How Your Fancy Design Is Destroying Your Website’s Conversion Rate

Sometimes a horrendously ugly website will convert 100x better than a pretty one. Sometimes an out-of-the-box WordPress theme converts better than a $25,000 design.

The issue isn’t beauty or cost, it’s how well the design facilitates the website’s goal.

Unfortunately, understanding the basics of online conversion funnels isn’t a mandatory course in web design academy. Many designers today build websites that are both tremendously beautiful and surpassingly useless.

Is that the story of your site?

Regardless of your attempts at optimizing conversion rates, if your website possesses any of these 3 core problems, your efforts will be ineffective.

1. You’re Confusing Visitors With Too Many Options

The biggest problem I see with most websites comes down to options. If you are offering too many options, you will confuse visitors from taking the actions you want them to take.

The common misconception here is what I call the “buffet mentality”. Businesses think if they just make everything they offer visible and put it all on the table, new users are more likely to select the option they like best.

There are certain business models where this works, namely in the retail market where there are hundreds or more products and visitors are coming for the purpose of browsing multiple options rather than selecting one specific item.

But most businesses are not retailers with hundreds of products. Most businesses offer 2 or 3 core products/services with a few supplemental offers on the side.

For these businesses – for MOST businesses – giving visitors too many offers at once will distract or confuse them rather than converting them into subscribers or customers.

And in this scenario, it is paramount that you send visitors into an intentional funnel rather than leaving them on their own to browse or bashing them over the head with a bunch of different offers.

Conversion Sciences offers a great example of how to do this. The moment you hit the site via a blog post, you’re eyes are immediately drawn to their blog’s top priority: generating client leads.

There are other options presented as you continue along the sidebar, but they are much more subtle. You don’t have 5 equally highlighted offers thrown at you. You have one big CTA presented and then a few supplemental options if you decide not to click-through.

On the homepage, the focus remains the same: Schedule a call with us!

When you focus on ONE option, you increase your conversion rate for that option. When you offer visitors a buffet, they are less likely to select anything at all.

Many successful sites have taken the “less options” idea even further by eliminating the sidebar completely within their blog. Backlinko is a good example of this. Brian Dean’s blog, which generates over 100k views per month with only one monthly post, focuses solely on that posts’ content upgrade as the next step for visitors. Most of his posts look like this:

After seeing Backlinko’s success, Bryan Harris tried eliminating the sidebar at his VideoFruit blog and saw his conversion rate increase by 26%. His blog has since grown to 45,000+ email subscribers.

Why does this work? You’ll notice when you visit these pages that you don’t get bombarded with 50 promos. You’ll receive 1… maybe 2 offers while on-page to take your experience to the next level.

By focusing user attention in one direction, you substantially increase the odds of them heading that way.

Practical Ways To Improve

  • Simplify your homepage to make a single offer or immediately segment users towards up to     4 landing pages where they will be given a single offer.
  • A/B test removing the sidebar on blog posts with direct content-upgrades
  • If you have a combination of topbar, slide-in, popup and in-content offers, identify the two           most relevant to readers of a given post and disable the others.
  • Ask yourself “Does this facilitate my primary goal?” about every website feature or                       accessory and if it doesn’t it, axe it.

2. You’re Site Is Slow, Buggy, Or Otherwise Difficult To Navigate

This subheading may seem like a roll-your-eyes moment. You’ve heard this before. But consider this. 40% of website visitors will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load. And yet, as of 2014, average web page load time for feature content was 6.5 seconds. Furthermore, “46% of online shoppers cite checkout speed as the number one factor that determines whether or not they will return to a site.”

Site speed matters a great deal, regardless of the device being used, and yet few websites take the steps needed to deliver a high-speed website experience.

Part of this goes back to my original point. Web designers often want to pack websites with cutting-edge features and unique design elements, often plummeting load times without accomplishing anything positive towards your business goals.

Is that interactive graphic on your homepage really worth the extra 2.5 seconds in page load time? Does the lightbox within a lightbox within a lightbox really enhance your conversion rate? Does the video playing in the background accomplish anything other than increased load times?

Here’s my favorite test to judge the success of any landing page. To begin with:

  1. Grab a 3rd party who is unfamiliar with your business
  2. Have them click on the link to your landing page
  3. Wait 10 seconds and then have them turn away from the screen.
  4. Ask them what your business is offering.

If a visitor can’t load your landing page and get a basic idea of what you’re offering within 10 seconds of clicking the link, your landing page has failed. It’s either a site speed problem or a copywriting problem, but either way, it’s a massive fail for your website.

If you pass the first part of the test, continue to part two:

  1. Have the 3rd party click the landing page CTA and instruct them to complete the offer.
  2. After that first CTA click, count the page-changing clicks required to finish the transaction.
  3. Monitor how long the process from CTA click to final transaction click takes.

What were your results? While it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all solution to this portion of the checkout process, the key takeaway is that all things equal, a faster conversion process is ALWAYS a more effective one.

