Commandment 9: Design Matters Too

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This is a phrase we’ve heard over and over that we don’t give it much thought when we see, hear, or read about it.

Swipe left. Swipe right. Scroll down. Ignore. Double tap. Like. ❤️.

All these actions somehow reinforces the fact that what we see, matters. A lot.

Today, we judge someone by their Instagram profile. Is it consistent? Do they have a lot of followers? Does it look cool?

And even if we keep telling ourselves that aesthetics don’t matter, our actions say otherwise.

People try to compensate for this by actively telling themselves or simply being mindful about it.

But it is so ingrained in our culture that we can’t help but wonder, can we escape this?

Can we really be objective and stop judging people/companies/brands based on their outward appearance?

The Problem: Digital Marketing Is Visual

When it comes to digital marketing, websites and social media accounts are the first ones to get judged by people. And even if that’s something we don’t want other people to do to us, we can’t change what people think and do.

Changing other people’s behavior, much more their beliefs and value system, is very difficult to do.

A lot of people would say, and I agree with them, that only you can change your own behavior. Trying to force other people to conform to what you want will only result in unnecessary conflict and stress.

Others claim that content is king. That content is all that matters. Yes, that is true. And design matters too. You simply cannot neglect it.

What do you do instead?

Change what you can so you don’t get judged negatively.

When people visit your website or blog, before they get to “read” your content, they “see” your website first. That’s the first thing they experience.

Make your website (and social media accounts) look awesome! Even if you don’t have any background in design (hey, I’m the worst when it comes to stuff like this; I’m more of a numbers kind of guy), you can still avoid getting judged negatively.

Let me show you how.

Solution: Focus on User Experience

For most people, design is how it looks on the outside — graphic or visual design. This is a very limited view of design.

I’m no authority in this topic so I’m not going to even try. But, one message that stood out for me is how Steve Jobs described it.

Design is not just how it looks, but how it works.

-Steve Jobs

He was one of the biggest proponents of great design. If you look at Apple products, it doesn’t just look good on the outside. It also looks great on the inside. It is easy to use and intuitive. And what’s what contributed to Apple’s $1B success.

It just works.

Jobs’ tenacity for great design was well-documented by people and even included a ton of stories in his biography. Which brings us back to design in digital marketing…

Great design isn’t about you. It’s about your website’s visitors and their experience with your website (and with your entire brand for that matter).

Most people worry too much about how their website look. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a good-looking website. Aesthetics do matter. But that shouldn’t be your end goal.

In digital marketing, having a great design means a great user experience across the entire buyer’s journey. And that’s what I’ll focus on in this post.

Step 1: Map your customer journey

It’s not about what you think. It’s about what your customers think. Focus on their experience with your brand.

Imagine with me for a minute here.

Let’s say you have an awesome website. It looks great. It has all these fancy animations and videos. When you scroll down, images and text appear like magic. Kind of like how some portions of Apple’s product pages look like.

apple mac mini product page

But the difference is that yours load slowly. Does this qualify as having great design?

  • User needs to research about the best X in town
  • User searches Google for X
  • Finds your website among others
  • Opens top 5 results in background
  • Go through search #1
  • Browses quickly
  • Moves to search #2 (your website)
  • Page still doesn’t load
  • Closes the browser
  • Moves to search #3…

What if you’re an eCommerce site? If the photos of your products loads after 15 seconds, do you think your customers will hang around your site?

This is even worse as there are a lot of options in the market. So if your website fails to “impress” now, you’d have no way of getting them back to your website again.

Step 2: Understand these statistics

  • 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less.
  • 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.
  • A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

The best way to really understand your customers is to look at your own behavior. Chances are, you’re not that different from them.

How did you feel when you encountered these situations before?

  • A website loads too slowly or not at all.
  • The website loads all the ads first before you get to find the content that really matters to you
  • Looking for the FAQ section of a product on their website, but is no where to be found

A problem a lot of websites don’t realize (or accept) is that having a ton of ads loading on your page slows it down.

It ruins the user experience.

These are the reasons why ad blockers are so popular these days.

It’s these same reasons why browsers have a read-only mode or why people use Pocket — because they don’t want to be distracted from what they see and focus on the content. But if your site doesn’t have all these distracting elements, there’s no reason for your visitors to go out of their way just to be able to find the content they are looking for.

