Conversion rate optimization (CRO, for short) is having a moment among marketers. With the rise of billion dollar companies built on the back of clever growth hacks and continual optimization, more marketers are jumping on the bandwagon. In general, a greater awareness of measurable website performance is a good thing.
The widespread embracing of rigorous and continual testing is something that’s long overdue. However, the rush to CRO is full of pitfalls, as marketers focus on conversion at any cost — including the delivery of a valuable and enjoyable user experience.
As user experience professionals we’re on the front lines of this new CRO imperative. We’re asked to run tests, design new user flows, and rapidly prototype new page layouts all in the name of increasing conversion rates. But as keeper of the user experience it’s critical that we bring the big picture view of UX strategy to the table and ensure that CRO tests are appropriate within the overall user experience framework.
Below are four mistakes that many organizations make when it comes to CRO and UX. Be on the lookout for these, and steer your team back to the real goal of CRO — creating lasting value for users and the business.
1. Creating or maintaining organizational silos
The prevailing myth about growth is that it’s the responsibility of a lone growth hacker — a marketer who holds the keys to magically growing businesses. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Growth isn’t a single person or department’s responsibility. The most successful companies are aligned around growth across the organization. UX is just as responsible as the marketing department for building the business.
Growth teams are popping up at companies everywhere. Growth hackers, CRO specialists and data scientists are being brought onboard to figure out growth. What’s missing from these teams? User experience professionals who can bring these new initiatives to the product while ensuring the goals of the user and business are met.
Solution: ensure UX is represented on CRO and growth teams
UX representation isn’t just a nice to have — it’s essential. Someone on your team needs to be involved and vested from the very beginning. It’s mistake number one to silo user experience from conversion rate optimization and growth. To find breakthroughs that create sustainable growth, UX has to be at the table as part of the team focused on conversion optimization.
2. Optimizing short term gains over long term value
Marketers new to CRO can often place a short-term premium on quick wins at the expense of UX. This often manifests itself as button color testing or layout A/B tests that scratch the surface of a true testing rubric.
Other tests will call for UX decisions that create some pain for the user in the short run to optimize a surface level metric like email address captures. More nefariously, you may run into CRO experiments that prescribe dark or anti-pattern UX. Whether intentionally dark, or just overly aggressive, these patterns can drive short term gains at the expense of user goodwill and long-term value.
Solution: focus UX optimization on sustainable growth
Sustainable growth comes not from short-term bumps, but from getting as many of the right people to your must have experience. What’s a must have experience? It’s the thing that your users love so much about your product that if it disappeared tomorrow they’d be crushed.
CRO, when done right, is a continual process of optimization that focuses on delivering more people in your target audience to that must have experience. As the responsible party for the UX you’re in control of connecting people to this experience.
A simple way to think of conversion rate is through this formula:
Conversion Rate = Desire – Friction
If visitor desire is high, your UX can be laden with friction and you’ll still generate conversions as passionate people fight through to the end goal. If your visitor desire is low, and your friction is high, you’ll end up with people jumping ship early and often.
It’s up to the growth team to deliver people with appropriate levels of desire (aka the “right” people), but it’s up to you as the UX lead to eliminate as much friction from the process as possible. The lower the friction, the better the experience and the higher the conversion rate.
3. Treating every visitor equally
No matter how good the growth team is, visitors will come to the site through different channels, with different intent, levels of information and desire. In order for UX professionals to optimize user flows that get more people to the must have experience, they need to know — at the channel and campaign level — what those users expect and why.
The CRO team needs to understand customers as well; but as the keepers of the user personas, UX needs to bring this channel-level detail to the decision making process.
Each channel represents an opportunity to experience the product or service in a different way. UX design needs to account for these differences, and help drive optimizations that make sense in the context of that visitor’s experience.
Dropbox, the popular cloud storage company, understands this concept well. Depending on how you first experienced Dropbox, the service can look very different. If you learn about Dropbox as a way to store and sync documents on your hard drive to the cloud, your sense of the service’s utility is completely different from a person who is introduced to it through a shared file or folder.
Dropbox understands that optimizing these channels requires two very different approaches and user experience design considerations. And what’s more, the company knows that trying to optimize the file sharing user experience to drive more users to sync their files can be disastrous.
Solution: insist on knowing users by acquisition channel
Don’t base your decisions on the user personas developed during the design phase. If you have a good growth team you’ll be dealing with a wide range of experiments and tests that can radically change the intent of the user coming to your site from each channel.
Make sure that your user research skills are brought to bear early in the conversion rate optimization process, so that CRO tests are aligned with delivering the expected utility and value to that user in the right way at the right time. Use user testing, heatmaps, onpage surveys, and analytics to understand behaviors.
Don’t let generic messaging, value propositions, and other UX elements get in the way of optimizing the conversion path of that particular channel. Challenge the CRO team to design tests that take into account your research and heuristics unique to the channel experience.
4. Trusting your gut
All of us bring biases and beliefs to our jobs. They’re valuable and can act as shortcuts to results. We hire for experience after all. And yet these biases can cripple conversion rate optimization efforts. The beauty of the web is that everything is measurable, but unfortunately we rarely act that way. Instead we stand on best practices or past performance rather than objective data and validated experimentation.
This is a deadly mistake. Our preconceptions and past performance can only act as guide posts in the absence of actionable data. They should not and cannot be treated as sacred. It’s entirely acceptable to be passionate about UX, growth, or CRO, but being passionate about your own work in the space can hurt CRO success.
Solution: be data informed
Design patterns, flows, and “common knowledge” are susceptible to bias. It’s important that as the UX lead you’re able to balance heuristics with sound testing to deliver valid data. Only by being dispassionate about your own investment in the project can you truly work within a high-performing CRO process.
UX teams must be willing to execute on CRO tests that are well reasoned and not stand in the way on the basis of abstract notions of appropriateness. Of course, they should defend against dark and anti-pattern ideas; but as a UX lead, there needs to be a willingness to test, iterate, learn and then create new hypotheses that lead to new, productive tests.
You can’t have CRO without UX
UX is an essential part of conversion rate optimization. Without it, CRO can flounder with surface level changes that don’t move the needle. At worst, CRO can introduce dark or anti-patterns that damage long-term value and user goodwill. By being actively involved, bringing a channel level mindset, and an understanding of how to reduce friction to deliver the must-have experience, you can make CRO a powerful driver of growth for your organization.
Conversion rate optimization is a team effort. User experience professionals hold the keys to many of the most important growth and optimization levers a company has. UX teams can help new ideas find traction and sustainable growth faster, and unlock long-term wins that turn businesses into big successes.
To what extent can UX improve CRO? Is UX a valuable tool, or an expensive restriction? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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