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A massive shift to online interactions across all industries has taken place globally. That, in turn, has affected user behavior and activity, so businesses have had to change their strategy to respond to increased traffic and meet the new demands of users.

The cause of that shift, the pandemic, has also given many companies the time and space to launch big rebrands and to reset their digital strategy.

However, change isn't always for the better, as many such overhauls tend to have a negative impact on website conversion rates.

Factors to Consider in a Digital Refresh

At my company, we recommend brands first test redesigns rather than launch a large site overhaul. A robust testing program will help to accomplish site goals and improve performance.

New Customers, New Behaviors

The pandemic has created new website users that need a personalized experience to ensure they develop into loyal customers.

Qualitative research can help you identify unique behaviors among those new users and also help drive testing concepts and opportunities for personalization. That can illuminate concepts that companies may have not considered (for example, a webpage element that looks clickable and frustrates users who find it is not).

A heat map applied to your website can reveal a variety of previously unrealized user behavior and decrease unnecessary friction that deters engagement and conversion rate.

COVID Fatigue

Frankly, most people are "over" COVID. They're itching to return to a sense of normalcy. That attitude is reflected in what we have observed in messaging on websites.

We have noted a big decrease in conversion performance from tests that highlight COVID-19 messaging; it's time to remove it—or minimize it to lessen its impact.

Consistent Wins for Conversion

Although emerging trends are interesting and informative, it's important to not neglect the evergreen tactics that deliver consistent results.

Building Trust

Placing trust signals on key pages of a brand's website is one of the most consistent ways to improve conversion.

Those signals could be social proof, customer reviews, or brand partnerships, depending on the type of business.

It's a classic piece of brand housekeeping.

Clear Messaging

Clear headlines with consistent messaging can make a huge difference in the conversion rate of signup forms.

For example, if a call to action (CTA) says "sign up for a free trial" but the signup form says to "complete this form to hear back from our sales rep," the language inconsistency decreases the likelihood of the user taking the next step. Simply changing the CTA to "fill out this form to start your free trial today" can help.

Simple, minimal, action-based CTAs with a clear value proposition drive users to the next step.

A great example of that is Salesforce's website: It uses action-based verbs and benefit props so that users know exactly what action they are taking and what they will gain at each stage of the journey.

Setting Expectations

Setting expectations throughout the funnel helps customers feel confident in starting the process. For example, letting users know how long filling out a form will take— e.g., "2-5 minutes"—allows them to make the decision to devote that time now, knowing it won't be a huge commitment, instead of putting it off until later.

Another beneficial tactic for conversions is the use of progress bars and "answers remaining" indicators. That sort of transparency creates a clear path that gives users more autonomy, which benefits trust.

The same method can be used on high-traffic blogs by adding a "read time" indicator to blog posts. Many improved engagement metrics can result from that simple action.

How to Conduct Website Conversion Rate Optimization

At my company, we apply conversion rate testing to websites, email marketing, and paid media. For businesses considering investing in testing, you can build a program without a huge investment. Testing tools with low monthly costs that still have robust statistical algorithms are available.

Test everything but begin with smaller opportunities. Some companies want to test really large initiatives, such as a virtual shopping consultant, without data to show potential success. Implementing similar widgets on sites tends to be distracting, and it can hurt conversion.

Instead, seek ways to minimize the up-front cost to build a test, and factor in the development time so that insights can be gained quickly. Big changes aren't necessarily going to pay off, and a large upfront investment can create more of a negative impact than a positive one.

Before making an up-front investment, use the painted door approach paired with qualitative research to gauge what users really want. The painted door approach involves either putting in place a manual workaround and testing a very limited group of customers, or making it look like something exists on a website before building out that functionality to measure interest. Do so with a small percentage of your audience so supporting the manual work is lightweight and users aren't discouraged by the lack of functionality.

Conversion improvement can come from very simple tests, such as changing a single color or switching from a checkbox to a toggle. That's the best place to start your conversion rate optimization program.

* * *

As a final takeaway, running as many tests as possible is how to have an impact on your organization.

UX best-practices are low-hanging fruit for testing. It's hard to predict which test ideas will be most effective and which messaging will be the most intuitive for users, so test everything, and include the entire organization. Take as many ideas as possible and run all of them so that you can understand the potential impact from every test.

That doesn't have to mean having an inconsistent brand. Many Fortune 500 companies are continually evaluating their user experience and making incremental changes to their websites. But the changes are subtle and don't distract from the overall brand experience.

The pandemic has caused even more brand interactions to happen online, so optimizing conversion is more important than ever. Several industries have noticed a shift to digital, more users visiting their websites, and a difference in user behavior.

It is common for companies to test their marketing messaging before investigating their website UX. But as the biggest companies have realized, website conversion testing can be hugely informative for marketing messaging, as well as other areas of the business.

More Resources on Website Conversion Testing

Five Website Conversion Principles That Will Increase Your Lead Volume

How to Create High-Converting Descriptions for Your Product Pages

How Readability and Word Choice Impact E-Commerce Landing Page Conversion Rates

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image of Cara Binsfield

Cara Binsfield is a senior growth strategist at Cro Metrics, an experimentation and optimization agency. She has always been fascinated by the psychology of marketing, and what drives purchase decisions. She developed a love for CRO through building out successful data-driven experimentation programs.