Just like you wouldn’t start a house remodel by knocking down walls without making sure they’re not load-bearing, you shouldn’t approach a website redesign by simply removing everything you have and restarting from scratch. You first need to understand what’s working and not working on the current site—so you know what can and should be preserved. And that includes:
Here is a two-part research framework to help you get started finding all the data you need (and more) to carry out a successful redesign. We wrote this with an ecommerce website in mind, but most of it is applicable to non-ecommerce sites as well.
A handful of URLs on your website likely contributes to a large percentage of conversions: any untested or careless changes to those pages could potentially break the experience and tank revenue as a result. But other landing pages may not have many visitors, or may contribute to an irrelevant number of conversions. The two types of pages are clearly not created equal—you need to be way more cautious in the first case than in the second.
You can use this framework to categorize your pages into four main groups:
Here are the 3 steps you need to take to identify and categorize your top paths with Google Analytics:
Step 1: collect data in Google Analytics
Step 2: organize and categorize the data in Google Sheets/Excel/a spreadsheet
Step 3: segment your traffic further in Google Analytics
🔥Important word of advice: the process we followed so far looks at landing pages, but in an ecommerce setting you obviously will also need to evaluate pages that form part of the overall journey and lead to purchase, such as account sign-in, basket, checkout steps, etc. In our example, the basket and sign-in pages both qualify as a ‘redesign with care’ because of their high conversion, low landing traffic status—but since they both will be seen by a lot of people throughout their journey, you can move them to the ‘redesign with 10x care’ category:
Once you have your top paths, it’s time to dig a bit deeper into each page—because it’s not just the URLs themselves you’ll need to focus on, it’s also (and mostly) the people visiting them. Let’s use /home as an example:
Once you’ve identified your top conversion paths, you’ll have a good idea of how much care to apply when redesigning each individual page (or set of pages) people land on and browse through. Now it’s time to dig deeper into who these people are, why they got to your website in the first place, and what is stopping them or moving them forward.
You cannot do this in Google Analytics, so your next move is to combine data from GA with insight from third-party behavior analytics software like Hotjar. In the next few sections, we’ll show you how to do using a simple research framework one-pager that you can download and use throughout the next part of the process.
In this section, you’re going to learn how to:
A. Identify your top personas and what drives them to your site
B. Identify where and why people are exiting your website
C. Identify what persuades your customers to convert
Visitors and potential customers come to your website for different reasons:
If you treat all visitors the same or make assumptions about why they are coming to your site without validating it with real data, you won’t be able to tailor the redesign experience and/or prioritize the right messages for the customer segments that are most important to your business. The first thing to do is define your top personas and their drivers.
⚠️Why this is important: user personas are realistic representations of your visitors and customers; they help you get a clearer sense of who your ideal customers are, why they are reaching your website, and what helps them in their path to conversion.
How to do it → set up an on-page survey using Hotjar (they’re called Polls within the dashboard). In the Questions section, add three open-ended questions in this order:
Use the Targeting option to set the survey to appear for specific devices on your top landing pages (the ones you identified in the previous steps).
After collecting a number of answer that is representative of your website traffic (e.g. if you get thousands of visitors a day, don’t stop after collecting 10 or 15 answers!) follow the steps from this article to identify your user personas and organize your answers into a list of the main ‘drivers’ that people want to fulfill on your site.
✅Next: fill in the redesign research plan with your top 3 drivers and personas
While many people may arrive at your website, only some of them complete the journey to conversion (if you’re in ecommerce, the average conversion rate you can expect hovers around 2%). People who came without a desire to convert are unlikely to be swayed; but some of your visitors may be actively trying to complete an action, and something on your website is stopping them from doing so. That’s why the next step in your redesign process is investigating what, if anything, is currently not working on your existing pages.
⚠️Why this is important: you want your redesign to help even more people who visit your high-traffic, high-conversion pages convert, so you need to figure out why some currently don’t.
How to do it → you need to dig deeper and answer these two questions:
1. Where are people leaving the site?
2. What could be causing them to leave?
#1. Find where people are leaving your site
Head back to your Google Analytics account and reach Behavior > Site Content > Exit Pages. Make a note of the pages with a high exit rate:
Bear in mind that some pages should have high exit rates (thank-you pages, for example, are a prime candidate: customers got what they came for and now they’re naturally ready to leave). But pages like your contact form, pricing page, or shopping carts are common culprits for drop-offs; and you can use the Conversions > Ecommerce > Checkout Behavior report to find where people exit their session on their way towards a purchase.
