What’s the difference between conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and user experience (UX)? An infographic and interview with Peep Laja, founder of ConversionXL

Recently we ran a Twitter #uxchat about the topic of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and UX, and some of our comrades said they didn’t know what the term means…

This is completely understandable. Thanks to a sea of misinformation (and “non-information”), people in each of the fields of ecommerce UX and CRO are either still unaware of the other… or see the two as incompatible.

Of course, there are a few champions who understand the combined power of both—like Paul Randall (Evosite) and Chris Callaghan (McCann)—but on the whole… there’s still work to do.

And there’s no better person to set the record straight than the straight-talking founder of ConversionXL, Peep Laja.

During a 45-min interview, Peep explained how we can resolve any perceived tension between UX and CRO, by answering 4 (potentially) controversial questions:

  1. Which is better for growing revenue—UX or CRO?

  2. When it comes to pop-ups, how much is too much?

  3. Is pseudo-techie jargon compromising the studies of UX and CRO?

  4. What’s the best way of combining UX and CRO?

I’ve extracted just a few of Peep’s cutting insights and turned them into an infographic which is published in this article. Feel free to republish and share to your heart’s content.

And if you’d like to get the whole shebang of Peep’s wise words, check out all 4 parts of my interview with him (as well as their transcripts) underneath the infographic.

I learned an immeasurable amount during my conversation with Peep (just as some of the world’s smartest pros have been doing for years). I recommend you join the club.

A game of operation on conversion rate optimisation [infographic]

Peep Laja CRO

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Tools and resources recommended by Peep

  • ResearchXL: Peep’s proprietary framework for enhancing conversion rate optimisation experiments using research.

  • Bounce Exchange: the best conversion rate optimisation tool and managed service, according to Peep.

  • OptiMonk: a pop-up and on-site retargeting tool which comes highly recommended by Peep.

  • Omniconvert: an award-winning suite of conversion rate optimisation tools which comes highly recommended by Peep.

  • SumoMe: a suite of CRO and on-page analytics tools which comes highly recommended by Peep.

4-part interview with Peep Laja about CRO & UX (transcript below)

Which is better for growing revenue—UX or CRO?

Timi: So, I’m gonna jump into the first question. If you’re a small company…I’m gonna pretend I’m a small company, I only have a little amount of money to invest, which would you say is actually better for a business that’s just interested in generating revenue, UX or CRO?

Peep: Well, if your goal is to make more money, then CRO is the one to go with because the goal of CRO is to make more money. Better user experience is highly correlated with more money, but there’s also times when user happiness goes up, yet your financial results are not impacted or even go down.

So, for instance, if you’re in B2B, let’s say you’re a small B2B company and you want to generate high quality leads, well, the great user experience would be if there are hardly any form fields here, so maybe just your name and email or something. But that generates very low quality leads for you so sometimes you need to increase the friction here to get the required leads.

And also, if you’re a small business with a limited budget, you can’t mess…you can’t do everything, so you need to prioritize. So a key component of conversion rate optimization is first identifying where are you leaking money the most. All pages on your website are leaking money, but where is the biggest leak? Where are the majority of your users dropping out? So, identifying that spot and then focusing your energy on, A, figuring out what is the problem, and then B, fixing it.

Timi: So, you would say then that it’s much better to have a laser focus, rather than hoping, I suppose. If you were to focus on user experience first, then you’d still leave that room of ambiguity that, okay, if users are happy, they might spend more money but I haven’t put anything in place to essentially…a mechanism, a predictable mechanism for guaranteeing that, to an extent.

Peep: I would not focus early on on…I mean, ideally we shouldn’t…this is not a conflict, right? UX and CRO also, 80% is the same damn thing. It’s the same same thing. Because what makes people drop out of your funnel and leave your website is often related to UX problems you have. Maybe it’s technical bugs, maybe it’s like your website doesn’t work on the specific device browser combination I’m on, maybe it’s one of those issues. Maybe it’s poor message clarity and message clarity, you could say is a number one CRO issue, but also is a user experience issue. Because if I don’t understand what this website is about, I’m having a crappy experience on your site.

