User Experience, one of the most sought after talents within every successful business is most commonly treated a completely separate unit from conversion optimization. However, the more successful businesses, those who strive to increase engagement with their product and create long term relationships with their customers, know that breaking those silos and combining the two leads to high-converting customer journeys.
Every conversion optimization project I do for my clients includes many UX (user experience) elements such as parts of its research and testing methods. Since so many businesses seem to be ignoring this opportunity, I reached out to some of my favorite user experience experts to get their take on the importance of leveraging both CRO and UX together for generating higher ROI for your business.
Karl Gilis’, (CRO and Usability Expert, AGConsult) response to this was straightforward:
“Every aspect of your website and your offering influences the user experience. A bad experience will most likely result in the visitor leaving your website. Moreover, he or she don’t just leave, they leave with a negative feeling about your company and that’s something you want to avoid at all cost.”
Unn Swanström, UX designer at Doberman added:
“Everyone who’s building a service should be looking out for the interest of their users… Today the user experience is a much more important differentiator when consumers look for the right product to buy. Since there are typically several competitors out there competing for your users’ attention, a well-designed experience will attract a more loyal following.”
And that’s not all. As consumers, we see between 4000-10,000 messages, ads, text messages every day. We get targeted by new apps, products, and services, all trying to grab our attention, resulting in a very low attention span.
As Christopher Noessel, Global Design Practice Lead, for IBM explains:
“Switching costs (from one product to another) are lower than ever. Products and services that fit the user’s life will over the long term outperform competitors and make our lives better.”
In order to create messages that rise above all the noise and chaos online, we need to create memorable, simple and persuasive experiences. And that is exactly what the conversion optimization and UX teams do together.
In this article, I (along with leading experts in the field) break down the importance of UX and how to use it alongside with CRO. So, let’s get started.
Understanding User Experience
Before we dive in, Sarah Doody, Founder of The UX Notebook gives us a greater understanding of UX and its place in optimizing your customer journey and increasing ROI:
“UX helps companies be more people focused. A by-product of being people focused is that teams make decisions that create a better experience for the people who will use that product or service. Of course, when a company is people focused, this doesn’t mean that they ignore business goals. Companies need to grow their revenue, but too often, revenue takes priority over compromises the customer experience.”
For example, publishing sites love to load up their sites with banner ads and very intrusive ad experiences. Does it work? Sometimes. Do people like it? Not really. Is it friendly? No. The risk is that when revenue is given more importance than the experience, the customers or visitors don’t come back. Think about it in the context of a physical shopping experience.
The best companies balance people with profit. They realize that in order to create a brand that people love and trust, they must create an experience that serves people’s needs, solves a problem, and is authentic.”
So what exactly is UX?
Essentially User Experience (UX) refers to a person’s emotions and feelings about the complete experience with a company, its services, and products.
While UI (user interface design) can be compared to the steering wheel, gear, window wipes and car motor, UX is the feeling you get when driving that car and arriving at your destination. The complete experience.
“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service – from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” – Don Norman
Research shows that customers limit their interaction with a product or abandon it completely due to bad user experience. Additional research has also found that 75% of users base a company’s credibility on their website’s design. Wondering why you should care? Because every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.
Unfortunately, most brands consider ‘beautiful,’ ‘clever’ and ‘cool’ design to be important while what customers really care about is clarity, ease of use and simplicity.
The job of a UX designer is to improve the ‘experience’ that the user has with the product as well as work towards increasing the product’s adoption. It starts with understanding the user’s needs and helping them achieve their goals in the most easiest manner possible. A lot of it is based on understanding and linking it to human emotions, that is the most important expertise a UX designer can have.
As Aaron Walter, the author of Designing for Emotion says:
“People will forgive your shortcomings, follow your lead, and sing your praises if you reward them with positive emotion.”
The User Experience process can be divided into 4 main pillars:
Step 1: UX Research
Similar to the conversion optimization process, UX requires in-depth research and analysis. This step is essentially the starting point of any UX process, and doing it correctly will help the UX designer determine the end user’s goals, understand her needs and the best way to get her there. This step includes questioning the current approach and redefining ways that will optimize the customer journey for her. Good user research ensures that there’s sufficient data available to understand a user’s motivation, challenges, goals, and needs. (Pssst, get started with user research here)
User research also provides an opportunity to understand how different people perceive the product and the kind of unique challenge that they face. It helps in providing a broader understanding of the issues you’re trying to solve as well as ensures that you’re creating a product that’s exceptional.
