The unique conundrum of conversion elements
So, a little background:
My day-job clients are all higher education. In that realm, a conversion is an inquiry. Someone submits a form or uses a click-to-call or tracked phone number or chat feature on a website that can be attributed to our efforts, and we are given credit for that conversion. This is tough, because our work isn't EXACTLY direct response, but clearly the client's end goal is the highest rate on inquiries possible.
So, fast forward to today, and my strategic conundrum:
User experience best practices are consistently calling for more subtle conversion elements. Users don't want to feel pressured to do anything, but data tells us otherwise. So, my team and I at this agency have been doing some aggressive A/B testing on different form variants.
The traditional approach has always been a static form nested somewhere in a sidebar of the website. However, design and UX best practices push hard for less invasive, more "slick" designs. We've tested click-to-expand header forms, sticky tabs that expand into forms nested on the side of the window, and many other options. In some cases, the client refuses to have a static form on their site, even though years of collective data and experience tells our team that these are the best conversion options for higher education clients.
So, I guess I'm here looking for dialogue regarding two aspects of this situation:
- Who has alternative ideas to having an inquiry form readily available at any time anywhere on a site? If you do, would you mind sharing?
- How do we find the balance between the direction the Internet appears to be moving in and what's actually best for the conversion rate? (I know we all want to just do what gets the best conversion rate, but that's hard when our clients send us articles saying, "Less is more!" and fight us every step of the way in regards to our recommendations.)
Any and all feedback is welcome. I realize this probably seems like a basic, silly question, but we've been discussing it a lot on our team of a dozen or so strategists and I think some outside input would be awesome! We are all also SO plugged into this specific vertical that I think we could use some fresh perspective.
I feel ya.
As conversion strategists, we have a choice: create the best user experience or create the most persuasive experience.
If you want your site to show up on "best of" UX blog posts, go with option A. If you want more conversions, choose the latter.
That doesn't mean your website needs to look like a heap of garbage.
An example: exit-intent pop-ups.
- Do they offer a good user experience? No. They're super annoying and there will soon be Chrome extensions that block them entirely, à la AdBlock.
- Will your UX person ever suggest using an exit-intent pop-up? No. They would rather fire up Windows 8 than say the words "pop" and "up" in the same sentence.
- Have exit-intent pop-ups been proven time and time again to be highly effective at getting people to take action? Yes.
Sounds like you're in this sort of a situation. Years of data are saying, "Put the freakin' form on every page" meanwhile everyone is making these really minimal, beautiful sites. Luckily, there is a world where UX designers and conversion optimizers co-exist. It's known as a Data-Driven Culture. It means that, ultimately, success and failure will be judged not using intuition or personal bias, but raw, hard numbers. The path to a solution starts there. But that takes time.
In the short-term, how do you reconcile the desire for a beautiful user experience and increased conversions? It's easier than you might think...
Minimalism. It works because there's so little to focus on. In theory, it should enhance, not detract from the attention brought to your point of conversion.
You have to ask the question, "Why are we trying to be minimal?" Other than conforming to the latest UX trends, the answer should be something like, "To reduce Interaction Cost." If that's the case, then it doesn't mean getting rid of your existing point of conversion, maybe just a repositioning or a re-ordering of page elements. Afterall, there is plenty to suggest that web forms at bottoms of web pages can outperform those that are positioned at the top of pages.
And based on experience, what I've found is that of all factors, the visibility or "number of impressions" of a form has the least influence on conversions. It's all about timing and copy. A more minimalist design should enhance those two factors. So now, when you change the form headline or CTA, it will likely make a much bigger difference than before.
Challenge your UX person to achieve that goal. It's easy to make everything all nice and minimal. What's hard is striking a balance with business goals.
For example, you may have seen the Optimizely blog post from yesterday about DMV.org. As the lead strategist on the project, I can tell you that in the years of testing I've done on the website, making the Insurance form field more "in-your-face" never resulted in better results. We got the best results by writing copy that was persuasive. (Although the example in the blog post shows a design change.)
Does that help at all?
I agree with Alhan, but my answer will be less poetic...
I have no idea what you mean by "the direction the internet is moving," or why that matters at all. Remember that at one point the internet was moving towards Flash, pixel fonts, and text shadows... Trends don't always correlate to conversion performance.
Have you considered adding a prominent button--such as "Request Course Information"--in a visible location throughout the site (or on relevant pages, per Alhan's line of thinking), and opening a form in a modal window when the button is clicked?
@Alhan, your response is VERY helpful, and offers a lot of good perspective. Our clients do a good job of rattling our cages and asking us to go in a direction that isn't data-driven, so knowing our goals and the "why's" of going more conversion- or UX-centric is vital.
i think the type of school makes a big difference in this vertical -- career schools have a very different audience than a traditional undergraduate school, and both of them cater to a different audience than most stately graduate school programs. While all schools want the conversion, career schools typically lean harder toward conversion-focused design whereas traditional schools are more UX-focused.
Without intending to, you also highlights another challenge we face. We don't really have designated UX specialists -- the ownus of the UX falls across multiple teams, with my team (SEO/content strategy) being responsible for the technical SEO aspects, content strategy and conversion elements, in collaboration with creative, development and account management. And that's not including the client input. It creates an interesting dynamic, for sure, but we miss out on having the expertise of a unified authority on UX...which then leads to me asking questions I'm borderline-embarrassed about on Optimizely forums.
That blog post's questions are solid for getting back to basics. I think it's easy to get too far into the weeds. I've been A/B testing for clients for nearly 2 years and I still find myself getting honed in on the wrong things at times.
@greg, in regards to "the direction the Internet is moving" is primarily in regards to wrangling my clients' enthusiasm. This vertical is notorious for being a few years behind on best practices, and when they do choose to latch onto trends, it's difficult to talk them off the ledge.
We're never shy about eye-catching CTA buttons -- although, hands down, our data tells us having the form readily available as a static element on every page performs better. The buttons just don't get the same conversions, so our struggle right now in situations where our clients demand more subtly is...how do we find something "better" than a button that is still more elegant (in our clients' minds) than a form just sitting on every page?
I'm already really pleased with this discussion! Thanks for jumping into my thread, gentlemen! Awesome points brought up all around. This is why Optimizely is awesome.