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6 Basic Principles All Great Websites Follow

July 17, 2017

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Principle 1: Set specific goals

This is the most basic characteristic that separates the great websites from the rest. Not because it’s a ground-breaking strategy, but because most people don’t do it.

Somehow, most nonprofit websites are allowed to simply exist. No “sustainability plan”, no “programmatic strategy”—really no benchmarks at all. It’s ironic that in an industry so scrutinized for their effectiveness, an organization’s biggest marketing asset would be overlooked.

So f you want to turn your website into a fundraising machine, you’ve got to set some goals. They don’t have to be anything fancy. You simply need to give the website a purpose.

And one last thing, make those goals concrete. SMART goals is what they call them. “Increasing awareness” is a good start, but how do you know if you’re measuring up? Well that brings us to principle 2…

Principle 2: Measure everything

Great websites collect data
Some real data from my personal website

There’s a saying “What isn’t measured cannot be managed,” and it’s certainly true of websites.  Without collecting data related to your site, you have absolutely no way of knowing how you measure up against yourself, or the competition.

Luckily, getting that data is not too hard a task. Google Analytics, the gold standard of website analytics, is absolutely free. And it literally takes 10 minutes to set up. Afterwards, just go along with your day! GA will hum along in the background, collecting more data you could ever dream of, just waiting for the day you return to make use of it.

But Google Analytics doesn’t need to be the only way you measure your site. Visitor surveys, 1-on-1 interviews, and focus group testing are tools that every great website has used to build a fuller picture of their environment.

Principle 3: Create hypotheses from the data

This is usually the step where people start to freak out. There’s so many numbers, graphs, colors and charts—how will you ever know which ones matter? Google searches for “what’s a typical conversion rate”, “how to increase time on site”, and “bounce rate vs adjusted bounce rate vs exit %” start to appear in the browser history as you spin down the rabbit hole of metrics, impulsively checking your stats until you forget why you’re even on the computer.

But fear not! There’s a simple way to avoid going data-crazy, and you’re already halfway there. Just recall your goal, and pair it with metric that directly corresponds. For instance, if you want to increase revenue by 11%, hone-in on the number of completed donations. If awareness is your thing, stay laser-focused on the number of users per day.

Once you have your metric, brainstorm some ideas to optimize it. Now you’re well on your way to a great website.

Principle 4: Experiment

Great websites require the scientific methodEven with all that data, research and planning, you still haven’t achieved your  best website. When was the last time you built something perfectly on the first try? (I’m looking at you, IKEA furniture…)

To elevate your website further, you need to bring in the scientific method. It’s a time-tested process that produces valid results and invaluable knowledge. Plus, it also makes the job of “Website Manager” seem a little more cool.

To use it correctly, all you have to do is 1) State your goals, hypotheses, and method before the experiment starts, 2) let the experiment run its course, and 3) analyze the data to determine if your hypothesis was true. Repeating this process over time will take your website from OK, to good, to great.

Principle 5: Document and publish your findings

Isn’t it annoying when your boss tells you to add another button to the already-cluttered homepage?

Imagine how empowering it would be to respond with cold, hard, data to back you up when you say “no”!

That could be your reality! But you must remember to document and publish your analysis after each experiment — even the ones where you were wrong. An experiment that is performed and then forgotten is just as bad as not doing one at all.

It doesn’t take much to document your findings. There’s no need to produce a peer-reviewed masterpiece each time you test a headline. Just record your hypothesis, method, resulting data and analysis in a Google spreadsheet that’s accessible to everyone. You never know if your new-found knowledge could prove useful in print campaigns, courting major donors, or designing a whole new program.

Principle 6: Repeat this process every month

How Growth-Driven Design builds great websitesIf you learn anything from this article, let it be that web design is a process.  The only way to build a truly great website, is to constantly experiment and learn as you grow.

Commit to running 1 experiment each month. It only takes about 10 hours of “real” work each time. Even if you run an experiment every 2 months, you’ll still be ahead of the curve.  Imagine putting all your hopes into a $10,000 website, versus a $5,000 website that you spend $1,000 a month on improving. Which would you expect to come out ahead? This philosophy of continuous improvement is called Growth Driven Design, and it’s part of the success behind every worthwhile website.

If you want to know how these principles could help your nonprofit, use this link to schedule a 30 minute call with me. I’ll come prepared with personalized tips to maximize your website’s effectiveness.


One Reply to “6 Basic Principles All Great Websites Follow”

  1. I have been fiddling with my website for a year and I am still not happy with it. Going through another redesign next month but this time I have a few new tactics to try and I am focusing more on user flow. Allowing people to move through the site as a whole easier.

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