Website Strategy, Web Design, GDD Process

8 Ways Growth-Driven Design Can Go Wrong (and how to avoid them)

Looking to redesign and optimize your website? Growth-Driven Design (GDD) is rapidly becoming the new gold standard for web design and optimization. As thousands of companies around the world successfully implement Growth-Driven Design, we are seeing some impressive results. 

A 2017 agency survey reported Growth-Driven Design engagements boast 17% more leads and 11% more revenue than traditional web design six months after launch! It is hard to deny the power of the Growth-Driven Design methodology. As good as this sounds, Growth-Driven Design is just a methodology and just like any methodology, it can also go wrong.

This article will outline the eight most common ways I've seen GDD go wrong and solutions on how to avoid them. I hope reading (and sharing with stakeholders) this will help you avoid the pitfalls and successfully launch a peak performing website using Growth-Driven Design. 

1. Building the full website launch pad

Growth-Driven Design relies on getting a launch pad up quickly, gathering data and improving on your findings. It’s a concept a lot of people can understand, but the reality can be difficult for some people to accept.

During the launch plan building phase, there can be a tendency to revert back to the old way, trying to create the ‘perfect’ launch site by introducing more-and-more pages and functionality into the launch pad.

My solution:

I’ve found this desire for the fully built site tends to come from the top, with the business owner or higher management wanting the website to shout about EVERYTHING the company does (even the non-priority products or services).

To overcome this you need to get these people involved in the process early, so they are educated and bought into what GDD is and how continuous improvement works.

You’re going to need a strong person at the helm of the project, someone who is willing to draw a line in the sand and stand firm that only high impact, needed, items are included in the launch pad. Everything else stays on the wishlist (for now).


2. Content - the killer of a fast launch

Discussing, collating, writing, proofing, editing and optimizing content for a website takes time. Everyone grossly underestimates how long it takes so it’s no surprise it is the number one hold up in any web design project.


Having content that holds up the launch pad leads to a frustrating project right off the bat, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid with GDD. More importantly, it delays us from getting actionable data which can be the penultimate factor when it comes to hitting your project goals.

My solution:

Start early. Estimate how long it will take to do this, taking into account all the steps mentioned about and then double it (seriously).

If you are planning to use an agency, start gathering this information BEFORE you appoint the agency or use an agency who provide content as part of the project - agencies are the masters of creating content at scale.

3. Shifting website priorities away from original goals

People are easily distracted by ‘shining things’ - new website trends, widgets, functionalities - and higher management are the masters of passing down ‘must haves’ for the website which they have been passed on from someone they met at a networking event,

These ‘shining things’ often don’t move the project close to achieving the original goals.

My solution:

The GDD process accounts for this. By having the project goals discussed and documented upfront you can impact score every idea against these goals. Meaning ‘shining things’ get pushed lower in the wishlist, so the project stays on track with the original goals.

4. Only building net-new items vs. optimizing existing items

I’ve certainly noticed a trend during the continuous improvement phase for focusing ideas and resources on new items - thinking more new stuff (pages, modules, design elements, landing pages etc) will lead to better results.

While new stuff certainly does correlate with better results, often the quickest wins and best results can be found in optimizing existing items.

My solution:

Growth-Driven Design is a data-driven approach. We set up listening, monitoring and tracking tools not just to get data - but to act on the data, i.e. improve the website. During the continuous improvement cycle, it is vital that you analyze the data and find areas to optimize. This can be as simple as  increasing the conversion rate on a landing page or adding an frequently asked question to a service page - you are going to get more noticeable uplifts from optimizing items you already possess data on.

To really drive forward there should be a healthy mix of both new item creation and optimizing of current assets.


5. Freaking out when an experiment fails

In an ideal world all your ideas / hypotheses will work, bearing amazing results - but in reality some will fail, it’s the nature of the beast. As marketers, we are all pretty used to this, however web projects will include stakeholders which are accustomed to failures being acceptable - Business Owners, C-Suite, Sales Directors, among others.


My solution:

To keep your boss (or client, if you are an agency) off your back and accept that failures are needed to driver forward you need to do two things.

  1. Be frank and upfront that some experiments will fail, this way when an experiment doesn’t go quite right you aren’t dropping it on them for the first time - this will really help manage expectations.

  2. Make sure during the buy-in process you educate all stakeholders on why failing forward is key in any form of marketing. Show them that all high growth companies have this attitude.

For example, I recently spoke with Matt Barby (Head of Growth) and Kipp Bodnar (CMO) at HubSpot. They both staggered me with how much they are prepared to fail to move forward. Matt said up to 80% of their budget is spent on ‘failed’ activities, while Kipp stressed how much money you are leaving on the table is all your experiments work.

6. Using the wrong CMS

Growth-Driven Design runs on an agile framework so you need a flexible, usable and scalable CMS to develop on. Going live with a launch pad website in 30-60 days and running 7 day continuous development sprints will be all but impossible on a clunky, pure code, CMS.

Additionally, having a CMS which is controlled by outside developers and is not usable by your marketing team creates delays, bottlenecks and slowdowns. 

My solution:

Growth-Driven Design blends the lines between website development and marketing. So when thinking CMS, I always make sure that 99% of experiments can be done by the marketing team.

Choice of CMS is a pretty big decision but we picked our core CMSs based on a strong in platform editor, quick deployment capabilities and a great community. For these reasons we tend to look at HubSpot COS / website platform are our main lead gen CMS (Wordpress is a great alternative) or for those clients who are ecommerce-led, Magento or Shopify.

New Call-to-action7. Not harvesting data

After the website launches the GDD methodology includes a period to harvest data and look for quick wins. During the harvest phase people can get so pumped the website is launched that they can’t wait to move onto the next best thing, hitting up and getting started on the ever growing wish list. They get so excited that they forgot to sit back and let some data come in first.

My solution:

Growth-Driven Design is all about moving away from assumptions to growing based on data, without data that’s pretty hard. So at this phase you need to try and curb that enthusiasm somewhat and focus on gathering the hard-earned data.

Again, it’s all about educating stakeholders on the importance of data and the methodology we are working through. Working on the audience phase next, rather than going randomly into the wish list. We need a large enough and accurate sample size to prevent missteps and future bottlenecks.

8. Not thinking long-term

Finally, going into GDD without a longtime mindset is a mistake. Some stakeholders can think a launch pad and few months optimization is a quicker (and maybe cheaper) way to get a website.

My solution:

The truth is it takes time to get a website running optimally so GDD should be seen as a long term project and investment. It’s certainly not a one-off process.

Most people take the approach that GDD will be ongoing, constantly running improvement sprints that never end. If you buy into this approach you will have a very different website in a couple of years than the original launch pad, thus never needing to do a full re-design ever again. You will also have a sales machine that performs better, provides value and has a much greater ROI.

So those are my top ways I have seen GDD getting steared in the wrong way. What are the issues you have faced with GDD and how do you recommend other to avoid them?


Rikki Lear

Founder and Director of Digital 22 qualified by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Google, HubSpot and Bing. Myself and the team feel in love with GDD the first time we read about it and since then we have been implementers and advocates of the process.