So I wouldn’t draw this distinction between UX and CRO. So, if I only have limited amount of time and resources, how can I use it in the most effective way? And so, starting by fixing your top problem first is the way to go.

Timi: Okay. Let’s say I’m a business owner and I know that my product or service is one of the more inferior ones on the market. Not because I’m a bad person, but let’s just say that’s where I found myself. So, really, a good user experience won’t necessarily increase my revenue and even let’s say, as you mentioned, the combination of UX and CRO might not be enough. So people don’t necessarily know the value of what they’re getting from the business. Would you say, in that case, it’s okay to forgo the user experience and just focus on some of the more aggressive CRO tactics?

Peep: No. I mean, CRO is not about aggressiveness at all. That’s a misconception about CRO. People unfamiliar with CRO think it’s short-term gain, dirty tricks and hacks, but that’s not the case at all. I mean, when we are wandering to black hat territory then that’s…I mean, that’s not CRO.

We’re talking about a systematic way to grow businesses. So a true CRO is not a list of hacks, it’s not a list of tactics, it’s not a list of best practices. Conversion rate optimization is a process. It’s a process for identifying problems, reasons for these problems, the problems that your website has, what is the cause, root cause for these problems and what is it…and research on what is it that users want, what they want and how they want to buy it and what is the discrepancy between the way your website is and how users wanna buy, and then bridging the gap.

Because great conversion rate, great or high revenue per visitor happens when we help users achieve their goals. They have some sort of goals, they wanna buy a new vacuum cleaner, a new car, whatever. So helping them make a better decision, helps us.

When it comes to pop-ups, how much is too much?

Timi: I’m gonna move on to the next question now, which is about a tactic…speaking of tactics, it’s very popular and I would say recently it has become more controversial, which is pop-ups. Where is that line between using it well and abusing it?

Peep: I wouldn’t think that no…people will say, yeah, I like pop-ups, I love pop-ups. I’ve never heard people say that. I do think that pop-ups are so common that most people don’t mind. It’s like automatically close it if the offer is not valid [SP].

So, a key to good pop-up is, first of all, that it needs to come with an attractive offer. An offer that delivers instant gratification. So a terrible pop-up message would be, “Join our email list, subscribe now”. Something like, you know, “We’re sending 50,000 emails a month”, be one of the other…”be one of these people who gets our email”. Where is the value in there? So that’s one. And two, of course, is the timing and size of the pop-up, so the trigger mechanisms.

So, I would agree with Google here that I think this week launched the algorithm that is penalizing sites when they do these overly aggressive full-screen takeovers. So I think that…if you stop people from getting the content they wanted right away, like I come to a website and immediately they hit me with a pop-up. In most cases, that’s not good. I would say and I have to emphasize, in most cases, because I have tested these full-screen pop-ups, sometimes they’re called like welcome mats and what-not. I’ve seen them convert crazy high. And the reason is, of course, because if you take over the full screen, the whole thing is now focused on the offer. So if the offer is attractive, people will see it.

Of course, many people also find it damn annoying because I wanted to read this article and now I have to look at this damn pop-up. It really pisses me off that when I wanna read an article in Forbes Magazine…I think is Forbes.

Timi: Oh my god, Forbes. It is Forbes.

Peep: When every time it’s this five-second ad with some stupid quote. I’m like, “Come on”.

Timi: Or they’ll play videos.

Peep: Yeah. That is definitely annoying. Especially if you go to the site often, you know, like you should also cookie who saw the pop-up so you don’t annoy them again. Now, pop-ups are necessary. I fully believe that. Because…

Timi: You would say necessary?

Peep: Necessary, because… if you compare email opt-in rates, so pop-ups versus static email boxes, so somewhere on your sidebar or footer [SP] or wherever you have this…a box where you can put an email. So the effectiveness is like four or five times higher when it comes to pop-ups. So let’s say that you gather…let’s say that you collect 100 emails a day. Let’s say that. So, over the course of a year, that would be 36,500 emails, right?

