Ecommerce Landing Pages: Fewer Distractions, More Conversions

Two percent is the average conversion rate for ecommerce sites. While every site is different—and you’ll benefit far more by focusing on your conversion rate—that’s where most sites are today. But what if a 2% conversion rate isn’t enough to stay profitable? Right now, many ecommerce companies can still grow with an average conversion rate. […]

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Two percent is the average conversion rate for ecommerce sites. While every site is different—and you’ll benefit far more by focusing on your conversion rate—that’s where most sites are today.

But what if a 2% conversion rate isn’t enough to stay profitable?

Right now, many ecommerce companies can still grow with an average conversion rate. This is largely thanks to the ecommerce industry growing by about 23% year over year.

But that growth may be slowing. By 2021, the ecommerce growth rate is projected to drop by as much as 5–6%, down to about 17%.

To nurture growth in the years to come, you’ll have to find ways to boost your conversion rate—regardless of where it is now.

One area of opportunity is ecommerce landing pages. Top landing pages can see double-digit conversion rates for pre-sale opt-ins. Why? Because landing pages deliver a more tailored, conversion-focused experience for users.

This post:

  • Explains key differences between ecommerce landing pages and product pages.
  • Highlights elements of successful ecommerce landing pages.
  • Offers two case studies to show how ecommerce companies are using landing pages.

Ecommerce landing pages vs. product pages

Product pages and landing pages have the same goal: converting the user into a customer. The difference is how they approach each visitor.

A landing page is an individualized funnel with a single goal: converting incoming traffic (typically coming from emails, paid ads, or social media campaigns) into a qualified lead or sale. The conversion is what’s important here, not the completeness of information.

A product page nudges the user in the same direction, but it also informs all visitors—from any potential traffic source—about the product, similar products, policies, etc.

Ultimately, landing pages cut to the chase. As Tim Ash, author of Landing Page Optimization, wrote:

If the visitor can’t find something easily, it does not exist. If you emphasize too many items, all of them lose importance. Any delay increases frustration.

Consider an example of a landing page from Airbnb:

airbnb landing page
(Image Source)

The goal of this landing page is to get people who are interested in hosting on Airbnb to click “Get started.” Everything is built around that, including:

  • Customized information. Notice the “$1,669 per month” calculation? This is a tool specific to Airbnb. It uses standard prices based on a user’s IP address and generates an estimate of what they might fetch as a host. Customized information like this is a hallmark of single-purpose landing pages.
  • Simplicity. With a simple white pull-out box that makes the “Get Started” button even more obvious, this page doesn’t want you to stay very long. It wants you to keep moving through the sales funnel.
  • Emotional connection. This is one key distinction between landing pages and product pages: the emphasis on emotion. From the section “We have your back” to the crisp visual of a couple happily hosting on Airbnb, there’s a clear effort to project the emotion a visitor will feel if they click on the call to action (CTA).

In contrast, take an Amazon product page for a stand mixer. Here’s what you’ll see:

amazon product page
(Image Source)
  • Prominent features listings. Notice how the product photograph—however striking—doesn’t take up much real estate? That’s because a product page is largely defined by the information it provides. Amazon emphasizes details like customer reviews, color, product description, and price. Each key answer is “above the fold,” whereas on a landing page, further details might be pushed down.
  • Proof. From social proof (thousands of customer reviews, “Amazon’s Choice,” 1,000+ answered questions) to visual proof with information-focused product imagery, the product page is a digital version of picking up a box in the store.
  • Options. A product page is also a place where customers can select from a few options: shipping details, product features like color or size, and usually similar product recommendations.

Personalized sales content is not the focus of a product page. Instead, product pages usually deliver one-size-fits-all information, options, and alternative navigation routes.

This can feel overwhelming for the shopper and increase cognitive load, potentially leading to decision paralysis—and no action at all. Clear, simple landing pages can create a distraction-free path to purchase.

Even with tailored landing pages, however, plenty of users will land first on your product pages. Here are some keys to optimizing them.

Optimizing ecommerce product pages

Compared to optimized landing pages, product detail pages (PDP) can reduce purchase likelihood by 50%:

So, yes, landing pages often convert better. But even with landing pages, people coming to your site from sources like organic search will still hit your product pages first.

With that in mind, make sure your product pages are optimized, too. This will help make your landing page, which they may encounter later in the sales funnel, more successful. CXL has written about ecommerce product pages and related elements many times before:

Product page design and UX

Product page copywriting

As the (non-exhaustive) list above suggests, covering product page optimization in full is outside the scope of this post. But, at the very least, consider the following strategies that can help reduce distractions, tailor content, and make it easier to target past site visitors:

  • Navigational tools. Minimize them. Navigation that makes sense for your homepage may distract on a product page.
  • Traffic source. Tailor on-page offers so they’re relevant to the channel the visitor is coming from (like Google Ads, social ads, etc.)
  • Tracking. An advertising pixel such as a Facebook pixel can help improve sponsored marketing to track conversions and indicate the most effective ads to target customers.

Subtle changes to product pages (such as removing a navigation bar) can have a big impact. Yuppiechef, for example, removed the navigation bar from a registration page and increased conversions from 3 to 6%.

product page with navigation

Optimizing product pages improves their ability to make sales and serve as a (somewhat generic) landing page. Since about 96% of visitors aren’t ready to buy when they arrive on a product page, enhancing it to serve new visitors can help you make sales, even if those sales don’t occur during the initial visit.

How do you improve conversions for past visitors? Ecommerce landing pages offer an answer.

Optimizing ecommerce landing pages

The concept behind ecommerce landing pages is simple: They convert traffic into sales. We see the impact of that narrow focus reflected in conversion rates:

(Image Source)

A tailored landing page comes with a number of potential advantages:

  • Limited distractions. Remember how removing navigation links improved conversions by 100%? Landing pages with limited distractions tend to perform better, even though only 16% of landing pages don’t have navigation bars.
  • A single CTA. Landing pages with multiple offers generate 266% fewer leads than single-offer pages. Limiting the choices on a landing page directs the focus exactly where you want it to go.
  • Tighter targeting. The more landing pages you create, the more tightly targeted your landing pages can be. That’s why businesses with over 40 landing pages tend to convert as many as 12 times the opportunities of businesses running 10–15 pages.
  • Rapid adjustments. Landing pages enable quick iterations and real-time changes, like when a sale is happening.

If highly optimized landing pages represent an opportunity, who’s realizing it?

Case studies: ecommerce merchants experimenting with landing pages

Several ecommerce site builders like Shogun, Zipify, and PageStudio allow Shopify store owners to create and launch specialty landing pages for online products or events. Two case studies show the potential.

Leesa: Tailored landing pages for a small product line

Mattress company Leesa saw a 35% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in average order value when they introduced optimized landing pages. What worked so well for them?

ecommerce landing page

They followed several landing page best practices while also incorporating elements like:

  1. A countdown timer. The on-page countdown timer helped create a sense of urgency and scarcity for each visitor, which nudged them closer to taking action and completing the purchase (as they knew the deal ended soon):
  2. countdown timer ecommerce landing page
  3. Social proof. A good idea for any sales-oriented page, including testimonials and reviews from happy customers lent the “wisdom of the crowd” and helped eliminate uncertainty about the purchase:
  4. social proof for ecommerce landing page
  5. Optimization for social ad traffic. Because Facebook and Instagram ads allow for targeting based on demographics, psychographics, past purchases, and site visits, Leesa optimized its landing pages for specific demographics. On-page images, copy, and messaging were carefully curated, spotlighting images of families and parents when relevant, for example:
  6. tailored images on ecommerce landing page
  7. High-quality hero image: A clean, professional image of the product in use provided relevant visual context and helped customers envision themselves incorporating the product into their lives. Again, the focus on imagery helps distinguish a landing page from a product page:
  8. hero image on ecommerce landing page
  9. Simple, large CTA button: Because the CTA was simple and large, it was easy to find, captured a visitor’s attention, and made the conversion path clear.
  10. single cta for ecommerce landing page
  11. Mobile optimization. By using a landing page that was easy to navigate and view on mobile, Leesa accommodated its mobile shopper demographic and captured more sales:
mobile version of ecommerce landing page

Nick Raushenbush, co-founder of Shogun, noted that, among other things, Leesa succeeded “by eliminating any remaining uncertainty with their free shipping and returns policy.”

Landing pages are appealing for merchants with a small selection of product offerings (like Leesa) because fewer landing pages are needed.

Online retailers with wider product offerings can group or batch products on landing pages to eliminate distractions around the sales funnel.

Let’s look at an example.

Blenders Eyewear: Batch products on landing pages

In another use-case, featuring Blenders Eyewear, we can see how landing pages work within a long-term sales strategy rather than a one-off sales event.

Why did Blenders decide to try out landing pages? Chase Fisher, CEO of Blenders Eyewear, explained that landing pages tied in nicely with their storytelling and customer experience efforts in cross-channel experiences:

We started using social and email marketing as a way of driving people to specialty landing pages to “see more” of the content we were posting. We use landing pages as a way of visual merchandising our products, educating our customers, or telling a story.

Blenders uses multiple landing pages (usually between three and five) that run at the same time. They segment customers to show only the versions that are most relevant to them.

