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Building A Central Logging Service In-House




Building A Central Logging Service In-House

Akhil Labudubariki



We all know how important debugging is for improving application performance and features. BrowserStack runs one million sessions a day on a highly distributed application stack! Each involves several moving parts, as a client’s single session can span multiple components across several geographic regions.

Without the right framework and tools, the debugging process can be a nightmare. In our case, we needed a way to collect events happening during different stages of each process in order to get an in-depth understanding of everything taking place during a session. With our infrastructure, solving this problem became complicated as each component might have multiple events from their lifecycle of processing a request.

That’s why we developed our own in-house Central Logging Service tool (CLS) to record all important events logged during a session. These events help our developers identify conditions where something goes wrong in a session and helps keep track of certain key product metrics.

Debugging data ranges from simple things like API response latency to monitoring a user’s network health. In this article, we share our story of building our CLS tool which collects 70G of relevant chronological data per day from 100+ components reliably, at scale and with two M3.large EC2 instances.

The Decision To Build In-House

First, let’s consider why we built our CLS tool in-house rather than used an existing solution. Each of our sessions sends 15 events on average, from multiple components to the service – translating into approximately 15 million total events per day.

Our service needed the ability to store all this data. We sought a complete solution to support event storing, sending and querying across events. As we considered third-party solutions such as Amplitude and Keen, our evaluation metrics included cost, performance in handling high parallel requests and ease of adoption. Unfortunately, we could not find a fit that met all our requirements within budget – although benefits would have included saving time and minimizing alerts. While it would take additional effort, we decided to develop an in-house solution ourselves.


Building in-house


One of the biggest issues with building In-house is the amount of resources that we need to spend to maintain it. (Image credit: Source: Digiday)

Technical Details

In terms of architecting for our component, we outlined the following basic requirements:

  • Client Performance
    Does not impact the performance of the client/component sending the events.
  • Scale
    Able to handle a high number of requests in parallel.
  • Service performance
    Quick to process all events being sent to it.
  • Insight into data
    Each event logged needs to have some meta information to be able to uniquely identify the component or user, account or message and give more information to help the developer debug faster.
  • Queryable interface
    Developers can query all events for a particular session, helping to debug a particular session, build component health reports, or generate meaningful performance statistics of our systems.
  • Faster and easier adoption
    Easy integration with an existing or new component without burdening teams and taking up their resources.
  • Low maintenance
    We are a small engineering team, so we sought a solution to minimize alerts!

Building Our CLS Solution

Decision 1: Choosing An Interface To Expose

In developing CLS, we obviously didn’t want to lose any of our data, but we didn’t want component performance to take a hit either. Not to mention the additional factor of preventing existing components from becoming more complicated, since it would delay overall adoption and release. In determining our interface, we considered the following choices:

  1. Storing events in local Redis in each component, as a background processor pushes it to CLS. However, this requires a change in all components, along with an introduction of Redis for components which didn’t already contain it.
  2. A Publisher – Subscriber model, where Redis is closer to the CLS. As everyone publishes events, again we have the factor of components running across the globe. During the time of high-traffic, this would delay components. Further, this write could intermittently jump up to five seconds (due to the internet alone).
  3. Sending events over UDP, which offers a lesser impact on application performance. In this case data would be sent and forgotten, however, the disadvantage here would be data loss.

Interestingly, our data loss over UDP was less than 0.1 percent, which was an acceptable amount for us to consider building such a service. We were able to convince all teams that this amount of loss was worth the performance, and went ahead to leverage a UDP interface that listened to all events being sent.

While one result was a smaller impact on an application’s performance, we did face an issue as UDP traffic was not allowed from all networks, mostly from our users’ – causing us in some cases to receive no data at all. As a workaround, we supported logging events using HTTP requests. All events coming from the user’s side would be sent via HTTP, whereas all events being recorded from our components would be via UDP.

Decision 2: Tech Stack (Language, Framework & Storage)

We are a Ruby shop. However, we were uncertain if Ruby would be a better choice for our particular problem. Our service would have to handle a lot of incoming requests, as well as process a lot of writes. With the Global Interpreter lock, achieving multithreading or concurrency would be difficult in Ruby (please don’t take offense – we love Ruby!). So we needed a solution that would help us achieve this kind of concurrency.

