User Experience and Funnel Optimization

When we talk about user experience (UX), we are referring to the totality of visitors’ experience with your site—more than just how it looks, UX includes how easy your site is to use, how fast it is, and how little friction there is when visitors try to complete whatever action it is they’re there to complete.

As it applies to funnel optimization, the importance of UX cannot be overstated. By carefully crafting your user experience, you can ensure the user stays on task and keeps moving through the funnel, having been given just enough information and options at each step.

In your funnel optimization efforts, you’ll be focusing primarily on two aspects of UX:

  1. Reducing friction in the form of wasted clicks, excess pages, false starts, going to the wrong page, slow page loads, and other friction points that cause users to give up.
  2. Reducing cognitive overhead—another version of friction—that puts doubt and indecision into the mind of the user, causing them to waver over whether to convert.

Projects usually begin with design briefs, branding standards, high-level project goals, as well as feature and functionality requirements. While certainly important, these documents amount to little more than the technical specifications, leaving exactly how the website will fulfill the multiple user objectives (UX) wide open.

By contrast, if you begin by looking at the objectives of the user and the business, you can sketch out the various flows that need to be designed in order to achieve both parties’ goals. The user might be looking to find a fact, order a product, learn a skill, download a document, and so on. Business objectives could be anything from getting a lead, a like, a subscriber, a buyer, and so on. Ideally, you’ll design your flow in a way that meets both user and business objectives.

In addition to an awareness of user objectives, it’s important to account for the different traffic sources and levels of knowledge and engagement in your user base. You must map those in-bound user flows to conversion funnels that provide value to the user (without neglecting those business objectives.)

When mapping out your user flows, start at the top—the point at which users first exposed to your site. You’ll probably want to address the flows that impact the most users first.

Here are a few examples of typical user flows:

  • A user clicks into your site from a banner or Google AdWord ad (Paid Advertising)
  • A user finds your site via a friend’s post on a social network (Social Media)
  • A user clicks into your site from a deep link that was surfaced by a search (Organic Search)
  • A user sees you mentioned in the news or a blog post and visits your site (Press or News Item)

In each of these cases, the user comes with his or her own needs, expectations, and level of knowledge, and they need to be treated accordingly.

For example…

Assume like many websites, one of your major sources of traffic is paid advertising. Let’s follow the user flow from a paid channel from first exposure to conversion.

It all starts with the banner or search ad copy, which needs to achieve one precious goal: get a click from the right person.

When designing ads that represent the topmost point of your user flow, ask yourself the following:

  • What type of user am I targeting?
  • Are they actively seeking a solution to a problem, or are they casually browsing?
  • What problem are they trying to solve?
  • How can I best capture the user’s attention?
  • How do I relate to the user?
  • Is there a message that will resonate with the user?
  • Is there a pain point that my product or website alleviates for the user?
  • How can I articulate this solution clearly and quickly?
  • What compelling calls to action will get our target user to click?

Look to the data you’ve compiled via analytics, user surveys, and user testing to ensure your your ads speak to your users’ motivations, and be sure to include a great hook.

So you’ve designed an ad that fulfilled its main objective, getting the user to the landing page. This is when the user flow work really begins. In this case, the user is coming from a low-information source—for example, your ad doesn’t communicate as much as a press or news item. Because of this you must cater your flow to fills in the gaps of information, providing the the data visitors need to feel comfortable giving you their email address (or whatever your desired conversion is). The key here is twofold: provide a reason to keep moving through the flow, down the funnel, and get rid to any reasons to stop and click out of the funnel.[1]

In the next chapter we’ll thoroughly cover the art of crafting a killer landing page, but below are a few methods of keeping the user moving through the funnel:

  • Articulate benefits and support them with simple proof points
  • Organize your content and design to support—rather than distract from—your call to action
  • Remove friction at every step by asking as little as possible from the user—the minimum amount of information and load time, the fewest number of fields and clicks
  • Use a compelling headline or hook that creates a sense of anticipation in the user, propelling them through the last registration step.

While some sites use tricks (also known as “dark or anti-patterns”) to drive conversion, the resulting growth is inauthentic.[2] Because they trick people, their reputation is ultimately damaged and their word of mouth referrals are hurt.

It’s important to understand that converting every visitor isn’t optimal. Rather, focus on designing your user flow in a way that nudges the right visitor toward the must-have experience. Further, once that visitor converts, the UX should make it easy for them to tell their friends about their great experience via social media and other sharing, driving new users into the funnel.

Chapter 5 Notes

[1] http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2012/01/04/stop-designing-pages-start-designing-flows/

[2] http://uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/01/antipatterns.php