Every Second Counts – Conversion Optimization and Usability

People value every second on the web – we often hear “Don’t waste my time!” In all of our various usability testing methods, we always measure the time to perform a task – whether the person is finding the recycling schedule on their city site or buying a product on a store site.

Time scores tell us a lot about the patterns, difficulty and clarity of tasks. Turns out that seconds also count in lifting conversion rates, which is why experts who conduct Landing Page Optimization include time in their optimization process.

Conversion Rate refers to the percentage of web page visitors who perform the desired action, usually completing a purchase or submitting a form.

Landing Page Optimization (LPO) generally refers to an iterative design and testing process that directs visitors to different versions of the page in order to measure the impact of each page element on conversion rates.

Friction slows people down!

Usability improves conversion rates by reducing friction. MECLABS has developed a model of conversion based on years of rigorous optimization experiments. One of the elements in the model is Friction and too much can harm conversion rates. Minimizing friction is the intersection point of usability and optimization.

Friction, according to MarketingExperiments/MECLABS, is a measure of the time imposed by both the length and the difficulty of the conversion process. In usability, time scores per task can be seen as a means of measuring friction.

Dr. Flint McLaughlin of MECLABS also shares that their experiments suggest efforts to reduce friction produce a disproportionately high return in conversion increases.

That’s where usability comes in – testing methods & expertise are oriented to reducing task time by identifying friction elements like unnecessary steps in tasks or elements that create cognitive load or distraction.

Friction occurs in the mind, not on the page.” – Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, MECLABS

All Public and Private sector sites can benefit from Reducing Friction

There are many usability parallels between sites oriented to conversion and sites oriented to other tasks, like finding a book at a library, checking for certification requirements at a professional association or finding government market data for a business plan.

In essence, converting the user to purchase is simply a means of helping the visitor complete their task efficiently and successfully. We find there are some significant sources of friction common to many sites, particularly around Register buttons, and Registration Forms. We’ll use these as examples of the benefits of learning from both optimization experiments and usability methods.

Example: Forcing a Visitor to Register is Pure Friction
Reducing friction improves sales. During the last year, we worked with e-store clients and government clients with registration processes that were overly long, overly complex and in many cases, totally unnecessary. They were pure friction.

There is ample evidence to suggest that registration deters conversion. Jared Spool’s 2009 article The $300 Million Button tells this exact story – removing the Register button increased the number of customers purchasing on a major e-store site by 45%.

In our usability testing, we saw participants on E-stores and government sites absolutely desperate to avoid registering. Only when the incentive was high enough (i.e. there was absolutely no other way to fill their need) did they proceed.

“The form, intended to make shopping easier, turned out to only help a small percentage of the customers who encountered it. … Instead, the form just prevented sales – a lot of sales.”?– Jared Spool, The $300 Million Button

Registering is Perceived as a Waste of Time

Time is one of the of the main deterrents participants cite when they try to avoid registering – they see registration as something that will take too long for too little benefit. There are those precious seconds, ticking away again.

Usability testing participants tell us why they don’t register. Here are some of the reasons we’ve heard:

  • People think they’re unlikely to purchase again so it’s not worth the time to register
    • if I’m buying something that I won’t be likely to buy in the future, then I don’t register” – E-store usability testing participant
  • They’ve been through too many registration forms that take a very long time to fill in and have developed an almost-Pavlovian resistance to the entire process.
    • Oh my god, do I really have to put all this in?” – Participant faced with overly long form
  • They know that managing the passwords and accounts takes time, and particularly dislike it when sites force them to use a site-designed password instead of their own
    • “I have hundreds of accounts around the world”
  • They’ve been burned by registering and then receiving unwanted emails – which take time to manage and remove.

We advise all of our clients to avoid forcing visitors to register if at all possible. Many sites undergoing Landing Page Optimization are moving in this direction as well. The 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report from marketingsherpa shows 74% of respondents reporting that providing ‘Guest Checkout’ had a positive impact on conversion rates.

Offering an opportunity to save a password at the end of the guest checkout process (which requires the bare minimum of information) can provide the guest with an opportunity to create an account without the mental barrier to registration that exists today.

Dos and Don’ts to Reduce Registration Friction

Some E-store clients were locked in to software or suppliers that forced the requirement upon them. Some government agencies were also forced into registration processes. Some others have managed to force-fit a ‘Guest Checkout’ process onto their system that creates an account in the background. In all of these cases, the trick to reducing friction is to avoid the perceived barriers to registration listed above (and in the meantime, show your suppliers some of this data!).

As seen below, Amazon provides a great well-tested example of how to improve conversion rates and usability by providing a registration-like process that avoids those barriers.

Best practices from Amazon will lift conversion rates and improve usability on your own site:

Registration is just one example of an intersection point where usability professionals can learn from optimization experiments and vice versa. We’ll keep recommending the learning from MarketingExperiments and WhichTestWon to our clients, and will follow them ourselves to complement our usability expertise.

If you’re at the point in your Landing Page Optimization process when you know there’s friction, but you’re not sure how to improve it, let us know. We can provide a free half-hour consultation to discuss how usability methods can improve the lift you’ll gain from Landing Page Optimization or to reduce friction in any aspect of your site.


See also:

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