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The Crossover Between User Experience And Conversion Rates

What designers call user experience design is really a process of engineering interfaces to encourage certain behaviors. This is also true of conversion rate optimization, or CRO.

Both skillsets overlap in many places with similar goals and means of achieving those goals. But what can UX designers learn by studying conversions? And what can marketers learn by studying UX design?

In this guide I’ll cover some tips that’ll help you build a stronger conversion rate on your website. There is no single foolproof method to always increase conversions. But it all comes back to a great user experience that feels genuine and valuable to the user.

Sell An Experience

When users land on your website they’re looking at an interface. But they only see buttons, colors, text, and elements that make up the interface. This all blends into one big experience which should feel natural to the user.

Great marketing and great user experience both have something in common: they feel invisible when done well. Great marketing isn’t too push and in fact it might even be welcomed. The same goes for great UX.

But how do you know what this experience should be? You’ll need to think critically about what your users want to do and what you want them to do.

etsy search homepage

Does your site predominantly encourage searching for stuff like Etsy? Then place a search bar at the top of every page. You’ll find this on Amazon, eBay, Google, and other sites where search is important.

But what if you run a blog instead? Does your homepage mostly push content like Mashable? In that case you’ll want a homepage that decreases bounce rates and encourages readers to click further into articles.

mashable homepage

Learn to sell an experience based on what you want users to do. Study other websites to see if you can find ideas to mimic.

For example, If you want to increase newsletter signups then look for other websites that have email opt-in fields above the fold. If you want to decrease abandoned shopping carts then you’ll need to to encourage users to follow through with purchases either by simplifying the experience, or contacting them after abandonment to bring them back.

I really like this brief video clarifying the relationship between ROI and great user experience. Ecommerce sites aren’t just selling products online. They’re selling brand authority and a great customer experience.

Focus on Weak Spots

Weak spots are the little areas on your page that may be overlooked. They can have a big impact on your conversions and they’re not always “poorly designed” areas, but rather just under optimized.

Fab CEO Jason Goldberg shares some great advice on where to focus your efforts:

We have a saying at Fab: We focus more on why we suck than why we're doing great.

This rule should apply to user experience and conversion rate optimization too. Both subjects aim to accomplish one goal: to get users to do something.

And this doesn’t always connect with CRO. Weak points aren’t always “bad” areas of a site, but rather areas that haven’t gotten as much attention.

One example is when Basecamp changed their homepage background from an illustration to a photo of a human. Signups increased over 100% from that one alteration.

basecamp homepage logo

Who would think to change their background style or header photo? And how would a human photo make such a big difference? These questions aren’t easy to answer but the results speak for themselves.

Familiarize yourself with Conversion Rate Optimization because it’s crucial to this process.

You’re studying every aspect of an interface and postulating changes that might increase certain user behaviors. This is the goal of a CRO and a UX designer. Both jobs aim to provide a better experience that ultimately encourages the user to take action.

But CRO aims to target a specific goal, whereas UX aims to intuitively guide users through any of their goals.

Figure out what your user’s goals are and you'll have a much easier time understanding the conversion process.

Find a way to provide value so users learn to trust your website, either consciously or subconsciously.

And remember that great UX design isn’t about making the site pretty. It’s about solving problems for the user, or at least removing as many obstacles as possible.

Reverse Engineer Your Goals

Let’s say you want to increase the total number of signups per month on your new social network. That’s the end goal.

To reverse engineering the process you’d start with this goal and work backwards. What could be done to your current layout to increase signups? Is it a copy issue, or a visibility issue? Is the signup form too daunting? Or does your website just seem too sleazy?

By examining the end goal you’ll have more clarity over the optimization process.

It’s like a math problem where you know half of the equation(your site) and you know the end goal.

Your Site +/- ??? = More Signups

Now imagine your goal wasn’t more signups, but instead you want more people to share your blog posts on social networks. Change the equation and you’ll be trying to solving for something entirely different.

ux designer whiteboard

Read case studies and see what other companies have done to solve their problems.

You’ll learn so much just by studying what others have tried. And these studies can give you ideas for running your own A/B tests.

These are some of the best CRO case study roundups to get your feet wet:

Understand People

This is probably the most important thing you can do for both CRO and UX design. Both fields attempt to engineer how people behave by creating an interface that encourages interactivity.

In the realm of user psychology there are many different topics to study. But these are some of the most important:

  • How people scan content
  • How page designs & load times affect opinions
  • How new visitors generally browse sites
  • What factors make a website seem like an authority

People trust beauty and most people are drawn towards aesthetically pleasing things. This comes from a 2011 study by Dr Brent Coker. Here’s a quote from his research:

“As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”

This means that your site’s design really does play a factor. It needs to be trustworthy and evoke a sense of genuine value.

But also try going beyond typical users. Think specifically about the type of people visiting your website. How are they entering the site? Is it mostly through the homepage or through blog posts? What do most visitors want to do or gain from visiting your site?

When you understand the people interacting with your site then you can understand motives, behaviors, and everything that drives conversions.

Now Get Testing!

The best way to learn how CRO and UX design interact is through experience. Pick a site you run or start a new site and try running some UX tests.

Have goals in mind, track KPIs, and gather lots of user feedback. The more tests you run the more you’ll come to understand how people interact with websites. And as you learn more about user behavior you can apply those ideologies into further conversion optimization work.

But this is a huge subject and it can take a while for it all to sink in. Here are some related posts on CRO+UX if you’d like to read more.

Jake is a freelance writer, designer, and illustrator. He currently writes articles on user experience design for web & mobile. You can see more work on his portfolio site and follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.

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