One example is their landing page promoting a partnership with athlete and skateboarder Tom Schaar, which resonates with a young, skateboarding-interested audience:

blenders landing page for skateboard demographic
blenders batch products on landing page

They also have a landing page that paid campaigns and support teams rely on to persuade bottom-of-funnel customers. The Blenders Eyewear Fit Guide landing page is an alternative to the company’s traditional product pages. (In their main navigation, Blenders links to a simpler, text-heavy Fit Guide.)

blenders landing page for bottom of funnel

Blenders drives traffic to the page with PPC ads and has also integrated the page into support tickets. Support team members refer users to the landing page to help with the exchange process or guide them through fit-related questions.

The landing page resolves a host of potential objections:

  • Helps shoppers find a style they’re confident with;
  • Educates them on the differences between frames and sizing;
  • Spells out specifics around measurements.

Blenders has seen this landing page outperform a standard product page time and again—driving a higher conversion rate (3.13%) and producing more sales for the brand (1,319 orders per month).

blenders landing page for bottom of funnel


Ecommerce landing pages are still a fairly new tactic. Product pages remain the norm. However, product pages are usually one-size-fits-all pages that can be visually distracting and informationally overwhelming.

Ecommerce landing pages streamline the user experience, focusing users on the next step in the funnel with highly customized content. Companies with a small product line can quickly generate multiple versions of a page to serve various audiences and channels.

Even for companies with larger product lines, the ability to batch products or create an alternative product page—one that addresses the concerns of bottom-of-funnel users—can increase conversions.  

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Learning Styles: The Impact on Marketing Messaging

If you’ve ever worked at an agency, you know the value of client education. Results aren’t persuasive if reports seem like a jumble of acronyms. Trend lines aren’t impressive if they track metrics that appear distant from business goals. Client education is central to marketing messaging, too, especially for sellers with long sales cycles. Prospects […]

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If you’ve ever worked at an agency, you know the value of client education. Results aren’t persuasive if reports seem like a jumble of acronyms. Trend lines aren’t impressive if they track metrics that appear distant from business goals.

Client education is central to marketing messaging, too, especially for sellers with long sales cycles. Prospects spend a limited amount of time on your site. Most consideration takes place offline. How prospects discuss their options depends on the way you present information.

It’s why learning styles are vital—or so it would seem. Researchers have labeled learning styles a “neuromyth.” The truth is less clear cut, especially for marketers.

Mastering the nuances of learning styles empowers you to:

  • Choose information formats that potential buyers love.
  • Craft marketing materials that resonate with multiple stakeholders.
  • Focus offline conversations on high-value points of differentiation.

How we got here: VARK and an endless list of “learning styles”

In 1992, two researchers in New Zealand, Neil Fleming and Colleen Mills, published what became a foundational paper on learning styles.

The idea of learning styles was not new, with as many as 170 different styles proposed at one time or another. By 1978, researchers had defined learning styles as “a student’s consistent way of responding and using stimuli.”

For their part, Fleming and Mills offered a simple model, known as VARK, to describe different “sensory preferences” among learners. (You can take the brief questionnaire yourself, too.)

  • Visual. “Preference for graphical and symbolic ways of representing information.”
  • Aural. “Preference for ‘heard’ information.”
  • Read/write. “Preferences for information printed as words.”
  • Kinesthetic. “Preference related to the use of experience and practice (simulated or real).”

The acronym transferred (too) easily into popular discourse. The authors saw their model as a way for students to “reflect on their own sensory preferences and modify their study methods accordingly.” VARK gauged predilections along a sliding scale.

The VARK questionnaire has been subject to criticism. For the question above, who that “someone” is weighs more heavily than any given learning style. Is it your spouse? An elderly grandmother? A stranger? (Image source)

But the educational community interpreted the findings as fixed categories, even after Fleming published a follow-up paper to refute its use as a diagnostic tool.

In recent years, studies have suggested that between 90 and 97% of teachers worldwide believe in an optimal learning style for each student.

That belief, it turns out, isn’t supported by science.

The “neuromyth” of learning styles

A neuromyth is “a commonly held false belief about neuroscience.” The neuromyth of learning styles has two components:

  • Myth 1. Using someone’s preferred learning style increases knowledge retention.
  • Myth 2. Using someone’s preferred learning style is beneficial to their educational development.

Myth 1: Using someone’s preferred learning style increases knowledge retention.

A 2017 letter to the editor in The Guardian included the signatures of dozens of psychologists. In addition to critiquing ambiguous frameworks for “learning styles,” the authors lamented their widespread use:

systematic studies [. . .] have consistently found either no evidence or very weak evidence to support the hypothesis that matching or “meshing” material in the appropriate format to an individual’s learning style is selectively more effective for educational attainment.

Such studies have tested whether aligning study habits with one’s self-identified learning style improved academic performance. (It didn’t.) Others have investigated whether “visual” learners would remember pictures better and “verbal” learners remember words better. (They didn’t.)

learning styles theory

The second study, however, unearths a critical point, especially for marketers. The preference for consuming information in a certain way is real. Another study confirms that truth: “As predicted, learning style was associated with subjective aspects of learning but not objective aspects of learning.”

Someone who is a K in the VARK system really likes to learn by doing—even though they may not learn more effectively than if they listened to a lecture. The common use of learning styles, researchers argue, conflates learning preferences with learning ability.

The second myth, that it’s beneficial to cater to learning styles, is a unique burden for educators, not marketers.

Myth 2: Using someone’s preferred learning style is beneficial to their educational development.

A study that tested auditory versus visual learners revealed that visual learners outperformed auditory learners in both formats.

The takeaway, for educators, was that “auditory learners might benefit more from receiving instruction that specifically targets and strengthens their visual word skills.” The risk, otherwise, is that “by promoting a dominant learning styles mentality, we are actually limiting students with self-fulfilling prophecies despite the best intentions.”

Educators benefit by pushing students out of their comfort zones. Marketers, in contrast, are charged with reducing friction. That means giving people what they want, at least initially (more on that later).

There are real differences in learning abilities, but those differences aren’t set in stone. What’s more, they’re secondary to the primary driver for selecting a learning style—the concept that’s being taught.

The real work: Matching learning to tasks, not individuals

Ultimately, the ideal learning style is best defined by the task—what you’re trying to learn, not who’s trying to learn it.

No matter your preference for aural learning, you wouldn’t listen to a podcast to learn how to shoot a basketball. Even if you’re a committed R in VARK, you wouldn’t read about how to trill double “r’s” in Spanish.

Learning styles should try to “match the unit of content to the best way to create meaning for most students,” or, in a marketer’s case, the most prospects. You can sell clothes with images; you’d struggle to sell an online game without video.

duolingo homepage
Language learning apps like Duolingo have aural components because they’re necessary for language learning. In education, the topic of learning is more influential for choosing a learning style than individual preference.

There’s a final element to consider: the gap between teaching and learning. In school settings, most learning takes place outside the classroom—homework, test prep, etc. That limits the impact of any learning style devised by a classroom teacher.

The same is true in marketing, especially for companies with long sales cycles. Your website content—however tailored—may represent only a fraction of the total time a prospect considers your product. During that brief time, you must frame your messaging to guide offline learning and discussion.

It’s one of several applications of learning styles to marketing.

When it comes to marketing, what are learning styles good for?

Educators won’t help students by obsessing over individual learning styles. Their time is better spent considering the right style to present a topic and how to motivate students who may not enjoy a particular format.

That’s not the case for marketers, who benefit by catering to individual styles as well as the topic at hand. A major critique of learning styles—that they let us linger in our comfort zones—is an essential tactic when “teaching” potential clients.

There are three ways to apply learning styles to marketing messaging.

1. Reduce the cognitive load on potential customers

As a marketer, your job isn’t to maximize information retention among potential customers. It’s to make information—regardless of how much is retained—persuasive in the decision-making process.

Education helps, but we make emotional decisions more than we care to admit. That’s true even among B2B customers who are supposedly more rational than their B2C counterparts.

Research on learning styles has consistently proven one point: We have preferences for how we learn. We spend more time with things we like—even if we don’t retain information better. If your target audience doesn’t like the way you present information, they won’t learn from it—not because they can’t but because they’d rather not.

The implications are far-ranging but start with first impressions. A prospect’s first impression of your ads, whitepapers, product page, etc., should appeal to consumers’ preferred learning styles and reduce the cognitive load.

Unbounce’s homepage serves two audiences: advanced practitioners who can learn about the product by testing it out, and newbies who benefit from a visually engaging walk-through of the product. Providing both options makes for a compelling first impression:

unbounce homepage serving two learning styles
  • What type of information does your buyer persona consume on a day-to-day basis? If they’re C-Suite members looking at one-page summaries all day, you’d better accommodate that preference. If they’re in-the-weeds practitioners who stare at spreadsheets, they may engage with detailed comparisons displayed in tables.
  • Which questions does your style of information delivery answer? Which are left unanswered? Catering to your audience may mean that, initially, you can deliver only a fraction of the total information you’d like to deliver. Catalog the information you’ll need to convey at a later stage.
  • If you sell a complicated product, what is the shortest path to engagement? The most persuasive element—say, a spec sheet that compares your product to competitors—may not be the best starting point, even if it’s critical information and the ideal way to format it. Build interest and motivation with a preferred format first.