Hany Rizk, Volkswagen’s UX designer, emphasizes the significance of research:
“Designing without conducting user research completely contradicts the concept of UX design. User research helps designers and stakeholders understand users and their needs and identifies the requirements of a product. Put simply, it removes assumptions from the design process, as it provides data to back up one’s design.”
Successful user research ensures the UX designer’s ability to identify the target audience, choose quality participants, set research goals, ask valuable questions and extract information that can be put into action almost immediately.
A productive UX research includes a few of the following steps:
Step #2: Information Architecture and Wireframes
A significant element of the UX process is building an information architecture and creating a wireframe.
Wireframing is an ‘illustration’ of a certain user interface (login screen, pricing page, dashboard etc.) without any design, colors or visuals. It’s meant to help prioritize content on a page, determine its hierarchy and its location within a certain screen.
Information Architecture (IA) on the other hand is sort of a language if you will, it’s a way of helping users understand what next step they need to take, what will happen if they click on a certain button and essentially how to use the product without it being explained. In other words, IA helps us understand where we are as users and where everything we need is on the screen.
Wireframes act as a bridge between the visual design and information architecture, both are extremely important in the Ux process. Read more about how to wireframes and information architecture here.
Step 3: Prototyping
“If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.” Tom & David Kelley, authors of Creative Confidence)
What differentiates a prototype from sketches, wireframes or mockups is its ability to show the end result before it goes live. Its purpose is to show how the finished product will work, how the application flows, how its interactions work and help in determining the feasibility of the design. A Prototype helps resolve any issues before launching and make quick changes without spending too much money. I use Invision for all my prototyping. In fact, I consider it one of the best tools for collaborating with designers, product managers, and even clients.
Unn Swanström, UX Designer at Doberman explains:
“It is really expensive to build and launch every idea that pops into the product teams head. Prototype! Test new design ideas as early as possible on a handful of users. Prototyping and testing on users will save a lot of money since it gives you a learning opportunity before any code has been written. If you discover early on that an idea isn’t going to work you can call off the project and move on to something better.”
Step 4: User Testing
User Testing allows you to observe and learn how people use your product, landing page or design.
The process of user testing includes watching, observing and recording how users use your product. Essentially, different people are asked to use your product, complete tasks, create stuff and go through certain flows allowing you to locate any problems, misunderstandings, confusion or even bugs.
User testing is great on one hand as it allows you to test and see how people perceive your product before you launch, however, the downside of user testing is that these people know they’re being watched and observed which means it isn’t a “clean” testing area and people may act in a way they think you want them to.
This is why it is important to carefully choose your subjects for these tests (ensure they are as close as possible to your real target audience) and support it with more data. This entire process of research, evaluation, and optimization is very similar to conversion optimization; first, you research, then make sure to test.
Where UX Meets Conversion Rate Optimization
Conversion optimization (CRO) is the process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who complete certain actions within your customer journey (e.g – subscribe, download, purchase). Our goal with CRO is to continuously evaluate our entire customer journey and find ways to help visitors reach their goals.
Done correctly, this process of researching your target audience, finding the leaks in the funnel and AB testing new variations, leads to new customers, increases retention rates creating more loyal customers which as a result increases conversion rates, revenues and grows the business.
A typical Conversion Optimization (CRO) process will include the following steps:
- Website Analysis – Using tools such as Google Analytics, heatmaps and other data oriented platforms that help us find the leaks in the funnel.
- Prioritization – Prioritizing what to optimize next according to results, resources and time.
- In-Depth Customer Research – The process of understanding your customers’ concerns, fears, needs and emotional drivers. Identifying the cause of these leaks, running competitor research, customer surveys, interviews, revisiting customer profiles and essentially getting to know your customers as best as possible to identify the best possible solution for optimizing the customer journey, content and more.
- AB testing – Putting our hypotheses and research to the test. Do these changes and fixes (design, colors, copy, buttons, technical changes, navigation and more) really help the customer achieve their goal? Do they increase conversion rates, revenues and increase retention?
Conversion optimization obviously has many more in-depth steps to its process, however, CRO is all about making changes and optimizing flows that increase conversions and keep customers coming back.
UX on the other hand, is focussed on creating a clear, simple and easy experience for your visitors and helping people take the next natural action. Essentially, the two work hand-in-hand and must go together.
Karl Gilis, (The G in AGConsult) explains the way the two complement each other:
“Many people think the goal of UX is that the user has an unforgettable experience. So they tend to get lost in overwhelming, fancy designs with lots of creative innovations. Which mostly results in a terrible experience for the user.”
