February 16, 2006, 12:00 AM

Some firms still don’t measure the business impact of web site design

Only 13% of 89 online companies surveyed by Forrester Research measure the financial impact of every web site design change. To get the most out of site improvements, companies must close the gap between business managers and designers, Forrester says.

For web site operators, design changes amount to business decisions, but some online companies still haven’t made that connection, according to findings from Forrester Research. Of web professionals at 89 companies surveyed by Forrester, only 13% measure the ROI of all the changes they make to their sites. Half measured the ROI of major changes, but most of the rest don’t measure the ROI of any changes, citing resource constraints.

According to Forrester’s report, “Learning the value of effective site design,” by analyst Nate Root, if sites don`t measure the financial impact of all design changes, “It’s not clear whether web designers are making real progress or just keeping busy.” While 96% of those polled rated improvement to their online customer’s experience, only 3% of reviews of more than 700 web sites conducted by Forrester received a passing grade – more than 25+ on a scale of -50 to +50.

But the handful of firms that do measure the business impact of web site design changes have seen corresponding results in areas such as increased revenue and lower support costs. Staples.com, for example, redesigned its registration page to integrate error messages right into the page instead of on the next page. That change and other usability improvements lowered the drop-off rate from registration by 73%, according to Forrester.

Firms must learn that effective site design is a business imperative, says Forrester, and the first step is to close the gap between designers and business leaders. That includes teaching business management the language of design. “Replace the next chart-topping business book they read with a simple design primer,” suggests the report. “The point is just to make them conversant enough in design concepts to take them seriously.”

In the future, according to Forrester, online companies will be able to look for staff from new college programs that incorporate an emphasis on site design into the business curriculum.

Forrester analyst Tamara Mendelsohn will speak at the Internet Retailer 2006 Conference in June in Chicago on the topic, “Putting the ‘World’ in WWW: Strategies for Selling Globally.”

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