This post was written by Joel Lopez, Designer for Toptal.


When it comes to designing a product, designers are looking for the best solution to ensure a product meets the needs of the user as well as the needs of the business. Making a conversion is an important business goal when convincing a potential customer to buy a product or use your service. But what role does good user experience design play—including usability testing—in ensuring the highest conversion optimization rate possible (i.e., of leads to sales)?

There are a lot of articles out there that claim to hold the ultimate key to conversion. There are always new trends or fads promising that, by changing a button to one particular color, using this specific picture or icon, or employing that certain layout, a product’s conversion rates will skyrocket.

However, there is no one size fits all “magic bullet” to conversion optimization. The needs and behaviors of every user demographic is different. It is essential to use data of the specific targeted audience in order to create designs that convert.

While UX best practices established by common behavior patterns are a good starting point, quick fixes reveal nothing about measuring the user experience of a product. If there is one single piece of advice designers should listen to, it’s to focus on usability testing to collect actionable data.

color trends for conversion optimization

It’s best not to follow trends such as “better converting colors” trying to achieve better conversion optimization.

Imagine your client has just launched a new website or product, but initial data is showing conversion problems. To illustrate an example, the site conversion rate appears to be 0.3%—that’s only 3 out of every 1000 leads converting into customers. Presumably, such a dramatically low rate is not what the client is looking for.

A quick Google search on ways to convert more users will likely result in a list of results that make some confident “magic bullet” claims. “Red converts better than green!” “Orange beats any color!” “Add cat pictures! Everybody loves kittens!” “Pictures of people convert better!” “Pictures of products convert better!” Each one claims to have nailed the secret to high website conversion once and for all.

While each of these approaches may have in fact been successful in one or more scenarios, the likelihood that these quick-fix design tweaks are right for every site or product is slim. There’s no data behind claims that making the button orange over every site will help each one of them convert better. There is data to support, however, that what users really care about is that the website makes it easy for them to find what they want—in other words, it has to be usable.

Conversion optimization doesn’t simply boil down to using trendy colors in CTA buttons. The site ultimately needs to be “usable,” which means meeting the user’s specific needs effectively and with minimal friction. Leveraging usability analysis to better understand users and improving customer experience will make a larger, more lasting impact on conversion than whatever the most popular CTA button color is this month.

employing usability testing methods for better conversion optimization

Analyzing user behavior data for better conversion optimization (source: Frog Design)

Conversion Optimization Through Usability

There are a couple of important questions to answer before starting the process of conversion optimization:

  • Understand the Audience – What is the target audience? Collect demographic data and ask whether the website is tailored to them.
  • Define Measurable Goals – Is the site meant to capture more emails, get people to sign up for a service, or have them buy a product? Focus on the main goal and define success metrics to test.
  • Analyze Usability Scores – How usable is the website or product? Look at ux testing tools and usability metrics to find opportunities for improvement.
  • Optimize Content – Is the site’s content easy to read? Consider whether the content is geared to the personality and education level of the targeted audience and whether it clearly communicates a message/goal.
  • Check for Fallout – Are there obvious drop-off points? Look at the site’s bounce rate, time on page, and performance by page or area of site.

Answering these questions are fundamental to improving customer experience—and therefore, increasing conversions. Only once these questions are answered can designers begin defining usability goals and optimizing website conversion.

usability testing analysis employing user personas

Look at the usability testing data for measuring user experience, not just what’s trendy.

Understanding the Target Audience

Formulate a precise definition of who the target is. If the product is intended for people around the age of 18 – 24, the corresponding content, design, and usability metrics should reflect that. One common way to begin understanding the target audience is by creating personas.

Personas are models of fictitious or real people that describe members of the target audience, detailing their age, demographic information, occupation, tech-savviness, and what they’re looking to accomplish. UX researchers synthesize this kind of ux research to help designers establish empathy and guide design decisions for their target audience. Personas can be formed from data gathered through user interviews, focus groups, and other usability testing tools.

personas for usability testing and improving customer experience

Personas are representative users of your product which help with improving customer experience (by Miklos Philips).

Data platforms like Google Analytics are also great places to look for in-depth information about your users—such as where they’re located, what devices they’re using, and what content sparks their interest. In addition, heat map trackers like Crazy Egg will help explain what users are looking at and doing when they visit the site. Include these insights when building a profile of who the users are, and what they’re interested in.

Consider whether the existing site or product aligns with the qualities defined in the personas. Analyzing the connections as well as the snags between the solution and personas will help more clearly understand—and thereby target—specific user needs.

Defining Usability Data

Understanding the core characteristics of the target audience is part of user centered design (UCD), but that data only tells part of the story. By measuring the user experience and conducting usability analysis, UX designers can get a better picture of potential conversion problems or areas of friction in the existing solution, and identify opportunities to improve customer experience.

