Growth-Driven Website Design, with Josh Dougherty

August 18, 2021
PRODUCED BY POLLY YAKOVICH

Josh Dougherty is the CEO and a co-founder of A Brave New, a Seattle marketing agency focused on helping businesses accelerate their growth through inbound marketing, branding, and web design. He specializes in working with clients to identify barriers to their growth and overcoming those barriers with strategic content and marketing tactics. He has more than a decade of experience in digital marketing and branding.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • What the typical website process looks like and why it often results in an outdated website that needs to be revamped every few years
  • What kinds of problems and challenges the traditional website design process creates for organizations
  • What "growth-driven design" is and what advantages it offers over the traditional thinking around website design
  • Why the first step is to develop a clear, empathetic understanding of your target audience and your KPIs
  • How to create a wishlist for your site that can help inform the direction of your incremental site improvements
  • What mitigating steps you can take to begin refreshing your site even before you implement a growth-driven design plan
  • How six-week design sprints can help you determine your key priorities and fit them within your budget, and how to deal with hesitation and pushback

Additional resources:  

Show Transcription:

Intro:

Welcome to A Brave New Podcast. The podcast all about how brave entrepreneurial companies are unlocking their business potential using inbound marketing. Here is your marketing expert and host Polly Yakovich.

Polly Yakovich:

Welcome back to A Brave New Podcast. I am joined again by my co-founder Josh Dougherty.

Josh Dougherty:

Time number three or four or five or six. I can't remember at this point.

Polly Yakovich:

I know we lost track. You're my frequent flyer. Josh, for those of you-

Josh Dougherty:

Do I get miles? That's my main concern.

Polly Yakovich:

You do. Yeah. You actually get like an award at 10 visits. So we'll figure out when that is and then you'll get your certificate.

Josh Dougherty:

This is how I operate my whole life, if anyone's wondering. So I need some rewards [crosstalk 00:00:42]. Yes.

Polly Yakovich:

For anyone who's tuning in for the first time, Josh is CEO and co-founder of A Brave New. He likes to join the podcast from time to time and talk about some of the concepts that we are either grappling with, trends that we're seeing. Today we want to talk about something cool called growth-driven design. If you haven't heard of it or about this concept, we're getting unpack it for you today.

Josh Dougherty:

Sweet. Yeah, it's a great topic to talk about and I think something that we think about from a website design perspective, but I encourage people to also think about it from their marketing program in general-

Polly Yakovich:

I agree.

Josh Dougherty:

Just about how to be agile and focus on growth versus work in a rigid plan.

Polly Yakovich:

I agree. What we're going to dive into today is specifically like Josh said about web design, but wherever possible I really encourage you just to think about how you can apply these programs more broadly throughout your team or your organization. We're just going to jump right in. We're going to talk about what growth-driven design is, what it isn't and why you might consider it, particularly for those of you, which should be all of us, who are thinking about operating and maintaining and iterating on our websites.

Polly Yakovich:

For many people I would say this will not be new to you. And then for many of us as well, it is a little bit construct breaking, because of the way we've typically thought about websites in the past. I think some people might be listening and be like, oh yeah, that's obvious and that makes sense, but still actually not be operating this way because it does require a bit of a evolution and thinking about how we approach websites. I'd love you just to open us up Josh with talking about what is the standard website process? What have most people been doing for the last even just five years in the way they approached their website?

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. I would say this goes back probably 10, 15 years, but most people as they're thinking about their corporate website or a website for some initiatives that they're working on, will say that they'll build a new design. They'll put a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into building it over a six to nine month period. They'll launch it. Their team will be, whether they're working with an agency or it's an internal team building it, they'll like launch it and then feel so sick of the project because it's gone so long that it's just like something you can check off on your list and then you don't pay attention to it for two or three years. And then all of a sudden design trends have changed or functionality has changed or no doubt the way the internet works has changed. And so three years later you're looking at your site it looks like a dinosaur. You're like, well, here we go again, let's let's work again, let's redesign this thing again.

