Pareto Principle Demystified: Applying The 80/20 Rule in Website Design

Are you spinning your wheels trying to boost traffic to your website? Are you constantly pouring resources into your site in an attempt to make sure that it’s everything your customers could want – adding new features, testing new strategies, redesigning in the name of staying current with the latest trend? What if I told you that the key to improving your website’s performance lies not in doing more but in doing less? If that prospect sounds too good to be true, I assure you that it’s not. Allow me to introduce you to the 80/20 Rule: focus on the 20 percent of things that will fetch you 80 percent of the results.

The 80/20 Rule defined

pareto The 80/20 Rule is often interchangeably known as the Pareto Principle, Juran’s Principle and the Principle of Factor Sparcity. So what exactly is this multi-monikered principle? Let’s turn to Wikipedia for the answer: “The Pareto Principle...states that, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes.” The concept was the brainchild of business consultant Joseph M. Juran, and its namesake is Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Since then, the principle has been applied widely to all aspects of business, whether it’s that 80 percent of a company's profits come from 20 percent of its customers, 80 percent of its sales come from 20 percent of its products or 80 percent of deals are closed by 20 percent of its sales staff. By following this principle, many businesses have realized great gains in profitability by focusing resources on the areas that net the greatest effect and eliminating, ignoring, automating, delegating or retraining the rest.

But how does the Pareto Principle apply to website design?

For the answer to that question, let’s head over to the blog of Tim Ferriss, a well-respected efficiency expert with a well-documented affinity for all things minimalist. Ferriss, a proponent of the 80/20 Rule, once performed a case study and noted that websites optimized using the Pareto Principle have a 20 percent higher conversion rate. Further more, Ferriss observed that in order to effectively implement the Pareto Principle in the design of any given website, only certain changes are required to be made, the majority of which involve the home page itself, since that is where most – if not all – of the site’s most mission-critical information lives. Most of these changes are relatively minor in nature, such as a cleaner call-to-action button, an uncluttered sidebar and so on.

Why should you use Pareto Principle in your web design?

The benefits of applying the Pareto Principle in the design of your website are two-fold for your visitors and for yourself. To begin with, the Pareto Principle means less work for you. Rather than fussing and fretting over how to max out every available square pixel of real estate on the screen with every conceivable feature and copy point, you only have to concentrate on that most important 20 percent that will take care of the remaining 80. Plus, keeping the focus on the most essential aspects of your site website ensures that your visitor’s attention is driven straight to your primary call-to-action elements (in fact, the Pareto Principle can be detrimental if not backed with a crystal-clear call-to-action mechanism). This in turn leads to higher conversion rates and winning over more new fans, subscribers and customers for your brand. From the perspective of visitors to your site, the Pareto Principle guarantees that they can look forward to a clean, streamlined browsing experience with fast page-load times that’s free of distractions and frustrations of any kind, thereby helping to turn turning random first-time visitors into regular users.

Putting Pareto into practice

Now that you’re on board with the Pareto Principle, how do you go about putting it into practice? To begin with, let’s take a literal interpretation of the rule: focus on the 20 percent of the elements that are responsible for the other 80. What is that magical 20 percent of the most vital things in your website? Call-to-action buttons, traffic funnels, images, whitespace, etc., right? In other words, USER EXPERIENCE. Yes, that’s right. The driving motive behind the 80/20 Rule is to provide the best possible user experience. Let’s examine the simple example of social sharing buttons – a nearly ubiquitous presence on every website or blog nowadays. Look at the sharing buttons that are present on your website. When was the last time the MySpace, Friendster or Digg buttons were used? These do not belong in that vital 20 percent. Similarly, let’s focus on another commonplace element of web design – the sidebar. Look at the sidebar elements on your own website or blog. What’s the purpose of having your 15 most recent posts listed there? If you are running a blog, your visitors can easily find your most recent posts on the main page of the blog itself. If you are designing for mobile, the Pareto Principle becomes all the more vital. In general, the elements that are prioritized for a mobile version constitute that 20 percent. If you are able to freely leave out certain sections of your website in its mobile version without negatively impacting its usefulness to your visitors, chances are that those sections do not belong in the most important 20 percent segment of your desktop version, either.

Five simple steps to implement Pareto

1. Identify the primary objective of your website. Is it to sell products, promote your brand or provide a service to the community? 2. Next, make a list of all items on your website that contribute directly to the fulfillment of this goal. For example, if you are selling products, the area where you promote your latest special offer or new arrivals belongs in the 20 percent. Also make a similar list of items that do not directly contribute to the main goal. 3. Eliminate any and all unnecessary elements. Easier said than done, isn’t it? 4. Refine, refine, refine. Make sure the focus of every page and every element on the page remains on that critical 20 percent of items that directly support your main objective. 5. Grab a coffee.

Analysis, prioritization, optimization and simplification

Before you launch into an all-out take-no-prisoners offensive to streamline your website, here are a few additional tips to consider: Analysis: Use tools such as Google Website Optimizer and Analytics to analyze your website’s most frequently used and important elements. Prioritization: Once identified, prioritize that 20 percent of important aspects that are responsible for 80 percent of the results. Optimization: Optimize that 20 percent elements and thereby see a boost in 80 percent of the performance. Simplification: Implement good design principles of minimalism and reductionism to simplify your site’s user experience without sacrificing quality. A final word of caution: Don’t overdo the 80/20 Rule. While you do want to focus on the 20 percent, this does not mean you should outright ignore the other 80 percent of lesser important things. When it comes to user experience, the details matter. Unarguably, the greatest benefit of implementing the Pareto Principle in the design of your website is that it allows you to keep your focus on the content that matters most. So go ahead, and experiment with putting it into practice. After all, what do you have to lose besides the clutter that is holding your site back from reaching its maximum performance potential?