It can get even more complex when you serve multiple buyers.

2. Speak to multiple stakeholders simultaneously

Most learning takes place outside the classroom. If your professor lectures, you study notes; if you take an online course, you rewatch videos or download slide decks.

Similarly, for B2B sellers, most consideration takes place away from your site, in meeting rooms with decision-makers you’ll never meet. How you present information on your website frames the conversation that takes place beyond it.

So, for example, if you highlight video demos of your product, you may compete on the quality of that demo. Does a video demo differentiate your product, or does it focus attention on your utilitarian UI—an aspect where a shiny but ineffective competitor product excels? Your choices are the context for the next conversation.

Screaming Frog is a powerful tool—with a simple interface. Their sales page speaks directly to practitioners. While it has a video demo, it spends far more screen real estate on a text-heavy list of features that differentiate it from similar tools. This page sells to SEOs, not CMOs or agency owners:

screaming frog sales page serving practitioners

Depending on what you sell, you may know exactly what happens—an individual practitioner fills out a form, downloads a product guide, and shares it with their manager, who then takes it to the C-Suite.

Have you embedded critical information in multiple formats to accommodate the range of learning preferences? The practitioner may read the guide. The manager may read the executive summary. The executive may view a single graph or comparison chart.

The Basecamp homepage offers a way to jump into the product immediately—a learn-by-doing opportunity (the K in VARK). Under “How it works,” however, a narrated video references the challenges of “managing your business.” They’re speaking directly to business owners and managers, who may not have the time to demo several competing products.

basecamp interior page with video on how it works
Basecamp defaults to offering a free trial on its homepage. But a navigation link to how Basecamp works offers a video walk-through. Even as they follow a product-led strategy, they offer a more efficient way to showcase its potential benefits.

If you’re taking a bespoke, account-based approach, you can ask potential clients directly:

  • How does a contact prefer to consume information?
  • What do executives typically review before a buying decision?

The information format may be persuasive because it translates information efficiently. It may also work because decision-makers perceive it as easier to understand. If I love charts but hate text, I’ll not only prefer the chart format but also spend more time with it.

For some, that holistic approach may feel like a luxury. Too often, the budget dictates information formats and forces sub-optimal learning styles on topics and prospects.

3. Audit content for learning styles

Text content is cheap. Images are expensive. Videos have high production costs. These are realities of content production. They’re also liabilities.

For any content on your site:

  • How was the content type selected?
  • Which learning style does it serve?
  • Does that style align with the preferred style of your buyer persona?
  • Does it help that buyer persona make a case to other stakeholders?

There may not be an on-site content format that works for your buyers. Google Analytics 360, for example, offers limited information, placing prominent calls-to-action to talk to their sales team:

google analytics 360
Google Analytics 360 serves primarily enterprise customers. The call-to-action to “Talk to Sales” makes sense (the A in VARK). Large businesses have unique needs that traditional on-site content is unlikely to meet.

Does the flow of content types align with the learning preferences of your buyer? The front-line purchaser may prefer to use a product immediately, while a video or feature comparison is useful for a secondary stakeholder with less technical knowledge.

That’s exactly what HubSpot has done—highlighting their freemium option while burying informational content on interior pages. It’s a reversal of a traditional approach, which suggests that explainer copy or a video best introduces a company or product. (It’s also a hallmark of a product-led strategy.)

hubspot prioritizing learning by doing
HubSpot goes straight for the conversion on its homepage. That choice reflects an understanding of potential buyers’ preferred learning style.

While marketing inverts some assumptions about learning styles, others hold true for personal development.

A final use for learning styles: Prioritizing personal development

With respect to learning styles, personal development upends many of the recommendations above. Your goal is not to accommodate your weak points but to improve them. Learning styles are learning preferences, not impassable barriers.

That’s a challenge and a relief. The era of the T-shaped marketer doesn’t tolerate complacency. Indeed, your weakest area—V, A, R, or K—should be a priority for learning. Becoming comfortable with another learning modality unlocks new resources and the potential for skill development.

Certain ideas are best suited to certain learning styles, but a failure to embrace any style limits that opportunity. “There is good reason to believe,” writes psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, ”that optimal learning for everyone involves the opportunity to engage in as many sensory modalities as possible.”

Without that approach, “emphasizing learning styles and even ‘multiple intelligences’ in the classroom can foster a fixed mindset, not a growth mindset.”


Even as the concept of rigid “learning styles” has been debunked, aspects remain true:

  • We have real preferences for how we learn.
  • Different topics are best taught in different styles.

For marketers, those realities require careful consideration—the goal is persuasion, which may, at times, diverge from education. Unlike a teacher in a classroom, a marketer isn’t tasked with challenging their target audience. The goal is to accommodate them.

When creating or organizing content, marketers must engage prospects quickly, even if that initial engagement fails to deliver information that has the greatest impact on decision-making.

The initial buy-in, in turn, opens the door to present more influential materials and frame offline conversations for multiple stakeholders.

Finally, when it comes to personal development, the idea turns on its head. Your least favorite learning style may offer the greatest opportunity for personal growth.

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First Impressions Matter: Why Great Visual Design Is Essential

People make snap judgments. It takes only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about a person. Websites are no different. It takes about 50 milliseconds (ms) (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they’ll stay or leave. This number comes from specific studies. In the first study, participants […]

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People make snap judgments. It takes only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about a person. Websites are no different.

It takes about 50 milliseconds (ms) (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they’ll stay or leave.

This number comes from specific studies. In the first study, participants twice rated the visual appeal of web homepages presented for 500 ms each. In a follow-up study, they reduced the exposure time to 50 ms.

Throughout, visual appeal ratings correlated highly from one phase to the next, as did correlations between the 50 ms and 500 ms conditions. Thus, visual appeal can be assessed within 50 ms, suggesting that you have about 50 ms to make a good first impression with your website.

This first impression depends on many factors: structure, colors, spacing, symmetry, amount of text, fonts, and more. This post:

  • Details research on websites and first impressions.
  • Shows you how to create a visual design to improve first impressions.

Note: All the website screenshots below are for illustrative purposes only.

Research on websites and first impressions

Users form design opinions in 17 ms.

A few years ago, Google confirmed the 50 ms number in their own research. In fact, according to their study, some opinions develop within 17 ms, though the effect was less pronounced on some design factors.

The key findings from their study were that websites with low visual complexity and high prototypicality (how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites) were perceived as highly appealing.

squaresquare example of prototypical homepage
People have expectations of what a website should look like. Diverting from those is a risk, no matter how imaginative or striking the design.

Key takeaway: Make your web design simple and familiar. Follow conventions. People have a fixed idea of what an ecommerce site should look like. If you go for innovative, unconventional layouts, people are less likely to like them.

It takes 2.6 seconds for eyes to settle on key areas of a web page.

It takes 2.6 seconds for a user’s eyes to land on the area of a website that most influences their first impression.

Researchers monitored students’ eye movements as they scanned web pages. The researchers then analyzed the eye-tracking data to determine how long it took for the students to focus on specific sections of a page—such as the menu, logo, images, and social media icons—before they moved on to another section.

They discovered that the better the first impression, the the longer the participants stayed on the page.

eye-tracking study example of website first impressions
The study divided the website into six sections, then monitored student subjects’ eye movements. (Image source)

The six website sections that drew the most interest from viewers were:

  1. The institution’s logo. Users spent 6.48 seconds focused on this area before moving on.
  2. The main navigation menu. Almost as popular as the logo, subjects spent an average of 6.44 seconds viewing the menu.
  3. The search box. Users focused for just over 6 seconds.
  4. The site’s main image. Users’ eyes fixated for an average of 5.94 seconds.
  5. The site’s written content. Users spent about 5.59 seconds.
  6. The bottom of a website. Users spent about 5.25 seconds.

Key takeaway: A good first impression leads to a longer visit. Make sure the six elements listed here look great.

First impressions are 94% design related.

British researchers analyzed how different design and information content factors influence trust of online health sites. The study showed clearly that the look and feel of the website was the main driver of first impressions.

example of clean website design
A British study found that most website critiques relied on the perception of the site design, not its content.

Of all the feedback the test participants gave, 94% was about design:

  • Complex;
  • Busy layout;
  • Lack of navigation aids;
  • Boring web design;
  • Use of color;
  • Pop-up adverts;
  • Slow introductions to the site;
  • Small print;
  • Too much text;
  • Corporate look and feel;
  • Poor search capabilities.

Only 6% of the feedback was about the actual content. Visual appeal and website navigation had the biggest influence on people’s first impressions of the site.

At the same time, poor interface design was associated with rapid rejection and mistrust of a website. When participants did not like an aspect of the design, the whole website was rarely explored beyond the homepage.

Similar results were found in research for Consumer WebWatch, conducted by Stanford University credibility experts. They found that what people say about how they evaluate the trust of a website and how they really do it are different.

The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (46.1%) assessed the credibility of sites based, in part, on the appeal of the visual design, including layout, typography, font size, and color schemes.

Key takeaway: Great design gets people to trust you and to stick around. Poor design creates mistrust and makes people leave.

For first impressions, visual appeal even beats usability.

A study examined the effects of visual appeal and usability on user performance and satisfaction with a website.

