Where Did GDD Come From? Was It Ever A Thing? And Is It Still Relevant Today?
How about an origins story for growth-driven design (GDD) to get us started? I’m a big fan of the superhero movies and I love a good origins story. Since I have one for GDD, why not share it with you, right?
Back in 2008, when HubSpot first arrived on the scene, most agencies worked project to project. Some of you might even remember how life used to be. You did client work and then hoped it would turn into another project. Cash flow was up and down, and growth was challenging.
HubSpot started teaching agencies to think differently about their services and that they should be bundled into ongoing monthly retainers. They told agency owners that they should be doing work for clients every month and the retainers would help smooth out cash flow and help them grow. Good news — they were right.
But many of the early HubSpot partners were web dev and web design shops. If you think about it, people who built websites would be attracted to a product like HubSpot. It has a website CMS and tools that could be wrapped around the site to help the site perform.
However, website shop owners were highly technical, and the idea of providing marketing services like content marketing, social media marketing, video marketing, email marketing and even marketing strategy was outside their comfort zones.
These folks knew how to design and build a beautiful website and maybe even get it to rank quickly, but to write all the copy, use the site to generate leads and leverage all the HubSpot tools was a stretch for many of them.
In response to this, HubSpot created the idea of growth-driven design. GDD is defined “as a smarter approach to website design that eliminates all the headaches and drives optimal results using data.” It is an approach “that produces reliable month-over-month growth [so that] your website becomes stronger as you measure, iterate and act.”
That all makes perfect sense. If I can summarize: Work on your website every week of every month and make changes based on the actual performance of the site. Then start charging clients monthly retainers to do a GDD site. It’s a big win for project-based website agencies.
All solid thinking. The only real challenge is that this is how many agencies have been building websites for years. It wasn’t really new news.
And so that brings us to today and an update on GDD. Below we’ve provided some reasoning behind why we think GDD might not be as important anymore.
Agile Delivery Of Websites
Our agency moved to Agile delivery over six years ago and websites became part of that process. One of the main reasons we moved to Agile across the entire agency was our website projects were taking months to wrap up.
In some case, clients just kept moving the goal posts and so sites never went live. Yes, this was bad for us, but it was worse for the clients.
Instead, we applied Agile thinking, created a minimum viable product website (in agreement with our clients, of course), launched the site quickly and then used data from the performance of the site to inform our continual build and improvement work.
Now most of our sites get delivered in less than a month and we always have ongoing website work included in our retainers with clients. We never needed a new name for it; it’s always how we’ve worked with clients on website projects.
Today many agencies are working on websites every month. Even if there isn’t a big website relaunch project, the idea of identifying upgrades, optimization and updates to your website and sequencing them over time makes a lot of sense.
One of the best ways to manage this is to start with a big list of ideas to make the website better. Organize that list based on a prioritization methodology. We prioritize based on what will take the least amount of time and add the biggest lift to site performance. Landing page upgrades might make it to the top of the list above adding a new page to the site, but eventually we get to almost everything.
Better yet, this list never gets completed. We are always adding ideas to improve the visitor experience, help the site rank, drive more conversions or help the sales team close new customers.
I don’t think this ongoing approach to website design and development is even remotely remarkable. Today, I think it’s how most agencies work, further degrading the value of GDD.
Website Upgrades Vs. Website Rebuilds
There is another major factor influencing the ongoing value of the growth-driven design methodology. Today websites are easier and faster to build. In many cases they’re not made up of hundreds of pages anymore.
Because of this, companies are redoing their sites more frequently, so when we get a new client their website might only be a year old and it doesn’t need to be rebuilt, just upgraded.
These upgrades might include adding chat, deploying a more strategic set of content offers to drive lead generation, building pillar pages or rewriting copy to help drive improvement in search rankings.
If we’re not rebuilding the site, then these upgrades just become another recommendation on our long list of marketing recommendations.
These get prioritized and executed every month. Again, the ongoing nature of website work is exactly what GDD suggested. Today, it’s just standard operating procedure.
Mobile’s Influence On Website Design
From the site Statista.com: “Mobile accounts for approximately half of web traffic worldwide. In the second quarter of 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 51.53% of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50% mark since the beginning of 2017.”
Not surprising, but what is interesting is how this has changed the way we design websites. The mobile or device experience is as important if not more important than the laptop experience.
The biggest takeaway here is the desire to simplify the visitor experience by building sites with fewer pages.
Since sites are easier to design and build, they can be launched more quickly. We rarely take longer than 30 days to design, build, QA and launch a site today. In some cases, sites are launched in days, not weeks or months.
If we can build it faster, if the site is smaller and if the idea is to always be working on the performance of the site based on data and live prospect interactions, that sounds a lot like GDD to me.
Change In Client Expectations
For a long time, we would talk to clients about letting us do an Agile delivery of their website or a GDD delivery approach. Launching an MVP website wasn’t something many clients liked. They were happy to wait longer to have the site be perfect.
Many of those old paradigms have changed over the last few years. Today clients are more comfortable doing a smaller site launch and then adding to it over time and making changes based on the actual performance of the smaller site.
Our research shows that roughly 90% of our clients are comfortable with this approach. However, our research also shows that this is directly related to the size of the business. Bigger enterprise-level clients with over $1 billion in revenue are less comfortable with this approach.
However, I would argue that GDD was never designed for enterprise companies nor the agencies working with these types of companies.
If I had to answer the question “is growth-driven design still relevant?”, I think my answer would be a pretty resounding “no.”
Consider These Additional Signals
HubSpot, the creator of the GDD concept, isn’t even ranked on the first page for GDD. Today, the top HubSpot agencies have claimed those spots.
Furthermore, the GDD page inside the HubSpot Academy (where people go to learn how to use HubSpot) is also missing. There is a relic of GDD, the GDD website, at www.growthdrivendesign.com. While I believe HubSpot owns the site, it looks like the site has not been updated in some time.
When you look at the entire picture, from the changes in the marketplace to HubSpot’s support of their own methodology and the changes in the technology, client expectations and website design today, it’s very difficult to consider GDD as a methodology that will provide much value.
GDD had a good run and it was important during its time, but as with most things in our world, we’re on to the latest and greatest.
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