We were also keen to evaluate a new language in our tech stack, and this project seemed perfect for experimenting with new things. That’s when we decided to give Golang a shot since it offered inbuilt support for concurrency and lightweight threads and go-routines. Each logged data point resembles a key-value pair where ‘key’ is the event and ‘value’ serves as its associated value.

But having a simple key and value is not enough to retrieve a session related data – there is more metadata to it. To address this, we decided any event needing to be logged would have a session ID along with its key and value. We also added extra fields like timestamp, user ID and the component logging the data, so that it became more easy to fetch and analyze data.

Now that we decided on our payload structure, we had to choose our datastore. We considered Elastic Search, but we also wanted to support update requests for keys. This would trigger the entire document to be re-indexed, which might affect the performance of our writes. MongoDB made more sense as a datastore since it would be easier to query all events based on any of the data fields that would be added. This was easy!

Decision 3: DB Size Is Huge And Query And Archiving Sucks!

In order to cut maintenance, our service would have to handle as many events as possible. Given the rate that BrowserStack releases features and products, we were certain the number of our events would increase at higher rates over time, meaning our service would have to continue to perform well. As space increases, reads and writes take more time – which could be a huge hit on the service’s performance.

The first solution we explored was moving logs from a certain period away from the database (in our case, we decided on 15 days). To do this, we created a different database for each day, allowing us to find logs older than a particular period without having to scan all written documents. Now we continually remove databases older than 15 days from Mongo, while of course keeping backups just in case.

The only leftover piece was a developer interface to query session-related data. Honestly, this was the easiest problem to solve. We provide an HTTP interface, where people can query for session related events in the corresponding database in the MongoDB, for any data having a particular session ID.

Architecture

Let’s talk about the internal components of the service, considering the following points:

  1. As previously discussed, we needed two interfaces – one listening over UDP and another listening over HTTP. So we built two servers, again one for each interface, to listen for events. As soon as an event arrives, we parse it to check whether it has the required fields – these are session ID, key, and value. If it does not, the data is dropped. Otherwise, the data is passed over a Go channel to another goroutine, whose sole responsibility is to write to the MongoDB.
  2. A possible concern here is writing to the MongoDB. If writes to the MongoDB are slower than the rate data is received, this creates a bottleneck. This, in turn, starves other incoming events and means dropped data. The server, therefore, should be fast in processing incoming logs and be ready to process ones upcoming. To address the issue, we split the server into two parts: the first receives all events and queues them up for the second, which processes and writes them into the MongoDB.
  3. For queuing we chose Redis. By dividing the entire component into these two pieces we reduced the server’s workload, giving it room to handle more logs.
  4. We wrote a small service using Sinatra server to handle all the work of querying MongoDB with given parameters. It returns an HTML/JSON response to developers when they need information on a particular session.

All these processes happily run on a single m3.large instance.


CLS v1


CLS v1: A representation of the system’s first architecture. All the components are running on one single machine.

Feature Requests

As our CLS tool saw more use over time, it needed more features. Below, we discuss these and how they were added.

Missing Metadata

Gradually as the number of components in BrowserStack increases, we’ve demanded more from CLS. For example, we needed the ability to log events from components lacking a session ID. Otherwise obtaining one would burden our infrastructure, in the form of affecting application performance and incurring traffic on our main servers.

We addressed this by enabling event logging using other keys, such as terminal and user IDs. Now whenever a session is created or updated, CLS is informed with the session ID, as well as the respective user and terminal IDs. It stores a map that can be retrieved by the process of writing to MongoDB. Whenever an event that contains either the user or terminal ID is retrieved, the session ID is added.

Handle Spamming (Code Issues In Other Components)

CLS also faced the usual difficulties with handling spam events. We often found deploys in components that generated a huge volume of requests sent to CLS. Other logs would suffer in the process, as the server became too busy to process these and important logs were dropped.

For the most part, most of the data being logged were via HTTP requests. To control them we enable rate limiting on nginx (using the limit_req_zone module), which blocks requests from any IP we found hitting requests more than a certain number in a small amount of time. Of course, we do leverage health reports on all blocked IPs and inform the responsible teams.