Users completed different tasks on websites which varied in visual appeal (high and low) and usability (high and low). Results showed that first impressions are most influenced by the visual appeal of the site.

Users gave high “usability and interest ratings” to sites with high appeal and low “usability and interest ratings” to sites with low appeal. User perceptions of a low-appeal website were not significantly influenced by the site’s usability, even after a successful experience with the site.

Key takeaway: Invest in design. It’s what matters the most for pulling users in. Funny enough, great visual design will lead to higher usability ratings, and actual usability will matter much less.

A positive first impression can increase overall satisfaction.

In an experiment conducted to study the effects of product expectations on subjective usability ratings, participants read a positive or a negative product review for a novel mobile device before a usability test. The control group read nothing.

mobile device used in study of priming with positive product reviews.
The device used in the study. Positive product reviews primed users to have a more positive experience, even when they failed to complete an assigned task.

The study revealed the surprisingly strong effect of positive expectations on subjective post-experiment ratings. The participants who read the positive review gave the device significantly better post-experiment ratings than did the negative-prime and no-prime groups.

This boosting effect of the positive prime held even in the hard-task condition, when users failed most tasks.

Key takeaway: If users “instantly” like your site, they’ll cut you some slack for hiccups down the line. This kind of priming may also work the other way: A negative first impression decreases the overall satisfaction with your site.

So if you want to make a good impression, where’s the best place to start?

How to make a great first impression with visual design

1. Differentiate your website (and your company) with your design.

Are you chic, silly, sexy, savvy, smart, classic or what? How are you different from the competition? Do you communicate that as quickly as possible through typographyimages, and design on your website?

There’s a balance between avoiding “innovative” design—which can put off consumers—and seeking out a unique visual style. Too often, companies in the same vertical adopt a “me-too” approach in their design aesthetic.

Sometimes, competitive sites are so similar that, if you removed the logo from the site’s header, it’d be nearly impossible to distinguish one site from another.

From what I’ve noticed, this is for two main reasons:

  1. The internal conversation about design aesthetic devolves into one about features, rather than developing a distinct visual identity.
  2. The features and aesthetics that “look like they’re working” for the competition are adopted.

Of course, when the new site launches, everyone’s too busy giving each other high fives to notice that the new design is a near carbon copy of a major competitor, or that you completely neglected to ask existing customers why they liked shopping with your company in the first place.

If you want to add more distinction to your visual communication but don’t know where to start, check out the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique and apply it to your qualitative surveys. This can help you design a first impression that speaks to your brand’s core values without alienating visitors.

“Brand Identity” isn’t just some squishy thing to be shuffled off. The Cheskin Research & Studio Archetype found as far back as 1999 that the six-most important factors in building trust with an ecommerce company are:

  • Brand;
  • Navigation;
  • Fulfillment;
  • Presentation;
  • Up-to-date technology;
  • Security logos.

Think about that for a second. If the first impression is that your site is indistinguishable from other websites, why should anyone explore your product pages, let alone choose you over the competition?

Here’s an example: I Googled “leather jacket” to see if visual distinction and overall first impression would be an issue on a random search. These were the first three results:

Does anything separate these three sites? Not really, even though they don’t share the same exact demographic.

It took a while of scrolling through search results before I found any site that didn’t look like the ones above, finally stumbling on Bomboogie. There’s no denying that the page is distinct from its competitors:

Unlike other sites, the page immediately projects a different feeling—this isn’t a company that makes delicate, high-fashion jackets. Their jackets are “inspired by the jackets used by the aviators,” and the site looks the part.

Years ago, when I first did this research, the most distinct site I found was Schott. Though I would’ve ditched their image slider, soda cap navigation, and many of the fake textures, there was a charm about the design that made a strong first impression, especially given that it’s an old brand.


You can feel the character and emotion, and get some sense of whether they’re trustworthy or not, which is what the whole first impression is about.

The design trend caught up with them, too, however, and now they look a lot more like every other site out there:

Shopify has created a list of 100 Beautiful ecommerce designs that feature companies with distinct first impressions.

Key takeaway: You can (and should) communicate a unique brand identity without being so innovative as to confuse or annoy users.

2. Inspire site visitors to create a stronger first impression.

A study looking at the role of first impressions in tourism websites found that inspiration-related elements had the greatest impact on first impressions.

This suggests that visually appealing stimuli are an important tool for getting people to stay longer on a site and, thus, converting more visitors into buyers.

inspirational view of nature on chilean travel site

Usability was the second-most significant driver of first-impression formation, followed by credibility.

All in all, this tells us that travelers want to get inspired about a destination (imagery). They don’t want to waste mental energy on figuring stuff out (usability), and they want to be sure that the travel provider is legit (credibility).

Key takeaway: If you’re selling a dream (e.g. the idea of going on a holiday to Chile), inspiring photography is the leading first-impression creator.

3. Make sure the above-the-fold area rocks.

Over the years, the above-the-fold issue has been hotly debated. Research indicates that people have no problem scrolling and, in fact, prefer it to dividing the content into many pages. What’s this got to do with first impressions?

Here’s a new way of thinking about the above-the-fold issue: It needs to be the best part of your website. First impressions are formed in 0.05 seconds. Users won’t scroll down in that time.

Hence, what they see immediately without scrolling is what determines whether they ever scroll down. With that in mind…

Pay extra attention to your navigation.

example of clear site navigation

Numerous heatmap studies have shown that navigation is typically among the first- and most-viewed areas of a website. But beyond the typical categories, what should you include?

According to a study by Business Insider on why people abandon shopping carts, 25% of people stated that the “website is too complicated” (i.e. navigation is difficult to use), and close to 60% noted “hidden costs” (i.e. shipping costs) as the primary reason they left without paying.

chart showing why shoppers leave without paying at ecommerce store
Hidden costs and complicated websites are two key reasons that users leave websites without paying.

In a different study by eConsultancy, visitors asked about buying from an unfamiliar ecommerce site noted that “professional design,” “the site contains well-known brands,” and “having contact info visible” all influenced their decision to buy (or not buy).

study results on shopping with a retailer you don't know.

Done well, a site’s navigation can include some or all of the things that, if absent, discourage visitors from buying.

Just look at how much is communicated in the navigation of one of my favorite sites, ThinkGeek, without ever getting into the content of the site:

site navigation that conveys lots of valuable information.

Without having to hunt too much, it’s easy to find:

  • Time-sensitive promotions;
  • Multiple ways to navigate deeper into the site (categories, interests, search);
  • New, Top, and Exclusive products, as well as a hint of the products they carry (gifts, t-shirts, electronics, gift certificates);
  • A rewards program;
  • Products on sale;
  • Their “Free Shipping” threshold;
  • Customer support availability (via “Live Chat” and “Help” buttons).

Compare that to an extreme example, like Zara, and you’ll see why this is important:

example of minimalist navigation

Case Study: Alight increases site searches 16% and purchases 25%

Old Alight

Alight (now CurvyHQ) knew that their site felt dated. The plus-size women’s retailer made their site-wide navigation more modern.

They increased the size of their search bar, removed the trust symbol, incorporated “sale” and “new” categories into the pink navigation area, and clarified their value proposition, among other minor updates.

updated homepage navigation with search bar

The result was an increase in site searches by 16% and an increase in overall purchases by 25%, all by making the navigation part of a strong first impression.

First impressions—on websites or in the NBA—can last for years.

Research by economists Barry Staw and Ha Hoang looked into the impact of the draft order in the NBA. They observed players’ careers for five years after they were drafted. Five years is enough to prove yourself in many ways, so draft order shouldn’t play a role, right?

Wrong. According to the study, the playing time players get correlates with their draft order. Teams granted more playing time to highly drafted players and retained them longer, even after controlling for players’ on-court performance, injuries, trade status, position played, and other factors.

Every increment in draft number (i.e. getting drafted ninth instead of eighth) decreased playing time by as much as 23 minutes. Incredibly, draft order continued to predict playing time through a player’s fifth year in the NBA, the final year measured in the study. Players drafted in the first round had also longer careers; they played for 3.5 more years than the rest.

homepage example that makes clear, strong first impression

Another study looked into the persistence of first impressions. It discovered that new experiences that contradict a first impression become “bound” to the context in which they were made. However, first impressions still dominate other contexts.

Our brain stores expectancy-violating experiences as “exceptions to the rule.” The rule (i.e. first impression) is treated as valid except for the specific context in which it was violated.

Key takeaway: If a first impression is negative, it might prejudice the user against you for years.


Visual appeal matters. A lot. My advice: Don’t try to save money on design, ever. I’ve seen time and again how a “simple” design overhaul resulted in significant conversion boosts.

People form their opinion about your site in milliseconds. The first second on your website might matter more than all the seconds that follow (if any do). Make sure that one second makes a great first impression.

The post First Impressions Matter: Why Great Visual Design Is Essential appeared first on CXL.

Customer Journey Maps: A Step-by-Step Guide

“How do we get our customers to do what we want them to do?” Digital marketers get asked this question all the time. But it’s the wrong question. What businesses should really ask is, “How do I help my customers achieve their goals on my website while still achieving mine?” Focusing on that question is the […]

The post Customer Journey Maps: A Step-by-Step Guide appeared first on CXL.

“How do we get our customers to do what we want them to do?” Digital marketers get asked this question all the time.

But it’s the wrong question.