Timi: Yeah.

Peep: So that’s quite a lot of emails. But if we had used a pop-up and let’s say that we only got four times more emails, four times higher conversion rate, now we would be 146,000 emails. So, 36,000, 146,000, I mean, it’s crazy. And, of course, the bigger the numbers, the more pronounced effect. If you’re getting 200 emails a day by using a pop-up, you can easily increase that to 600 a day. So it’s just…it’s crazy how well it works. I mean, if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t use it. Nobody would use it. People use it because it works.

So the way to do it is to be intelligent about who has seen the pop-up and who hasn’t seen it. Don’t trigger it too early. And usually the best time to trigger it is after users have shown some sort of engagement, like they have scrolled down a bit, they’ve spent some time on the page, so on and so forth. So, for instance, the pop-ups by Bounce Exchange, their algorithm, under-the-hood stuff, is excellent, is really good.

Timi: So would you say they’re the best tool for making sure you deliver a good user experience with your pop-ups?

Peep: I think it is. It is the best game in town. Of course, what you need to know about Bounce Exchange is that it’s not just a tool, it’s mostly a managed service because they will also design the pop-ups for you, they will run the split tests for you. I think they start at \$10,000 a month now so is not accessible to most. It’s definitely enterprise grade tool but because they offer it as a service.

And that brings me to this next point, which is that if you just deploy a pop-up and you think that your triggering mechanism and your message are the best from the get-go, I mean, you’re wrong. You need to split-test your offers, you need to split-test your triggering mechanism. And what’s interesting is that, the more different types of triggering mechanisms you have, the better. So you have exit intent people about to leave your site, hit them with a pop-up. They scroll down to the bottom of an article, you hit them with a scroll trigger box. Maybe they’re inside the article or wherever on the page, you insert more ways where they can interact with your page, that triggers a pop-up.

So, I see time and again, the more mechanisms you have built in to trigger a pop-up, the more successful you are. Now, of course, the bad thing…you know, the bad examples if you go to a site like neilpatel.com or Quick Sprout, or you know, one of these sites where it’s like you’re instantly hit with one, you close it and then after one second, you’re hit with another one, you close it and then you get a third one as well and, you know. So…

Timi: That’s brilliant. It’s good to hear a seasoned veteran expert like yourself pointing that out because I felt exactly the same. And I mentioned it once in one of our old interviews but I wasn’t sure if it was just my newbieshness [SP] and I was overreacting. But it seems you agree that on those sites, in particular, it’s a bit too much.

Peep: So what recommend everybody…all the people worried about using pop-ups is, first of all, whenever you trigger a pop-up, fire an event through Google Analytics. So every time somebody has seen a pop-up, event is recorded in Google Analytics. So later, you can compare the segments of people who saw a pop-up, compare that to the segment of people who saw a pop-up and put their email in and you can compare that to the segment of people who did not see a pop-up.

And now you can look at everything they did on your website, across these three segments and you wanna look at…you know, let’s say if it’s a content site, you might look at the time on site and that kind of stuff as well, maybe page views per session if you want them to read more content. Because the myth is that as soon as people see a pop-up, they leave the site. And some do, but that’s a negligible amount.

And also you wanna see people, how likely they are to take action. So, I have this…what I see time and again on e-commerce websites is that if you trigger a pop-up saying that, “Hey, first time visitor, put your email in here, we’ll email you whatever, \$5, \$10 off coupon for first-time purchases”. And now when I look at the…the average conversion rate for the e-commerce site is let’s say 2%, 3%, but people who saw the coupon offer, they put their email in, the conversion rate often can go to 50%-60%. So 60% of people who see a coupon offer and take it end up buying something. That’s crazy. Compare that to your average conversion rate, especially considering that first-time buyers typically have way lower conversion rate than returning buyers.

Timi: Then the key takeaway would be, the smarter you are about making sure that the pop-ups come out at the right time, in the right way, to the right people, with the right offer, the more likely you are to actually be providing a good user experience because you’ll be giving them exactly what they’re most likely to need in that moment?

