Back in the old days of web design, we would design a site, put the necessary code together and then upload it to the internet. Job done. It was very much a start and finish process, only requiring some maintenance work and the occasional redesign every few years or so.
This approach doesn’t cut it anymore and you only need to look at how much marketers talk about conversion rate optimisation to understand there’s a lot of work to be done after the initial design stage. In fact, the design process never ends; it keeps striving to create a better user experience and improve business results.
If you think the user experience on your website is good enough, you’re not taking UX design seriously enough.
The consumer journey is getting longer
As the internet has evolved, the consumer journey has become longer. The number of interactions people have with brands before buying is higher than ever, spanning across multiple sessions and devices. For some brands, the consumer journey is a game of patience and one of the best examples of this right now is Duolingo.
Duolingo positions itself as a platform where people can “Learn a language for free. Forever” but its goal is to turn users into paying members via in-app purchases and Duolingo PLUS. It has to accept that the majority of users will continue to use the free version of its platform. But it focuses on attracting the largest possible userbase to begin with and creating a user experience that converts as many as it can into Duolingo PLUS users.
To maximise user numbers, Duolingo doesn’t ask people to create an account. You can simply ‘Get Started’ right away and choose which language you want to learn – no friction whatsoever. However, the gamification of the Duolingo app makes you want to create an account once you’ve settled in with the app.
It’s no accident that Duolingo looks more like a mobile game than a language learning app. The addictive scoring system, unlockable achievements and social options make the app a daily presence in your life. In fact, you even get daily reminders tempting you to keep up with your efforts and improve your score. And then we come to the in-app purchase element where you can buy power-ups and more from the points you’ve earned – and, of course, upgrade to Duolingo PLUS, which removes ads and unlocks the full version of the app.
Most websites and apps don’t take the same frictionless approach as Duolingo, of course. Users are normally forced to create an account before they can do anything worthwhile with a platform – and this is fine if you’ve tested this approach against something less restricted. If you haven’t, then you could be turning away a huge number of people who could go on to become valuable customers.
UX issues stop people buying from you
The main reason to keep improving the user experience of your website is because UX issues stop people buying from you. When a potential customer gets stuck with your payment form, you lose risking the sale. When your search result page loads too slowly, you risk losing that visitor for good.
We’ve all experienced these issues when booking flights on an airline’s website. These things are so poorly optimised for user experience, you can’t help thinking they do it on purpose. And, let’s face it, some of them make the actual travelling part as uncomfortable as possible too (not mentioning any names, of course).
As you might expect, Ryanair’s flight search asks you which airport you want to depart from. Start typing in London and you get the option of choosing between Gatwick, Luton and Stansted but no option to select London as a city. People who want to fly from London to Alicante, for example, need to know this flight operates from Gatwick and Stansted but not Luton.
Without being able to select cities, as well as specific airports, the Ryanair website creates an instant barrier for people who don’t know which airports provide the flights they need. This is a perfect example of how a small detail can kill the user experience for a large chunk of your audience.
Best practices don’t always pan out
With so many established UX design best practices, you’d think we were all designing the perfect websites by now. Except best practices are nothing more than general guidelines that have held true for other brands in the past. They don’t tell you anything about what your users demand from you – and these are the only users that matter.
Unbounce’s former Senior Conversion Optimiser, Michael Aagaard, fell into this trap when optimising web forms for a previous client. Best practice tells us that fewer form fields mean more conversions but this isn’t always the case. In fact, he found that reducing the number of fields resulted in a 14.23% drop in conversions.
Further testing revealed that tweaking the labels for the fields was far more effective, boosting conversions by 19.21%, without removing a single field. The lesson here is that you can’t make any assumptions when it comes to UX design; you need to constantly test and improve the experience for your users. Best practice won’t do this for you.
UX design is an ongoing process
Great user experiences aren’t designed at the first attempt. They’re crafted over time by removing friction points and testing incremental design improvements, backed by user data. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is one part of this, but your ongoing UX optimisation efforts go far beyond conversions to consider your wider business objectives.
Improving the user experience also increases engagement, generates more leads, improves customer retention and all kinds of other KPIs, aside from conversion rates. We call this Performance UX: the practice of refining the user experience with specific business objectives in mind.
Let’s say you’re not getting the user retention rate you expect after people first discover your eCommerce website. The aim here is to identify an issue long before users are likely to convert – something that’s stopping people from progressing along the consumer journey. By delving into the relevant data, you can see how many sessions each user completes, how long they spend on your site and what actions they take. This could reveal many users are dropping off because they don’t want to create an account before accessing certain features – as Duolingo seemingly identified with its app.
Or you might notice a pattern where users complete a certain number of actions (e.g. conducting searches and saving a list of favourite items) before dropping off and not taking things any further. In this case, you might want to test a notification system to remind people why they saved such items in the first place, adjust your email marketing strategy or your AdWords remarketing efforts to bring people back to your site.
As people become more demanding about customer experience, brands are forced to respond by investing more in UX design. The average user experience is improving at a rapid pace and the only way to maximise your business potential is to constantly refine the user experience of your site. If you don’t, there are plenty of rivals who are willing to offer a better experience in your place. You have to think beyond the initial purchase, too. The user experience brings your customer service system, cross-selling sales strategy and all kinds of other touch points into the equation. Aside from getting that first sale, optimising the user experience of your site is crucial to turning customers into repeat buyers and brand loyalists that refuse to go elsewhere.