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3 steps for creating a better user experience and selling more products

If you run an online business, you can’t afford to overlook your user experience (UX). Find out why and how to improve your UX with this 3-step guide.

July 9, 2019 by Lauren Cochran

Happier customers, sustainable profits, and an ROI that dwarfs email marketing at an astronomical scale.

What do these three things have in common?

They’re all characteristics of what happens when you tap into user experience (UX).

And they’re just the tip of the benefits iceberg.

When you have a good -- not even a great -- UX, your profits don’t just rise. Your brand reputation increases, people talk about your products more, and you spend less time triaging support tickets from customers at odd-end hours of the night, too.

Conversely, if you’re not making UX your top priority, you’re undermining your sales potential. Your blogging and SEO won’t be half as effective, your affiliates won’t sing your praises without some significant push, and your marketing funnel will have enough friction to start a fire.

There are a lot of strategies in marketing that are “take it or leave it”. UX isn’t one of them.

The good news is you don’t have to learn a new discipline to start benefiting from UX. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, either.

Here’s why, and so much more importantly, how to make UX the foundation of your online business.

What is user experience (UX) and why is it important for businesses?

User experience refers to the emotional, practical, and interactive elements of a users’ individual experience on a website, app, or other touchpoints.

Its purpose varies among businesses, but at large, the idea behind UX is to make it as easy as possible for customers to use a product and, more importantly, enjoy it.

And it’s more critical for businesses than ever before.

Check out what the numbers say:

  • 42% of consumers report they would pay more for a friendly, inclusive experience with a brand.
  • Alternatively, if you don’t provide that experience, they may not be willing to pay at all. 88% of online customers aren’t likely to return to your website after just one bad experience.
  • And when that happens, 79% of users will find another site -- i.e., your competitors -- to complete their task if your website doesn’t make it easy enough for them.

As you can hopefully see, neglecting your UX comes at a significant expense -- though these are just the most obvious costs.

There is a far less obvious, but just as detrimental, impact on your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts when you wing your website design.

Let me explain.

Google’s UX directly impacts how SEO works.

For instance, do you remember interstitial ads? Forbes was famous for them back in the marketing day: they’d block your way forward as soon as you landed with a window you had to interact with before seeing the content you came for.

In 2016, Google (rightfully) deemed them too intrusive for mobile users and started penalizing website rankings for anyone who sported them for phone-bound visitors.

And since Google also started laying the seeds for its mobile-first index in the same year -- in other words, your SEO merit became determined by the mobile version of your website first -- the result was an almost overnight eradication of this ad type.

That’s just one example of how Google’s UX philosophies impact search engine ranking, too. If you want something even more on-the-nose, consider this:

The overwhelming majority of users won’t wait longer than 6 seconds for a website to load on their phone. If it takes longer than that, most will bounce by hitting the back button and heading back to the search engine results page.

This signals to Google that the page they’re serving up to the user isn’t what they wanted, which means the search engine giant is providing a less-than-stellar experience for users.

So what did they do?

On July 9, 2018, they officially rolled out a penalty based on website speed to improve the experience they provide for users.

Which, in turn, means website speed -- already an important metric for user satisfaction to that point -- became a direct ranking factor for all websites.

It’s a never-ending process.

The much more recent diversity update, which is intended to provide users with a wider array of content by diversifying the domains that rank for a given term, is just the latest in a long series of UX-driven decisions that radically change the shape of digital marketing.

And since digital marketing is the crux of how you sell digital products, be they digital downloads or otherwise, it comes full circle.

After all, Google search drives at least 50% of all referral traffic on the internet. There is no greater gateway to customers than organic search and SEO, and no greater obstruction than when that gateway is closed.

I could keep going on, but I think we’ve made our point:

UX is the foundation of how people make money online, whether you’re trying to sell online courses, net more visitors to your blog to convert them from subscriber to customer, or run a mastermind group.

It’s all connected, and if you aren’t making those connections as strong as possible, you’re doing your sales a disservice.

Beyond that, you’re also missing out on the highest ROI you can tap into on the web at a return of $100 to every $1 spent.

Angie Schottmuller, expert growth marketing advisor, sums it up nicely:

“Marketing without UX is like throwing darts in the dark. Don’t hope to hit a goal.” 

