sleeping guy "Set it and forget it" hard at work

All too often, we encounter folks who have a "set it and forget it" mentality when it comes to managing their websites and online marketing. They look at designing a website as a one-time thing. They assume they'll get everything right on the first go. A couple years go by. The website isn't getting the results these folks want, so they redo everything and hope that, maybe this time, they'll get things right.

If you're guilty of this mindset, the time has come to turn over a new leaf. It's time to get serious about testing ideas, tracking and analyzing results, making changes...and doing this process constantly, instead of once every couple years. It's time to get serious about iterative web design.

What iterative design is

Iterative design is the ongoing process of refining and improving a website.

Rather than scrapping everything on your website all at once, you make small changes on a regular basis. For example, you might change the wording in your site navigation. You might position a call to action in a different place or change its color. Or you might rewrite copy on a product page.

As you make small tweaks to your website, you test the changes, getting feedback from web visitors and tracking results. Armed with this new data, you dive right back into the process, and start a new cycle of designing, testing, analyzing and refining.

What iterative design is not

Iterative design is not an excuse to create a half-baked website or be lax about your online marketing initiatives. It’s not supposed to be the “Oh, we won't think about that now; we’ll fix that later” crutch.

Iterative design is about giving 110%—always. You dedicate yourself to doing the best job possible before launch. Then, after launch, you keeping looking for and implementing ways to improve your website experience.

Benefits of iterative design

Thinking in this way might take some getting used to, but the benefits definitely make this change worth it.

Become a true “customers come first” business

User feedback is a critical part of the iterative design process. You give your customers a way to tell you what they want and what you need to do to make them happy. They really become an important part of your company, your processes.

And not only do you ask for their input, but you actually use their suggestions. Now, you’re not just saying you put customers first—you’re living proof of it.

Find and fix problems sooner

By continually testing your website, you can identify what doesn't work sooner–is your call to action for your email newsletter hard to find? is your online payment process too confusing?

Once you know what to address, necessary enhancements and improvements get implemented faster.

Make evidence-based decisions

How often have you been in this situation: you’re trying to redesign your website, and two parties disagree about the color palette, the wording, something. They don’t have a lot of data to go on; their gut just tells them why they’re right and the other person is wrong. You spend countless hours going in circles, until someone gives in or gives up.

Iterative design puts a stop to spinning-your-wheels syndrome. You can test different ideas and get concrete, objective data that will give you a clear direction to go in.

Save time, energy and money

With iterative design, you quickly learn what works and what doesn't work. Ultimately, you end up investing fewer hours and dollars in things that don't work.

Instead, you can focus your efforts on the content and features that have the best impact on your bottom line.

Boost customer engagement

Quick iterations may also improve your relationship with customers. Repeat website visitors will notice the improvements, and they’ll appreciate your efforts to stay on top of your game.

Plus, a happy customer is the best salesperson you could have. When you continually surprise and delight your visitors, they’ll go on to be your brand evangelist. And a referral—or a Tweet or a Facebook status—singing your praises is well worth the investment in iterative design.

Keep your company energized

When you adopt a more iterative process, you have much more room for creativity and experimentation in your marketing. What may seem crazy in the boardroom could be a smash hit with your customers. You can try out these ideas and continue testing and refining them. This keeps the ideas coming and prevents your marketing from getting stale...and prevents your team from getting bored.

Make risk and failure less scary

If you implement drastic changes all at once, it's hard to identify the parts of your website that work and the parts that are broken. What started out as an exciting redesign escalates into a oh-no-what-have-we-done panic attack as your team struggles to identify the good and the bad and their impact.

And, without a solid plan in place to test and refine, you can feel stuck with your "failures" when it's found that the website isn't up to par.

But, if you only change one or two things at a time, you can identify results and what brought about those results.

Plus, you won't fear failure. Failure won't even be a word in your vocabulary. Everything is a learning moment, and you can use those lessons to make educated guesses for future changes...instead of blindly stumbling forward.

Give your team a break

By doing things on a smaller, more frequent scale, you make maintaining and updating your website a manageable task, instead of a nightmarish chore.

The pressure of creating the "perfect" website diminishes, because you know you that the website will always be growing and evolving.

Your team's workload gets spread out and more predictable, too. You won't have to worry about overwhelming Marketing or Sales because you have to deliver brand spankin' new copy for a 100-page website...during your busiest month of the year. You can tackle your website section by section, and work out a good ebb and flow for internal tasks.

The time has come to retire "set it and forget it" from your website strategy. Get ready to give your website the attention and care it really needs. Commit to an iterative design process. When you find that your team is more engaged, your customers are happier, and your ROI is better than ever, you'll wonder how you managed your website any other way.
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Photo credit: slworking