’re launching separately that you might almost think about the design as looking like it’s on a new micro-site, although it’s actually on your own domain, or potentially using a few of your landing pages as sort of feeling like landing pages on a micro-site that are still existing on your domain, and testing the old UI/UX versus the new one.

What you don’t want to do is have a page that is embedded into the site’s navigation overall, that lots of people are going to be navigating to and from the old one and new one, because then you’ll get that disjointed experience.

If you can test this with something where external traffic is hitting it primarily — a PPC landing page is a great place to go with this — that can help show you what the new visual UI can do and what the observable lifts are in terms of these metrics and in terms of conversion rate.

This data driven approach can be very, very helpful in terms of convincing a manager or management or your team or your client that this is desperately needed and that it can really move the needle for the business.

All right, everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you again next week. Take care.

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