So, what is UX?

It’s the most pivotal aspect of an online business, and one you can’t afford to ignore.

But it is one you can definitely afford to improve, and here’s how -- in three steps, no less.

3 steps to improve your website’s user experience and drive more digital product sales

Step #1. Turn your market research into user research

The first step for improving your UX is (probably surprisingly) simple. You need to return to your customer research and translate it into user research.

The difference is in the details, as you can see below.

Don’t just look at the buying habits of your users; look at their browsing habits, too. Do they have a lot of time to snack on content, or do they need to get from “point A” to “point B” in as short of a window as possible?

What are the tasks they need to complete on your website to satisfy their overall goals as customers (e.g., buying an online course to become self-sufficient at money management, or finding a checklist to help them organize their closets)?

Don’t stop there, either. Dig into your demographics -- what one cohort needs as users can vary significantly from another cohort’s needs.

Older users, for instance, are more likely to struggle with small and stylized font faces than younger users. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) makes it harder to see fine details and focus your eyes on the nitty-gritty.

And on that note, don’t assume you know your demographics without consulting your analytics, either from your Google webmaster dashboard or your Facebook Pixel.

It’s worth keeping your eye on future user growth, too, if you plan to expand your audience over time.

Keeping with our earlier example, baby boomers spend two more hours per week online than younger generations, and every eight seconds -- until 2030 -- a new user is added to the demographic.

So even if they’re not currently in your audience, they will be. Understanding and accounting for their needs ahead of time will save you a lot of website design correction work down the road.

The point, however, isn’t to talk about designing about older users (though it is a pet passion of mine), it’s to emphasize the need to think of people in terms of their user needs.

Not only does researching and understanding your customers as users improve your SEO -- see our earlier section -- but it also improves your overall credibility when your website functions optimally for your audience.

75% of people base the perceived credibility of your website and business on not just how it looks, but how it feels as they move through the sales funnel.

What’s more, over half of customers in both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) demographic say engagement depends entirely on how well a business understands their needs, which includes their user needs.

Still, if that’s not enough to convince you to research your customers as users, maybe these success stories will be.

Starting with user research, one design team improved conversion rates for a client by 75% after just a few small tweaks.

Likewise, in-depth research led another team to consecutive marketing experiments, all of which uplifted conversions by over 15% a piece, or 45% cumulatively.

As for how to turn your customer research into user research, beyond looking in your analytics, I recommend doing some guerilla-style research on your primary user groups, which we’ll cover more deeply in a moment.

Otherwise, the Pew Research Center is a great, free resource to learn more about the browsing habits and technology needs of different user groups. The Interaction Design Foundation’s guide to qualitative user research is also an excellent starting point.

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for a caveat. While doing your homework on your users is imperative, there’s no way to validate your research, let alone your website, without putting it to the test. That’s where our second step comes in.

Step #2. Test your current website

You need a lot of traffic to run most marketing tests, but you don’t need a lot of traffic to find most of your UX hiccups.

In fact, the guiding rule is 5 users can discover 85% of your usability problems, or things which are standing in users’ way from completing their goal.

It can be as simple as asking five people you know to complete a specific action on your website, such as buying a product, and watching how they do it from start-to-finish. As they work through, document their process and ask them to share their thoughts.

Note, however, the user -- like the customer -- is never ‘wrong’. If they’re not doing things the way you think they should or want them to, you need to adjust to their step, not the other way around.

There are also some additional tools and platforms to do more sophisticated testing and source external users if you’re struggling to find participants, such as UserZoom and UserTesting.

These platforms can be expensive, though, and while certainly worth the investment, they’re not a must-have expense in the early aughts of your business.

(Want to find out what the must-haves for a fledgling online business are? Our weekly live demo may be just the ticket for you then.)

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As I said, it’s more than sufficient to sit down with a friend and watch them work through your website.

Still, a word to the wise if you’re hurting for people to test your website and don’t want to use an external resource:

Avoid “dogfooding”, or eating your own dog food. There is no rule more immutable in UX than separating the creator from the user. Just as designers can’t impartially navigate their own work, neither can you.

Which isn’t to say ‘dogfooding’ doesn’t have its uses -- it does -- but at its best, it limits your purview to expert-level users only, and since you’re probably a solopreneur, it’s not likely to be a sustainable strategy for you in the first place.