What businesses should really ask is, “How do I help my customers achieve their goals on my website while still achieving mine?” Focusing on that question is the starting point for building a customer journey map.

A customer journey map is an illustration or diagram of all the touchpoints your customers have with your company, online or off.

When it comes to your website, it can reveal exactly where your site is helping visitors succeed—or letting them down.

Why do you need a customer journey map?

Kerry Bodine, a customer experience consultant, explained the purpose of customer journey maps in a Moz Whiteboard Friday:

The goal of the customer journey map is really to get a holistic view of what the customer is going through from their point of view and really what it’s like for them on a personal level, that human level.

You can watch the full talk here:

What does a great customer journey map look like?

No two journey maps are exactly the same. Depending on the customer experience expert you follow and the business (i.e. product or service) you’re mapping, the design will differ.

Adaptive Path, a UX/digital design agency that was acquired by Capital One, talks in terms of “experience maps.” Their visualization has two parts:

  1. Shows how a customer moves through each phase of interaction.
  2. Shows how a customer experiences each phase.

After conducting qualitative and quantitative research, Adaptive Path builds a touchpoint inventory:

customer journey touchpoint inventory.
(Image Source)

As you can see above, they start the customer mapping process by defining the behavioral stages a typical customer goes through. Then, they add granularity to each touchpoint.

With that in place, they bring in their customer personas to create a “lens” through which to view the journey. Each persona can yield its own map—becoming the reference point from which they base the journey.

To help their client, Rail Europe, understand how North American travelers engage with the company across all touchpoints—not just when booking tickets—Adaptive Path built this customer journey map form that initial diagram:

full customer journey map with all touchpoints.
(Image Source)

A customer journey map helps crystallize where customers get stuck or frustrated on their path to purchase and beyond. It’s a visual representation that synthesizes data on personas and user behavior.

While journey maps can cover all interactions with a business, this post focuses on how to build a map to optimize your website. And, as the Adaptive Path example suggests, it starts with personas.

You can’t map the customer journey without data-driven personas

What motivates your customers? What are their needs, hesitations, and concerns? Knowing whom you’re talking to is the starting point. Guesses or anecdotes aren’t enough.

To build viable personas, you need data. Today, the most successful companies dig deep into their data to build personas. A decade ago, few did. Indeed, a CMO Council study from 2008 found that:

Over 50% of global marketers report that they have fair, little, or no knowledge of the customer demographic, behavioral, psychographic and transactional data. Just 6% say they have excellent knowledge of the customer.

By 2019, according to the CMO Survey, the trend toward data-driven decision-making had shifted. Still, marketing data is used in decision-making less than half the time:

trendline showing the use of marketing analytics in decision-making
(Image source)

If you haven’t yet created data-driven personas for your business, take a look at these posts. Each will help you build a customer persona based on research, not conjecture:

Or, go in-depth with a full course. Once you have your personas, you can combine that data with an in-depth look at user behavior on your website. The outcome will be your customer journey map.

How to build a customer journey map in 5 steps

Step 1: Define the behavioral stages. customer journey stages
(Image source)

Depending on your business, customers may go through different stages while navigating your site. A B2C ecommerce company may have just a few clearly defined phases; a B2B SaaS company selling to the Fortune 100 may have more.

Your personas should give you a pretty good idea of the process that customers go through from their first landing to an eventual purchase and subsequent interactions.

The next step identifies which interactions fit into which stages.

Step 2: Align customer goals with each stage.

This may be the most critical—and, in some cases, most difficult—step when creating a customer journey map.

What do customers want to achieve as they move through each behavioral stage? You can mine a number of data sources to get that information:

Then, you’ll be able to see if your website supports each of those goals.

Step 3: Plot the touchpoints.

Think of touchpoints as places where customers engage with your site and where you support the completion of their goals. These touchpoints will be grouped under the relevant stage in your customer’s journey.

For retailers, a common touchpoint might be a product description page; for a service business, it may anything from a pricing page to a contact form.

You can identify touchpoints along the user journey in two reports in Google Analytics:

  1. Behavior Flow report;
  2. Goal flow report.

1. Behavior Flow report

behavior flow report example

The Behavior Flow report shows how users move from one page or event to the next. It can help show you where users struggle to get where they want to go on your site.

You can segment traffic by any dimension, then analyze specific steps in the flow by mousing over them.

2. Goal Flow report

goal flow report example

The Goal Flow report helps you see whether users are completing a goal of your choosing through a funnel.

You’ll be able to determine if users—or a subset of them—are unexpectedly leaving in the middle of their journey on the path to the goal, or if there’s a place where your traffic loops back.

If you’re new to Google Analytics, you can learn more about how to interpret your data, especially as it relates to conversion flows:

Step 4: Determine if customers achieve their goals.

This is where you take the data you’ve collected and measure it against how easily your customers can get done what they need to do. Ask yourself the following types of questions:

  • Where are there roadblocks?
  • Do tons of people abandon their carts on the checkout page?
  • Do users go to your opt-in download page but not fill out the form?

The Google Analytics reports you’ve mined for insights will show you where issues crop up. The existing qualitative research you have—the same research you used to build your personas—should help you understand the why behind the problems.

Analyze the actions (or lack thereof) of your customers. How well are their needs met at each touchpoint and during each phase?

Step 5: Recommend changes.

Start by prioritizing which pages or touchpoints to address first. You can rank pages by ease and cost-effectiveness to implement changes. Then, it’s a matter of determining what to test.

For instance, if research suggests that customers worry about getting locked into a particular plan after they sign up, tweaking your copy on a relevant page could alleviate their hesitations.

If you want to learn more about testing or our research and prioritization frameworks, see these posts:

How to visualize your customer journey map

Spreadsheets may not be sexy, but they’re ideal for organizing data. Your customer journey map doesn’t need to be complicated—or beautiful.

Remember: It’s a tool to help you understand how users interact with your site, where they get stuck, and how to improve trouble spots.

customer journey map website analysis spreadsheet

Above is an example I put together to represent the journey a customer may go through with a SaaS company. Each stage has a corresponding customer goal, along with the relevant touchpoints.

Keep track of the reports and surveys you reference, along with the stages they illuminate:

customer journey map for website showing associated research.

Get as granular as you like. Add annotations where you find that customers seem to miss steps or loop back. Then, add your analysis of the journey under “Key Findings” and the hypotheses to test under “Recommendations.”

Case study: How improving the customer journey lifted more than just the bottom line

The guys at TrackDuck, a SaaS company with an web-based tool for feedback and bug tracking, gleaned insights from customer comments to improve registrations.

customer comments that were used to improve the user journey.
(Image source)

They recognized that users had difficulty registering. They reduced the 10-step registration to a four-step process—increasing registration completions by 120%.

TrackDuck realized that their qualitative data could improve revenue and set their customers up for success at the same time.


If you are working on an app for developers, be ready for a high bounce rate at the user-registration stage. Converting a visitor into a customer is really difficult. To achieve this, it’s essential that the visitor figures out how your app works in the first 3–5 minutes.

Eddy Balcikonis – CEO of TrackDuck


How your customers interact with your website or your brand isn’t a linear process—no matter how much you might want it to be. Getting people to move from Point A to Point B without jumping ship or missing a step doesn’t always happen.

But taking the time to understand as much as you can about your customers’ goals—and how they move through your website—can go a long way toward keeping them happy. It will also grow your business.

The post Customer Journey Maps: A Step-by-Step Guide appeared first on CXL.

How to Design User Flow

User flow is the path a user follows through your website interface to complete a task—make a reservation, purchase a product, subscribe to something. It’s also called a user journey. And it has a massive impact on conversions. To maximize your conversions, you have to get the user flow right on your site. Do it […]

The post How to Design User Flow appeared first on CXL.

User flow is the path a user follows through your website interface to complete a task—make a reservation, purchase a product, subscribe to something. It’s also called a user journey.

And it has a massive impact on conversions.

To maximize your conversions, you have to get the user flow right on your site. Do it by building a user flow that matches user’s needs.

The wrong way to go about designing your site

You need to decide what your new website will be like. Two most common ways people approach it:

  1. Scenario A. You keep everything as it is on your current/old site but make it look “better.”
  2. Scenario B. You start with the building blocks: Okay, the logo goes in the top-left corner. Let’s put the menu to the right. A nice image in the header. Cool. And so on.

Both of these are the wrong way to design a site. Neither will result in a great user flow. Here are six steps to getting it right.

1. Start with the objectives—yours and your users’.

Your primary aim is to fulfill the business objectives (either your own or the ones set by your client). Business objectives might be getting users to sign up for something, purchase products, or join an email list.

But people don’t just come to your site and—right away—do what you want them to do. In most cases, they need to go through a series of steps that lead up to the action.

Your goal is to map users’ paths—flows that take users from their entry pages through conversion funnels—toward the final action (signup, purchase, etc.).

The final action needs to provide value both to the user as well as the business; otherwise, the conversion won’t happen.

To do this, you need to know two things:

  1. Business objectives. The action(s) you want visitors to take on the site.
  2. User objectives. The desires or needs users want to satisfy.

If the user wants to clean their car, and your goal is to get the user to buy car-cleaning products, the goals intersect, and the conversion can take place. On the other hand, if they want their car cleaned right away, and you want them to wait two days for delivery, there isn’t a match.