What is meant by usability? According to Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group, “usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.” That usability is further defined by five key components: learnability, efficiency, memorability, user error and recovery, and user satisfaction.

A website or product that delivers great user experience and usability is more likely to convert users and have them coming back for more, as opposed to one that is flashy but unusable.

run a usability test

Run usability tests to see how your site measures up.

Look at the existing product and current analytics data. Decide on what usability metrics to analyze and compare with data for measuring conversion. Use that information to define some usability goals that will translate into improved conversion stats and start testing!

There are many types of usability testing methods that can provide actionable data to meet the site’s usability goals. Running usability testing with actual customers can provide great insight into what is working and what isn’t on the site.

usability testing methods

Look at the user experience holistically when measuring the user experience.

Usability tests like these don’t need to break the bank or explode project deadlines when done carefully and systematically with a usability test plan. Whether in person or set up using a remote usability testing tool like, watching an actual user navigate a site or product will reveal invaluable insights into a site’s usability.

Conducting quantified usability analysis is another one of many usability testing tools to help bring clarity to usability issues that might be costing conversions. When running a usability analysis on a website, look at several usability metrics and tabulate the data.

For example, dividing 100 users attempting a task with only 32 completing the task would mean a success rate of 32%. Tabulate the results with the existing solution to see which usability metrics are in need of improvement and by how much. When iterating design improvements, compare how those changes improve the usability score in those critical metrics.

In most cases, making changes that improve user experience will result in improved conversion rates. Better usability means that users will not only enjoy a website or product, but will have better reason to trust it. A user or customer that feels confidence that their needs are going to be met are more likely to complete a sign-up form, subscribe to a newsletter, or purchase a product.

Improving User Experience Through Design

A website’s usability as well as its presentation, colors, branding, content—everything creates an impact on the user and, in just a matter of seconds, their confidence is either won or lost.

looking at user pain points for conversion optimization

Map out pain points in the user experience for better conversion optimization.

Take a look at the quantitative data gathered from site analytics and usability analysis and compare it to the qualitative findings from usability testing, customer interviews, and observation. Look for patterns where a drop-off in conversions can be explained by something in the usability metrics. These insights should be the foundation to improve user experience, engender user trust and confidence, and boost conversions.

Once critical flaws are identified through usability analysis and usability goals have been defined, it’s time to make design decisions to improve the key components of usability. Optimize learnability so that users can immediately understand why they’ve arrived at the site and how it can help meet their needs.

Make the central message clearly stand out through good visual hierarchy of information. Immediately let the user know that they’ve arrived in the right place, and break down dense information into digestible pieces that are easy to remember.

Reduce the complexity of the actions users must take to complete tasks efficiently. Make sign up forms simple by removing unnecessary fields. Guide the user through the process by providing clear error messaging every step of the way. Something as simple as explaining a password character requirement within a sign-up form can mean the difference between a seamless experience and an abandoned task.

user onboarding improves conversion optimization

As part of conversion optimization, user onboarding done well increases customer conversion rates (source Johan Adam Horn).

Of course, the most important aim in user-centered design is to satisfy the user goal. Satisfaction is one of the key components of usability and, arguably the most essential to conversion. By guiding users to find what they need and make a decision with ease, you are not only delivering a great user experience, but improving the chances of a successful conversion.

Measuring UX Improvements

After making improvements to the design, it’s time to compare the new design to the previous solution. So how does one measure the success of new designs? Compare the usability data from one design to another alongside conversion metrics. If the design decisions were made with usability in mind, the impact on the rate of conversion should outshine and outlast any knee-jerk fad-inspired design decisions.

Good design requires a team to test and test often. Always be specific on what needs to be tested and define the success metrics in advance. The more specific the test, the better the data that can be collected to keep improving.

When testing for usability, one is by definition looking at things from the user’s perspective and not just focusing on making a quick sale. Empathy informs designs that help the user get what they need and in turn builds their trust.

Designs that are obviously created to “trick” the user into clicking on or buying something, end up damaging the relationship with that user and subverting the effort to convert them.

user centered design for optimal customer experience with usability testing methods

Better usability that improves customer experience will foster confidence from your customers.

Build trust and relationships through user centered design. By building trust with your users, you keep them coming back, and even promote your business indirectly by word of mouth. Positive reviews and a good reputation will turn into better leads.

Another great reason to focus on usability is SEO. Usability will not only create a great user experience, but it can help a website or product stand out from competitors in search results. Google puts a great deal of focus on giving the user what they need, just by searching. Sites that demonstrate the capability to provide the users with that information get ahead from others who are just trying to beat or game the system.

Trendy button colors and stylistic trends come and go. Focus on usability testing, the data, not the noise. Create designs that garner trust and convert customers.