How to Use the North Star Metric for Web Design

How to Use the North Star Metric for Web Design

Andy Woods, Design Director of Rouge Media, explores how SMEs can use the concept of the North Star Metric to design a business website that delivers

By Andy Woods

A North Star Metric (NSM) is a powerful concept, devised by the clever minds at fast-growth Silicon Valley startups. It gives companies a clear direction of travel and a simple way of monitoring and measuring their success. But how can you apply this principle to web design? Every business website should have one overarching function, but this can be difficult to define, and it can change depending on who you ask. Here’s how a North Star Metric can help you design a 5-star website.

Learn from Spotify, Amazon and Airbnb 

These companies became so successful, so quickly for a reason. Each had an NSM to guide and measure the impact of every business decision they ever made. In fact, some of the most successful technology companies today – Facebook, Spotify, Amazon, Airbnb and Whatsapp, for example – all use a North Star Metric to capture the core value their product delivers to customers. Every decision every employee makes has this metric in mind. For Spotify, it’s time spent listening. For Amazon, it’s monthly purchases. And for Airbnb, it’s nights booked. You get the gist. 

But you must pick the right NSM. Some have credited the fall of Myspace and the rise of Facebook with the former having the wrong guiding North Star. For Myspace, they decided to focus on registered users, while their competitor, Facebook, focused on active users. There’s no value in having millions (or indeed billions) of registered users if they never or hardly use your platform.

How to find your North Star Metric 

The examples above show just how easy (and how difficult) finding your guiding star can be. To get it right, you need to get to the core of your business and identify what success means to you. 

By default, many business owners would choose a monetary goal like “reach £1 million turnover by 2025”, but what’s going to get you there? What are you always trying to increase and improve upon? This has to be a collective goal all employees are working towards every day and something you can measure. 

Let your North Star Metric guide your website

Once you have decided on your North Star Metric, consider how can you translate it to your website. Your NSM will help lay a solid foundation to build a website that works to achieve the central goal of your business. 

The core objective of any business website is to meet the needs of a customer or “user”. If you initiate an action from a user, you’re likely to make money and grow your business. An action could be to contact you to find out more, to download a brochure, to read your blog, or to place an order. Before starting a website design project and briefing an agency, ask yourself the following three questions: 

1. Does it generate engagement?

It can be easy to lose direction when creating or updating your business website, leaving you with something that looks good but is essentially useless. A website needs to grab the attention of a user quickly and get across who you are and what you do to stop them leaving the page. 

2. Does it satisfy user needs? 

If the user isn’t getting what they want or expect from your website within the first few seconds, it’s game over. A website should satisfy the needs of the user and drive them towards a particular action in the simplest way possible.

3. Does it look trustworthy? 

The web is full of weird and wonderful sites. A badly-designed and ill-thought-out website can put users off instantly, who will return to the safety of the search results and find one of your competitors instead. Your website, therefore, is an opportunity to win user’s attention and their trust.  

How to measure the success of your website

To create a 5-star business website that helps you improve upon your North Star Metric it has to deliver for you and your users. Just as important as launching your website – either for the first time or a redesign project – is knowing how to monitor and evaluate its success. 

Web analytics are your new best friend. They can help you monitor how users interact with your website through their behaviours and activities in real time. If you have a digital agency these metrics will be included in your weekly or monthly report. 

Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics and avoid focusing too much on ‘daily active users’. This number says nothing about customer satisfaction and has no real impact on your business. Although this activity is encouraging, there's no material reward from it. Engagement should be a factor of success, not the goal itself. 

What’s more interesting is session length and bounce rate. How long are people spending on your website once they land on it? If your average time on site length is low and your bounce rate high, this shows users aren’t getting what they expected from your website and are leaving sharpish.

So too is conversion rate. This number shows how many users are doing what you want them to do on your website. It could be newsletter sign ups, downloading content, purchasing something or contacting you directly. These are the signs that your website is working well. 

Connecting the dots between your growth or profitability and the way your website performs is a science, and what works for one company might not work for the next. But these measurable activities flow up the chain, impacting your North Star Metric.

For many B2B websites, this can be growing trust in your brand, overtaking the competition, and converting users. These can all be comprehensively measured by website activity analytics where you can see session numbers, bounce rates, time on site and conversions.

About the Author

Andy Woods is the Design Director of Rouge Media - a branding and web design agency. He's an experienced digital marketing problem solver, helping make the web work for B2B businesses for over 20 years (plus a little more). Andy specializes in the psychology of buying, and in creating materials that sell. He is a brand strategist, UI/UX designer, advertising copywriter and lead generation expert, helping marketeers solve the challenge of creating opportunities for sales teams to pick-up and close.