Return on Investment for Web Sites

Sandra Niehaus recently e-mailed me asking if I would read and review the book she co-authored, Web Design for ROI. I am a strong advocate of using metrics and business analysis along with usability testing to drive decisions on software/web design, so I found this book a breath of fresh air.

In this book, Sandra and Lance Loveday make several powerful points:

  1. There is a science to shopping. Provide a pleasant shopping experience for customers and they buy more. Retailers learned this long ago, but many organizations haven’t begun to understand this simple principle when it comes to their web site. This applies even if you’re not really “selling” anything–even government and nonprofit organization sites have a point and they would be much more effective at it if they’d pay attention to the user experience.
  2. Your web site is an investment. Treat it like one. Evaluate it objectively with appropriate metrics, just like you do every other business investment. Know the business case and rationale for your decisions. Don’t trust to personal design preferences–chances are, the designers and managers making the decisions aren’t anything like the users who will use the site.
  3. Focus on conversion and you will have a competitive advantage. Many organizations focus on buying more traffic for their site, rather than converting their existing visitors to customers (conversion). Optimizing the user experience will increase conversion, which will pay off more over time than buying traffic. Sure, you can still buy traffic–just do it AFTER you improve usability.
  4. Follow these key principles for successfully managing web sites for ROI:
  • Know what you want. What are you trying to accomplish? How can you use your web site to accomplish organizational objectives?
  • Know your audience. Who’s it for? As Sandra and Lance say in their book, “It isn’t about you. It’s about the audience.” User testing is hands-down the most effective tool for understanding your audience.
  • Treat your web site like a business. That means you need a site strategy. “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t really matter which direction you choose.”
  • Create a web site strategy. List objectives, target audiences (with profiles), assess the competition and traffic sources, then define your strategy for accomplishing your objectives. Your objectives are the what, your strategy is the how.
  • Measure the RIGHT metrics. Use business metrics (the same ones you use to track your business’ success–revenue, transactions, profit, etc.), site metrics (web site analytics–these tell you what users are doing on your site and where there may be weak points), and user metrics (user testing, user surveys, customer service inquiries). 
  • Prioritize design efforts intelligently. Use analytics to find problem areas (places with high dropoff rates) and focus on getting the customer through the entire sales process. Focus less on things that won’t make a big difference in meeting your organizational objectives. Estimate your ROI for a specific change, then track it.
  • Test, learn, repeat. You’re never done. Keep refining your site as technology, competition, and user expectations change.

I really like this analogy presented in the book: Treat your web site like a science experiment–set a hypothesis, try it out, measure results, repeat.

In the book, Sandra and Lance also explore the design issues and metrics related with several different types of pages: Landing pages, Home pages, Category pages, Detail pages, Forms, and Checkout. Each of these sections of the book are very helpful guides for designing and measuring the effectiveness of each type of page.

I loved the book, but found myself wanting more information in some places, so I was pleased to find that Sandra and Lance included a resource section at the end of the book. It’s set up with thumbnail images of each resource and a short, but very helpful description of each. Very readable, scannable, and a place to turn to whenever you are looking for a little assistance in your design efforts.

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2 Responses to “Return on Investment for Web Sites”


  1. 1 Suffian Rahman December 13, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Sweet! I’m all for results-based web design. If I had the money, I’d buy this book for all of my friends in above-the-line advertising who think websites are fun and pretty things that exist solely to entertain consumers and wow judges at awards shows. It’s tough preaching about user metrics to people who think television spots still rule the world. Oh well.


  1. 1 Ten Tips to Increase Conversion Rates « World of Usability Trackback on June 5, 2008 at 6:51 am

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