During the testing phase, it can also be beneficial to use tools like Hotjar (which integrates with your Podia storefront) to generate heat maps.

Heat maps, as their name implies, use infrared-style formatting to notate where clicks happen, where and when scrolling happens, and most pertinently, how well your CTA is attracting attention.

You can see where the bulk of attention is devoted in the example below:

Again, like user research platforms, while heat maps are quantifiably valuable and certainly recommended if you can front the expense, they’re not necessary -- conversations and walkthroughs with a handful of users will provide you with more than enough data to pivot on.

The linchpin for this step is working with real people, even if it’s just an informal laptop session over a cup of coffee or with a Zoom meeting.

And, moreover, to do it before you roll out any changes on your website.

Testing your current design out before implementing changes cuts back on wasted time and expense, because while few things can’t be improved (that might be perfectionism talking), there are many things which can be broken with careless ‘improvements’.

Which is why the top-of-class companies always start their redesign processes by testing their current design first. Adobe, for instance, tested their interface extensively before implementing changes.

Lenovo, likewise, used this testing-first philosophy to evaluate the journey of their customers from end-to-end before making moves to improve it.

So, grab a group of friends, recruit a few of your followers on social media, or get friendly with your neighbors -- either way, you need to find what’s working, as well as what isn’t, before you start making changes, and there’s no way to do that without real interaction.

Once you’ve done that, and only once you’ve done that, you’re ready for the third, though not necessarily final, step.

(Spoiler: It involves more testing.)

Step #3. Lay out the path to conversion for your users, then test, test, and test again

OK. At this point, you should have a clear idea of:

  • Who your customers are as users and what they need
  • What your customers’ goals are on your website
  • What the major hiccups standing in the way of those goals are
  • How real-life people overcome, or don’t, those hiccups

Now, it’s time to get more granular and start building user flows. Why? Because user flows give you a reference point for how things work -- not just how they should.

They were also instrumental in HubSpot’s redesign, which more than doubled their already epic conversions.

If you’ve never heard of a user flow, it lays out the steps a user takes to achieve their goals, including all of the pages and the actions they take. Typically, it’s visual, as you can see in the example below, but it doesn’t have to be.

So long as it includes the steps necessary for a goal, it qualifies as a user flow.

If it sounds or looks intimidating, take heart: if you can work a flow chart, you can create user flows. Xtensio and Lucidchart both offer free templates and easy interfaces to build them.

And, if all else fails, there’s always the good-old-fashioned pen and paper.

To start, first look in your Google Analytics (or your preferred web management dashboard) -- where do people go to complete the action you want them to, such as buying your online course?

Then, combine that data with the information you gathered in the second step. What are people aiming to accomplish on your website when they take that path? Did any of your participants share why they chose to go one way and not the other?

Next, look for ways to simplify that path and reduce friction. When it comes to the path between landing on a website and converting, you want it slicker than an iced-over slip-n-slide.

So if you find a step that doesn’t need to be there or confuses people -- and you probably did if you tested it out with at least five people in the previous step -- eliminate it.

Then, as you’ve probably noticed is a theme by now, test your website again before moving on or changing anything else. This tweak-test-tweak-test pattern is a hallmark of design thinking and the predominant approach by most user experience professionals.

Beyond the fact you probably won’t have the time to change everything you could potentially improve without neglecting your many other responsibilities -- like creating content for your membership, or so on -- the idea is to make small, incremental changes and work your way up.

Focus on minimal releases and iterations, setting yourself toward a goal rather than a deadline. That’s what Asana, one of my favorite project management tools (though there are many great tools available), did for their redesign.

Sam Goetler, former product manager for Asana, explains:

“We were working through incremental steps. We would sprint towards the next launch and once we had A/B test results from that launch, they’d give us signal on what to do next. We let the strength of a signal guide us.”

If you’re looking for a direction to start your first user flow, focus on your conversion path. Where is your CTA, and what steps do users take to follow it?

If the path to conversion isn’t easy to start, it isn’t easy to finish, either. Your CTA needs to be in a clear and accessible place, ideally “above the fold” and visible without scrolling.

Why? Because 57% of users’ viewing time on a website is still dedicated to the first thing a user sees pre-scrolling.