Scale v2

As our sessions per day increased, data being logged to CLS was also increasing. This affected the queries our developers were running daily, and soon the bottleneck we had was with the machine itself. Our setup consisted of two core machines running all of the above components, along with a bunch of scripts to query Mongo and keep track of key metrics for each product. Over time, data on the machine had increased heavily and scripts began to take a lot of CPU time. Even after trying to optimizing Mongo queries, we always came back to the same issues.

To solve this, we added another machine for running health report scripts and the interface to query these sessions. The process involved booting a new machine and setting up a slave of the Mongo running on the main machine. This has helped reduce the CPU spikes we saw every day caused by these scripts.


CLS v2


CLS v2: A representation of the current system’s architecture. Logs are written to the master machine and they are synced on the slave machine. Developer’s queries run on the slave machine.

Conclusion

Building a service for a task as simple as data logging can get complicated, as the amount of data increases. This article discusses the solutions we explored, along with challenges faced while solving this problem. We experimented with Golang to see how well it would fit with our ecosystem, and so far we have been satisfied. Our choice to create an internal service rather than paying for an external one has been wonderfully cost-efficient. We also didn’t have to scale our setup to another machine until much later – when the volume of our sessions increased. Of course, our choices in developing CLS were completely based on our requirements and priorities.

Today CLS handles up to 15 million events every day, constituting up to 70 GB of data. This data is being used to help us solve any issues our customers face during any session. We also use this data for other purposes. Given the insights each session’s data provides on different products and internal components, we’ve begun leveraging this data to keep track of each product. This is achieved by extracting the key metrics for all the important components.

All in all, we’ve seen great success in building our own CLS tool. If it makes sense for you, I recommend you consider doing the same!

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Building A Central Logging Service In-House

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More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery




More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

Kyle Cassidy



As designers, we know that research should play a pivotal role in any design process. Sadly, however, there are still a lot of organizations that do not see the value of research and would rather jump straight into the visual design stage of the design process.

The excuses given here tend to be:

“We already know what our customers want.”

“We don’t have the time/budget/people.”

“We’ll figure out the flaws in BETA.”

As designers, it is important that we are equipped to be able to have conversations with senior stakeholders to be able to sell and justify the importance of the so-called “Design Discovery” within the design process.

In this article, I’ll demystify what is meant by the term “Design Discovery” to help you better establish the importance of research within the creative process. I’ll also be giving advice on how to handle common pushbacks, along with providing various hints and tips on how to select the best research methods when undertaking user research.

My hope is that by reading this article, you will become comfortable with being able to sell “Design Discovery” as part of the creative process. You will know how to build a “Discovery Plan” of activities that answers all the questions you and your client need to initiate the design process with a clear purpose and direction.

Design With A Purpose

Digital design is not just about opening up Photoshop or Sketch and adding colors, shapes, textures, and animation to make a beautiful looking website or app.

As designers, before putting any pixels on canvas, we should have a solid understanding of:

  1. Who are the users we are designing for?
  2. What are the key tasks those users want to accomplish?

Ask yourself, is the purpose of what you are producing? Is it to help users:

  • Conduct research,
  • Find information,
  • Save time,
  • Track fitness,
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle,
  • Feel safe,
  • Organize schedules,
  • Source goods,
  • Purchase products,
  • Gather ideas,
  • Manage finances,
  • Communicate,
  • Or something entirely different?

Understanding the answers to these questions should inform your design decisions. But before we design, we need to do some research.

Discovery Phase

Any design process worth its salt should start with a period of research, which (in agency terms) is often referred to as a “Discovery Phase”. The time and budget designers can allocate to a Discovery phase is determined by many factors such as the amount of the client’s existing project research and documentation as well as the client’s budget. Not to mention your own personal context, which we will come to later.

Business And User Goals

In a Discovery phase, we should ensure adequate time is dedicated to exploring both business and user goals.

Yes, we design experiences for users, but ultimately we produce our designs for clients (be that internal or external), too. Clients are the gatekeepers to what we design. They have the ultimate say over the project and they are the ones that hold the purse strings. Clients will have their own goals they want to achieve from a project and these do not always align with the users’ goals.

In order to ensure what we design throughout our design process hits the sweet spot, we need to make sure that we are spending time exploring both the business and user goals for the project (in the Research/Discovery phase).


business and user goals


Your Discovery phase should explore both user and business goals. (Large preview)

Uncovering Business Goals

Typically, the quickest way to establish the business goals for a project is to host a stakeholder workshop with key project stakeholders. Your aim should be to get as many representatives from across different business functions as possible into one room to discuss the vision for the project (Marketing, Finance, Digital, Customer Services, and Sales).

