When it comes to analytics, new designers and people that don’t look at user behavior numbers have no intuition about what is “good” or “bad”. That’s ok, nobody is born with that skill, but how do you know if your conversion rate is “enough”?
Terms you should know: “conversion” is when a user successfully gets through something you designed. For example, if you make a form to register a new user, every user that completes that form has “converted”. Your “conversion rate” is the percentage of people that convert, out of 100%.
The average person assumes that most people do whatever seems normal in your particular situation. The average person’s intuition is often wrong though, which is why UX design is a thing (and why the lottery is a thing, and why autocomplete is a thing, and why trends are a thing… but I digress…).
Where was I?
Ah yes: the average person’s intuition about user behavior is crap.
If you design an email notification, you might assume that most people will click the big colorful button. Because, it’s big and colorful, what else would you click?
If you design a landing page to get people to register for a free trial, you assume that most people will click the “register now!” button. Because, it’s big and colorful, and who doesn’t want to try your amazing thing for FREE?!
And if you design a form to send a box of glitter to your enemies, you assume that there will be a lot of newly fabulous shitheads all over the country very soon.
The world might not look as optimistic as you think. In fact, you’re probably just wrong. Most people will not do the thing you want them to do by default. Or maybe ever.
And your design might still be great!
Wait, what? If the design is great, won’t it get almost everyone to convert?
Probably not. But it’s why that intuition is wrong that is interesting —and useful— as a UX designer.
“Normal” is not as common as you think.
It is very tempting to think of users as “types” of people. If you work with personas (which you should, if you do UX) then you might fall into the trap of thinking that each person fits one of your personas, at all times, in all situations, forever.
We assume that a “normal” user will convert, and only “weird” things make a user not convert.
In reality, it’s the opposite.
A lot of things have to be “right” for a user to open your email notification: they have to be paying attention, they have to understand it, they have to have time to read it, and the notification has to be relevant to them in that moment.
If they are distracted, you lose.
If they are confused, you lose.
If they are busy, you lose.
If they are covered in a glitter cloud, you lose.
And if the notification is too general to be relevant, you lose.
However, if they see it, understand it, have a minute, aren’t fighting against a passive-aggressive disco-themed glitter attack, and the notification is about them, you might win!
Obviously, it is harder to win than it is to lose. That’s how user behavior works in the real world. You’re not just trying to make it look nice and simple… you need to improve the odds of success and decrease the odds of failure.
The same is true for your landing page and your checkout form. There are a lot more ways for someone to fail, quit, leave, or just be uninterested, than ways to succeed.
Ok, so how do we actually do that?
There are several ways to make your world more optimistic:
1) Get better traffic. If you are running ad campaigns that don’t target the right audience (or any audience), or flooding the universe with generic social media posts, or making garbage content marketing materials, or just trying to talk to everyone at the same time, you might be attracting people who are less likely to care about your offer. Any time your bounce rate or conversion rate is suddenly terrible: ask the marketing department if they just started running a campaign, or check your copywriting to see if it is too general or “too safe”. Pick an audience, and say something to motivate just that audience, and try not to attract people who aren’t part of that audience.
You don’t have to be passive about your audience. This might make your intuition twitch, but it is often a good idea to remove people from your mailing list instead of waiting for them to unsubscribe, or narrow your target audience by focusing on a more specific message. Why? Because it makes your list more accurate (and cost effective!). In other words, remove people who are probably the wrong people, so everybody you are talking to are the right people.
2) Expect less so you get more. This could also be called “lowering the threshold.” If you’ve been around UX for a long time, then you are familiar with the idea of making your form shorter (i.e. — asking fewer questions) so you get a higher conversion rate. Well, that principle applies to a lot more than forms. Give some content away for free, so more people will pay to upgrade! If you stop expecting people to pay on their first visit, more people will pay over time, because more people will give your product a chance.
Make your prices lower so more people will pay for your service! Offer one button instead of two buttons on your landing page so it’s easier to understand what to do. Ask users if they want a small box of glitter or a big box, instead of asking how much glitter they want. Ask yourself: can I require less from the user, so more users will be able to do what I want?
3) Forget “good” and “bad”. Think: “better” and “worse”. Every time you talk about a “good” conversion rate, you’re leading the conversation down the wrong path. Sure, there are lots of infographics that will give you a number to beat, but are you just trying to be better than the average in your industry, or are you trying to be the best you can be? Most people (like 95%) design landing pages and write marketing emails using their intuition as a guide, and they try to copy everything they have seen from competitors, so the average conversion rate is much, much, lower than what you can achieve.
For example, some industries have an average email open-rate (the percentage of people that actually open your email) of less than 10%. I have never run a campaign that bad, ever. If I was happy with an open-rate of 10% I would have stopped trying to improve. As long as your next email is opened more than your last email, you’re on the right track. Keep improving! Forget about the “good” or “bad” number, and focus on whether the trend is going up or down over time (as you make changes and do experiments, of course).
4) Play the long game. Many UX designers think about A/B testing and conversion like each experiment is a win/lose game. It’s isn’t. 10 small improvements can be just as valuable as one big one. And it’s much easier to make the small ones. Think about your designs on a time scale of years. See how many improvements you can make over a long period of time, and you will automatically be thinking in a more constructive way. Also, you might be surprised when that kind of thinking eventually leads you to a big “leap” in conversion. First you might make your form easier to understand. Then you might make it a little faster to complete. Then you might send the notification at a better time. Then you might make it more relevant. Then you might stop sending all the useless notifications. And then you might see a huge improvement, because all of your small improvements are now working together! Many UX improvements multiply your results, rather than just adding to your results. That’s the difference between 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 or 5 + 5 + 5 + 5. (Do the math!)
5) Make your designs more selfish — from the user’s perspective. In other words, shut up about yourself and start talking about them. Every time you write copy that starts with “we”, or explains what your product “allows” the user to do — you’re actually talking about yourself, not the user. What you’re really saying is “We want you to do this! So do it!” Would you respond to that?
Instead, tell them why they are the most important thing in the universe. Start your email subject with “you” and see how it forces you to write the copy a different way. Explain that the user can be more powerful by using your product, not that your product can do more powerful things. And stop it with the fucking free shit. Motivate the user by telling them how they will be more loved, more attractive, part of the team, the best in some way, or more free to live the life they want… doesn’t all of that sound better than an iPad?