Polly Yakovich:

This may sound a little bit old school to those of us who have iterated our thinking, but we still see so many organizations operating this way. Even from a budgeting perspective. It's like there's a big budget for the website every few years, there's a very small amount of money being allocated toward it's either upkeep, maintenance, small iterations over time. And then a big budget again that you have to pitch in the next three years or so.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah, the budgetary reality among large organizations drives this because they see a website as a capital expense that they can invest in every once in a while, versus it's a lot less sexy and desirable to say, we're going to invest 20 grand a quarter, 10 grand a quarter in our website, because then that becomes a line item that they have to justify every year, which is a lot harder. I would say a lot of our thinking has evolved, but in talking to hundreds of business owners, numerous people who run agencies, we may give lip service to iteration and to growth-driven design. But most people aren't doing it because it is a pretty transformational way to approach your process, that requires you rethinking almost how you do all of your marketing to be able to do it successfully.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. No small feat. We like to tackle the big topics here. Let's start talking first just naturally about some of the problems with this traditional process that we're describing. Some of the problems, even as we start talking about them, I think we'll all start to understand like, oh yeah, that doesn't make sense. Even though, like you said, it's hard organizationally to make this pivot.

Josh Dougherty:

I think like the best way to explain the problem with this process is to tell a story about my history when I was growing with building websites younger, probably like a decade ago. So we have this amazing... I've been worked in agencies for a long time, but I think if you work in-house, you can have similar experiences. But we have this client that was wanting to build a whole education hub and wanted to build out all this content and have a place for a bunch of subscribers to come in and grab content. It was a pretty complex project. We were building it out on Drupal, so it was probably about 2011. We built out this whole concept that was super elegant. The UX was great. The wire frames were great. The user flows were great. The problem was, it was super fricking time consuming to actually build the thing.

Josh Dougherty:

And so we worked on this project for 12 months and then we're getting to go time, the executives at the organization are getting super pissed at us because nothing is launched and they've invested significant amounts of money in it. We send over the beta to them and get a message back that, "This can never go live, this is so far from what we wanted." Now, was it closer than they thought to what they wanted? Yes. Was it not what exactly what we had sold to them? Yes. It's like all these things were true, but sitting in that hot seat, if you've ever been a website lead and having someone say, "I've invested," in sometimes six figures, "In this project and it isn't delivering," is an example of why the website process as it currently exist doesn't work.

Josh Dougherty:

Because we spend so much time building this baby that we have aspirations of, we want it to be perfect. We want it to look amazing. We want it to... But it takes so long to build it that by the time you've built it, the web has moved on. And because you spent so much time and money in it, you can't actually launch it into the world because you are, or it's very difficult. I shouldn't say you can't. It's very difficult to launch it in the world because you'd want it to be perfect versus, hey, we could launch this, learn from it and go further and build it, build something better as we learn and get captured data.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. To sum that up, it's like a few things separating the site build from some of that feedback loop removes perspective. If you're sending wireframes and everyone's signing off on things, and then you go in, build something for a really long period of time or create all the content for a hub, like how many of us have gotten stuck creating all the content needed for the cool website concept, that by the time we get back to the website concept, people don't want to invest in doing that again so you're stuck trying to put all the pieces together? And then like Josh alluded to, budgeting ahead of time for unforeseen functionality is really impossible. Because like Josh said, the web has moved on and sometimes things are going to come across later that you're going to want to include as functionality. And so this whole heads down building process doesn't work for that.

Josh Dougherty:

Then I think the not having immediate launch timelines also brings out the worst in us. What I mean by this is all of us are deadline driven, typically in the marketing space. And so when there's nothing immediate to work towards, we just push it off, push it off, push it off, and then it's a scramble. You may be listening to this, [inaudible 00:08:46], if you're in the software development world and saying this is so silly, we use agile development processes why wouldn't you do this? That's exactly the point of this whole conversation, we need to learn from software to iterate and build and launch and do it all. Create a virtuous cycle of doing that over and over again.

Polly Yakovich:

How has thinking about website design evolved over time? What is growth-driven design?