In our example, most drop-offs happen on the Billing and Shipping page:
This answers the ‘where are people dropping off’ question—and now, you need to investigate the why.
#2. Find the most problematic section(s) of the drop-off pages Once you know that people leave on a specific page or set of pages, you want to investigate what is making them leave at that point in their journey. Start by setting up a Hotjar Heatmap:
In addition to heatmaps, review Session Recordings to see how people interact with the page as part of their wider journey. Use the filter function to find sessions that end on your drop-off pages:
As you watch the selected recordings, make a note of whether your visitors:
Combining insights from heatmaps and recordings will give you a much better sense of how to proceed with your website redesign: which page elements to preserve, which to remove or edit, and what changes to make to the overall site flow to allow people to find what they currently cannot.
✅Next: fill in the redesign research plan with the top 3 barriers or obstacles you have identified.
#3. Collect feedback on what’s ruining the experience Hotjar Heatmaps and Recordings can help you make sense of your customers’ journey across your website and on specific pages, and you can even come up with a pretty solid list of what’s working and isn’t based on observation alone—but you still need to hear directly from your customer so they can confirm your hypothesis and tell you exactly why something needs fixing.
Start by setting up Hotjar’s Incoming Feedback widget on your pages, and wait for people to leave their comments:
In addition to rating their experience, your visitors will be able to take screenshots of specific page portions they want to comment on. Filter the results for the high-exit pages you found in the previous steps, and start reviewing your results by making a note of all ‘hate’ and ‘dislike’ comments (but also take note of the positive feedback, so you don’t remove what people already like!).
As an additional step, go back to using on-site surveys to prompt direct answers from your visitors. Set up a one-question poll and ask one of these questions:
Analyze your open-ended questions based on the results you collect. At this point, you should start to see some barriers that might be stopping visitors from completing specific actions on these pages: your redesign should investigate whether you can resolve them with design, clearer copy, a different page architecture, or other on-page changes.
✅Next: fill in the redesign research plan with the top 3 reasons why customers leave your website—in their own words.
At this point, you’re almost there: your final step is identifying the nudges or ‘hooks’ that push people to convert. And for that, you need to talk to people who have already converted—and get to the bottom of what almost stopped them, and what ultimately propelled them forward.
⚠️Why this is important: without asking people who have converted about their experience, you will not be able to identify conversion-boosting insights or ‘hooks’ that you can amplify for all other visitors; similarly, you will not be able to understand the fears and/or concerns that almost stopped these people on their conversion journey, so you can address the same obstacles for everybody else.
How to do it → set up a post-purchase survey on your thank-you page (or send a survey via email to your new customers soon after they convert) and use it to ask these three questions:
1. How would you rate your overall experience?
2a. If the answer to question 1 is positive, ask: What did you love the most about the experience?
2b. If the answer to question 1 is negative, ask: What can we do to improve the experience?
3. What almost stopped you from completing your purchase?
At this point, you can also review data from your Incoming Feedback widget (which we discussed in point B) and filter by ‘love’ to see if there are any on-page elements that your customers and users particularly appreciate.
A website redesign deserves a lot of in-depth customer investigation. In addition to using polls and surveys on your pages, talking to existing customers about their pain points is a valuable source of information. Contact 5-10 of your top customers (those who fit your user persona and have purchased multiple times) and see whether you can ask them a few questions about their order, in person or via phone call. You might need to offer an incentive for this, such as money off their next purchase, for people to agree—but we guarantee it will be money very well spent.
Read the ‘own the relationship with your customers’ section of this article on product/market fit for a few practical tips on how to get started with customer interviews.
You can also go back to Session recordings, and compare recordings of people who visited your purchase confirmation URL (and have therefore converted) with recordings of people who never made it there:
Then, spend a few hours diving into your recordings, asking yourself:
You might find that people who do convert click key buttons like a CTA, but those who exit without purchasing don’t. Similarly, you might find that non-converters spend a long time hovering over your navigation bar, something that customers don’t do. What you’re looking for is not just how people navigate through the site from page to page, but also how they behave within a page: what did they stop at, what's sticky, what attracts attention.
✅Next: fill in the redesign research plan with the top 3 hooks and top 3 fears/concerns people experience when converting on your website.
As you fill in your redesign research template, you will see that existing issues and potential opportunities start coming into sharper focus. Something we recommend at this point is that you use the filled-in template to summarize the data you have gathered so far and present it to your teammates/colleagues/stakeholders. You can then open up a discussion, collect more and different insights from other team members (for example, Sales and Success teams who are in regular touch with your customers) and find a collective way forward for your website redesign.