Tip: Large organizations often tend to operate in organizational silos. This allows teams to focus on their core function such as marketing, customer care, etc. It allows staff to be effective without being distracted by activities where they have no knowledge and little or no skills. However, it often becomes a problem when the teams don’t have a singular vision/mission from leadership, and they begin to see their area as the driving force behind the company’s success. Often in these situations, cross-departmental communication can be poor to non-existent. By bringing different members from across the organization together in one room, you get to the source of the truth quicker and can link together internal business processes and ways of working.

The core purpose of the stakeholder workshop should be:

  1. To uncover the Current State (explore what exists today in terms of people, processes, systems, and tools);
  2. To define the Desired Future State (understand where the client wants to get to, i.e. their understandig of what the ideal state should look like);
  3. To align all stakeholders on the Vision for the project.

project vision


Use workshops to align stakeholders around the vision and define the Desired Future State. (Large preview)

There are a series of activities that you can employ within your stakeholder workshop. I tend to typically build a full workshop day (7-8 hours) around 4-5 activities allowing 45mins uptil 1 hour for lunch and two 15-min coffee breaks between exercises. Any more that than, and I find energy levels start to dwindle.

I will vary the workshop activities I do around the nature of the project. However, each workshop I lead tends to include the following three core activities:

Activity Purpose
Business Model Canvas To explore the organizations business model and discuss where this project fits this model.
Measurement Plan Define what are the most important business metrics the business wants to be able to measure and report on.
Proto Personas and User Stories Explore who the business feels their users are and what are the key user stories we need to deliver against.

Tip: If you’re new to delivering client workshops, I’ve added a list of recommended reading to the references section at the bottom of this article which will give you useful ideas on workshop activities, materials, and group sizes.

Following the workshop, you’ll need to produce a write up of what happened in the workshop itself. It also helps to take lots of photos on the workshop day. The purpose of the write-up should be to not only explain the purpose of the day and key findings, but also recommendations of next steps. Write-ups can be especially helpful for internal communication within the organization and bringing non-attendees up to speed with what happened on the day as well as agreeing on the next steps for the project.

Uncovering User Goals

Of course, Discovery is not just about understanding what the organization wants. We need to validate what users actually want and need.

With the business goals defined, you can then move on to explore the user goals through conducting some user research. There are many different user research methods you can employ throughout the Discovery process from Customer Interviews and Heuristic Evaluations to Usability Tests and Competitor Reviews, and more.

Having a clear idea of the questions you are looking to answer and available budget is the key to helping select the right research methods. It is, for this reason, important that you have a good idea of what these are before you get to this point.

Before you start to select which are the best user research methods to employ, step back and ask yourself the following question:

“What are the questions I/we as a design team need answers to?”

For example, do you want to understand:

  • How many users are interacting with the current product?
  • How do users think your product compares to a competitor product?
  • What are the most common friction points within the current product?
  • How is the current product’s performance measured?
  • Do users struggle to find certain key pieces of information?

Grab a pen and write down what you want to achieve from your research in a list.

Tip: If you know you are going to be working on a fixed/tight budget, it is important to get confirmation on what that budget may look like at this point since this will have some bearing on the research methods you choose.

Another tip: User research does not have to happen after organizational research. I always find it helps to do some exploratory research prior to running stakeholder workshops. This ensures you go into the room with a baseline understanding of the organization its users and some common pain points. Some customers may not know what users do on their websites/apps nowadays; I like to go in prepared with some research to hand whether that be User Testing, Analytics Review or Tree Testing outputs.

Selecting Research Methods

The map below from the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) shows an overview of 20 popular user research methods plotted on a 3-dimensional framework. It can provide a useful guide for helping you narrow down on a set of research methods to use.


top 20 research methods


A map of the top 20 research methods from NNG. (Large preview)

The diagram may look complicated, but let us break down some key terms.

Along the x-axis, research methods are separated by the types of data they produce.

  • Quantitative data involves numbers and figures. It is great for answering questions such as:

    • How much?
    • How many?
    • How long?
    • Impact tracking?
    • Benchmarking?
  • Qualitative data involves quote, observations, photos, videos, and notes.