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. I think one thing that's changed and this especially a paradigm for our clients that we've talked to. We sell high value products for our clients or market high value products, stuff that costs like hundred thousand, 200,000, maybe even a million dollars. Over time, people have seen that as we've shifted online, even for products like data website becomes the hub of that sales process. So 75% of businesses say that a website is extremely important, and so before you would talk to someone and they would say, "Hey, we just sell something expensive. This is really just a portfolio for people to look at," that really isn't the case anymore.

Josh Dougherty:

And so growth-driven design is really this methodology that says, if your website is really an asset that you want to build on as an organization, let's be a little bit more focused on impact and speed so that we can use the website to generate ROI faster. So instead of doing like the build through your rest then build again and then don't do anything for two more years, we're going to say, what if you're continually relaunching improvements to the site and add essence and growth during design that's saying you're going to launch improvements. Look at the analytics, identify where the next spot of improvements can come from and then launch those improvements as well. You guys, I think if you work in marketing, you intuitively do this with your marketing program. It's just taking that thinking and putting it into your web design.

Polly Yakovich:

I mean, it's really about continuous improvement. I think for organizations that don't think this way, it either means you either need to have your agency always thinking about how to continually improve your website and spend money for that, or your internal team needs to be allocated in such a way that you are constantly focusing on the website.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. And the big benefit here is, as a marketer, as someone who your execs are going to come and look at your website and say, "What have you done for me lately? How has this improved?" Is this allows you to deliver a new site quickly if you're revamping to always showcase, hey, we did this based off of this piece of data and here's how it's performing. It's also allows you to... We talk a lot about KPIs shifting with the organizations that we work with and how maybe one quarter this is very important than the next quarter. Someone's super focused on leads, and the following quarter someone's super focused on only qualified leads. All these things changing. Maybe the following quarter after that, it's all about education. Growth-driven design allows you to have that flexible type strategic framework where you can pivot and shift as the organization shifts. Now, honestly you should always be focused on ROI with your website, but it allows you to focus underneath that overall umbrella of ROI on specific things that are going to drive the business forward that are important at this time.

Polly Yakovich:

This is another place that I think you can draw an immediate connection to at least how we approach marketing. Particularly when we're getting involved with a new client, it's like we'll say we want a lead offer, a new offer in the marketplace in 30 days. This is where too you'll hear us talk over and over and over about how perfect is the enemy of the good, because getting something out there, observing it, getting something out there that's good, we're not saying put bad stuff out. But good enough is better than waiting 3, 6, 9, 12 months for something that is going to be stale already when it sees the light of day. And so we always say, get things out there quickly, be learning from them, iterate, get the next thing out there better. This is a way of doing that with your website as well, even though many of us are used to doing that on the marketing side [inaudible 00:13:05].

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. I agree with that a hundred percent. I think like the other big piece about doing it quickly that way, is you keep the interest of your team and you don't burn out your team. We talk about this a lot on the branding side of things, about, move quickly through the brand [inaudible 00:13:19] you have energy for implementation. This is the same basic concept. In some ways I think probably we're often talking about just the same thing over and over again, replicated into different areas, but keep enough energy so that your design team still wants to work on the website after the thing is launched to improve it. And they're not avoiding it like the plague because they've been staring at it for nine months.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. This is true again with your marketing program and your website, is that no matter how good you are and no matter how big your budget is, you're not going to learn as much from really smart UI/UX people or taking people through a beta site, even if they're customer demos, et cetera. You're not going to learn as much as he will getting it live and into the hands of your prospects and customers who are going to interact with it. And so learning live from them is more valuable than anything else. And so if you can, I know easier said than done, but remove the preciousness of the website in your mind and realize just like anything else, digitally things can be done and redone very quickly. You can launch new functionality quickly, learn from it, take something down, start something over, redo something that's not working. But if you think of your website in this way, you can get a lot faster improvement and better results quicker.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. I think about, what executive have you ever talked to that's like, "Okay, come back in a year and show me ROI." They're like, "I want my MQL's or my sales qualified leads three months ago."

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah.

