User experience and conversion rates—the two are inextricable, and yet many people misunderstand what exactly user experience (UX) means, in terms of what it is and what it isn’t. Starting with the wrong foundation can make all of your subsequent efforts fall short.
Fortunately, this beginner’s guide to UX and CRO will not only properly define UX but also help you better understand the core building blocks that make it what it is. In addition, you’ll learn how these building blocks can be used to devise a winning conversion optimization strategy. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!
What is user experience (UX)? A quick user experience guide
Defining user experience allows us to not only root out misunderstandings but also create a solid base from which you can build your own UX strategy and grow your business. Let’s start with what it is NOT:
UX is NOT user interface design
User interface (UI) design is the front end—the stunning visuals and stylish artistry that come together to create what the audience sees. While a good UI can help deliver a good UX, it doesn’t exclusively define it.
UX is NOT a step you can cross off a list
Sure, you can write “deliver an amazing user experience” down on your conversion optimization to-do list, but it’s not a one-and-done thing that you finish and then never have to touch again—it’s a continuous process.
UX is NOT about technology
It’s not about what you (or your users) see on a screen. And it’s not about the engine that powers your site, the CRM, or any other solution that defines how you interact with your customers.
UX is NOT about turning products that suck into products that don’t suck
You can pour as many resources as you want into product design, but if the product isn’t based on a good idea to begin with, no amount of features or raw dedication are going to redeem it (or your user experience).
UX is NOT just about the people who use your product
It’s easy to think of UX as centered only around your customers. But if you exclude everyone else, you’re carving out a huge swath of potential customers. Ignoring that potential is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot as far as conversions are concerned.
Now that we know what UX isn’t, we can focus on what it is:
UX IS a process that encompasses everything
It’s an integral part of the entire user journey, from discovery to the final product. Every part of product development, feedback, testing and launch can and should center on the user experience.
UX IS an easy-to-remember formula
The formula is: Client’s business goals (we’ll get to that later in the article) + User and customer goals + Brand = User experience design.
As you’ll notice, UX isn’t just about users; it’s about finding a balance between business goals and user needs without sacrificing your brand—the face of your company.
UX is focused on value
“Value” is subjective and can seem hard to pin down, but you have to look at it from the user’s perspective. The user is essentially saying, “If this doesn’t make my life easier, I’m not using it.” You must deliver value in the context of user experience.
Moreover, a good user experience means that they’ll likely tell their friends and family, and there are few things people trust as much as recommendations from their loved ones; this word of mouth can lead to even more conversions, improved user experiences, and so on.
In short, UX is all about identifying the right problems to solve, and then solving them.
You’re already a designer
Designers solve problems, which is what you already do in your career. People are using your products and services, and if someone has a poor experience, not only will they not come back, but they’ll also tell everyone they know just how bad it was.
You have to give users a valuable experience. Meet their needs, answer their questions, and treat them with respect.
Now the goal is to get you thinking like a UX designer. Let’s take a look at how to go about creating such an experience for your users.
The building blocks of UX for beginners
The great thing about UX is that it works much like actual building blocks—every element builds upon the one before it. And there are five of them.
These components range from abstract to concrete, which can be a little confusing to follow. So let’s break them down:
- Strategy. This is the product’s reason for being (see? I told you it was abstract).
- Scope. This is where specific product features and functions are determined.
- Structure. You give structure to the scope by defining how the product responds to the user’s actions—interaction design, navigation, information architecture, and so on.
- Skeleton. This is how the structure appears in the product itself. In the case of websites, the skeleton includes sketches, wireframes, and so forth.
- Surface. This is the UI, the “look and feel” of the final product.
While the choices you make at every step affect the next part of the process, you don’t have to actually finish each step before moving on to the next one—just come close enough so that you have enough data to work with.
Now, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to limit our focus to the first two—strategy and scope. Everything else starts to branch out into graphic design, product development, and so on.
Let’s first take a look at the strategy portion.
Strategy: The foundation of any successful user experience
You need to nail down strategy before any meaningful work can begin. Otherwise, you’re just doing tasks aimlessly. The good news is that most businesses already put a lot of thought into their strategy anyways, but it’s still a good idea to sit down and formally define what goes into it.
The core of a good strategy involves asking and answering questions like:
- What are the user’s needs?
- Who is using the product?
- What are their goals?
- What are their desires and expectations?
But remember, good UX isn’t solely focused on the user—you also have to consider your business goals. You can’t succeed in business solely by meeting user needs. Your business can make or save tons of money, but if it doesn’t meet its own measurable objectives, you’re essentially spinning your wheels.
Then, there’s tying all of these factors to the brand. And when we talk about branding, we mean more than just the logo, colors, or typography. By brand, we’re talking about the voice of the company, its culture, its key differentiators and things like that.
So how do you go about collecting this kind of information?
The good news is that there are lots of ways, ranging from simple and effective to deep and involved. Let’s look at a few.
User reviews of the competition
You can check out reviews of your competitors and their products to see what they’re doing and determine if you can uncover anything that people routinely complain about. Then, you can build and promote a direct solution to that complaint in the product.
