A 3-Step, Data-Driven Process For Informing Smart Website Design

Sam Zastrow Written by Sam Zastrow

Too often, marketers make website design and user experience decisions for the wrong reasons.

A good website should, at once, teach potential customers about your product or service in a way that feels natural, help users find what they're looking for without effort, and help you meet business goals.

Designing a website based on hunches, blind expectations for user behavior or, even worse, the HiPPO, is a good way to put your website at risk of not accomplishing any of those things.

cartoon hippo executive in boardroom raising hand

Source: Enric Durany

When we start a website project, the first thing we do is follow this simple three-step process to make sure what we're about to design meets our client's expectations.

1. Define goals

This probably seems silly to mention, but we like to make sure our clients have a very specific goal for what they'd like to accomplish with a redesign.

You'd be surprised how often a group of people can include several different opinions on what constitutes project success.

To define your goals, answer the following questions:

  • What is the final action you'd like your website visitors to ultimately take?
  • What business goal are you hoping to achieve as a result of your design project? Increased lead or sales volume? Decreased lead time? Better lead quality?
  • What on-site key performance indicators (KPIs) can be used to measure project success? Higher time spent on site? Increased visit-to-lead conversion rate? Increased visit-to-sale conversion rate?

2. Use Google Analytics data to discover trends related to your goals

Once you've defined your goals, you can start examining your current website metrics to discover user patterns and trouble spots.

Google Analytics is my favorite tool for doing this because it so configurable. If you have a website problem to solve, Google Analytics likely has a view that can help.

In general, I'd make sure to at least look at the follow Google Analytics columns, regardless of what report you're viewing:

For multiple pages:

  • Average session duration
  • Bounce rate (the rate at which people view only one page on your site before leaving)
  • Goal conversion rate (make sure you have goals set up for at least a few weeks before running reports)

For individual pages:

  • Average time on page
  • Bounce rate (the rate at which people view a given page and only that page before leaving your site)
  • Exit rate (the rate at which people leave your site after viewing a given page)

The exact reports you'll need to generate will vary based on the goals you defined, but here are three basic ones I always look at during this step of the process.

Report 1: Most visited pages

There's a good chance you already know what your top-visited pages are, but does your boss?

When I work with executives or marketers who have little access to website data, they are often surprised by at least a few of the pages that show up in this report.

Knowing which pages get traffic and how they interact with the page when they get there can tell you what your customers are interested in, which is very important information to know when you're planning a design project.

How to get there in Google Analytics: Behavior>Site Content>All Pages

Report 2: Performance by device

In my experience, people without a web design/development/UX background tend to think of websites as desktop-only entities.

It makes sense: even if you work with your website every day (and I'll bet not everyone in your marketing department does), you're almost exclusively working from a desktop computer. You might even have multiple desktop monitors.

This experience almost never matches the experience of your customers. These days, more than half of all web traffic is mobile, which means the majority of your website users do not share that desktop-only experience.

Learning which types of devices your customers are using and how their behavior is different across those devices can help you plan and prioritize your design project.

How to get there in Google Analytics: Audience>Mobile>Overview

Report 3: Landing pages report

Another common misconception among executives and non-digital marketing people is that all traffic comes in through the home page.

This of course is almost never true. Even if you're not running any advertising campaigns to targeted landing pages, people will enter your site on a whole bunch of different pages.

Learning what these pages are and what users do after they get there is an important step toward understanding how people use your website.

How to get there in Google Analytics: Behavior>Site Content>Landing Pages

Report 4: Sources report

If you learned organic search traffic made up 60% of your traffic and 80% of your leads, you'd probably want to cater your website design to those visitors, right?

This is the kind of insight you can get from a report that shows where your traffic comes from and how metrics differ across those sources

How to get there in Google Analytics: Acquisition>All Traffic>Source/Medium

3. Use heat mapping or user testing for further learning

While Google Analytics gives you macro-level data on your users' site behavior, sometimes it helps to actually see how people use your website.

Heat mapping and user testing can allow you to do exactly that.

Heat mapping

Heat mapping helps you discover which page elements stand out to your users on a given page. On any one page, you can see what users are clicking on, what they're tapping (if they're on mobile), what they're mousing over (if they're on desktop), and how far they're scrolling.

Hotjar heat map on a web page

Source: Hotjar

These kinds of insights can help you learn what page elements should be emphasized as part of a design projects, and which elements can be de-emphasized or left out altogether.

If you have access to heat mapping software, I'd recommend testing your 5-10 most visited pages first.

User testing

User testing takes heat mapping to the next level. Actually watching someone use your website allows you to experience their frustrations and see what pages they're focused on.

As an alternative to doing in-person user testing, some heat mapping software (such as Hotjar) allows you to record users as they mouse over your site.


Google Analytics and other data-gathering tools such as heat mapping and user testing software can provide a wealth of insights to help make website design decisions.

Instead of making decisions based on your instinct or the "HiPPO," set goals and use these tools to make smart, data-driven design decisions.

Looking to build an inbound marketing strategy for your business?

Sam Zastrow Sam Zastrow

Sam Zastrow has worked in digital marketing for 9 years. He's a generalist with particular interests in B2B lead generation, analytics, and keyword strategy. Outside of the office, he enjoys hiking, travel, and following Aston Villa FC.