Designing for Conversion

Breaking down the New Rules

So you want to design a digital experience that kills (but in a good way).

What’s your first step?

“Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.”

— Steve Jobs

While Steve was talking about a physical product, the same can be said for your entire overarching design process, user journey, and how to implement that strategy when designing for conversion.

You might be wondering,

  • How does design influence my conversion?
  • Isn’t conversion a sales thing? How is marketing involved?
  • Why is it important for design to convert?
  • What does it look like when design is built but doesn’t convert?

Deep breath.

We’ll get to those questions and expand on them below. But first, let’s have a chat about what this all means and why it’s essential.

Today, designing for conversion means acknowledging that a user is a real person. As such, they expect real products from brands, real moments, real experiences, and by extension, a natural-feeling user experience that communicates value, identity, and purpose. Just because you’re a digital company or brand doesn’t mean you don’t have the opportunity to go beyond that. Audiences today are requiring that the user experience be much bigger than just what happens on your website.

In short:

Your website is the final countdown, the closer. If you aren’t designing for conversion in a way that caters to the entire user experience, the user could lose interest in the moment. That’s because UX itself isn’t entirely bound by digital (the customer journey may start offline). But if a potential customer bounces from your website, it’s likely because your design lost momentum or wasn’t targeted enough.

1. What you need to know about conversion.

Let’s start with a definition.

Designing for conversion means: Creating a digital experience that is leading people to your goal — whatever that goal may be.

This could be checking out a cart, it could be an ad, an email, etc. Once you’ve identified your goal, the follow-up should be: “How do you get someone to take action?” That depends on what vehicle you’ll be using to achieve your goal — UX or UI — and knowing the difference between UX and UI to effectively drive conversions.

It’s important to know that you can design for conversion within the UX or UI framework:

UX – User Experience

Using UX design to convert customers can include everything from digital work to physical products in the built world (UX can, and often does, take place completely offline). The focus is on getting the user to interact with and experience a company as a whole in such a way that they are “sold.” Conversion is baked into the experience.

UI – User Interface

Designing for conversion by using UI is geared more towards getting the user to a certain screen. This is typically done by guiding or enticing the user with relevant color schemes, icons, typography, etc. UI can be, and usually is, a part of the larger UX picture, but with UI, conversion is the entire end goal.

At Marketwake, we lean more towards designing for conversion via UX instead of UI because we know there has to be a balance between the creativity that entices people and the strategies/experiences that sell. In the ever-evolving digital world, you have to think about things holistically, and designing for conversion is no different. It has evolved and if you’re still doing it the old way, you need to catch up.

2. When Design Comes Into Play

It’s important to understand that designing for conversion is a tool — not the solution — and as such, should be employed thoughtfully and with a specific purpose. Leading with design as the solution is the old way of thinking, where UI was the chief strategy to increase conversion. That doesn’t work anymore. The new conversation is around leveraging UX as a toolbox (with UI as a one of the tools) and knowing how and when to use each tool.

That being said, there are still pain points that need to be overcome to ensure that you’re making the most of your design strategy. So, what are the pain points of designing for conversion? Let’s explore them.

A lot of people go into the design process and immediately think that driving users to a contact form is the end-all-be-all strategy.

– Which contact form should I use?
– What’s the best call to action?
– Is it specific to a product?

Instead, you should be asking questions like this:

– What is the goal?
– How are we going to achieve the goal?
– What’s the best way to measure the goal?

Answering those questions and setting that vision are ways to measure the success of your strategy. When it comes to optimizing your user journey, you must be extremely specific. When people are redesigning a website they anticipate having a strategy (of course), but how granular you make that is important. When designing for conversion, it’s not just about having the user fill out a form — your strategy must inform the conversation.

Mapping out your goals — even dual goals, which is not uncommon — is key because it helps support your design process and ultimately guides how people are self-selecting that journey. Are you driving two conversion points? If so, what does that strategy look like? Going into a design knowing that you’ve got multiple to-do’s to check off your list is critical, because a dual-action journey is going to look very different from a single conversion strategy, and your overall strategy should reflect that.

Here’s your designing for conversion mandate:

Decrease the choices available to your audience in order to increase your chance that they’ll convert.

 

Once you have a goal in mind, you need to get granular with every element. You can’t just dive directly into the copy around your goal and the graphics and the visuals, etc., because it won’t work. You have to distill every aspect as far down as possible in order to clear the noise and focus on the goal.

This has evolved from several years ago when you might start designing for conversion with UI leading the way. Back then, designing for conversion meant allowing the UI to dictate the look and feel, to capture the essence of the brand and help nurture the customer’s journey with almost no strings attached. Nowadays, you want the pillars of the brand to uphold the journey and to think about the digital side first because ultimately, data informs the best path to conversion, not UI alone.

Hick’s Law: “The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.”

Put another way, the longer it takes — and the more complicated the path or experience is for the user — the less likely you’ll be able to convert your customer. If you think of the design first, that’s ok, just make sure it is equally informed by your data, your goal, and your strategy to account for efficiency.

Assuming you have the structure in place first, you must design with purpose.

 

You might be able to go through the design process and choose a bank of photos that would work for your website, but we do not recommend it. Without knowing the conversation first, you’ll be putting the cart in front of the horse.