Goal questionnaires are generally done before a launch and help define the scope of a project. If you’re not careful, though, people will tend to give superficial answers, which doesn’t help you or them, so you have to dig deeper and continually ask “why?” until you get to the root of the problem.
User personas are another helpful tool; these are fictional representations of real people that need your product or service. When you create them, you’ll need to find out demographics about your target audience, such as their age, gender, income, and so on.
In short, you’ll be figuring out their story—challenges they’re facing, their needs, and what they need to solve those challenges.
It sounds difficult at the outset, so here’s an example of a user persona that we use here at WebMechanix.
A user persona example
First, we start by giving our user a name. It can’t be something simple or silly, like Jane Doe or Marketing Mary—it has to look like a real name from a real person. Otherwise, you’re not likely to take it seriously. Give them a real photo too, and a job. You can even make up a bit of a back story about them to make things more realistic.
Ours is Arthur, a 53-year old SaaS CMO. He makes $120,000/year, is divorced, and has kids.
Arthur is having a tough time at work. He’s struggling to find good marketing talent for his internal team, and he’s created some pretty lofty conversion goals to meet for the year. His company website is also falling behind the times; it’s not performing nearly as well as it needs to.
Those are the challenges he’s facing. But what are his needs?
Arthur needs a talented agency with industry experience. He needs a design and development team for his websites, and he desperately needs to show CEOs and investors some returns—and quickly.
Defining such a specific persona—and its challenges and needs—allows you to see how all this information ties back into the points above about what makes up a strategy and defines a scope.
What do we, as WebMechanix, have to offer Arthur?
Here, it’s less about specific services and more about the business level that we serve. We serve mid-level SaaS, which is precisely the type of company Arthur is working for, and we already have a proven track record of experience. So for him, we can:
- Offer our services as a talented marketing and design/development agency.
- Advertise across multiple platforms to help him score quick wins and build up returns.
- Test and improve the website for maximum conversions, which also feeds back into quick returns.
Why so specific?
We’ve narrowed down Arthur’s persona into specific categories and needs, but why do we need to be so specific?
Because it’s better to meet the needs of a critical few perfectly than to meet the needs of many poorly. No agency can be all things to all people and do it well.
Moreover, user personas like this are a great way to reinforce concrete ideas. You can bounce your thoughts off of them by consulting with your team and asking, “Would “Arthur” actually like or buy this?” And then, you can conceive of an idea for a test and see how it performs in a way that’s objective and not marred by your personal perspective.
Remember, you’re not creating the product for yourself—you’re creating it for your customers. Even if something doesn’t make sense to you, like the terminology used, it does make sense to them, and that’s the audience you’re targeting.
You don’t have to go crazy with this and start spawning entire civilizations of personas. Remember, it’s better to be narrowly focused and meet or exceed your target audience’s expectations well than to try to be everything for everyone.
Moving from strategy to scope
Once you’ve got the strategy nailed down, it’s time to move on to the scope. At its core, the scope is simple—it’s just the work that needs to be done.
Scope includes functional specifications (like feature sets), the technology behind the website or product, and the actual content—which includes more than just the words on a page and can be audio, video, images, and other interactive points.
But perhaps most importantly, clearly defining the scope helps prevent the dreaded “scope creep” so that if something unexpected comes up or someone asks for something extra, we can go right back to the scope and show that this isn’t accounted for and that it may set the deadline back, and so on.
Beyond these aspects, defining the scope gives form and function to projects in construction. It’s a clear description of goals and deadlines.
If you’re in the middle of a project and a new feature request comes in, you’ll need to ask yourself, “How will this requirement affect what we’ve already built? Is it doable? Can we integrate it now or does it have to wait? If we can do it now, what else has to be delayed to make that happen?”
Defining conversion rate optimization
Conversion rate optimization, often abbreviated CRO, is any activity that’s designed to improve a website’s conversion funnel. It’s a roadmap to building a continuous cycle of website hypotheses and tests that are designed to maximize that site’s performance, in terms of how well it resonates with its audience and delivers what they’re expecting.
If your conversion rate is low, there could be some misalignment between the content you’re producing and what your target audience expects. Remember, your content is the reason users are coming to your website or clicking your campaign ad, so if it doesn’t speak to them, your conversions will dip.
Optimizing your conversion rate can have a massive effect on your bottom line compared to spending that same amount of time and money to get new users to your site. Now, that’s not to say that attracting new users isn’t important, but consider this:
If we have 10,000 visitors with a 2% conversion rate, we have 200 conversions. If we want to get 300 conversions, we can increase that conversion rate to 3%, which is much easier than trying to get 50% more users (5,000) to the site with the same conversion rate.
In addition, there are also fewer steps for existing users to take in the funnel. When you’re constantly making tweaks and changes to improve the existing journey rather than focusing on casting a wider net to attract people, you end up with less user friction overall.
Lay the foundation first
Of course, you’re not even going to want to think about optimizing for conversions unless you have the proper groundwork laid first. That means making sure you have enough traffic to your site (100 visitors a month isn’t going to cut it), and also making sure that you’ve got some base goals set up (the strategy part we talked about earlier).
