As a long-time advocate for the use of the SEO and CRO tandem for creating more effective and highly performing websites, I am very much impressed by people who can seamlessly combine these two disciplines. People like author and speaker Ben Hunt, who has been a web designer since the early years of the Internet and whose claim to fame includes being among the pioneering web designers to apply direct marketing techniques in web design.
For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Ben Hunt is the owner of Ben Hunt Limited, a UK-based company that provides training services and resources to web professionals who want to make better websites. In a nutshell, Ben has made it his life-long mission to educate other web designers on creating websites that sell, and is going to be one of the speakers for Conversion Conference’ first ever Chicago show. Read on to get to know Ben Hunt and his journey as a web designer and digital marketer:
Can you tell us more about yourself? How long have you been a web designer and what prompted you to start your own company?
I got into web designing when I was studying media at University around 1994. I had previously studied fine art, and I loved visual design, mathematics, psychology, and computers. So web design was perfect for me, because it was a fresh medium that I could manipulate visually, plus the only way to make web pages was with hand-rolled HTML, which satisfied my love of problem solving.
Having freelanced and held various agency positions, I started my first agency around 2004. I found it fairly easy to win work, and initially had grand ideas of opening offices in London, New York and Sydney. I had been blogging about web design since ’04. Over time, I realised that what I really loved was pushing the boundaries of my thinking. So I started to lean towards writing and teaching and away from delivering web projects.
What motivated you to self-publish your first book ‘Save the Pixel’?
It started out as a collection of redesigns, back in 2007. My idea was to publish a book of “before and after” home page designs. I hired a co-writer and we started to piece together the content that would cement the designs together. As I explained my processes, a structure seemed to emerge. That grew into a book where the redesigns served to illustrate each concept.
I came up with the title just before publishing the ebook. I thought it needed something that sounded like a rallying cry or campaign, something that people could use as a touchstone. I published it in PDF form at Christmas 2008, since when it has sold about 10,000 copies.
You also wrote “Convert! Designing web sites for traffic and conversion” which Wiley published in 2011. In this book, you began to focus on designing websites that do very well in terms of ROI, is that right? What inspired this shift in perspective?
I had always been interested in making websites and user interfaces that were easy to use. Fortunately, I have never been too proud to admit when I’m wrong and to change my own point of view. That’s exactly what I had to do – in the most dramatic terms – in 2009.
One day I got a message from Ken McCarthy, founder of the System Seminar. Since the very early days, Ken’s mission had been to inject the best practices of direct marketing into the web industry. Ken asked me to present on the design of Web 2.0 at one of his seminars in London. That is where my eyes were opened to the simple fact that web is just marketing, and its effectiveness could be tested, measured, and improved.
I was particularly struck by a presentation by the legendary DM copywriter Drayton Bird, who blew my mind with the results of a number of split-tests. You can see part of Drayton’s presentation here http://www.systemintensive.com/uk/.
Later in the day we had a Q&A session, and one of Ken’s attendees asked me directly what evidence I could share that proved the effectiveness of the simple web design approach I had been preaching.
I was shocked to realise that I had no proof at all. At that point, I swore to myself that I would discover “what works” in web design, master it, and help share it with the world.
I’m a big fan of SiteTuners CEO Tim Ash. Do you think he is right that “web designers can kill you” (business-wise, at least)? What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that web designers continue to make when creating websites?
Absolutely! Left unchecked, web designers can demolish any effectiveness your website may already have.
The worst mistakes are:
♦ Designing the packaging, instead of the content.
♦ Underestimating the sovereign importance of great writing.
♦ Not realising that web design is marketing, and that it can – and should – prove its worth, numerically.
♦ Designing for their own sensibilities, instead of the true target market.
♦ Failing to provide compelling calls to action (actually, often failing to include any call to action at all).
♦ Making text small, grey, and impossible to read.
I could go on. And on. And on.
You’re flying in from the UK as one of the speakers for Conversion Conference in June. What can attendees look forward to at your session in Chicago?
I would like everyone to leave that session with a radically different picture of the way the web can work for them. I’ll be showing how it is possible to construct content pages that get heaps of organic traffic, and push those visitors into simple and effective conversion funnels.
I want everyone to be thinking, “Wow, how can I apply that to my website tomorrow?”
And if they get a few laughs as well, that will be a bonus.
Now there’s one more reason to be at Conversion Conference Chicago. If you’re keen to meet Ben Hunt, register by May 11th –-that’s 2 weeks from now—to automatically save up to $500 on your Conversion Conference pass. Want to save some more? Get an additional $100 off your Conversion Conference pass by using code CH12344.