Functions and Formalities
This two-pronged approach resolves the oft-surprising "you mean it still doesn't work?" comments that can be heard around the table when a particular property is up for review with the design team; while modifying, adding or subtracting features in response to the customer feedback you've (hopefully) been collecting.
This periodic review process isn't anything new for top-tier companies and smaller organizations striving for excellence and profitability; but the seriousness of the effort and the frantic pace at which it may be being undertaken is new for many companies — all of whom are driven to survive and thrive in today's highly challenging and rapidly evolving marketplace.
Part of this process involves an elemental-level analysis of the benefits of form vs. function; which can look at everything from visual layout dimensions and color spaces to ad placement and creative sizes, as well as title, heading, link and body text; along with the verbiage used in your call-to-action text and the images you use to inspire clicks — basically examining every aspect of the site and the ways in which it interacts with its visitors and the ways in which its visitors interact with it — and then optimizing each of these elements for maximum productivity.
Consider your website to be an uncompleted puzzle: sure, you have an idea in your head of what it should look like when it's finished (maybe you've been studying the box cover to see what the puzzle should look like — a process not unlike studying competitive sites and their approaches for inspiration); and maybe you have a few of the pieces fitting well enough together, but for many bits, getting them to fit together properly will require trial and error — attempting to fit one puzzle piece into another; failing; and then trying again.
Savvy webmasters will often use a process known as A/B testing to facilitate this puzzle piecing; typically relying on the automated functionality of certain software systems to present alternate content to alternate viewers — and then measuring the response rates to these varying offers to determine which was most effective.
For example, A/B testing would allow half of a paysite tour's visitors to see links that read "join now" while half would see those links as "get instant access" or some such: and at the end of your testing period, you'd know which link works best with your traffic. That link becomes the "A" in the next round of tests, where half of your traffic may now see "B" text that reads "enter here" — it's an ongoing process that will repeatedly deliver insights into the best way to reach your own particular audience.
While A/B testing provides a purely scientific approach to measuring and maximizing the efficacy of your site's presentation and marketing messages, sometimes the choices you make will tend to be more art than science — in an attempt to provide a balance between form and function — while still protecting profitability.
For example, a website might have a certain location that could be useful for a number of different tasks; in this case, it's a very prominent area that is large enough for a single three or four word line of bold text. What would be the best use of this space? Perhaps it's a good spot for an <h2> tag highlighting that particular area of the site and hopefully bringing in a little more traffic from the search engines? Perhaps it's a good spot for a premium or affiliate text link that might bring in some revenue? Perhaps it's a better spot to add some "personality" text that serves to build an affinity with the viewer that leads to increased bookmarking?
In this example, while it's doubtful that the appearance of this single <h2> element will cause a measurable increase in your SERPs, it is an important part of an overall organic optimization plan; likewise, it's unclear how many repeat visitors you'll be able to enjoy as a direct result of anything you can legally say in a few words — i.e. "Free Beer Here!" might gain some attention from visitors, but the FTC may have something to say about it. Still, these two elements will form part of the overall character or flavor of a website and add to its appeal in ways that may be difficult to quantify.
What isn't difficult to quantify is the value of this particular spot as a placement for text link advertising, where the dollar amount attributable to this element is easily measured; whether it's an external affiliate link; internally monetized link; or directly-paid ad spot. Although the previously discussed uses (a level-two heading or personality text) are both highly subjective in their efficacy, the use of a measureable text link is the only method that can be directly proven as profit-generating.
A/B testing will tell you which of several text links makes the most money, but it won't tell you which of these three uses for that same spot would be the "best."
This is where the art and science of web design comes together, seasoned with experience and vision, to make the kind of educated decisions that lead to a more mature and finely tuned web presence; ready to stand apart from the crowd and compete in today's market. Balancing form and function, these higher-end properties will push the boundaries of the user experience and set unique standards for the delivery of online adult entertainment that can shape consumer preferences as well as be responsive to them.
If you haven't done so already, re-evaluate your online properties from the ground up and work on your to-do lists with an eye on balancing form and function.