The process of building a data-driven website that attracts leads and converts them into clients is a 20% a developer’s job and 70% marketers and strategists.

In this article, I discuss best practices, what to expect from a professional team, what to look out for, and pitfalls. As a website owner to be, you will be better prepared to hire the right persons and keep at per with the team throughout the website design process. Let's jump right in.

Have the right team.

A data-driven website that is an effective lead generation magnet requires different sets of skills. From good programmers/coders, marketers, and copywriters. Its highly unlikely that a single person would excel in all those disciplines.

A proper website design-build team should have coders, designers & digital marketers.

Using a digital marketing agency along with a website design agency will make for a perfect team for your build. If you want to use only a website design agency, then make sure they have a fully skilled digital marketing team that acts as the North star for the web development team.

 The content, website structure, and design must be suggested as well as managed by the digital marketing department. If the IT team are responsible for managing the website, it stands to reason that the company couldn't comprehend the advantages of online marketing

If the website development agency doesn't have a specialized digital marketing team, then its wise to hire a digital marketing agency to steer the process from discovery through to the design decision.

Before hiring your website development partner, understand the kind of website you are looking for.

Determine the purpose of the website.

Before you build a website, you must have clearly defined expectations for your website.

Have clearly defined goals for the website before the build process begins.

Most Ugandans who venture into acquiring a website usually have the sole goal of appearing official! A few others to showcase their products.

If you are building your websites only to showcase your products and services, you are building a brochure website (Brochure websites have little or no marketing power). If you are building a website to appear, official, well, that's so 1999.

Data-Driven websites; What they really are.

These are websites built to convert based on viable statistics, collected user behavior, and predictive analytics. I will explain how to do this in the preceding sections.

data-driven website design is not rocket science

These websites track users from the time they make an entry to the time they leave. Each step in the customer journey is carefully optimized to lead the user to the desired action.

If a sale or conversion is not made on the first visit, there are mechanisms put in place to collect vital information from the visitor to ensure the communication channels remain open. If the visitor doesn't give up anything, they will still track him with offsite re-targeting techniques.

These types of websites have a high conversion rate because everything from design, copy, and customer journey is based on data that testifies to positive results and not some Guru's imagination.

Let's dive into the steps of creating a data-driven website.

Building a data-driven website Step 1: The Discovery Phase

The discovery phase entails defining the clear objectives of the website. This is probably the most important phase is website building. A poorly conducted discovery phase will affect both the final outcome and the relationship between the client and contractors.

This phase involves the following

  • Coming up with all website requirements.
  • Researching the target audience, their likes, dislikes, behavior, factors that drive them to action e.t.c
  • Drawing up of the expected functional requirements i.e how each facet of the website should functions.
  • Competitor analysis. Here the working techniques of the competitor are studied, their strength, and what it takes to outcompete them.

When we say data-driven website design, we mean design driven by data. This is a continuous refinement process that begins at this phase. The research gathered from the target audience drives the first design decisions. This is why its extremely important to have a qualified digital marketer with you at this phase.

A great discovery phase should have all stakeholders involved, i.e marketers, developers, and owners.

Step 2: Choosing the website coding language and platforms.

After the discovery process, your website design team comes up with the technologies they will use to build your product.

If you don't know anything about website / online technologies, I highly recommend that you hire an independent expert to offer a second opinion on what your website design company or agency is has laid out. Don't leave it up to them.

The technologies they choose to build your online platform will be the biggest factor in determining the overall expenditure. Most website design companies have a bias that leans towards the platforms they are familiar with.

Getting a 3rd party independent technical and unbiased verifier to provide a second opinion on the technologies the web devs want to use could save you a lot of money and sleepless nights.

Using a website CMS Vs Designing from scratch

A CMS ( Content Management System ) is a software that has all the capabilities required by most websites. There are many open-source CMS's out there that you don't have to pay for.

From a technical and monetary point of view, using a CMS is by far the smarter choice.

Content Management Systems ( CMS's ) have built-in Search Engine Optimized tools or provides for ways of extending the system with 3rd party free tools. Coding from scratch will in most cases have you pay for SEO management systems independently.

Examples of popular CMS's out there are WordPress, Joomla, Drupal. Each CMS has its strengths and weaknesses. They, however, all power over a million websites so you will be building off software that has been tried and tested over a million times. Best of all, they are all free.

Rule of thumb: Better to hire a website development agency that is an expert at a single CMS than all CMS's

Step 3: Building The Website Site Map

Here you build the skeleton of the website. This process is the first step in defining the customer journey and should be optimized by digital marketers.

Website Sitemap
Site maps show each page of the website and how it relates to other pages.

The purpose of wireframes is to define how pages will relate to each other. This is more or less a site map. This helps solve early usability issues. Also, the pages that will hold each piece of content are defined here.

UX designers should spearhead designing wireframes with input from the stakeholders and the digital marketing team.

Without a wireframe, issues such as unplanned pages and poor structuring will come to bite both the stakeholders and website designers.

Re-inventing the wheel isn't a good idea here unless you are doing A/B testing. Use existing successful website wireframes to inspire your designs. This is another facet of data-driven design.

Step 4: Building wireframes.