    • What do users think?
    • How do users feel?
    • Why do users behave in a certain way?
    • What are users like?
    • What frustrates users?

Along the y-axis, research methods are separated by the user inputs.

  • Behavioral Data
    This data is based on what users do (outcomes).
  • Attitudinal Data
    This data is based on attitudes and opinions.

Finally, research methods are also classified by their context. Context explains the nature of the research, some research methods such as interviews require no product at all. Meanwhile, usability tests require users to complete scripted tasks and tell us how they think and feel.

Using the Model

Using your question list, firstly identify whether you are looking to understand users opinions (what people say) or actions (what people do) and secondly whether you are looking to understand why they behave in a certain way (why and how to fix) or how many of them are behaving in a certain way (how many and how much).

Now look at this simplified version of the matrix, and you should be able to work out which user research methods to focus in on.


selecting research methods


Think about what questions you’re trying to answer when selecting research methods. (Large preview)

Model Examples

Example 1

If you’re looking to understand users’ attitudes and beliefs and you don’t have a working product then ‘Focus Groups’ or ‘Interviews’ would be suitable user research methods.


top 20 research methods


Large preview

Example 2

If you want to understand how many users are interacting with the current website or app then an ‘Analytics Review’ would be the right research method to adopt. Meanwhile, if you want to test how many people will be impacted by a change, A/B testing would be a suitable method.


top 20 research methods


Large preview

No Silver Bullet

By now you should realize there is no shortcut to the research process; not one single UX research method will provide all the answers you need for a project.

Analytics reviews, for example, are a great low-cost way to explore behavioral, quantitative data about how users interact with an existing website or application.

However, this data falls short of telling you:

  • Why users visited the site/app in the first place (motivation);
  • What tasks they were looking to accomplish (intent);
  • If users were successful in completing their tasks (task completion);
  • How users found their overall experience (satisfaction).

These types of questions are best answered by other research methods such as ‘Customer Feedback’ surveys (also known as ‘Intercept Surveys’) which are available from tools such as Hotjar, Usabilla, and Qualaroo.


Usabilla


Usabilla’s quick feedback button allows users to provide instant feedback on their experience. (Large preview)

Costing Research/Discovery

In order to build a holistic view of the user experience, the Research/Discovery process should typically last around 3 to 4 weeks and combine a combination of the different research methods.

Use your list of questions and the NNG matrix to help you decide on the most suitable research methods for your project. Wherever possible, try to use complimentary research methods to build a bigger picture of users motivations, drivers, and behaviors.


four research methods


Your Design Discovery process should combine different types of data. (Large preview)

Tip: The UX Recipe tool is a great website for helping you pull together the different research methods you feel you need for a project and to calculate the cost of doing so.

Which brings me on to my next point.

Contexts And Budgets

The time and budget which you can allocate to Discovery will vary greatly depending on your role. Are you working in-house, freelance, or in an agency? Some typical scenarios are as follows:

  • Agency
    Clients employ agencies to build projects that generate the right results. To get the right results, you firstly need to ensure you understand both the business’ needs and the needs of the users as these are almost always not the same. Agencies almost always start with a detailed Discovery phase often led by the UX Design team. Budgets are generally included in the cost of the total project, as such ample time is available for research.
  • In-House: Large Company
    When working in a large company, you are likely to already have a suite of tools along with a program of activity you’re using to measure the customer experience. Secondly, you are likely to be working alongside colleagues with specialist skills such as Data Analysts, Market Researchers, and even a Content Team. Do not be afraid to say hello to these people and see if they will be willing to help you conduct some research. Customer service teams are also worth befriending. Customer service teams are the front line of a business where customer problems are aired for all to see. They can be a goldmine of useful information. Go spend some time with the team, listen to customer service calls, and review call/chat logs.
  • In-House: Smaller Company
    When working as part of an in-house team in a smaller company, you are likely to be working on a tight budget and are spread across a lot of activities. Nevertheless, with some creative thinking, you can still undertake some low-cost research tasks such as Site Intercept surveys, Analytics reviews, and Guerilla testing, or simply review applied research.
  • Freelance
    When working freelance, your client often seeks you out with a very fixed budget, timeline and set of deliverables in mind, i.e. “We need a new Logo” or “We need a landing page design.” Selling Discovery as part of the process can often be a challenge freelancers typically undertake since they mostly end up using their own time and even working overtime. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Clients can be willing to spend their time in the Discovery pre-project phase. However, you need to be confident to be able to sell yourself and defend your process. This video has some excellent tips on how to sell Discovery to clients as a freelancer.

