We need to design for conversions
Creative work often lives in the land of feeling—we can say we like something, point to how happy the client is, or talk about how delighted users will be, but can we objectively measure feelings?
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While success may not be a tangible metric for us, it is for our clients.
They have hard numbers to meet, and as designers, we owe it to them to think about how our work can meet those goals.
We can track sales, sure, but websites are ripe with other opportunities for measuring improvements.
Designing for conversions will not only make you a more effective designer or copywriter, it will make you much more valuable to your clients, and that’s something we should all seek out.
A conversion is an action taken by the user that accomplishes a business goal. If your site sells things, a conversion would be a sale.
Conversions can also be things like newsletter sign-ups or even hits on a page containing important information that you need users to read.
You require some tangible action to measure the success of your site—that’s your conversion.
Through analytics, you know how many people are coming to your site. You can use this to measure what percentage of users are converting.
This number is your conversion rate, and it’s the single greatest metric for measuring the success of a creative change.
In fact, once you start measuring success by conversion rate, you’ll be surprised to see how even the cleverest designs applied in the wrong places can fail to achieve your goals.
Conversions aren’t always a one-step process.
Many of us have multi-step forms or long check-out processes where it can be very useful to track how far a user gets.
A good conversion funnel will safeguard against false positives like that.
If business goals don’t align with customer goals, your business has no future. So if we’re not tricking users, what are we doing?
Users come to your site with a problem, and they’re looking for a solution. The goal is to find users whose problems will be solved by choosing your product.
With that in mind, improving the conversion rate doesn’t mean tricking users into doing something—it means showing the right users how to solve their problem.
That means making two things clear: that your product will solve the user’s problem, and what the user must do to proceed.
The first of these two points is the value proposition. This is how the user determines whether your product can solve his or her problem.
It can be a simple description of the benefits, customer testimonials, or just a statement about what the product will do for the user.
The user should be able to determine quickly why your product will be helpful in solving their concern.
Once the value of your product has been clear, you need to direct the user to convert with a call to action.
A call to action tells the user what they must do to solve their problem—which, in your case, means to convert.
Most buttons and links should be calls to action, but a bit of copy directly following a value proposition is a good place too.
If you’re also trying to get information from a user, consider a big form at the top of the page, so users can’t miss it.
When they scroll down the page and are ready to convert, they remember the form and have no question as to what they have to do.
My team’s testing found that replacing a Request Information button (that pointed to a form page) with an actual form on every page significantly boosted the conversion rate.
There are other factors as well, like decreasing friction in the conversion process and improving performance, but these two things are where the magic happens, and conversion problems are usually problems with one of them.
So improving conversion rate (and, to some degree, decreasing bounce rate) is largely about adding clarity around the value proposition and call to action.
Users don’t care about the history of your company, how many awards you’ve won, or what clever puns you’ve come up with—they care about whether your product will solve their problem.
If they don’t get the impression that it can do that, they will leave and go to a competitor.
Value propositions begin with the user’s concern, and you focus on that.
Look at this phrase:
Get an Associate’s degree in nursing
And now this one:
Is your job stuck in a rut? Get trained for a new career in nursing in only 18 months!
In this case, we lead with the user’s concern. That immediately gets users’ attention. We then skip to a benefit: a quick turnaround.
No time to wasted talking about the product—we save that for the body copy. The headline focuses entirely on the user.
In your sign-up or check-out process, always lead with the information the user is most interested in. Similarly, put the less-exciting content last.
In our testing, users were least excited about sharing their telephone number. Moving that field to be the last one in the form decreased form abandonment and improved conversions.
As designers, be cognizant of what your copywriters are doing. If the headline is the primary value proposition (as it should be), make sure the headline is the focal point of your design.
Ensure the messaging behind your design is in line with the messaging in the content. If there’s a disagreement in what the user’s problem is or how your product will solve that problem, the conversion rate will suffer.
Once the value proposition has been defined and stated, it’s time to focus on the call to action.
When crafting a call to action, don’t be shy. Buttons should be large, forms should be hard to miss, and language should be imperative.
A call to action should be one of the first things the user notices on the page, even if he or she won’t be thinking about it again until after doing some research on the page.
Having the next step right in front of the user vastly increases the chance of conversion, so users need to know that it’s there waiting.
That said, a call to action should never get in the way of a value proposition.
Make it clear how to convert, and make it easy, but don’t ask for a conversion before the user is ready.
Designing for conversions will not only make you a more effective designer or copywriter, it will make you much more valuable to your clients, and that’s something we should all seek out.ere some design choices that could improve calls to action.
For instance, picking a bright color that stood out from the rest of the site for the submit button did show an improvement in conversions, and reducing clutter around the call to action improved conversion rates.
But most of the gains here were in either layout or copy; don’t get so caught up in minor design changes that you ignore more significant changes like these.
The single biggest positive change we saw involved putting a form at the top of every page.
For longer forms, we would break this form up into two or three steps, but having that first step in sight was a huge improvement, even if one click doesn’t seem like a lot of effort.
Another important element is headings. Form headings should ask the user to do something. It’s one thing to label a form “Request Information”; it’s another to ask them to “Request Information Now.”
Simply adding action words, like “now” or “today,” can change a description into an imperative action and improve conversion rates.
With submit buttons, always take the opportunity to communicate value. The worst thing you can put on a submit button is the word “Submit.” We found that switching this button copy out with “Request Information” showed a significant improvement.
Think about the implied direction of the interaction. “Submit” implies the user is giving something to us; “Request Information” implies we’re giving something to the user.
The user is already apprehensive about handing over their information—communicate to them that they’re getting something out of the deal.
Changing phrasing to be more personal to the user can also be very effective. One study showed that writing button copy in first person—for instance, “Create My Account” versus “Create Your Account”—showed a significant boost in conversions, boosting click-through rates by 90%.
Creative changes should be applied methodically and scientifically—just because two or three changes together show an improvement in conversion rate doesn’t mean that one of them wouldn’t perform better alone.
One of the worst things you can do is push out a creative change, assume it’s great, and move on to the next task.
Measuring tangible things like conversion rate not only helps your client or business, but can also give new purpose to your designs and creative decisions.
Having this data on hand will give you more authority in dealing with clients or marketing folks, which is good for your creative and your career.
So, perhaps most importantly, objective measures of success give you, and your client, the reassurance that you’re doing the right thing.