2. Match your message to the traffic source.

Site visitors don’t arrive on a web page out of nowhere. The first step in a flow is mapping out how they get to your site.

Once they land on your site, they won’t immediately perform the action you want them to. Specific sequences of actions lead visitors through your website as they try to accomplish tasks.

To diagram user flows for your site, you need to establish possible entry points and how users flow from there toward the final goal.

Typical entry points for users

  • Organic search. A user comes via Google after searching on a particular keyword. They often land on a deep link.
  • Paid advertising. Visitors come via Google Ads, banner ads, or other promotions. They arrive on your landing page.
  • Social media. A user comes from a friend’s post on Facebook or Twitter, or via a social news site like Reddit.
  • Email. A user comes from an email newsletter or a link they saw in an email sent to them.
  • Press or news item. Visitors come after a mention in the news or a blog post.
  • Direct link. A regular visitor who has been on your site many times and knows the URL by heart.

How they end up on your site largely determines their needs, expectations, and what they know about your product (or even the general category). You need to treat different people differently.

3. Decide on the type of user flow you need to create.

So what do user flows look like? And how should you design yours? Here are some sample flows.

User flows based on traffic source

Link in Google results
Direct to your site
Clicks on a PPC ad
Blog post
Landing page
Joins email listProduct page
Makes a purchase
 Adds to cart
 Completes a purchase 

Stacked user flows

Sometimes, you want visitors to join the email list on their first visit but ultimately want to sell them a product. In those cases, you should map stacked user flows.

In a stacked user flow, the first flow is completed by joining the email list; the second one starts after the first flow is complete:

Click on an ad Landing pageJoins email list

Gets an email  → Product page  → Adds to cart  → Completes purchase

A user who has already been through the first flow is much more knowledgeable than a first-time visitor. They also have some kind of relationship with you, and you should treat them accordingly.

4. Identify the information that visitors need.

To design the best possible user flow, you need to understand the visitor and their motivations. Start by answering these questions:

  • What needs or desires do your visitors have? What problem do they want to solve?
  • Why do they need it?
  • Which qualities (about your product or service) are most important to them?
  • What questions do they have about the product?
  • What are their doubts or hesitations?
  • What information do they need to take action?
  • What’s their emotional trigger to propel them to taking action?

To answer these questions, you need to talk to your customers (or your clients, if you’re a service provider). You can’t just pull the answers out of thin air. Yes, you should use buyer personas, but those should be based on actual customers and their needs.

Here’s an interesting case study detailing how customer journey maps were used at Boeing. Another article you might want to read is about designing a hotel booking experience.

The answers to the questions above determine how you present information on your website. You have to demote certain elements and emphasize others.

You cannot be all things to all people. Your website cannot be about 10 different actions. You need to build focus into your site.

5. Present the right information at the right time.

For users to convert, the information flow must give users the information they need in the moment they need it.

Many websites mistakenly ask for the sale (or signup) too soon. People don’t take action with inadequate information.

Your goal is to keep users moving down the funnel, toward the desired action. Optimize the content on each screen for conversions.

Designing users flows does not mean that you forget about all the other conversion stuff, au contraire.

6. Map flow steps with state diagrams.

Flows are made out of individual screens where interactions take place. Every screen offers possibilities from which the user chooses one. Then, the screen changes, and the user has another choice. It’s an ongoing conversation.

In each moment of a user flow, the screen shows something, and the user reacts to it. A good and understandable way to map steps in the flow is to use state diagrams:

what the user sees

what the user does


what the user sees next

what the user does next

Above the bar is what the user sees. Below the bar is what they do. An arrow connects the user’s action to a new screen with yet another action. These are called state diagrams in computer science.

Use these diagrams to help you focus on the most-wanted action on every screen the user sees. It’s also useful when explaining the flow to your colleagues or clients.

A user flow example with a state diagram

Let’s say you run a website for a car-detailing service.

service description

click “book now”


booking form

submit valid data


booking confirmation message




Create a similar flow diagram for every page on your site. Define the key content you want to present to the user and a most-wanted action.

The next action from a screen doesn’t have to be one thing: The flow can break into two or three alternative paths. The important thing is that you plan ahead for each path and design each screen accordingly.

Doing this requires ruthless focus, but the boost in conversions will make it all worthwhile. Indeed, “flow” isn’t just some UX buzzword—it’s a psychological reality.

User flow supports flow

Flow, as a mental state, was first proposed by psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s a state of being that makes an experience genuinely satisfying. Everybody has experienced it. Most people refer to it as being “in the zone” or “in a groove.”

During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and total involvement in the task at hand. There’s even a book about it.

Ideally, your user flow nurtures the flow experience for your users. Three key ingredients for “flow” are:

  1. Challenge at the right level;
  2. Immediate feedback;
  3. Skill that can be mastered.

In order to design your site for flow, according to Jim Ramsey, you must:

  • Have clear goals for users. Help them understand where they’re going and each step they’ll take to get there.
  • Provide immediate feedback. Whether they click a button, fill a form, or navigate from one page to another, tell them how they’re doing, and what’s going on. Messages and copy have a critical role.
  • Maximize efficiency. Once a user becomes familiar with your site and starts experiencing flow, they’ll want to work more quickly and the site to feel more responsive. Use key features of your site (a lot) and see if there are any annoying, repetitive tasks. Pay close attention to feedback from user tests. Make the experience frictionless.
  • Allow for discovery. Once a user has begun to work with maximum efficiency, there’s a chance that they’ll feel less engaged and grow bored with their experience. To avoid this, make content and features available for discovery.

When the smooth path is interrupted—or something doesn’t seem to fit—the flow is broken, which means that the experience is also momentarily broken. These small episodes of friction are cumulative.

Unfortunately, the breaks in flow weigh more heavily on the experience than the positive, frictionless moments. Experimentation and testing are key to getting it right.

Clutter, animation, and surprises may be disruptive. Online, people don’t like surprises (especially the “Now what?” or “How do I…” kind). Take out or improve elements that might cause friction. Less is more: Remove visual and navigational noise that might seem like clutter to users.

Here are a couple of sites that get it right.

Examples of sites with great user flow

Invest 5 to 10 minutes in each of those sites. You’ll learn something.


tastebuds homepage, an example of a site with great user flow.


codeacademy homepage, a site with great user flow.

What does it take to develop a site with that type of flow? The process may look something like this.

Designing a user flow:
A (hypothetical) case study

Let’s pretend I have a client, a company that manufactures mini infrared saunas (such as this random one on Alibaba). The business objective is to get people to buy those saunas online, or at least get a solid lead.

The first thing I would do is talk to the client and learn all I can about their business and their customers. Next, I would compile a list of questions to ask their last 20 or so customers (whose buying experience is still fresh).

Questions for my client

  • Tell me about your typical/ideal customer. Who are they? Why do they buy? Where are they going to use it?
  • What matters to them when they’re looking for a sauna?
  • How do they compare different products?
  • What matters the most?
  • What happens after they buy? Describe the process in detail from the moment they place an order to when the sauna is all set up for use.
  • What do your customers say about your products?
  • How is your product better or different from the competition?
  • What kind of praise have you heard? Can you forward me the exact wording they used?

Questions for their customers

  • Why did you want to buy an infrared sauna?
  • What were the main questions you had when you were looking for one?
  • What was most important to you? Which parameters did you compare?
  • What kind of doubts or hesitations did you have?
  • What alternatives did you consider?
  • What made you decide to buy from us?
  • Now that you’ve bought it, what do you like about it the most?

Based on the answers I get, I would develop follow-up questions and ask even more. The point is to really understand the customer and their approach to buying this product.

We need to know:

  • Why they want it;
  • How they’re going to use it;
  • The qualities that are most important.

They won’t make a purchasing decision until our site addresses all of those concerns.

Traffic source analysis

My client tells me that they’re after organic search traffic and plan to run some campaigns on Google Ads. This means I must map user flows from landing pages (PPC traffic), the homepage (direct and SEO traffic), and directly from product pages (long-tail SEO traffic, direct links, and mentions).

In the sales process, we’d go for a direct purchase—rather than getting their email first and warming up the lead—due to the nature of the product.

Here’s the user flow I drew on my whiteboard:

example of user flow diagram.

(Tools like WebSequenceDiagrams are great for this, too. You may also want to check out this list of tools for sketching website experiences.)

Now that I’ve established the most-wanted action for each page, I know what I want users to do next at each step and can prioritize or demote content accordingly.

The content for each screen is super important and has the biggest impact on conversions. The sales copy emphasizes details that are important to potential buyers in the purchasing process and addresses their questions and doubts.

When deciding which content should go on each screen, I also have to look at how they got there and what they already know. A user who arrives on a product page from the homepage is more knowledgeable than the one who comes via a direct link.

Hence, I must ensure that the direct-link visitors won’t leave due to insufficient information, and I have to re-emphasize the key points from the homepage again on the product page, especially if the brand isn’t known and the majority of the visitors are first-timers.

Test, test, test

Naturally, the flow itself, the layout, and the content—value proposition, product info, calls to action, etc.—need to be tested. I construct my first hypothesis as well as I can based on the best information available to me, but it’s still a hypothesis. I need to create alternative value propositions and copy to test immediately.