That’s because people are turned off by a visual that isn’t 100% integrated and informed by the copy around it. Conversation is truly about ensuring the words and the visuals are saying the same thing — if not, then you will lose trust and buy-in. Designing for conversion is designing for real people who are trying to have an honest conversation with you through the website. Every aspect (copy, visuals, etc.) relies on and builds upon each other — it all needs to hold together.

This is more in terms of what happens within your journey.

You must be quick in moving from point to point and wrapping it up cohesively.

 

You have three seconds to grab the attention of the user and eight seconds for them to either opt-in or opt-out. That’s it. Within three seconds, the user has realized whether you’re worth their time at all.

When designing for conversion in the past, we would focus on the UI first, but if your headlines aren’t capturing the essence of what you do, then it ends up being too noisy.

The first eight to twelve words on your page need to be extremely strategic and informative. The copy shouldn’t only include WHAT you do, but WHY you do it. If you don’t have the who/why/how of what you are, then you’re going to lose your audience. Make sure that succinctly establishing your identity is part of your strategy and the first thing on your UX checklist.

Another way of saying this is to keep sight of the big picture.

Conversion design elements alone are not enough.

 

All the things that play into designing for conversion: color theory, CTA button design, how all of these things lead to conversion rates, etc. are part of the old conversation if they’re only done for their own sake. You can land on a website that ticks off all the boxes for design elements that adhere to best practices, yet still miss the forest for the trees because they lack the element that speaks to real people.

If you don’t build on those best practices and supplement them with the conversation that people are real, and need to have a real connection with what you’re selling them, then you’ll be missing out.

Speak human.

 

There are countless websites loaded with quotables and catchphrases, only to completely miss out on telling the prospective buyer who they are and what they do.

That’s designing for conversion the old way — where it was all about how to break your product or service into the most digestible soundbite, or how to get a tagline that’s memorable or catchy. It’s not that those elements are wrong, they’re just not the focus anymore. UX has grown and expanded over the past several years in such a way that the customer experience could start anywhere, not just in the digital world.

So now the larger conversation has pivoted to account for that shift and focuses on speaking more naturally and in a manner that communicates identity and purpose because that’s how most people will relate to you. The framework that now underpins designing for conversion is about establishing that connection with the user, and then adding in those extra layers later (such as catchy copy or cool graphics) to help compliment the UX.

3. See It In Action

Every website has to begin somewhere, but you don’t need much to get started. A wireframe is the bare bones of a website and is the absolute best place to start when designing for conversion. Below are three simple steps to help guide you through the process.

1. Wireframing and the User Journey

This is where you determine image and copy placement with simple placeholder boxes and “Lorem Ipsum” text. While you’re in this stage, think of how a user’s eye (and mouse) will travel throughout the page, what sections you will include, and where you want to locate your Call To Action (CTA) buttons. The wireframe is just a rough draft, so don’t sweat it — you can make changes to this later.

Here’s an example of how we started wireframing for one of our clients, OPEX Corporation.

OPEX Wireframes

For this client, designing for conversion was informed by organizing the content simply and by using clear CTAs. We repeated design elements to create familiarity for the user so that they would know what to expect and where to locate the CTA buttons. On each page, we repeated the same, dual CTAs to help increase conversion pathways.

2. Integrating Copy into Design

Once your wireframe is approved by the client, your copywriter should be ready to drop some content in using the wireframe as a guide. At this point, you’ll be able to jump into design mockups.

Mockups are a chance to fine-tune your designs and ideas. You can start by integrating your brand colors, fonts, assets, etc. Go wild! Bring the content to life by “fleshing out” that bare-bones wireframe. Also, it helps to look at the copy to draw inspiration for your designs.

OPEX Mockups

Here’s how we used design to overlay brand colors, fonts, and assets. In this case, designing for conversion was informed by using the color green solely for the CTA buttons so as not to confuse it with anything else. The color also visually “pops” from the other brand colors, making it an ideal choice for CTAs.

3. Building and Developing

 

It’s time to bring your website to life. Start by building a majority of the website within your capabilities and make sure to take note of every section that doesn’t align with the mockup. After you’ve created the structure and pages, it’s time to turn it over to development.

We manage all the notes that have been marked out on the mockup in Trello to help organize and track progress as it goes through development. Once development has done their magic, you’ll want to QA your site to make sure everything is ready for launch.

4. Your Next Steps

The beautiful thing about working with a holistic digital marketing agency like Marketwake is that we approach websites not strictly from a website perspective. When we start designing for conversion, we begin by outlining your company goals and your target audience, then we create a boutique strategy with those considerations leading the way. This helps prevent blind spots and produces much better results than simply using a universal template that may or may not work for you.

“If your goal is only focused on ‘the one thing,’ you’re missing the other things that can
contribute and make that one thing way better.”

It’s so crucial to have these important conversations before we even start talking about designing for conversion — it’s what we do day in and day out. The conversation will feel very different compared to working with a website-specific design agency because we focus on that bigger picture. At Marketwake, we realize that the website isn’t the “end-all, be-all,” there are other elements at play that need to be considered that will most likely inform the design process. In the end, you’ll still get an awesome website with great UI design, but our well-edited and strong UX design strategy will ultimately give you a website that is designed and optimized for conversion.