It follows that optimizing the area above the fold for conversions can have a big impact. One website uplifted conversions from 8% to 27% on their landing page just by focusing on the above-the-fold space.

So if you’re going to start anywhere with improvements, make it your conversion flow -- it’ll hit your bottom line the most.

Other things to keep in mind with your first user flow is the number of interactions you can expect before someone makes a purchase. What you want and what users actually do will likely diverge.

In other words, your user flow shouldn’t dictate the desired steps to conversion -- it should include all of the steps people actually take to get there, for better or worse.

According to research by Adobe, the average customer interacts with a brand 5 times before they make a purchase, which includes reading your blog, browsing your “about” page, and searching for more information on you.

All of that said, there’s danger in working in the opposite direction, too. Your user flow doesn’t need to include every possible detail.

Keep it top-level: the more details you add, the harder it becomes to see the bigger picture.

If the information doesn’t communicate something about the users’ progression and actions, it’s best left for the appendix. Concision, as is often the case, is key.

As you make changes to your website and test them out, reflect those changes in your user flow, removing or adding steps as necessary to illustrate the current process after each iteration.

Because users are, of course, individuals, it can also be helpful to create multiple rough user flows based on your research and analytics data and find the common denominator between them.

While it would be ideal if users all followed the same path, there will always be outliers, and excluding them from your data is critical for making data-driven design decisions. So if only one out of seven users took “Y path” over “X path”, it may not be necessary to map out the “Y path”.

(At the very least, it signifies a need to test out “Y” path more before committing resources to changing it.)

Additionally, aim to refresh your conversion flow once every three months or less. User behavior, like users themselves, shifts over time, and as your audience expands, so will the potential paths they want to take to convert.

Basically:

Define the path users take to conversion, look for ways to make it shorter and more engaging, roll out changes, then rinse and repeat.

That’s all there is to it. If you’d like to dig in deeper to UX and learn more, I recommend adding these resources to your regular reading routine:

  • Inside Design by InVision: This blog is a great resource for snackable tips on UX, and features some world-class writers, too.
  • The Interaction Design Foundation: No list would be complete without mentioning this blog, and for a good reason. If you want to learn the basics thoroughly, look no further.
  • Nielsen Norman Group: You know how Eddie Van Halen has a special place in guitar history? The NN Group occupies a similar space in UX history. Check out this blog for the latest research on design and actionable tips on emerging conventions.

Otherwise, stick to these three steps and you’re more than off to a great start -- you’re off to great profits, too.

Great experiences start with great websites

Your user experience makes or breaks your online business.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • UX, or user experience, is the cumulative experience of users when interacting with a website, tool, or app.
  • Google’s UX philosophy dictates SEO, so UX isn’t just instrumental to satisfying users -- it’s critical for ranking well, too.
  • Customers don’t forgive poor experiences. If you aren’t optimizing your UX, you’re leaving money on the table (and your competitors are all-too-happy to pick it up).
  • You don’t have to go to design school to improve your UX, fortunately. You just need to talk to people.
  • Start with researching your customers as users. What are their needs -- physical, mental, and emotional -- from your website? What goals are they trying to accomplish?
  • Then, test your current website. What stands in customers’ way of completing their goals? What issues make your website harder to use than it needs to be?
  • Next, define the paths users take to conversion by building a user flow. What are the typical steps between when a visitor lands and when they become a customer, and how can you make it faster and more enjoyable for them?
  • As you make changes to your website, revise your user flows to reflect them. Even if you don’t make any changes, it’s worth updating your user flow every few months -- over time, browsing habits and audiences change.
  • The more accurate your user flows are, the more meaningful any changes you make will become for your bottom line.
  • Finally, rinse and repeat. Great UX isn’t static -- it’s a living thing that needs to grow and change alongside your business and audience.

Of course, you could minimize a lot of these steps by using a storefront builder that’s already built with the user in mind, and I know just the place for you to get started for free.

Not that I’m the most impartial judge, but you don’t have to take my word for it -- over 17,000 happy creators agree.

Find out why they chose Podia for yourself with a free trial today to ensure your customers, present and future, have the best possible experience no matter what stage of their buyers’ journey they’re in.

Happy testing and profiting, friends.