Peep: Pretty much so. Other tools that I can vouch for, if you were looking for free or low cost…I like SumoMe, it does a good job. And then a lot of people that I know are using successfully, OptiMonk. I’ve heard people say good things about Omniconvert. Omniconvert does other things too including pop-ups. So, I will recommend people check those options out.

Timi: Okay, cool. Now one final like controversial example. I was actually talking with our head of marketing today and we were talking about Amazon and their approach to getting people to try Amazon Prime. It’s what many people might call a dark pattern, so they do like a massive pop-up and both choices of buttons are ambiguous. So, you’re very likely…like we all clicked to sign up by accident. They don’t send a confirmation, they don’t let you know that they’re taking the money, they just take it out and suddenly you’re in Prime. However, I have to say, the service is so good, that we both agree we’re not going to cancel. So, it’s a strange line.

If you know, either through user research or testing or whatever, somehow that you know that what you’re offering is really, really damn good, maybe even better on the market, game changer, whatever, is it justifiable to perhaps blur the line to get people to try it and then decide for themselves?

Peep: Well, the definition of dark pattern is that people are deceivingly lured into making choices that they weren’t conscious of or they didn’t wanna make. So I definitely cannot recommend that people trick people into taking actions and like, “Oh, you’ll like it. You’ll like it”. You know, that’s unethical. You should give people full information.

Now, I’m…the example you’re talking about, I haven’t seen it in person so I don’t…I can’t comment on this example specifically. But Amazon, of course, is also a different animal from most because A, Amazon is so big and well known that people, A, inherently trust the brand, and B, most people already know what Amazon Prime is. Of course, there are people who don’t but most people know what Amazon Prime is so they’re kind of in a different position.

I think what also Amazon Prime is doing is they’re getting press PR all the time on things they added to the Prime. Oh, by the way, now you can also get this thing for free if you’re a Prime member and this thing and this thing. So they’re constantly in the…just yesterday, again, I saw an article that they added something. So they’re just making it more and more attractive. And, I mean, as you say, it’s a must-have service. I mean, how can you live without it?

Is pseudo-techie jargon compromising the studies of UX and CRO?

Timi: Agreed. Okay, cool. I’ll move to like the third controversial/difficult question, which is, do you think there’s too much bullshit and jargon in both UX and CRO and do you think that alienates people? Do you think it’s an everyman thing? Anyone can at least get involved and get good results from these fields, but the jargon and the technical speak excludes them?

Peep: Yeah, I guess it can be intimidating and confusing for people new in the field. I mean, there are also…there’s digital transformation, there’s customer experience. I mean, largely they’re all the same thing, you know, because it’s…I think the simplest way to think about all these things is the lean startup loop, the build-measure-learn, because essentially that’s what we’re doing. We’re building something in the beginning based on best practices like stuff that typically tends to work well, not guaranteed to work but typically. And then we put it live and then we set up all kinds of tracking analytics and we see how it performs then we learn something. And, of course, then comes testing which is a critical component of conversion rate optimization as well as user experience…they’re advocating testing, same with customer experience and so on.

Because nobody knows, out of the box, what makes the best user experience, best customer experience, whatever it is, best…highest conversion rate. So, in all these disciplines which is, as I say, 80% the same stuff, it’s all about user research and web analytics. Then based on the qualitative and quantitative data you come up with ideas, hypothesis for how we could improve the whatever thing. But we don’t know if our idea for improvement is correct, if it actually will make a difference. That’s why we run an AB test, ABC test, multivariate test, whatever and then we learn something.

So I think people shouldn’t get too hung up on the terminology, as long as they understand that it’s A, data-driven, research-based, customer-focused and nobody knows, that’s why we need to test.

Timi: In which case, do you think it’s something any Tom, Dick and Harry should be doing? Or do you think that there’s a risk of oversimplifying CRO, for example, and actually cutting out some key parts of what makes someone competent at it? Should it be left to the experts who are aware of these things?