Great design supplements your content. If people can’t get your page to load, they’d most likely not try at all. If people can’t find the answers from you, especially your customers, they’ll look for it elsewhere.

This behavior is true for me as well, just like you.

When I try browsing a site and it doesn’t load, I either check again later or not bother at all. I only check later again if it’s the only choice I have. But most likely, I’ll close the browser and search for another site that can answer my questions/problems.

Step 3: Get objective user experience data

Does your website meet customer expectations?

The only way to know if your website meets your customer’s expectations is to ask them yourself. This is easy if your site already have thousands of unique visitors a month. You setup a survey and look the results.

But what if you’re like most websites who only get a few hundred visits a month? You’d get 1-2 responses a month. This won’t provide you with any insights.

So, what can you do instead?

Step 4: Improve your website’s speed

One of the things you can do is improve your site speed. Use this free tool from Google where it can provide you a lot of actionable items to make your site faster.

What’s even better is that once you go through this list, you’d be on the good side of Google. That means you’ll have better chances of ranking on it.

You can use other tools like Pingdom, etc. to give you a different perspective on how you can further improve your site’s performance.

Step 5: Make your content flow coherently

One of the things that frustrates me when viewing a website is when I don’t understand what I’m looking at.

I’ve come across sites where the marketer simply puts EVERYTHING on the website.

But there’s no story being told. It jumps from one place to another.

In one page it talks about a product X, then on the next section it talks about the company, then the next it talks about a features of product X. Then the next section talks about the founders. Then you’d see a video about the history of the company.

Focus on sharing one thing at a time on a single page.

This way, you’ll hit two birds with one stone. You’ll get a better user experience and improve your SEO.

The best way to start with this is outlining what you want to share. For example, here’s what mine looks like. Note that I’m a consultant so the way I structured my website is different from how you would structure yours.

  • Homepage
    • Value proposition
    • About me
    • Social proof
    • Case studies
    • Call-to-action
    • Thought leadership articles
    • Social media
    • Contact form
    • Newsletter subscription

If you’d notice, the structure for this is all about building me as an authority on what I do. I didn’t include any information that is not contributing to that goal.

On another page, Email Marketing, here’s what my outline looks like:

  • Email Marketing page
    • 3 pillars of email marketing
      • Lead generation
      • Lead management
      • Email execution
    • Why use email marketing
    • Essential features and capabilities of an email marketing software
    • 12 different types of marketing emails
    • Email malpractices you should stop doing now
    • Examples of ineffective email marketing and how to improve them

Everything in this page contributes to the objective of the page — which is to provide an answer to people searching for information about email marketing. And in case you’re wondering, this page is a type of a cornerstone content.

Outline the content you want to place on your website or blog posts. Put a structure around it. Make sure you always put yourself in the shoes of your customers (or potential customers).

Step 6: Use headers, sections, and images to break your content

After you have your outline, use them as headers or sections in your content. Add a couple of images to make it easy to read as well.

These are rules of thumb that you can follow, but in no means dictate the way you create your content.

  • h1 —> title of the page
    • h2 —> section 1
      • h3 —> point 1 / step 1
      • h3 —> point 2 / step 2
      • h3 —> point 3 / step 3
    • h2 —> section 2
      • h3 —> point 1 / step 1
      • h3 —> point 2 / step 2
      • h3 —> point 3 / step 3

You get the idea. For example, in this post, here’s how it looks like:

  • h1 —> Commandment 9: Design Matters Too
    • h2 —> The Problem: Digital Marketing is Visual
    • h2 —> The Solution: Focus on User Experience
      • h3 —> Step 1: Map your customer journey
      • h3 —> Step 2: Understand these statistics
      • h3 —> Step 3: Get objective user experience data
      • h3 —> Step 4: Improve your website’s speed
      • h5 —> Step 5: Make your content flow coherently
      • h6 —> Step 6: Use headers, sections, and images to break your content

So, what are you going to do now?

Design in digital marketing is all about the user experience and how everything flows from one to the other. It’s not limited to visual or graphic design.

Make sure your site loads fast, has a coherent message, and easy to read and understand. Use data to guide you in your decisions. Stop relying on assumptions.

Does your website have a great design? Let me know in the comments below!

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.