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As a designer, your job isn’t just to make a site look good; it is also to make sure that it meets your client’s commercial goals.
For an e-commerce client, this might be to get more sales. For a media site, to get more shares and pageviews. And for a B2B site, to capture more leads.
This is why being a designer isn’t enough; you need to be a conversion-focused designer.
A conversion-focused designer places conversion rates above everything else. This means basing your designs on conversion rate optimization (CRO) principles, not just design theory.
The question now is: how do you become a better conversion-focused designer?
In this post, I’ll share 4 secrets of good conversion-focused design and how to apply it to your own work.
If you’re a trained website designer, you’re likely accustomed to basing your designs on theoretical principles. You choose colors based on the color theory and fonts based on typographical principles.
With CRO-focused design, however, you need to adopt a test-focused mentality.
This means that your design decisions need to be backed by actual A/B test results.
Moreover, it means that you’ll never be “done” with design work; you’ll constantly iterate new designs based on test requirements.
Here’s a great example of this: CrazyEgg, an analytics tool, started off with a simple design. During the course of testing, they experimented with a much longer web page:
Here’s another example from Basecamp. Instead of a static design, Basecamp experimented with multiple designs featuring different copy and people.
Here are all the variants along with their relative conversion rates:
These variants are much different from Basecamp’s current homepage:
The lesson here is clear: to be a better conversion-focused designer, you need to embrace constant change and rely on A/B test results to make your design decisions.
What is the end goal of CRO? Conversion? Yes.
But who are you really trying to convert? For many visitors who are coming to your website for the first time, conversion is a process. It will likely not happen on their first visit.
In fact, global e-commerce conversion rates usually hover between 1-2% for most channels.
This means that out of every 100 people landing on your site, nearly 99 go back without buying anything.
The conversion rates for non-ecommerce sites aren’t very promising either. SaaS websites, for instance, have a measly 7% conversion rate. This means that out of 100, 93 people leave the site without buying anything.
Understand that conversion is a part of the process. The idea here is to convert the users who are already engaged with your brand.
Pay attention to the other metrics like; Visitor Recency (how long users take between two consecutive visits) and Visitor Loyalty (how frequently users visit) to get some idea on how engaged are the users.
As a designer, this means retooling your design-thinking to adopt these metrics.
For instance, instead of focusing solely on the site experience, you will have to also design for an email experience to complement the site design.
For example, KateSpade sends out emails to customers who’ve abandoned their shopping carts on the site. This email follows the KateSpade design language and attempts to create a consistent shopping experience:
Similarly, FreshDesk runs a retargeting campaign with these ads:
Here’s the FreshDesk homepage:
Notice how the ads and the website have the same look and feel?
This is what you have to get used to as a conversion-focused web designer: to design not just for the site, but for every point of interaction with the customer.
To be a better conversion-focused designer, focus on the conversion funnel, not just the site. This means designing better emails, retargeting ads, landing pages, opt-in forms, etc.
If you’re designing a landing page, getting strong conversion rates counts as a big win.
But ask yourself, is it okay to use that same landing page for all your visitors? Probably not.
Your landing page gets traffic from multiple channels; Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram etc. It is fair to assume you have different marketing strategies for every separate channel.
No matter what channel the visitor is coming to your website, they should get a uniform experience.
For example, a user on instagram must have looked at a picture or video and then decided to come to your website, whereas, a user from linkedin may have come to your website after reading an in-depth article.
Do you think one landing page can impress both the users and make them sign up with your business? I doubt it.
Each of these visitors come with different contexts in mind and hence have different expectations from your website.
For example, in 2012, the Obama-Biden campaign recognized Reddit users as major supporters. Accordingly, the campaign created a custom landing page targeting these users:
At a smaller scale, bloggers can create custom landing pages in their guest blog posts to trigger higher conversions:
For higher conversions, design with your users’ context in mind. If your users are coming from Instagram, create a design experience that matches their social-first context. For search visitors, the intent might be very different.
There is no one-size-fits-all CRO design “best practices” that you can implement to your industry in a week and see results from next day.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions designers have about conversion-focused design – that buttons should be of a certain color or that pages need to have specific elements to trigger higher conversions.
Instead, focus on understanding and eliminating true design barriers that are hindering the user flow to improve conversion.
If changing the color of a CTA worked for someone else it doesn’t mean it will work for you too. After all, even best practices fail.
For example, take Taloon, a Finnish hardware e-commerce company dealing in plumbing, electrical and gardening material.
Following common consensus, the site design used social sharing buttons on their product pages to boost sales and social proof their products.
Here is their product page with social sharing options:
However, the company tested removing the buttons to see if it would have any positive effects on their conversion rates.
Here is the re-design without any social sharing option:
Removing social buttons increased conversion by 11.9%.
Instead of helping conversions, the sharing buttons were acting as a distraction.
Clearly, this was a case of “best practices” going wrong.
Don’t rely on best practices when making design decisions. Instead, get actual results from split tests and understand user flow before creating your designs.
Conversion-focused design can be hard to understand if you don’t come from a marketing background. Creating designs that focus on conversions above aesthetics or theoretical principles can be a tough truth to swallow.
However, by focusing on conversions in your design, you’ll deliver work that pushes your clients most important metrics. In doing so, you’ll not only delight your clients, but will also create better user-experiences for the site users.