Peep: Well, there is…I mean, I think all the concepts should be made simple. A complicated concept or a framework does nobody service. But there is the risk of oversimplifying. So, oversimplification is when you think of conversion rate optimization as a list of tactics or a list of tricks, hacks, you know, magical stuff. If you take it to that level, that’s wrong, that’s inaccurate way of describing it. But if we’re describing it as a process, then I think a simpler model is better if it’s easy to understand.

Now, of course, the nitty-gritty that goes into it, how exactly do you run qualitative research, what do you ask, how do you come up with the questions, how do you process hundreds of open-ended answers and so on and so forth. I mean, there’s a lot to know. But, in order to get people started with it, let’s say, I think it’s good that the concepts are simple.

What’s the best way of combining UX and CRO?

Timi: And the final question is, obviously as you said that CRO has a lot of its own nitty-gritty, UX has its own nitty-gritty, but there’s a huge overlap. Well, what’s the best way to think of the relationship between the two and get the best results from, in your opinion?

Peep: Yeah, I mean, it is a complicated issue because I think it’s mostly…it’s a marketing issue. Like some people push the UX agenda and some people push the CRO agenda and position themselves as UX or CRO people or digital transformation or whatever it is. So, in the end, we shouldn’t be thinking about like, oh, unifying the disciplines or…because, I mean, that’s just too much empty work. As long as we focus on the final outcome that we want to produce, which is, to grow our business, to have happy users and those kind of things. So as long as you know what is the final outcome you want to produce, I mean, it doesn’t matter really if you call it UX or CRO or customer experience. So you shouldn’t get too hung up on what are you doing here.

Timi: On the terminology? You think that it’s better if we focus on the goals and the processes we can use to achieve those goals, regardless of whether or not someone calls them…

Peep: Right. You might call it I’m doing the lean startup thing and you’re doing the same stuff like, well then who cares what you call it as long as you’re doing the research and running experiments and all that.

Timi: In general, if you could give one piece of advice to anyone looking to get great results from CRO, just starting out in it, what would it be? What would you say is the fundamental thing that you must not let go of so you don’t lose focus?

Peep: It’s important to realize that you don’t know what works and nobody knows what works, so you need to do research, you need to learn analytics, you need to learn qualitative research. Your research…you should be excited about doing research because research will tell you what people want, how they want it, what’s not working right now and so on, that you can now…those insights that you get from research, you can turn into experiments. And, of course, if you need…if you can start running experiments, that means that you need to have at least let’s say a thousand transactions a month, purchases, sign-ups, whatever, then you need to know statistics too. But in the beginning, I mean, no matter the size of your business, research is your magic door to better results.

Timi: Okay. And if you wouldn’t mind, would you give a quick summary of your research methods or tools that you think that would be useful for anyone listening?

Peep: I have developed this research framework that is called Research XL and anybody googling it will find a blog post that goes into detail with all of this. But essentially, what Research XL is, it uses…it makes you gather data from six types of data input. There’s heuristic analysis of this is like human-led observation of our web pages. There’s mouse tracking analysis, so recording scrolling activities, scroll depth, click stream, where people are clicking or where they’re not clicking, using tools like Hotjar.

There’s web analytics, like Google Analytics and so on, user testing, very important. Qualitative surveys so surveying two types of people. I would say polling people who are on your website right now, not necessarily buying anything, but you wanna identify the type of friction they’re experiencing on your website, so like what keeps them from buying right now, on this very visit? And also serving people who just bought something or just signed up, serving them to understand what was the friction they experienced in their purchasing process. What was their purchasing process like, how many competitors they looked at, what was the hardest part about finding the right product to buy? Stuff like that.

Doing technical analysis, which is figuring out if your website works on every single browser and device combination, that there are no nasty bugs that are killing your conversion rate. And if you garner[SP] and do those kind of data and pull insights out of those six types of inputs, then you’ll find a wealth of information. And it’s not too costly, doesn’t take too much time, anybody can do it. I mean, there’s a learning curve and you do it the first time, but after that it’s not too complicated.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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