Selling Design Discovery

As you can see from the above, selling Design Discovery can be a challenge depending on your context. It’s much harder to sell Design Discovery when working as a freelancer than it is working within an agency.

Some of the most commons excuses organizations put forward for discounting the research process are:

“We don’t have the budget.”

“We’ll find it out in BETA.”

“We don’t have time.”

“We already know what users want.”

When selling Design Discovery and combating these points of view, remember these key things:

It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Research does not have to be costly especially with all of the tools and resources we have available today. You can conduct a Guerilla User Testing session for the price of a basic coffee. Furthermore, you can often source willing participants from website intercepts, forums or social media groups who are more than willing to help.

It’s much harder to fix later.

The findings that come as an output from research can be invaluable. It is much more cost and time effective to spend some of the project budgets up front to ensure there are no assumptions and blind spots than it is to course correct later on if the project has shifted off tangent. Uncovering blockers or significant pain points later into the project can be a huge drain on time as well as monetary resources.

Organizational views can often be biased.

Within large organizations especially, a view of ‘what users want’ is often shaped by senior managers’ thoughts and opinions rather than any applied user research. These viewpoints then cascade down to more junior members of the team who start to adopt the same viewpoints. Validating these opinions are actually correct viewpoints is essential.

There are other cross-company benefits.

Furthermore, a Discovery process also brings with it internal benefits. By bringing members from other business functions together and setting a clear direction for the project, you should win advocates for the project across many business functions. Everyone should leave the room with a clear understanding of what the project is, its vision, and the problems you are trying to fix. This helps to alleviate an enormous amount of uncertainty within the organization.

I like to best explain the purpose of the discovery phase by using my adaptation of the Design Squiggle by Damien Newman:

See how the Discovery phase allows us time to tackle the most uncertainty?


Design Squiggle by Damien Newman


An adaptation of the Design Squiggle by Damien Newman showing how uncertainty is reduced in projects over time. (Large preview)

Waterfall And Agile

A Discovery phase can be integrated into both Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies.

In Waterfall projects, the Discovery phase happens at the very start of the project and can typically run for 4 to 12 weeks depending on the size of the project, the number of interdependent systems, and the areas which need to be explored.

In Agile projects, you may run a Discovery phase upfront to outline the purpose for the project and interconnect systems along with mini 1 to 2-week discovery process at the start of each sprint to gather the information you need to build out a feature.


waterfall and agile discovery


Discovery process can be easily incorporated into both waterfall and agile projects. (Large preview)

Final Thoughts

The next time you start on any digital project:

  • Make sure you allow time for a Discovery phase at the start of your project to define both business and user goals, and to set a clear vision that sets a clear purpose and direction for the project to all stakeholders.

  • Be sure to run a Stakeholder workshop with representatives from a variety of different business functions across the business (Marketing, Finance, Digital, Customer Services, Sales).

  • Before selecting which user research methods to use on your project, write down a list of questions you wish to understand and get a budget defined. From there, you can use the NNG matrix to help you understand what the best tool to use is.

Further Reading

If you found this article interesting, here is some recommended further reading:

Workshop Books

If you are interested in running Stakeholder workshops, I’d highly recommend reading the following books. Not only will they give you useful hints and tips on how to run workshops, they’re packed full of different workshop exercises to help you get answers to specific questions.

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More Than Pixels: Selling Design Discovery

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Learn From What You See: It All Starts With Inspiration

The world around us is full of little things and experiences that shape us, our way of thinking, but also how we tackle our work. Influenced by these encounters, every designer develops their unique style and workflow, and studying their artwork — the compositions, geometry of lines and shapes, light and shadows, the colors and patterns — can all inspire us to look beyond our own horizon and try something new.

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Learn From What You See: It All Starts With Inspiration

The Complete Guide To Using Personas To Optimize Your eCommerce Website

State Of Buyer Personas 2016 established that approximately 60% of the survey respondents took their first-ever buyer persona development initiative within the last 2 years—a result similar to the previous year survey on personas.

