User experience (UX) design has been around since the 1990s but as this art and science evolves, it is time to ask whether conversion rate optimisation (CRO) UX is its natural successor.
UX is not about creating new technology but about understanding how people use a product and then working to improve usability, whether that's by making it more accessible or increasing user satisfaction. The tools of traditional UX include user focus groups, shadowing (where a researcher observes how a user interacts with the product) and other types of analysis to understand user behaviour. In traditional UX practices, tracking and analysing a user's past behaviour then informs the design for future behaviour.
The issue is UX attempts to predict behaviour by standardising all users, whereas behaviour is highly contextual. Consider how a user will behave in the presence of an observer shadowing them, where they are compelled to devote their full attention to the product, versus a situation in which the user gives in to distraction. Decision-making and behaviour also change with social context; for example, people use Facebook differently ever since data security entered the spotlight.
What can CRO do for UX?
When you look at UX through a CRO lens, you'll see plenty of similarities. The desired outcome of CRO is to increase user engagement, which is set by the business and can be measured in many ways, from making sales or eliciting donations, to obtaining newsletter sign-ups, leads and referrals. Good UX supports CRO goals by helping the user navigate and engage with the business in the desired manner.
But where traditional UX can be long-winded, requiring a lot of research and analysis before an organisation implements a design, CRO is part of the research process. For example, most UX practitioners would know that during the design stage there are many options as to how a design can be done. In most cases one person makes the decision, but how are they sure? CRO tests different options in real time and then comes back with definitive results as to which led to the desired outcome.
One example occurred with a product page we tested for a retailer, pitting a best practice UX design against an alternative one. The client was certain the best practice page would win; it lost by 8%. While 8% doesn't sound like much, multiply that across all of the product pages and you can see how it would affect conversions and therefore business revenue.
In a traditional UX build, I would only have learnt about the results when the page went live, and I would not have tested it against an alternative. A CRO approach, on the other hand, uses agile learning cycles to fail quickly, learn, apply lessons and test again. So we didn't stop at an 8% improvement over best practice, we kept learning and testing with our retail client. Our test design achieved a 52% uplift.
CRO-led UX for business
Though relatively new and still being defined, CRO-led UX seems ideal for businesses because it is results focused. CRO practitioners are still very much concerned with how users move through a website, but our strategy begins with understanding the business' goals and then taking the user on a journey to achieve those goals.
UX is therefore no longer about having to pick one style from many possible ones that might work in theory. Instead, businesses benefit from the flexibility to test them. Designers can let the data guide them using real, current user behaviour for more accurate implementation, taking the subjectivity out of design. When data leads the way, it means design decisions no longer have to default to the loudest person in the room.
CRO-led UX is also active and current. A traditional UX build will have a research phase, a design phase and build phase, after which you find out if it works or not. With CRO-led UX, instead of looking at past behaviour to predict the future, designers are able to test on the fly and let the data guide the way. This speeds up implementation and gives businesses confidence in the design they use at the point of implementation. In many cases, CRO-led UX change generates a positive return almost immediately, paying for itself via revenue growth.
Traditional UX on its own works from a body of research that provides a good foundation for design, but it is in CRO-led UX where businesses will find the most value, using it to align with their business goals and harness current user behaviour. Be sure your website is delivering return on investment as soon as possible – don't wait to find out if a UX design might work.