After that initial CTA click, you really don’t want to require visitors to make any more than two additional page-changing clicks to complete the transaction process. More pages and more clicks equal less conversions. The time on each page matters as well, but of course some offers may require more time than others.

How To Improve Your Site UX & Increase Conversions

Many of the same sites that failed point #1 fail here as well. There is a reason than many of the highest traffic blogs have the simplest designs.

Successful content marketing isn’t about bells and whistles. It’s about moving visitors into your sales funnel as quickly and cleanly as possible.

Here are a few ways to improve your site’s user experience and increase conversions:

  • Use a tool like Pingdom to measure site speed by loading elements and identifying                     performance killers
  • Optimize images by cutting them down to their actual display size
  • Eliminate unnecessary features and on-page design elements that slow performance
  • Minimize required form fields throughout the conversion process
  • Enable compression for pages that have to be large
  • Install and configure an effective caching system if you haven’t already

3. You’re Failing To Optimize For Mobile Traffic

Whether you want to admit it or not, mobile is now the name of the game.

According to Google, mobile searches outpaced desktop searches for the first time in 2015. While this is a significant milestone, it’s importance is more about the future of ecommerce than the milestone itself.

Despite a widespread lack in understanding or optimization, mobile ecommerce accounted for just over $104 billion in sales in 2015, a 38.7% increase from 2014 and 30% of total  ecommerce sales for the year.

Having a site that is optimized for mobile is no longer an option. It’s a necessity. You can’t afford to ignore half of your incoming traffic, and yet many businesses today are either ignoring mobile traffic or unwittingly pursuing an ineffective solution.

There are 4 options generally considered when it comes to mobile optimization

  1. Use responsive design
  2. Build a mobile app
  3. Design your site solely for mobile conversions
  4. Use adaptive design

At the end of the day, 3 out of these 4 are terrible choices for MOST businesses. Here’s why.

Option #1: Why Responsive Is A Poor Solution For Mobile

When it comes to making a site “mobile friendly”, most people think of responsive design. And while response design may make your site more “friendly” to mobile users, it falls WAY short of providing an optimized mobile experience.

But why?

A responsive website simply takes your desktop content and rearranges the layout so that mobile users can view it more easily. In other words, it’s the exact same content with just a slightly different layout.

Why is this a problem?

Because mobile users behave VASTLY different than their desktop counterparts. They are looking for different things, they respond to different features, and they require a unique experience in order to convert at a high rate.

While responsive design is cheap and works fine for blog posts or other content-based pages, it’s a very poor choice for landing pages or any page where you are seeking to the convert the visitor. For these high value pages, you need the ability to create a fundamentally unique experience for users on each device type, something you CANNOT do with responsive design.

Option #2: Apps Don’t Work As A Site Replacement

With the popularity of mobile applications, many businesses are beginning to look to apps as their solution to reaching mobile audiences.

Unfortunately, there are a few glaring problems with this strategy.

First, an app must be downloaded, which means most users will need to first have a favorable experience with your mobile site in order to download your application. In other words, using a mobile app doesn’t replace the need for a quality mobile site experience.

Second, 71% of the average mobile user’s time is spent on just 5 applications. Only 14% of time is spent on other apps, and the remaining 15% is spent on built-in phone functions. This means if you aren’t able to get your app into a user’s top 5 most-used apps, on par with the likes of Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, your app will be left competing with thousands of others for the remaining 14% of “other app” time.

In other words, creating a mobile app will accomplish virtually nothing for most businesses.

Option #3: Design Your Site To Be “Mobile First”

Another approach some businesses have been taking is to simply design their site for mobile users, ignoring desktop users altogether.

As you may imagine, this isn’t a great strategy, because ignoring any meaningful segment of your traffic is a poor plan and desktop visitors tend to convert better even when the mobile experience has been optimized.

In other words, while it’s a bad idea to ignore the 60% of your traffic coming from mobile, it’s an equally bad idea to ignore the 40% of your traffic coming from desktop.

Option #4: Adaptive Design Just Became Accessible

For most websites, the best available option is an adaptive website. Adaptive design identifies the device being used and sends the appropriate content straight from the server. This allows you to deliver a completely separate experience for any given device type.

So why doesn’t every website used adaptive design?

Well, traditionally, it has been a technically demanding (aka expensive) setup to implement that required a separate layout for every single device. And by “traditionally” I mean until about a month ago.

UnDelay has created the web’s first adaptive landing page builder, allowing users to deliver separate, optimized experiences for desktop, tablet, and smartphone visitors. With UnDelay, businesses can keep their responsively designed websites for blog content or info-based service pages, and set up adaptively delivered landing pages for high value pages that require optimal conversion rates.


A site’s web design doesn’t need to be impressive to be effective. In most cases, it should be a simple, rock-solid foundation on which you build your content. By simplifying your website, you can eliminate distracting options, increase speed, clean up UX, and make it easier to optimize for mobile.

Looking for even more mobile conversions? Download our free guide to mobile optimization!