Optimize For Conversions Or Beauty?

This article originally appeared on DigiServed blog.

If you’re creating a new website or thinking about revamping your existing one, a good place to start is to ask yourself what the ultimate objective is. Is higher conversions the goal or are you more inclined toward aesthetics? Ideally, you’ll want something that looks great and does the job it’s meant to do. That’s how you make your site is aligned with your business and give your users a pleasant experience as well.

When it comes to optimizing user experience, you may have to make some design sacrifices along the way, such as dropping visual elements that don’t add to the experience, or tinkering with the layout so it looks perfect in terms of conversions, but perhaps not in terms of looks. Aesthetics can only get you so far. The existence of traditionally ‘ugly’ sites such as Craigslist, Dmoz and Amazon which do such an amazing job of converting users shows that beauty is definitely not the most important aspect of a website’s success. It sure helps to have a great-looking site but it’s often not as important as you think.

A strong value proposition is critical in shaping the success of a website. For example, DigiServed is all about shopping for creative services easily, Mailchimp streamlines how you send electronic messages to your mailing list, and Evernote lets you take notes and reminds you what you need to get done. A strong value proposition, coupled with a good pitch made to the right audience can help your site attract users and achieve great metrics.

Another good piece of advice is to keep it simple. The simpler, the better. If you don’t clutter your page with distractions, your users will intuitively do what you want them to. Every page has a purpose and it should be evident to users at a glance. Improper design can often defeat that purpose, and should be avoided.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that can ‘kill’ an otherwise great page.

Distractions

Sliders, GIFs, blinking animation and colorful background images are all common distractions on “pretty” websites that compromise clarity. Having lots of attention-grabbing elements can steal the show from your call-to-action. The same goes for scrolling text, and other elements that move. Scrolling text forces the user to read whatever is presented, and readers often feel rushed as the text keeps on moving.

Another big no-no is auto-loading music. It takes away from the main message and is an intrusive experience for the user. Another one is automatic image sliders, a distraction that e-commerce sites are particularly guilty of. It’s understandable that online stores will want to showcase as many of their top products as possible, but research shows automatic image sliders can actually tank conversions. Bombarding a user with a constant stream of messages may cause loss of focus and ‘banner blindness,’ which leads to the user eliminating the space from their attention span.

Advertising-like Elements

Eliminate stock-photos, fancy graphics, poor-quality images and banners, and auto-play advertising messages. Apart from distracting users these elements can adversely affect users’ level of trust in your site. When users don’t trust you, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll share their email, personal information or payment details.

Popups are a good example here. The quintessential online advertising tool, popups often trespass into intrusive territory, delivering a negative experience and associating your brand with that experience. Most modern users are wary of popups, particularly because they have come to be associated with spam, computer viruses and all sorts of malware. If you’re thinking about popups for your site, it’s a good idea to think long and hard about whether the message you’re planning can be delivered some other way, and whether or not it’s truly necessary or relevant.

The simple solution is to avoid sub-par advertising-like elements such as popups altogether and instead go for visual cues that automatically help build trust. These include user testimonials, viewable ‘likes’ and ‘shares,’ and established, recognizable client or partner logos. These are trust symbols and work great for any site.

Complex Elements

Nothing beats simplicity in design. Give the user some breathing space instead of overwhelming them with sensory stimuli like loud messages and you’ll have a far better chance of converting. Apart from simplicity, steering clear of design elements like sliders, tons of images and animations makes sure you deliver your message consistently. Incorporating too many complex elements will give different users different experiences as some of the users will have older browsers which will not be able to display these. You don’t want that. Remember, consistency matters.

Webpage ‘cosmetics’ with HTML5, CSS tricks and fancy design serve no real purpose when older technologies can do the same job. A lot of users are not tech savvy and will expect the simplest, most direct experience. Cater to them and you’ll cater to everyone.

Need more reason to keep it simple? Slow page load times can hugely impact conversions in a negative way — most people give up after four seconds. Simple web pages load way faster than four seconds, whereas complex pages may take much longer.

Clutter

Putting too much information on a single page defocuses, as does incorporating too many functions. Users expect you to know how to present information that it makes it easy for them to find what they’re looking for. If they can’t find it, they won’t stick around looking for it.

The ideal page needs just a few elements, including a core message and a clear and compelling call-to-action. In terms of copy, again, keep it simple. Users don’t expect to be blown away by your wordsmithing wizardry. Say what needs to be said in your brand voice, while keeping it as sincere and direct as possible. For the CTA, simply highlight the benefit to the user.

If you need input from the user, don’t ask for too much involvement. Don’t plaster a large form on your page or ask for irrelevant information. Not only are large forms ugly to look at, they’ll make users think twice about interacting with it. It’s a fact backed by numbers — you can increase your conversion rate by a staggering 66% simply by dropping the number of options in your form fields from 6 to 3.

Complex Navigation

Intuitiveness and user-friendliness are critical factors that influence user experience. Ideally, a user should be able to accomplish their reason for visiting your site in as few clicks as possible. A website that’s easy to navigate and get around is much more user-friendly than one that’s too evolved or too experimental. Take parallax scrolling for example. This is a technique where the background image moves slower than the foreground image, creating a three-dimensional illusion of depth on the computer screen. While it sounds like a novel idea that can enrich interaction, a 2013 Purdue University study concluded that parallax scrolling did not necessarily improve the overall user experience.

Scrolling navigation is another example many designers are experimenting with. Here a single page accommodates the full information of a website, rather than spreading it across multiple pages that would load separately. Again, this sounds like a great idea that requires minimal input from the user, but it only works in specific cases, such as a landing page.

Takeaway

Good design, conversion optimization and usability are three closely-related aspects of a webpage that should coexist. The most important thing to note is that while it’s a great idea to make your site pretty, it should not be at the expense of functionality or effectiveness. A simple, tried-and-tested way to go is to design a page that emphasizes itsmain objective above all else, keeping distractions and irrelevant and ‘filler’ content to a minimum. It helps if your designer knows the fundamentals of UX and conversion optimization, and has the experience to intuitively understand what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re in the market for a high-calibre web designer who can help you wow your customers with a killer webpage, landing page or e-newsletter, DigiServed has a curated marketplace of designers and developers ready to get started.

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