Usability and Conversion Optimisation

By Sarah Blake on 2010/02/22

Usability and Conversion Optimisation are vital aspects of any successful website or eMarketing campaign. Sadly, they are too often ignored. Yet these practices can dramatically boost the performance of your website, increasing revenue and making customers happier. 


When it comes to websites, usability refers to the ease with which a user can achieve a desired task on your website. So, if your website sells shoes, usability testing would measure how easily a visitor to your website could find relevant information and make a purchase. Increasingly, businesses that perform are those that address users’ needs by designing products, services and interfaces bases on the needs, wants and limitations of those users. 

Usability is an ongoing process, right from the planning stages of building a website, to continuous testing to ensure that the site is addressing users’ needs. There are many ways of addressing usability and ensuring that users are catered for, including listening labs, surveys and even making use of analytics data.  

Conversion Optimisation 

Conversion Optimisation addresses conversion points of a website, seeking to improve conversion rate. If we look at our shoe selling website again, Conversion Optimisation would address how to increase the percentage of visitors who purchase from the site. While in a real life store, salespeople can be persuasive and effective at increasing sales, online we rely solely on the website to do that job. 

Using analytics data, key conversion points of a website can be identified. For example, many online checkouts are several steps long, and each step in that process can be identified and analysed (from the “add to cart” button right through to entering payment details). All on page elements can be tweaked and tested to see how to improve performance, whether it be addressing the copy and call to action, to the number of steps in the process, to the colours used on the page. Split-testing then allows for decisions to be made. 

User testing can tell you if some of your users prefer a red button to a green button. Website data and split testing for Conversion Optimisation will tell you which converts better. 

A Symbiotic Relationship 

Can the two practices be in conflict? Some might feel that usability and persuasion are opposite: one addresses users’ needs, while the other is focused on business needs. However, the two are symbiotic. A website’s usability focus, after all, should align with the business’ goals. If a user is comfortable with performing tasks on a website, such as finding information and purchasing, then that user is more likely to convert into a customer. When identifying parts of a website that could perform better, you are often identifying usability issues with the website. 

Both Web Analytics and user testing can be used to determine areas of your website for optimisation. With user testing, select users can be invited to test the website for you in listening labs. Feedback from these sessions will reveal what these select users think about your website, and in particular, how easy they find it to use. Web Analytics can be used to infer this feedback based on all your website visitors. When implementing your Web Analytics tool, be sure to set up appropriate goal and conversion tracking and funnels that show you where users drop off in the process. This data will tell you the conversion rate of your website, as well as the conversion rate of steps in the conversion process. Breaking it down into steps will allow you to test small changes that can make a big difference overall. 

Whether you have used user testing labs or analytics data to identify areas for improvement, split testing is the only way to tell if your changes are statistically significant. Google Website Optimizer is a free and easy to use split-testing tool that will let you test the changes you make. For example, you might want to test whether “add to cart” or “buy these shoes” performs better on your shoe selling website. The only way to know is to show a portion of your users each version, and see which results in the better conversion rate. A split-testing tool will ensure that the same portion of your traffic sees the same button each time and will measure the conversion rate over time.