Wireframes are sketches consisting of the basic elements of each page. The elements could be headers, footers, sidebars e.t.c. Wireframes are meant to solve usability issues as well as show the layout of a web page.

Digital marketers should would with UX/UI designers to make sure that elements that are critical to the marketing process are included in the wireframe visuals.

The purpose of wireframes is to identify usability issues early on in the build process. Since wireframes show the depiction of a page's interface, marketers should be involved to make sure the most important marketing elements take center stage or don't get lost in an obscure position

website wire-frames for mobile.
Examples of wireframes for webpages on mobile

Step 5: Page and layout designs.

Designers own this stage of website design. A suitable designer would be one with UX and UI skills. UX & UI stands for User Experience and User Interface design.

The designer(s )are handed the wireframes that are devoid of color and styles at this point and they turn them into a beautiful website design.

Its common practice in Uganda to use graphic designers without UX skills for this job or skip it altogether. The problem with this is that you will have visually incoherent pages in most cases. Graphic designers specialize in different skills and if the graphic designer doesn't have UX & UI skills, they are not a good fit for the job.

After the designer finishes mocking the page designs, the stakeholder provides feedback and final approval after a couple of revisions iterations.

Step 6: Website coding optimized for digital marketing.

Now that everyone knows how the final product will look like, its purpose and functional requirements, its time to start coding it.

At this point agencies will need a team of Front End Engineers to handle the visual part of the website i.e HTML, CSS, Javascript e.t.c depending on the technology agreed upon. The Backend Engineers build the business end of the website.

The digital marketing team will ensure that the HTML, CSS, and Javascript meet search engine requirements. The semantics of front end code plays a huge role in how search engines interpret your data.

Step 7: Website Security

Security is an important part of website design. A good website design company will have its security guidelines published or availed to the client. It is a great idea to have an independent company do the security audit of the code used.

Ignoring this step exposes your website to hackers who could steal sensitive information, plant malicious scripts scam users e.t.c.

Step 8: Website Testing & Launch

After coding, the next step is to thoroughly test the website to make sure it meets all functional requirements.

The website should pass a load test to make sure it can handle high traffic. The digital marketing team at this point will do its independent testing to analyze & audit technical & onsite SEO. At Campaign, we use the screaming frog test tool for this.

Other Items to include in testing are

Step 9: Data-driven Iterations & Website Revisions.

As the website handles more traffic, more data becomes available for analysis calling for changes driven by data

There are a number of tools you can use to collect data about site users. Let's discuss some of these.

Making data-driven decisions using Google analytics.

Google Analytics is the most popular data analyzing tool out there. It's free and in expert hands, you can craft a winning strategy based on facts and data it presents you.

Website analytics illustration

Google analytics helps answer questions such as

  • Who is visiting your website?
  • Where are your website visitors coming from?
  • What are your visitors' interests?
  • What are the age groups of your visitors
  • How much time your visitors spend on your website

With a little programming, you can answer more complex questions using google analytics like whats the drop-off point of your visitors?, What are the bottlenecks in your website that prevent users from subscribing or making a purchase?

Armed with data, a good Analytics Engineer along with the digital marketing team should be able to make recommendations about what website structural and copy changes need to be made for higher conversions.

This is a continuous improvement process that goes on through the life of the website as society changes and influences as well.

A/B Testing: The heart of data-driven website design

A/B Testing is defined as the process of comparing the performance of two versions of a web page, email or any digital content with only one element changed. This is the heart of data-driven website design.

Webpage A/B Testing
A/B Testing illustration

The change could be a difference in title, image, position, video, menu e.t.c. The two versions are subjected to the same amount of traffic to determine the best performing version.

A/B Testing is in simple terms adjusting your digital asset

Predictive Analytics with Mixpanel

Mixpanel is an analytics tool that picks off pretty much where Google analytics stops. It helps you find the acquisition channels best for long time retention, not simply those that drive initial conversion. Mixpanel is great for predictive analytics.

Predictive analytics for websites.
Predictive analytics illustration

Predictive analytics is a 4 step process

  • Data collection: Mixpanel enables collection of your user's data in real-time across various digital channels i.e mobile, website and other platforms
  • Trend Identification: In this stage, you can see the behavior of the user's that convert. What they interacted with, the videos they watched, the messages they read. In this way, you form a pattern that is common for successful conversions.
  • Understand the trend: This involved explaining using data science techniques, and look-alike modeling, the reason why these people convert.
  • Goal Setting: Armed with the knowledge of what sets the trends, its easy to know and predict what will work or drive users to action. This information should be the basis for new goals.

Usability eye-tracking tests.

Usability eye-tracking tests are another facet of data-driven design that entails measuring the sequence and how long users look at certain elements on a webpage. They help you study what users look at in real-time while navigating your site.

Website Usability & Eye Tracking Tests Illustration
Usability Eyetracking tests.

This process helps you identify bottlenecks in your customer journey. You will also get to know why the user stops certain tasks and their jump-off point.

Using data from Usability eye-tracking tests, you can fix issues that lead to high bounce rates or design issues that confuse a user so they fail to take certain desired actions. You could also get to know what drives your customers to action and remodel the website to emphasize these.