Some CRO people focus too much on the short term (let’s optimize the conversion rate) which sometimes hurts customer happiness, retention rate, and customer lifetime value.
However, UX designers can bring the often boring and too down-to-earth solutions of usability and CRO-experts like me to a higher level, resulting in a more pleasant and memorable user experience.
When UX designers allow usability and CRO people to test (user testing, Ab-testing and more) their ideas and adapt them to their findings, the end-result will often be innovative, useful and usable. The goal of UX and CRO should be the same: as many loyal customers as possible.”
At GetUplift we’ve found that used together, UX & CRO can greatly optimize the way users interact with your product and continue to use it:
- Support changes – Using CRO insights, a UX design process can help in eliminating the guesswork surrounding their design decisions. Using the same heatmaps, click maps, scroll maps and even screen recordings CRO managers use, UX designers can identify pain points within the experience (perhaps even comparing them to results from their user testing).
- Gain Insights and Build Better Products – The CRO process is deeply rooted in understanding a customer’s behavior, their decision-making process and what they expect from a product. Once an optimization hypothesis has been tested over and over again and proved to be working, these insights about the customers, their needs and expectations can help optimize UX projects throughout the entire customer journey. So, if for example, an AB test has shown that customers expect the solution to solve certain pains or prefer being spoken to in a certain tone and voice, UX designers can use those insights to design other elements of the product itself knowing they will work well.
Jane Portman ((UI/UX consultant at UI Breakfast) elaborates:
“Any UX professional should look into CRO to learn the basic “attention-driving” principles. These principles can be applied inside the application, too — to direct user focus.”
3 UX Mistakes You Do NOT Want to Make
Just before you take off and start working on everything we just discussed, take a moment to review these common mistakes people make and try to avoid them:
- Collecting Data: There are many areas in which CRO and UX work together, however if there is one thing we all agree on it is the research component. Something we talk a lot about within the context of building customer journeys that your customers will love to convert to. Unn warns:
“Don’t forget your qualitative data! Unlike quantitative data such as clicks, bounce rate and other things you can get from Google Analytics, qualitative data helps you answer why things are happening. Interviewing users about how they use your service is a gold mine of insight!”
Christopher Noessel (IBM) also emphasizes the importance of talking to your customers:
“Faced with budget challenges, many companies pull back on first-hand research, but that’s where understanding is built to ensure the product can fit into users’ lives.”
- Designing to impress: Similar to conversion optimization design, our experts warn about designing to impress. Karl Gilis emphasizes: “Design is important. But the design of your website or app has to be functional. It’s not about being fancy. Look at Google, AirBnB or Amazon. Those websites aren’t the most creative when it comes to design but they probably make a bit more money than you. One thing they have in common is their very functional design without visual overkill. That’s what good UX design is about. Web design isn’t about adding elements. It’s about keeping only those elements that add to the bottom line. Remove the fluffy stuff. Every element on your page needs to support the visitor in reaching his or her goal as quickly as possible.”
- Forgetting copy: It’s not just the design. Many UX designers, CRO specialists, and marketers in general focus on the design mainly, adding placeholders for the content and copy to come. However, the language you use is crucial for creating high converting experiences. It’s not just about using the right colors, visuals or grids, but about clearly emphasizing your unique selling proposition, your one promise to your customers. How will this solution solve their pain? Design alone can’t show that.
Karl agrees and elaborates:
“What I often see is designers start at the design. They use “fake copy” to fill in with their design. The problem with that is, that you can make any design look good with fake text and fake images but what you’ll probably find out when you start writing the actual copy, is that your copy doesn’t fit the design.
That means you’ll need to adapt your copy to the design. Or to ruin the design because the copy is too long or too short. In both cases you’re screwed. When you really value the U in UX, you’ll need to start with user research. Find out what the needs of your visitors are, then make your content (copy, images etc.), then make your design. That way you’re sure everything fits and your design enhances your content.”
Over To You
Creating a great experience for your customer requires more than just data, design or nice words. To really succeed in doing so you must create a seamless experience throughout the entire customer journey, from the ad you write to the emails you send, your retention programs and even the little notes you send to customers with your packages. This means breaking down silos, working together to understand the customer better and creating an experience for her.
Gone are the days where designers, copywriters, and developers worked on their own, feeding on some brief or an email. Everyone must learn from each other’s processes and work together to build better products and solutions.
Combining conversion optimization and UX is the best way to ensure that happens. At the end of the day, these are the type of businesses that last and never stop growing.
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