Approach the process scientifically
You get to be a bit of a scientist when working on conversion optimization. You’ll need to create a hypothesis. Look at the facts and evidence you already have about your site. If we know X to be true based on research or our tests or things we’ve seen in the past, then we can hypothesize with some certainty that Y is going to result in an improved conversion rate.
Wait until results are statistically significant
When it comes to conversion rate optimization, you hear a lot about waiting to make sure results are “statistically significant,” but what exactly does that mean?
It boils down to the degree of certainty involved in declaring which test is a “winner.” A test could potentially “win” due to a fluke, so you want to rule those situations out. There are tools and calculators out there that can help with this—just Google “statistical significance calculator,” and you should be able to find them easily.
It’s okay if your test fails; not every experiment is going to move the needle. But you can learn from mistakes and course-correct. Don’t hesitate to think beyond your website, either. You can easily split test things like your social media ads, your ad copy, email content, and so on.
Helpful CRO tools
Frequently, it helps to understand user behavior on your website or ads to create hypotheses in the first place. The good news is that there are plenty of CRO tools available to help. Here are a few of our favorites.
Heatmaps will show you where your users are hovering their mice and how far down on the page they scroll, among other useful metrics. This tool will help you learn, for example, if your call-to-action button, like “View Products” or “Add to Cart,” is being noticed and clicked on. Examples of heat mapping tools include CrazyEgg and HotJar.
User session recordings
User session recordings allow you to see actual (anonymous) recordings of users navigating around your site. You can see what pages they go to and how they get there. Since people interact with your content using their mouse, you can determine how much of a page they read, what they skip, and what they focus most on.
With tools like UserZoom.com and UserTesting.com, you can see the recordings of user behavior on your site. Additionally, you can use scripts to direct that behavior in a particular manner, such as encouraging users to visit a certain page or recommending them relevant content.
The great thing about tools like these is that they allow the user to share their thoughts throughout the process, so you can discover a lot of insights this way that could be worth split testing.
With form analytics, you can see how many people are starting to fill out your form, where they get hung up (if anywhere), and how many actually submit the form. If they’re slow to fill out the form, you may want to consider changing the text on a particular field or removing it altogether.
There’s also behavioral analytics that hinges on what you’re testing. Fundamentally, behavioral analytics is designed to determine why the user took this or that particular action. You may discover, for example, that users typically abandon your site after conducting searches. Their behavior would warrant looking more into your site’s search engine to determine any technical problems.
User surveys are another helpful tool that falls under self-reported data collection. Rather than relying on large amounts of anonymous data, surveys give you more qualitative data than user recordings. You get fewer data points than you would from heatmaps or user recordings, but surveys give you information that is direct from your target user.
Other analytics tools
Often, you’ll need to depend on other platforms’ analytics tools. For example, with website analytics, you may find that your website uses Google Analytics. If you’re improving the conversion rate on social media ads, you may be beholden to Facebook or Twitter’s backend analytics. Emails systems like MailChimp and Constant Contact also have their respective analytics systems.
Split testing tools
There are also tools that you can use to conduct both split testing and multivariate testing. These include VWO.com, Optimizely.com, and Google Optimize. Both split testing and multivariate testing have their pros and cons, so consider those carefully before you begin.
The most important advice to keep in mind when it comes to CRO and testing is that anything you can do to reduce friction for the user is going to boost your conversion rate.
You’ll also need to consider the time and effort you want to invest in achieving a certain goal. There are going to be some tests that are easier to implement than others—the low-hanging fruit, as it were. So it’s a good idea to test those things starting out and rack up those quick wins so that you have momentum and motivation to keep on building and testing.
Remember, too, that not every test will be a winner. Some may not even move the needle. Others may hit the conversion rate out of the park—but you never know until you test.
The better the overall user experience, the more likely those users are to convert and become paying customers.
The bottom line: deliver a great user experience while increasing conversions
A fantastic user experience isn’t rocket science. But it does follow a proven formula where every step builds upon the next one. Rather than getting bogged down in perfecting each step, it’s important to keep your eyes fixed on the big picture and the overall goal: better user experience leads to better conversions, and better conversions lead to more sales and greater customer satisfaction.
Defining your strategy by being precise about whom you’re targeting and creating user personas can help you better define your target audience with accurate representations of their voices, views, and needs. When everything you test centers around their perspective, you find that you become more in tune with what your target customers want and what needs of theirs you can meet.
Finally, taking this strategy and building out the scope of the project means defining every step so that nothing is left unclear. This beneficial for avoiding “scope creep,” which is helpful in better understanding what to focus on and how to course-correct if new requirements come up mid-project.
And of course, to help you along the way, take advantage of high-quality testing tools to understand what works and what doesn’t. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to delivering an outstanding user experience, but by following the steps in this guide, you’re sure to be on the right track.
If everything you’ve read so far has whetted your appetite and you’d like to learn more about UX conversion optimization strategy—and how to apply it to your website and your company as a whole—be sure to check out our CRO case studies. You’ll get detailed, in-depth information on how we’ve taken user experience development to the next level and learn how to build a true “conversion engine” that attracts customers and keeps them coming back.
What was your biggest lesson learned from this article?