Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) and User Experience (UX) are commonly used terms within the digital marketing industry, and with the launch of Google Optimize, many businesses view CRO as a quick and easy way to improve web stats. But what is the difference between CRO and UX, and how do they fit together?

Conversion Rate Optimisation 

CRO is a process, led by business stakeholders, which is designed to encourage users to take certain actions on a website. The actions would be part of a user journey with a specific goal (known as a conversion) such as a form completion, an online purchase, content or app download.

User insights and data are anaylsed to identify obstacles or points of friction along the user’s journey. Experiments are then undertaken to tweak the website with the aim of reducing (or removing) any issues which hinder conversion.

A/B or split testing is a common tool used to test the affects of a change on a webpage. This is where you compare web pages by showing two variants to similar visitors at the same time and see which one performs best. As an example, A/B testing has shown that for ecommerce sites, trust signals are proven to be very important, such as including an SSL certificate at checkout and security badges like a McAfee logo. Identifying and testing elements such as these can help to improve the numbers of people converting online. When you test a combination of variations across pages this is called ‘Mulitvariate testing’. You might test headlines, feature images, calls to actions and the number of form fields.

User Experience

UX however takes a broader level, customer-centric approach when reviewing a website.

UX is primarily concerned with how a person feels when they use a website or web application. Insights are gained through user and stakeholder research, and combined with raw data analytics, expert analysis and UX best practice to identify challenges, frustrations and expectations. This insight is used to map user journeys, which combines user personas, user goals and tasks and scenarios.

A UX professional will use these key user journeys to optimise and test the online experience to ensure that is intuitive, relevant and effortless for the user. Effective UX ensures the digital experience fulfils the wants and needs of the user, whilst also being aligned to the overall business goals to achieve a positive impact on the important conversion metrics.

 An example:

Virgin Holidays obviously wants to collect email addresses, however how will this interruption affect the online user experience?

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How do CRO and UX fit together?

1. A structured approach
UX can enable a more structured approach and starting point to potentially otherwise random CRO experiments. This reduces the need for guesswork or assumptions on what issues to prioritise.

As an example, a well-known ecommerce site suffered from a high rate of cart abandonments. The user would get to a certain part in their buying journey and then leave without completing their purchase. The issue, identified by UX expert Jared Spool, was highlighted during user research. The customer feedback highlighted that, whilst the business assumed creating an account would be a user good experience and speed up future purchases, customers felt very differently. The user insight showed that customers didn’t want to have a relationship with the brand; they simply wanted to buy a product. Spool recommended that rather than forcing people to register for an account, users should also be given the option to ‘check out as a guest’ to make their purchase. This change is claimed by Spool to have generated $300m in the first year.

2. Getting the bigger picture right

If the fundamentals of a website or web application are failing to meet users expectations, or the product or service on offer isn’t good enough, simply making changes to the wording or button colours will not overcome the bigger issues. UX research helps gain the in-depth actionable insight and take a broader, strategic level approach, whilst CRO works best as the tactical ‘icing’ on the user-centric cake.

3. End-to end user journeys

Whilst a CRO expert often focuses on improving a specific conversion, a UX designer would tend to consider an online experience with different users and different scenarios in mind. This often includes multiple devices and different locations of the user, for example at work or at home, on a desktop or on a mobile device, as well as the different reasons for the users visit. These in turn would affect how the user interacts with the website or web application.

In summary

Conversion Rate Optimisation is a valuable tool that can undoubtedly help improve online performance. Usually driven by the demands of the stakeholders, it can be simply measured by a change in conversion figures.

In contrast, User Experience takes a broader, more strategic approach. Listening and responding to the needs of both users and stakeholders, as opposed to focusing on single conversions in isolation, helps to create an experience that addresses expectations. In addition, investing in User Experience research and analysis allows a business to benefit from actionable insight that can be applied beyond just the online presence, and be used to inform offline marketing strategies and enhance customer touchpoints.


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