Josh Dougherty:

If you can launch a new homepage in one month and then a new blog and then new other functionality, you're immediately able to start twisting that curve of sales qualified leads up so that you're able to, I think report back to your C-suite faster and be more successful with them and gain more buy-in and new budget. It's a really virtuous cycle, but it just requires some shifts and thinking and shifts in how you're working.

Polly Yakovich:

We talked a little bit about, just to reiterate, let's talk about the nuts and bolts of how to do this process and unpack a couple of terms for you. We've talked a little bit around them, but how do we approach this process strategically?

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. In a strategy perspective, like we've always been for probably, I don't know, the 12, 13 years I've been building websites, you're always going to start with the strategic frameworks at the beginning to understand, where are we going and what are we trying to do? The thing that still is true in a growth-driven design situation, is you want to get a really clear and empathetic understanding of your target audience and the world that they live in, because you're building something for them, not for you, despite what some people may tell you as you're building something. You also want to have a very clear idea of where you're going from a KPI perspective and the business goals section, because we've always talked about how the best sites live at the intersection of your business goals and your audience's needs, and where you can make those two things exist symbiotically together.

Josh Dougherty:

But the difference here is then you're going to immediately in a growth-driven design situation start thinking about, which of these KPIs are the most important that we have to drive forward right now? And then how can a simple site solve for those most important challenges upfront? Because what we're going to ask ourselves to do as we dive into growth-driven design, is start with something simple and then build on it. So you really need to do some work to distill down to what the kernel of success looks like. And then you're going to want to capture a wishlist for all the other features and functionality that you have upcoming. We're going to go back and reevaluate that against data over time. You're still going to capture, what's that wishlist? You're still going to build the strategy, but you're going to want to become really focused on that most important stuff so that you can get started quickly.

Polly Yakovich:

What's next?

Josh Dougherty:

Next you're going to dive into building a launchpad site. A launchpad site really serves as the foundation from which you're going to iterate. It's nice to have thought of the whole wishlist, because then you can choose a platform that's going to work well for you. You can set up your information architecture, your site map in a way that it's going to work for you. But typically a launchpad is going to be something really simple. It could be, like we did this recently with a client, we redid their blog and their homepage, and that was the launch pad site. We kept all the other functionality because they couldn't get rid of the older, the other stuff, but we revamped those pieces and then we're now we're moving on systematically and working through the rest of the site over time and improving it. It could be that you have a product that you've overcomplicated over time and you can-

Polly Yakovich:

[inaudible 00:18:09]

Josh Dougherty:

Cut your site. Never. It's never happened. We've never done that.

Polly Yakovich:

No.

Josh Dougherty:

You could cut your site down to three pages and retell the story.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. That hard to convince your team to do, but sometimes possible.

Josh Dougherty:

Sometimes it can happen. Not usually, but you could do just, we're going to have a homepage and product pages. We're going to have a homepage and a couple other pages. But regardless of what it is, it's just like what is the simplest version we could go live with next or first, and stakeholders would be okay with it and it would serve the needs of the business? That's your launchpad. Ideally when we're doing this, we focus on how do we launch this in four to six weeks? Which is a dramatic speed up from a typical web design process that's usually five to seven months at a minimum.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I want to say something about the launchpad, both pro and con. I would say if you're going this route, obviously the pros are, if you can deliver a brand new homepage in four to six weeks, that's what most people are seeing, that's what they're interested in. Whether they're internal stakeholders or external, this really gets you to that upgrade really quickly. That feels great to the team. That feels great to people who want their leads yesterday.

Josh Dougherty:

It feels great to customers who couldn't find anything on your previous homepage, and now they can understand, here's what you do and here's where I find the information I need.

Polly Yakovich:

The cons are, trying to communicate more internally and train your team that, yes, the site is somewhat in congruence for a period of time, a reminder, because this is always, I think an internal management issue, a reminder of, remember how we talked through this process and then, yes, this page isn't done yet. Because inevitably they'll see a new homepage and be like, "Oh, what about this other page? Doesn't look good." Like, yep, this is on the roadmap and when? So there is I think a little bit of constant reeducation of your internal stakeholders about what they'll get and when. Again, can you speak to that in congruity, Josh, and what that feels like to the user experience? I would say we as internal marketers overblow it so much more than what the customer sees and the benefits you get from the upgrades, are so strong that they're worth. That maybe perhaps slightly off look, but that's still in brand. And that your customers aren't noticing as much as you do.