For every site, the initial flow design is just the starting point.

Measure, observe, and improve

Measure your flow in analytics

Which step in the flow does a good job at taking users to the next step? In which step do a large number of users drop out?

You can measure this by using goal funnels. In Google Analytics, as well as most web analytics tools, you can easily set up goal funnel tracking for steps in your user flow.

The Goal Flow report will tell you which step of the flow is performing well, and which is a flow stopper, so you can take action. Also, check out the Behavior Flow report to get another insightful overview.

Test your flow with users

For your user flow to boost conversions, you must base it on customer personas. Use actual customer behavior and research to determine the tasks that customers want to perform, what matters to them, and why.

Do what you can to experience a day in the life of a customer. Once you’ve finished your initial flow, conduct user testing. Watch people try to perform a task on the website and have them comment out loud.

Ideally, you’ll recruit test subjects who match your ideal customer profile and observe them in person (over their shoulder), but you can also use services like

User testing will help you find bottlenecks and sources of friction. It will also help you understand how users want to use the site (so you can adjust it accordingly).

Even if you put a ton of effort into designing the flow, what you come up with is still a hypothesis. You need to test it. Pay close attention to whether you’re missing a step in your flow, or if you have one too many.

Once you get the flow right, focus on optimizing different screens.


Creating a seamless user flow aligns the needs of your business with those of your users. The key is to ditch gut feelings and base your decisions on research—which you can then test until you know you have it right.

Follow these six steps:

  1. Start with the objectives—yours and your users’.
  2. Match your message to the traffic source.
  3. Decide on the type of user flow you need to create.
  4. Identify the information that visitors need.
  5. Present the right information at the right time.
  6. Map flow steps with state diagrams.

If you do, you’ll increase your chances of generating “flow” for your visitors—and winning more conversions in the process.

The post How to Design User Flow appeared first on CXL.

Website Information Architecture: How to Optimize for UX

What kind of content should you have on your site? How should you structure the menu? What should be the first-level menu items? One or two menus? What should the menu links be called? This post gives you answers. Website information architecture is no joke, yet the overwhelming majority of businesses structure their site using […]

The post Website Information Architecture: How to Optimize for UX appeared first on CXL.

What kind of content should you have on your site? How should you structure the menu? What should be the first-level menu items? One or two menus? What should the menu links be called? This post gives you answers.

Website information architecture is no joke, yet the overwhelming majority of businesses structure their site using the IMO method (“In my opinion…”). While common sense is a useful tool, and a lot of sites are simple (e.g. 5 pages), there’s a better way to go about it.

If you already have tens of pages on your site, you should do a proper information architecture analysis. Guiding people through the vast amount of information on offer is something that requires thought and research. Intuitive navigation doesn’t happen by chance.

Peep Laja and Brian Massey discuss optimizing your website’s main navigation.

[This post contains video, click to play]

What is information architecture?

As per Wikipedia, it’s “the art and science of organizing and labeling data including websites, intranets, online communities, software, books and other mediums of information, to support usability.” We could simplify it to “the art and science of organizing websites.” (In this article, we’re talking about it only in the context of websites.)

Information architecture gurus Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville (you should read their book) defined the “three circles of information architecture” as content, users, and context of use:

venn diagram for website information architecture

It’s about organizing the content and flow of a website based on research and planning. The goal of information architects is to come up with a structure and design that balances users’ desires with business needs.

Users have four fundamental questions when they arrive at a website:

  1. Am I in the right place?
  2. Do they have what I am looking for?
  3. Do they have anything better (if this isn’t what I want)?
  4. What do I do now?

One of your key tasks is to answer these questions effectively—on every page of your site. To do so, you have to:

  • Assure visitors that they’re in the right place (always make it clear where they are).
  • Make it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for (clear navigation, search, etc.).
  • Make sure visitors know what their options are (links like “See also” or “Related products”).
  • Let them take various kinds of action (clear calls to action).

What’s the deliverable for an information architecture analysis?

The goal is to come up with the architecture of the site. The deliverable might include sitemaps, site-flow diagrams, and wireframes to convey how the site will work from a practical perspective.

It should determine the big picture, organizing the content on the site to support the tasks that users want to perform. Information architecture should also include little things, like deciding that products on a search page should be ordered by price not name.

All of it should be based on actual research and data—not much room for opinions here. There are multiple ways to get website information architecture right. Here’s the method that’s worked for me over the years.

How to create an information architecture in 5 steps

You achieve your business goals when you help people achieve their goals. You can only do that when you fully understand your users’ goals, problems, and aspirations.

1. Gather data about your site users before working on your site architecture.

It’s critical to get inside the user’s head. Before you work on the information architecture, you need to know answers to these questions:

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Who needs it?
  • What’s this site for?

The earlier the purpose and goals are defined clearly (and written down!), the more easily problems are identified and solved; the easier it is to stay focused; and the better the end result.

Talk to your users. In-person interviews and phone calls are best, but online surveys are also great.

The goal is to understand what your users want and why they want it. There will be different intents and use cases among your users. That’s to be expected.

2. Create customer personas and write user stories to design your site for real people.

Your website should be designed for somebody, not everybody. This is where customer personas come in.

Personas are fact-based (derived from user research) but fictional representations of your users. They represent the goals, motivations, characteristics, and behaviors of the most important groups of people who come to your site.

Here’s a sample persona. Attaching a photo to a persona helps us imagine a real person we’re building the site for:

buyer persona example
User personas are an essential part of developing an information architecture. You don’t know how to build it until you know whom you’re building it for. (Image credit)

The next step is to connect use cases with personas. Use cases are a simple way to decide and describe the purpose of a project. Use cases have two components: actors and goals.

Actors are people using the website. You want to focus only on the most prominent groups—the user personas. Goals are what one, some, or all of the personas want to achieve. Every use case must have:

  1. A specific goal;
  2. Actors who will perform tasks to achieve that goal.

Goals might be things like read a blog post, check an account balance, book an appointment, download software, take a test, and so on. Use cases define goal and the purpose: the problem we are trying to solve. (This is the first step to improving customer lifetime value, too.)

When you approach website architecture by thinking about personas and what they wish to achieve, you will work with greater confidence and clarity.

3. Start building your information architecture with metadata, scenarios, pages

Once you understand your users—their intent, the why behind it, and how they’d like to achieve their goal—you can begin to figure out how to present your content in a way that makes sense to your users.

There are several good methods to do this, but here’s the five-step process I like to use:

1. Figure out the metadata.

Metadata is information about information. It’s what helps users find the content they’re looking for.

Let’s say you want to buy a coffee grinder, so you go to a website that sells them. If you browse around and can’t find one, it’s a sign of bad metadata. If you get your metadata right, you’ve already cleared the first hurdle of effective site design.

To develop useful metadata, you have to determine what people care about. For coffee grinders, do people search by blade size? Color? Brand? Knowing the parameters and variables to store in your system is crucial for excellent search results.

The metadata for a book could be its title, description, author, release date, ISBN, comments, cover image, etc. Plan for it!

2. Create user scenarios.

To design a pleasing experience, think about scenarios featuring user personas. A scenario is a story about someone (your user persona) using your website to carry out a specific task or goal, like booking a flight or buying yoga pants.

Scenarios work with personas. They’re the story behind why a particular persona would come to your website.

  • What does the persona hope to accomplish on your website?
  • What can help them complete the task at hand?
  • What might cause friction?

Focus on users and their tasks rather than your site’s organization and internal structure. If you do, you’ll get insights into what content the site must have and how it should be organized.

You can read more about scenario mapping here.

4. Map user tasks to individual web pages.

Before you start thinking about actual design, you need to have the content in place.

Next, decide what happens on your web pages and how many pages should exist. Each page must do two things:

  1. Help the user accomplish one specific task;
  2. Make the next step easy to access.

When you’re designing the site, making sure the user accomplishes each task is vital. However, achieving that objective usually consists of a series of smaller tasks. The relationship between tasks defines experience. Each page on your site needs to help build this chain of tasks.

Overall, your site will have three types of pages:

  1. Navigation pages. These help users determine where to find what they want, and give them access to it. Their goal is to send users “somewhere else.” Typically it’s a homepage or search results page.
  2. Consumption pages. These are the “somewhere else” you usually go to (articles, videos, pricing information, and so on).
  3. Interaction pages. These pages let users enter and manipulate data. Think search page or a sign-up form.

Each type of page is optimized for a different kind of user task. Understanding the type of page you need helps you tailor the interface design.

When you draw a sitemap or map user flows, note whether a page is a navigation page, consumption page or interaction page. Design accordingly.

5. Offer the right help at the right moment in the most unobtrusive way possible.

Some web pages are easy to use. Some might require some learning. Plan for help texts and microcopy to make sure users can complete tasks without confusion.

Information should be offered in context. Provide answers to booking-related questions on the page where users book stuff. Keeping testimonials and FAQs on separate pages isn’t optimal—information isn’t offered when it’s needed.

On-page FAQs do have a place—when they’re used to answer actual questions, not as a sales tool (e.g. Q: “Should I buy it?” A: “Of course you should!”).

I really like how R. Stephen Gracey put it: “A good FAQ is like insurance for your users: There when they need it, but hopefully they never will.”

