The Difference Between User Experience and Conversion Rate Optimization


When designing websites – two crucial things to understand are how to make the website easy to navigate, and the other is helping guide users to the main action you want them to take on the site.

It’s interesting to note that these two disciplines, known as User Experience (UX) and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) have similarities and overlap, but generally have a distinctly different approach and methods of research.

What is the difference between Usability and Conversion Rate Optimization? UX is intended to make your website easier to use, to navigate around, and to take key actions on. CRO is intended to help you make the actions you want them to take available and taken more often.

There are differences in the key intent of each strategy, though they work in concert:

  • Usability = Make it easy to navigate.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization = Get them to take actions that are key to the business more often.

Here are some clearer definitions:

Conversion Rate Optimization is the art of getting a higher percentage of website visitors to convert into customers or take any desired action on a web page.

To track general conversions, many people use Google Analytics or something similar, and to do side by side comparisons of versions of a page there are many options like:

  • Optimizely – A very easy to use interface that gives you a slick indicator when you’ve reached statistical significance, so you can feel confident about ending the test and permanently implementing a change.
  • Visual Website Optimizer – A little less slick of an interface, but uses has a few different types of features, such as it showing you which different parts of a page are contributing to the success of a particular variation.
  • – An affordable third option to the two above.

UX refers to an overlapping segment of disciplines and research that study how easy a website is to use. Usability, as it pertains to the web, is the degree to which a site can be utilized by a particular demographic to achieve quantified objectives with effectiveness.

Often the method to find information about the usability of a website involves sitting down with and watching a non-technical person interact with it and try to perform key actions on the website.

This can also be done online with tools and services like:

  • – An amazing way to test users quickly: you choose what questions you want to ask and they give you really great suggestions, you usually get videos of the person talking and navigating around on the website within an hour or so.
  • Try My UI – This is very similar to, just cheaper and a little newer.
  • UserBob – This has the simplest interface of all three, is much cheaper and allows you to get ‘first impression videos’, and has other options for short videos.
  • – The difference with this service is you pay a monthly fee (very reasonable,) and get a new video every week. They tout it as “finally making user testing a habit.”
  • Userlytics – A more expensive option, but has a white-label offering that allows you to brand the user testing interface.
  • If you’re feeling really brave and particularly strapped you can even find people willing to user test, give you feedback, and send you the video on Fiverr.

There are differences in the methods of UX and CRO, though they both complement each other:

  • Usability = Testing with people outside the business to see how easy it is to navigate the site.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization = Testing two different versions of a page against each other to see what works better in driving key actions.

Both of them are incredibly interesting if you are in any way helping a website to be more effective online, and both generally require original research and testing, and that is why the practitioners of these disciplines can become incrementally more effective outside of individual tests in the other websites they design.

Studying and implementing tests around these disciplines helps provide a system for becoming a better web designer, not just in aesthetic preferences, but in an objective way. Not ‘I feel‘ this design decision will be more effective, but this design decision is more effective according to the numbers.

Both types of research are useful, but which should you do first?

If you have less than 10,000 page-views a month on website, User testing might be your best bet as it doesn’t require a certain amount of people to get statistically significant results. If a website does have more than that and you see opportunities for getting a higher number of conversions, Conversion Rate Optimization is a great option, but ideally, you’d be able to do both.

Usability testing allows you to dig deep into the psychology surrounding key actions and come up with great hypotheses to test during A/B Testing for Conversion Rate Optimization.

Used in concert with a keen problem-solving mind, these methods will allow you to find and fix any user flow problems or confusing elements on your site and get your website fine-tuned like a well-oiled machine.

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