Blow up your website and start over

7 tips on building a better website from the COO of Airtasker

Design is not just how your product looks, it’s how it works and fits together. That’s a mantra espoused by everyone from Steve Jobs to Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. And it’s true.

People increasingly only want to interact with beautiful products that help them seamlessly get the job done. For web businesses, your website is your storefront and the look and feel can mean the difference between success and failure. Competitors are only a click away.

Conversely, if you do it well, design is a huge competitive advantage and technology is enabling SMBs to compete with industry giants. The challenge for us webmasters, particularly in the world of e-commerce, is that the goal posts are constantly moving, whether it’s technological change or evolving consumer behaviours and tastes. Platforms and systems must be constantly revisited and kept up to date.

We recently sat down to review our technology framework and it led to the most significant overhaul since our launch in February 2012. Even in that short time, our technology and skills required heavy updating. Since we took the plunge we’ve kicked our growth into a new gear, as the below graph demonstrates:

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Here’s what we learned:

1. Build a Responsive Design website — having a desktop app and a ‘m dot’ app just doesn’t cut it these days as there are smartphones with a baffling array of screen sizes, tablets, phablets and touch-screen laptops, to name a few. Consumers are drowning in devices. This is great, but it means many businesses have resorted to building multiple distinct sites — an unnecessary burden on your team both from a technology and a product consistency standpoint.

Even if you built a desktop and mobile site, you would never be able to account for every variation. Adopting a responsive design approach will not only address these problems but will ultimately deliver an optimum experience to each user across all devices. Consider choosing a front-end framework that will best deliver this experience to users with the flexibility to adjust quickly when needed. We’ve chosen to develop a custom JavaScript frontend but have also dabbled with Foundation by Zurb.

2. Leverage core user behaviour into your new UI — Watch closely what your users do on your site and focus on tailoring the experience accordingly. For Airtasker, our users’ core behaviour revolves around browsing through user-generated tasks, profiles and recent activity. We saw that better content led to greater engagement, which in turn led to longer sessions where users would keep coming back to Airtasker, so we focused heavily on making browsing content even easier than before to support this activity.

If you focus on your strengths and make decisions based on data this will allow you to acquire more users over time and make better use of any traffic you are driving to your site.

3. Address 'performance as a feature' — Speed is no longer a nice to have; it’s a minimum expectation for consumers. No one is going to sit around waiting for your site to load. Page load times impact search rankings, user engagement and ultimately your customer conversions and revenue. Issues with a slow website are compounded by the fact that mobile devices traditionally operate over congested mobile networks, so you should start by optimising the most important parts of your application with SQL/database optimisations, caching common search queries and by rendering your user facing application in stages to show progress to a user while they wait for your page to load.

4. Location based awareness — Employing Search & SEM segmenting techniques as well as geo-locating users who arrive at your site will help you speak to your customers in the right context. The better you can gauge your customers’ intent, the more relevant information you can present to them and the better your engagement will be as a result.

Airtasker is a very location-aware service so it’s a no brainer for us; however for new users in particular, we will pre-set any forms or filters they might need to fill out with their detected location to speed up conversions. We’ll also show content relevant to their location such as tasks nearby to keep the value proposition relevant.

5. Invest in User Experience (UX) — I cannot stress enough the importance of UX in today’s online industry as it could literally be the biggest difference between your site and a competitor’s site. Think of which retail brands you love and how they achieved that, a lot of it has to do with a great customer experience. Regardless of what you’re selling, in the online world it’s no different, even if you don’t have any retail stores or physical presence.

What this meant for us was to optimise everything that a user would read, touch and feel on our site including using a consistent design and colour scheme, intuitive user interface (such as navigation menus), using dynamic and contextual wording for almost every page, and loading the right features at the right time to improve speed of the site.

6. Make your funnels digestible — Asking the right question at the right time is the key to getting potential customers through your funnels. I like to think of it as handholding each person through every step of the process without overdoing the messaging and then recognising whether the question you are asking is relevant to that part of the process.

Often you should break the next questions out into a smaller, digestible section. Breaking down your funnel should improve conversion by preventing users from being overwhelmed by the plethora of data you need to capture.

However, by doing the above you’re also able to capture smaller, distinct triggers within the funnel that now give you a lead to follow up on, even if the user drops out of your funnel after that point. We’ve been able to achieve significant uplift in our conversions with this approach, as we’re confident that so long as we know a little bit about why you sought out Airtasker, we’ll be able to get the right message to you at a time that suits you.

7. Track everything — If you’re only just catching on to the benefits of data visualisation (a.k.a. ‘big data’), then you’re probably well behind already, but performing a website rebuild is the perfect opportunity to get your data up to scratch. Data is your core IP and is the one thing that no competitor could ever take from you, so make sure you use that to your advantage!

By tracking as much as you can, even if you don’t necessarily need the information yet, you’ll avoid kicking yourself when you look back in six months' time and realise you have no retrospective data to work with and no opportunities to identify. I am a big believer of data-driven decisions and this has helped us immensely at Airtasker by being able to back up gut instincts and big decisions with factual numbers and clear data trends.

Jonathan Lui is the chief operating officer of Airtasker, a Sydney-headquartered startup that provides an online task-based marketplace.

Read more: In pictures: Getting the IT right for activity-based working

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