How to Leverage Good UX for More Conversions
By Ezequiel Bruni
Jul 6, 2016
I have been a web designer off and on for nearly twelve years now. Being a web designer has taught me a lot, but there are times when I think that my most important qualification is this: I’ve been a web user since I was nine years old.
My parents were not what you’d call “early adopters.” My first web experience was with Hotmail, though I don’t remember what my email was. I do remember that my second email had something to do with the Pokemon known as Bulbasaur.
Grass-type for life.
When I design a website nowadays, I go into a sort of “designer mode.” It’s a place in my head where I have access to everything I know (read: can currently remember) about web design, UX design, best practices, HTML & CSS and more. I love designing the flow of information to be as organized and easy-to-use as I can make it.
I do this by putting myself in another person’s shoes. I do it by being a frustrated, hurried customer looking for a solution to their problem. I do it by being a curious teen, looking for something to occupy their time. I do it by being a spouse looking for the perfect gift. I do it by going back to being that kid who loved (and still loves) Pokemon and hated (and still hates) dial-up.
I do my best to get into the head of the user, determine what will be most useful to them and make it readily available. The thing is, it can be hard to communicate this to clients. It can be hard to explain to them why that animated carousel on the home page is unnecessary. It can be hard to explain why all those oversized photos will slow them down; after all, their Internet is fast enough for it.
Clients have a bottom line. They have sales to make, subscribers’ email addresses to collect and what-have-you. The user experience is just a means to an end, and hey, their company is great! Their product is great! Why wouldn’t users want to see the animated face of the CEO instead of their mouse cursor?
Simply put, you’ll need to explain how good UX design translates into more sales for them. And every website is selling something, whether it be a product, service, idea or ad space.
For the purposes of talking to your client, UX design is about speed, accessibility and trust.
This really is the easiest one to start with. There are many, many studies around that point to the need for websites to run fast and load faster. The exact number changes every time, but it’s considered fairly common knowledge that we form our first impressions in milliseconds. Even if your client doesn’t know this, I bet you can find something from their favorite news source to convince them.
The hardest part, sometimes, is getting them to realize that not everyone has broadband access at home, or even at work. Of the people carrying around smartphones, not all of them have 4G or even 3G. These technological advances that many take for granted are not ubiquitous.
Have you ever tried to use the web on a budget, data-capped mobile data plan in... let’s say Mexico? Have you ever opened up the Facebook app to realize, horrified, that everything was loading slowly because some video was automatically playing and eating up your total data for the month? Did you know that as of last year, some two million people in the U.S. were still using AOL dial-up?
Little word-pictures and facts like that have a lot of impact during these conversations.
Even under ideal conditions, though, a slow website is detrimental to conversions. Let’s take two different people as examples. First, we have a traveling businesswoman. She just got a call telling her about how all hell has broken loose at the office, and they need a solution, fast. With her phone already out, she starts Googling.
She has the latest iPhone, and a 4G plan. Everything’s going fast, until she hits your site. It’s taking a while to load, possibly because of some enormous video background that gets loaded on every device. In her frustration, she taps the screen a couple of times. Then she taps just as the page is loading, taking her to some other part of your site.
She’s lost, she’s annoyed. She hits the back button until she gets to her Google search, and taps on a different link.
Second, we have a guy on his desktop at the end of the work day. He just realized that his anniversary is a week away and he needs a gift fast. He finds two likely-looking options on some blog and opens each link in its own tab.
The first site, yours, is using a preloader. In 2016. He clicks over to the other tab. The gift looks perfect, he can get express shipping and the “buy” button is right there. With a click, your sale is gone.
Essentially, speed is usability. At least, it’s a huge part of the user experience. Speed is what keeps you from losing customers to the competition, or worse, their own frustration.
Okay, so you’ve convinced your client that the splash screen (Hey, I still see them. It’s weird.) is a terrible idea. The site is loaded and the user is go for interaction!