Josh Dougherty:

I think if your site is really in need of an upgrade, you should just upgrade no matter what and not worry about it. And so that's a hard case to make, but I think you can make that through data. If it's an old site, people are bouncing off of it a ton. There's not a lot of page views for visits, some people maybe are going to 1.2 pages every time they visit. You can make a really strong case that there isn't any congruity because no one's looking at any other page on the site.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. You can also do some mitigating things like throw a new template in on pages that you're going to go in and rework so that it doesn't... Maybe there's a hybrid option.

Josh Dougherty:

Say we recently redesigned as part of the launchpad, this was an older site, which it's funny to think that these sites still exist, but they do. If you have one don't feel too bad. It wasn't mobile responsive at all. Essentially what we did on all the sub pages that we weren't really looking at to improve their functionality at this point, is we did implement a mobile responsive template, which upgraded the look and feel to match everything. The content was still very disorganized, et cetera, but it allowed it to look similar to the new portions of the site.

Josh Dougherty:

But I think overall us marketers are very precious about our congruity, and the reality is if you're unhappy with your website upgrading part of it, so you're happy with it, is going to make you look better to the rest of the world and then we'll represent your brand better. And so we just need to be open to the fact that people know things are evolving and they'd much rather have things continually get better than they're going to notice the new functionality not the old functionality that they're already used to and maybe look the best.

Polly Yakovich:

Yep. A hundred percent. Okay. What comes after the launchpad?

Josh Dougherty:

After launchpad, what we like to do as an agency, and you can decide what your cadence is, is run six week design sprints. The amazing part about growth during design is you can really zero in on what is the cost for this launchpad? And then you can say, we're going to just make our design sprints cost and be however many hours we want them to be, and then we fit functionality into the cost, versus fitting cost into functionality. Which is I think what you did previously with the website, when you have this longer process you sold a big dollar amount upfront, and then you just start jamming things into it.

Josh Dougherty:

What I mean by that is, when we do a six week design sprint, it's 130 hours of work and we go through that whole wishlist that we created during the strategy portion of the site. We assign hours to each of the user stories that we came up with during that wishlist, as we were building that wishlist. So each of the items on the wishlist has hours assigned to it. And then we just drag them in until we're up to 130. Now we're working with the client to prioritize and say, which of these wishlist items should go in to-

Polly Yakovich:

And obviously you're prioritizing versus, what's going to be improving your KPIs first-

Josh Dougherty:

Exactly.

Josh Dougherty:

Et cetera. Yeah. On the one I would say you're driving in mostly on like, oh, we need to get this new stuff up because our site is not finished right now. But after sprint one, sprint two, you can look back at the results and then talk about KPIs, all that sort of thing. We're going to review the site performance. We're going to choose which wishlist items to bring in, and then we're going to use a process that I think anyone who's worked in agile will understand. We use internally a Kanban board of just dragging stuff over into whether it's a backlog item or it's moved into a work in progress, or it's in review, QA, QC, or it's being developed, or it's launching.

Josh Dougherty:

We're going to over that six weeks, just reiteratively release new functionality with the goal of it essentially working through all the items on that wishlist over a six week period. Which gets really exciting for people, because then they're seeing new features not only launch at the end of that six weeks, but potentially throughout that six weeks if we can launch things that are independent and will live on their own.