It has been almost two decades since the term “persona” was first coined and used by Alan Cooper in his book “The Inmates Run the Asylum.” However, organizations still struggle to develop personas effectively. As a result, the gap between what the consumer wants and what companies provide has widened.

Look at this survey graph for a quick look into the mistakes that can taint customer-business relations, when the latter does not know its ideal customer well:

thunderhead-biggest-mistakes-companies-make-with-customers-apr2014In this blog post, we walk you through the process of creating effective personas, how your business can benefit from these, and why these should be a part of your conversion optimization strategy. Let’s begin:

How to Create Effective User Personas

To create personas that are effective, it is important to first understand what personas should not be:

  • A demographic profile
  • A market segment
  • A documentation of behavior based on a research that lacks data

Having listed the “nots” of personas, let’s deep-dive into what effective personas comprise and how to develop these. Research, qualitative and quantitative, is the foundation of personas. When based on research, personas unveil:

User Motivation

What your users want to accomplish?
What drives your users’ behaviors?

User Mindset

What do your users think?
What are their expectations?
What will make them buy?

Friction

What could be their reasons for hesitation?
What could be their hindrances?

To develop personas that can give you insights as deep as finding answers to the above questions, and a few more tough ones, we advise you to:

  • Use Qualitative Research.
  • Use A/B Testing.
  • Perform Competitor Analysis.

Using Qualitative Research

Qualitative research tools such as on-page surveys, in-person interviews, and so on can help you uncover the expectations and motivation of a user.

We list some use cases for on-page surveys to help you understand how these can be wisely used for gathering information that is required for developing effective personas:

Use Case 1. Understanding Purchase Decision

Understanding customer motivation for buying a product plays a significant role in replicating the buying behavior. If you knew precisely what motivated a visitor to buy from you, it is the next step to motivate other visitors in the same direction.

What you could ask?
  • Did you find what you were looking for?
  • What motivated you to complete your purchase?
What triggers to use?

Goal Completion: As soon as a user completes a signup form or makes payment for items in the cart, this survey should pop up to understand the true motivation behind the purchase.

Use Case 2. Determining Purchase Satisfaction

It is important to know the purchase satisfaction level to determine if there are reasons that can stop them from buying or make them buy from elsewhere. It can also help you categorize people who have high or low purchase satisfaction levels, if you are able to observe a pattern.

What you could ask?
  • On a scale of 0–10, 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how satisfied are you with your last purchase?
  • The reason behind your rating. What do you think is good/bad about buying from us?

Analyzing the information that you have from your survey:

With regard to the question on purchase satisfaction levels, the information that your users reveal can be smartly analyzed to create user personas. Let’s say that you have an online apparel business. Running such surveys can help you:

  • Identify users who are not at all interested in your product (those who rate you between 0–3), users who do not have a firm opinion on your product (4-7), and users who have purchase satisfaction levels (8–10).
  • Understand the reasons behind high and low purchase satisfaction levels for all categories of users mentioned in the previous point.
  • Identify patterns, if any, in those rating your product high/low. For example, do those who rate the product on a scale of 8–10 buy the product because of “fresh styles and patterns,” do most of these people fall in the age group (20–25), and so on.
  • Build user personas based on this information.
What triggers to use?

Time spent on a page: Show the survey after visitors spend “X” seconds on the first webpage they visit. Target the survey using custom targeting to those who have made an online purchase earlier from you.

Asking these questions at the right time can help you fetch actionable information, uncover user motivations, as well as apprehensions.

Similarly, exit intent pop-ups and in-phone surveys also help you find out if your product/service is providing the value that your users and/or customers expect out of it.

Your qualitative research findings can then be dissected to create personas. Consider an example:

You are an eCommerce business selling antiallergic bedding. Your in-phone customer interview and on-page surveys help you determine one of your persona “Jane” with the following attributes:

  • Aged 32, she has very sensitive skin, which is prone to allergies.
  • She is willing to pay a little more if the product quality is good.
  • She also cares about the product being eco-friendly.

Your qualitative research would further help establish:

Jane’s motivation to buy your product: The bedding suits her needs, is priced just what she thinks is right, and can be found easily online.

Jane’s mindset while making a buying decision: She cares about her health and skin. She will not risk investing in any product that can cause allergies. She is also quality-conscious.

Jane’s bottlenecks to buying: She might return the product if she does not find it comfortable and per the quality that she expects. Style and comfort go hand in hand for her.