However, the battle is far from over. Once the page is loaded, users can still get frustrated by the page itself and give up on it. Any deity you could name knows I’ve done it. I’ve invoked their names often enough, usually praying for vengeance on bad designers and companies that wouldn’t just take my money and give me the thing!
And now your client is asking for light grey 8pt body text with 10pt headings on a white background. Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, but there are style guides out there (mostly from the 90s, I think) that call for very small text.
Convincing a client to go in a different (read: better) direction is usually pretty simple here, too. You can usually just hand them a mobile phone with a some tiny text, some equally tiny buttons and asking, “Okay, you see the problem here, right?”
If they don’t, well, it goes back to empathy. Any number of external conditions can render a pretty-looking interface unusable. These conditions include:
- Bright sunlight on the screen
- Having the screen at a bad angle (this is usually not a problem on mobile devices, admittedly)
- The user’s own poor vision (the Vision Council of America claims that a whopping 75% of adults use some form of vision correction)
- Having fingers that are too large, or a phone that’s just too small
- Any of a range of motion-impairing injuries or diseases
Accessibility is about accounting for use cases that are not your own. This can mean making sure that screen readers and voice control apps can read and interact well with your site, or just putting the “buy” button in a logical place, or just accepting PayPal for international orders.
I mean that bit about PayPal. The number of times I’ve had my Mexican credit cards fail me when trying to order something from abroad is just… too high.
Tell your client another (horror) story, this one about a potential customer who can barely read about all of their project’s wonderful features. Tell them about how he spent three minutes looking for the “buy” button. Tell them about how when his card was declined, he gave up and went to Amazon.
You can tell them his name was Ezequiel.
By contrast, you can tell them that when you make it easy to use the site and buy the product, customers will come back. They’ll think of your client’s site the next time they need anything resembling one of their products. They will remember how easy it all was and they’ll want more of that.
This is actually the hard one. Everyone wants to feel in control. They want to be in control of their lives, their actions and to the best of their ability, their circumstances. The fact that the only thing they can control is their own actions and all else is a mere illusion doesn’t really come into it.
You sure as hell can’t control your website’s users. It can be difficult for website owners to truly accept that. They might want users to read about all of the features, be duly impressed and hand over their financial information with huge, delirious smiles on their faces. They might want to slam a welcome mat in front of users before they even get to read the features, in the hopes that the world “sale” will convince them.
But anyone who’s spent any serious time on the Internet knows that this does not work. That prompt might just be the very thing that sends them running.
In short, we all need to trust our users. We need to let them have as much control over their experience as possible. Give them multiple paths to the ordering form, when necessary. Let them decide whether to open a link in a new tab, or in the same one. Let them use their scroll-wheel as they see fit. Never, ever stick any kind of pop-up window in their faces unless it’s a part of the payment process, for example. Most importantly: always let them opt-in to a newsletter, rather than force them to opt-out.
If you don’t let them have that much control, they’ll either simply leave, or potentially break their experience altogether by trying to take it from you.
What we get in return for trusting our users is that they learn to trust us. When we let them have some control over the way they use our sites, they will be more ready to believe the microcopy that tells them we won’t spam them, or that we’ll take good care of their private information.
When they trust us, they practically become a part of the marketing team. They think of the brand as more than a company out for their cash; they think of it as a reliable service. They think of it as a constant that they can depend on in this chaotic, unfriendly world. And that is exactly how they’ll talk about the brand to their friends.
It is difficult to give up control, though. It’s the same reason people keep asking you to make the logo bigger. A long-calm, reasonable discussion is probably your best bet. Or point them to this article and hope for the best.
Good UX design leads to more than just sales. It builds trust in a brand and turns customers into allies. Making your site easy to use isn’t just the shortest path to the “buy” button. It generates feelings of goodwill among customers.
That goodwill turns into profit, yes. It also means that customers see you as a collection of human beings, rather than a monolithic entity. That means that customers will stick around even after you screw something up. It means they’ll celebrate your successes almost as much as you do.
That’s just how powerful good UX design is.
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