Josh Dougherty:

This process is, again, requires close collaboration. It probably requires more of like a stand-up culture than you've had in the past with other projects. It requires some buy-in from your executive team to have that ongoing budget committed, but it allows you to build in a much more predictable way. Like Polly said, if you're looking at KPIs, you might come up with an item after you've completed a sprint that isn't even in your wishlist, but you realized after looking at how the site is performing, what feedback you're getting, you could create something new that needs to be pulled into the next sprint without any cost to yourself, or without it really losing anything, which is so valuable.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. The question remains, are people amenable to this process? It's really interesting, because I think if you've listened to this whole thing, a lot of you probably are listening along and nodding and being like, that just makes sense. It does. But some people just aren't familiar with this kind of thinking. I mean, we've been in pitches for websites and have presented our work this way and people have been terrified. It's just not how they thought about rebuilding their website. And so sometimes people aren't comfortable. They want to do that standard process and they're going to get what they get. I would say if you're on an internal team, if you work with an agency or an outside vendor to create a website, start thinking about how you can move along this direction, because this direction, despite all the advantages to you and the way you think about operating within this like iteration and constant improvement on your website, it's also much more responsive to your audience and more successful and results oriented path.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. Because at the end of the day, the longer redesigned process leads to a really sophisticated art project. I mean, I'm not trying to be disparaging because I built highly performing websites in that older process, but [crosstalk 00:26:53].

Polly Yakovich:

Project.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. Exactly. But at the same time I might have form optimization on every sprint perpetually for a growth-driven design site because we learned something over six weeks of running data, we find out we could have adjusted how these forms and these landing pages are working and we're consistently iterating on them as we're building out larger functionality. Now the larger functionality is cool, it makes people feel good, it might add some incremental value. But if I can increase my form performance by 70%, every six weeks, that's going to drive more revenue for the client, or for the client for us if you're on an internal team. But it's some of those non attractive things that are actually going to create results and turn your website into more of a profit generating center for you than it was before.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. If your program's running this way, if you're running a content program, if your program is really tasked with bringing in leads and qualifying leads, you can't divorce the website from your thinking. You can't have this website that sits on this every three year iteration and then fight it all the time. It has to be a part of your iteration, optimization, constant growth flexing with what's available and what you can do, et cetera.

Josh Dougherty:

Yep. Ideally, once you get started, you don't have to do a major redesign again because it's just part of your culture to be iterating and changing.

Polly Yakovich:

Absolutely. Hopefully that gave you some food for thought. Any last thoughts on that Josh?

Josh Dougherty:

Just that you should pursue your marketing program this way, if you don't already.

Polly Yakovich:

Absolutely.

Josh Dougherty:

It's really hard and it's hard to make the transition, but once you make the transition, you can see the benefits.

Polly Yakovich:

Sometimes for people who are in budget cycles, that can be complicated. You might want to start talking up this process now for 2022 budgets. It does change the way you think about things and I know people get locked into the way their budgets are set up. This may be something you want to start shopping around if you haven't been thinking this way, so that you can start aligning your budget and your measurables to fit these processes.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. I guess the only other thing I'd say you've mentioned a few minutes ago, talking about those organizations [inaudible 00:29:15] work for people. What type of organization is this good for? I won't be as bold to say that it needs to be how organizations operate. You operate your business, and we certainly have been in pitches where people have been scared and they've turned us down because they don't want to work this way, and they want to have more of that slower process. But the world doesn't work on a slow process anymore. And so my encouragement, if you've listened to this and you're scared about, how would my organization embrace this, or how could we actually get this done? Is to take a step back and ask yourself, how has the world shifted over the last five years, technologically? Will that slower process even be responsive to how the world works today? Because I don't think it is. And so we need to be really careful to be changing and shifting as marketers to how the world works, not working in a paradigm that feels comfortable to us.

Polly Yakovich:

Yeah. I think that's a great note to end on. I also want to say, we'll put in the show notes, we have a couple, we have a post up on our blog about this topic. There's a couple of great HubSpot posts and even a training you can do. We really encourage you to lean in and be thinking this way. Obviously about your website, we've been focusing on that today, and then also broader implications for your marketing program as a whole. All right. Thanks for listening. Thanks for joining me, Josh.

Josh Dougherty:

Yeah. Thanks for having me the [inaudible 00:30:42].

Polly Yakovich:

You're about halfway to your free steak dinner.

Josh Dougherty:

Yes. Yes baby.

Polly Yakovich:

All right. See you next time.

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