Here’s Groupon answering questions in context: the on-page FAQ on their checkout page:

group on-page faq answers
Answering FAQs on your checkout page, when done right, can help reduce uncertainty at the point of purchase.

4. Create user flows to map users’ progression through your site.

Now that you’ve figured out the kinds of pages you need on your site, map out the optimal user flows. (I’ve written about creating user flows here.)

When designing flows, you need to know the four modes of searching information. There’s an excellent article by Donna Spencer on this very topic. According to her, the four types are:

  1. Known-item search. Often, when people know exactly what they’re looking for and what it’s called, they’ll mostly use search. But some prefer navigation, so it has to work with a search to get people where they know they want to go.
  2. Exploratory seeking. This happens when users may have a need but aren’t certain what will fulfill it. They might be looking for a remarketing solution or a new laptop. People will recognize an answer to their question but don’t know if they’ve actually found the right answer (i.e. note sure if there’s a better option out there).
  3. Don’t know what I need to know. Sometimes people don’t know what they need to know. Somebody looking to buy gemstone jewelry has to figure out precious metals, treatments, gemstone clarity, hardness, and many other things. They’re looking for one thing but discover that they really need to know about something else.
  4. Re-finding. People may want to go back to things they’ve discovered in the past. If they saw something they liked on your site during a previous visit, make it easy to find it again. (Change the color of visited links, use permanent shopping carts, etc.).

Each information-seeking behavior relies on specific navigational tools to succeed.

5. Create sitemaps, wireframes—and gather feedback on your website architecture

You’re only one person. You need fresh sets of eyes and brains to challenge your thinking. Maybe you missed something. Maybe you misunderstood the importance of something. This is why you need to go through it all with your teammates (or other peers).

You can use sketches, diagrams, sitemaps, or wireframes to communicate your findings and proposals to move forward.

Gather feedback, iterate, and move on to planning your site structure.

How to create an optimal menu structure for your website

Intuitive navigation doesn’t happen by chance. Here are research and testing techniques that UX professionals use to determine the best information architecture, workflows, menu structure, or website navigation paths.

1. Card sorting

You have a bunch of pages on your website that need to be categorized. What should go where? Card sorting lets you figure out where people would want to find something. It’s an awesome (and reliable!) method for finding patterns in how users expect to find content or functionality.

It works best if the subject matter is something people understand (e.g. audio-video equipment, apparel, etc.).

card sorting for website information architecture
Card sorting is a flexible, pen-and-paper method to organize your website content into categories.

Here’s how the basic method works:

  1. Take a set of index cards or Post-It Notes) and write a term (e.g. name of the page, content) on each. Each card represents a (category) page on your website. If you’re an audio-video ecommerce site, you might write down things like “digital SLRs,” “Canon lenses,” or “DVD players.”
  2. Test subjects (representatives of your ideal customer whom you’ve recruited for this purpose) get a set of index cards with terms already written on them.
  3. You ask the first test subject to put the terms into logical groupings and create a category name for each grouping.
  4. This process is repeated with each test subject.
  5. After going through the exercise with all test participants, you analyze their output and look for patterns.

Here’s a great video explaining the concept in 3 minutes:

There are three main types of card sorting:

  1. Open-card sorting. This is where the test participants create their own names for the categories. It gives you insight into how your customers think and mentally classify items.
  2. Closed-card sorting. Participants are provided with a predetermined set of category names. Their goal is to assign the index cards to these fixed categories.
  3. Modified-Delphi method. This is different from the rest. Participants work one after another, refining a single model. The first test subject does a traditional open-card sort. Subsequent testers start with whatever the previous tester created. They can modify that organization (rename or restructure) or start over. You repeat the process until participants no longer make significant changes. The risk is that since anyone can start over, an outlier participant could compromise the whole study.

Here’s an example of the Modified-Delphi method in action (see the changed category name):

The Modified-Delphi method of card sorting lets participants change others’ choices. The process continues until there’s consensus. (Image credit)

2. Tree testing (reverse card sorting)

Tree testing is where you create a menu structure (either yourself or based on other card-sorting outcomes), then let people find items from the menu. The goal of tree testing is to prove that your site structure will work – before you get into actual user interface design.

It is done on a simplified text version of your site structure—without the influence of navigation aids and visual design.


In this example, the user would navigate through the menu structure until they reach the place where they expect to find protective cases:

user navigation during tree testing

Reverse card sorting validates your menu structure assumptions (or offers feedback for re-arranging).

3. Online (remote) card sorting

You don’t have to conduct card sorting in person. Doing it online is cheaper, doesn’t require logistics planning, and can be done without geographical limitations.

You can’t be “there” to moderate it, although you could be having a Skype chat at the same time. A proper pre-education of test participants is a must. Some pros and cons of online card sorting are pointed out in this article.

The limitation of these online card-sorting tools is that they can’t be used with the Modified-Delphi method.

Online tools you can check out for this process include:

These tools will also help you analyze the results (as opposed to doing it 100% manually).

4. Analyzing card-sort results

Two questions often come up about results.

  1. What if half the people want to find Page X in Category Y, but the other half prefer Category Z? It’s okay to have the same link under two categories! If that helps people find the content they want, that’s the way to go.
  2. Do I just use the results as my site architecture? Not quite. You should use card-sorting results as a guide to organization and labeling. Don’t blindly use the results as your actual site structure. Your card-sort results can (and should be) supplemented with additional user research and task analysis.

As you design your navigation system, ask yourself, “What do the bulk of the visitors coming to my site want?” Ask a follow-up question, too: “What do I want my visitors to find easily?”

How many users should you test?

Tullis and Wood (authors of a prominent 2004 study) recommend testing 20–30 users for card sorting. However, based on his research, Jakob Nielsen recommends testing only 15 users (and 30 in big projects with lavish funding).

Testing with more people gives more insight, but there are diminishing returns. When testing past 15 users, the costs are often unjustified.

Further reading: Here’s a great guide to card sorting.

Guiding principles for website navigation design

Card sorting will help you figure out how to structure your menus. What about navigation menu design?

In good navigation design, links look clickable. They have clear labels that set expectations of what lies beneath. Unclear menu links cause click fear.

Take a look at the navigation menu I have up there. I’ve done a good amount of testing to find the perfect good-enough wording for those. (If some of those aren’t clear, let me know).

Here’s another one:

menu items with unclear labels

The menu items look like buttons, but I would argue that “learn more” and “order now” are pretty poor choices. What will I learn more about? What am I ordering?

Provide consistent, reliable global navigation.Whichever links you have in your navigation menu and footer, keep them the same on every page of your site. Wherever you go on MADE, the top menu remains unchanged:

made persistent top navigation bar

Where should you put the menu? Should the main menu be horizontal or vertical? While there’s a strong case against left-vertical menus, two studies (2003 and 2004) claim it’s better.

I say you should opt for a horizontal menu whenever possible, but go for the left vertical menu if you’ve got a ton of menu items (e.g. Amazon). This eye-tracking study says a top menu is easier to use, but there’s only so much space there.

If you do use vertical menus, make sure they’re aligned left. Right-aligned menus impede scannability.

Establish a clear hierarchy for global and local navigation. Almost all websites with more than one page have some sort of global navigation:

wells fargo global and local navigation menus

Then, there’s also local navigation (a sub-menu). Local navigation should appear below the global navigation. This is logical: The global menu is the main category, and local navigation is like a sub-category beneath it.

Local navigation links should be closest to where the user needs them. Content is first, but once the user is done reading the content, they’re going to reach for the local navigation before looking at the global navigation.

Similarly, if the page doesn’t have the content they’re looking for, the local navigation is the navigation they’ll look to first.

How many levels of navigation should you create? As many as you need—without driving users crazy. Some websites with a lot of content, like Wells Fargo, have four levels of content (sub-sub-sub-menus):

wells fargo sub-sub menus

They feel that each level of navigation helps users zero in on their goals. Most websites have enough content for only two levels of navigation—the global navigation and one level of local navigation.

Tools to use to create your site’s information architecture

  • Balsamiq Mockups. A great, fast wireframing tool. There’s almost zero learning to get going, and I love that it focuses on the big picture, not little design elements.
  • Omnigraffle. The tool of choice for a lot of UX professionals. Diagrams, process charts, quick page layouts, website mock-ups, and more (Mac only).
  • Microsoft Visio. Many people prefer it for diagramming and website architecture planning.
  • MindJet MindManager. Mindmapping tool that’s also great for diagramming and sitemaps.
  • LovelyCharts. A diagramming application that allows you to create diagrams of all kinds, such as flowcharts, sitemaps, wireframes and more.


People buy only what they can find. Studies show that websites are losing money because their navigation systems fail, and users can’t find the product they’re interested in.

I’ve seen the claim that “up to 50% of sales” are lost due to bad navigation, but I haven’t found the study confirming it. Nevertheless, good navigation is critical.

Information architecture works hand-in-hand with usability and conversions. If your website’s information architecture is good but your usability sucks, visitors will find what they’re looking for but struggle to complete the purchase flow.

If your information architecture is bad (even if your usability is good), most visitors won’t find what they’re looking for, leaving your site before entering the sales funnel.

Gettting the information architecture of your site right ensures a great user experience, which in turn leads to higher retention and more conversions.

The post Website Information Architecture: How to Optimize for UX appeared first on CXL.