When you have conducted qualitative research and listed down motivations, bottlenecks, and mindset, you need to gather insights on what your user/customer is doing online. So the next logical step is to unveil Jane’s onsite behavior.

Running visitor recordings, heatmaps, and form analysis will give you different insights into your buyer’s or user’s onsite motivations, constraints, hesitations, and restraints.

For example, using form analysis can help you identify the form fields that lead to customer hesitation or customers abandoning the form.

VWO Form Analysis
VWO Form Analysis

Using A/B Testing

Let’s say that you have listed a few findings about your personas, after conducting an in-depth research. However, you want to be as sure as possible. The following attributes can be put to test:

  • Comfort vs. Style
  • Discount vs. Buy One, Get One Free
  • Value of free shipping and free returns

A/B testing can help you narrow down to attributes as close as true to your real users. Whatever assumptions, observations, and opinions you have about your users, you can A/B test them to find out what your ideal users associate more with.

Performing Competitor Research

Digital intelligence tools can help you dig deeper into competitor data to analyze their traffic. Using such tools, you can find out where your competitors are putting their effort into—social media, mobile, content, email marketing, and so on.

After you have an idea of where your competitors’ major efforts go into, you can work backward to identify the audience they are targeting for creating user personas. This elaborate and well-researched post on medium will tell you how you can crack competitor research to create user personas for your business.

Benefits of Personas for Your Business

Mathilde Boyer, Customer Experience Director at the House of Kaizen, lists 5 ways in which every business can benefit by using personas.

“Personas shouldn’t only be created to trigger user empathy within an organization. They should be built with a practical application in mind so that they can be instrumental in a Conversion Optimization Strategy. Validating personas through actual user data and connecting them to target audiences increases their ability to drive business strategies.

Creating and leveraging user personas brings 5 key benefits to Marketers and Product Owners.

  1. Connect research insights
    Develop a unified view of your customers and prospects by identifying commonalities and unique attributes to provide a deep understanding of motivations, anxieties, decision making styles and moments when users find inspiration.
  2. Strategically manage marketing budget
    User personas allow you to prioritize target audiences and shift spend based on channel performance for individual audiences. Maximize your marketing investment by focusing your efforts and budget on the profitable leads.
  3. Develop powerful brand and product storytelling
    User personas can be leveraged to tailor storylines and bring your value proposition to life. They are key to understand aspirations, desires and perceptions of your customers. They are also crucial to strike the right note with unique content created to move buyers from interests to purchase.
  4. Go beyond marketing silos
    User personas allow you to ensure continuity and complementarity of messaging and creative across all user touchpoints (ads, website, emails, offline campaigns, customer service script, sales pitch, etc.).
  5. Prioritize product roadmap
    User personas should be a valuable levier to inform your product development cycles and ensure that new features are developed to solve evolving prospects’ problems and needs.”

Other than the benefits that Mathilde talks about, personas are also helpful in bringing uniformity to every department of the business regarding who their customer is. From customer service representatives to sales to marketing to the administrators, everyone is aligned to consumer goals. This helps everyone across the business keep their ideal customers happy, and thus increase overall satisfaction as well as retention.

Why Should Personas Be a Part of Your CRO Program

Protocol80 compiles some interesting facts on why personas are awesome. We list 2 of these here as evidence on why personas should be a part of your conversion optimization program.

“In the case of Intel, buyer personas surpassed campaign benchmarks by 75%. They were more cost efficient than the average campaign by 48% DemandGen Report.

In the case of Thomson Reuter, buyer personas contributed to a 175% increase in revenue attributed to marketing, 10% increase in leads sent to sales, and a 72% reduction in lead conversion time.”

Personas can help you improve conversions by:

  • Improving your personalization efforts.
  • Helping enhance product user experience.

Improving Personalization – Content

Personas help bring in more clarity on crafting tailored content that appeals to the target audience of the business. Consider an example:

You are an eCommerce business. One of your user persona is say, Mary – The Loyal, with some of the following characteristics:

  • Visits your website frequently
  • Makes a purchase every month or two
  • Shares reviews
  • Does not purchase expensive products
  • Does not buy more than 2 or 3 products in a single visit
  • Is fashion-conscious, but does not compromise with quality

As you understand the buying behavior of this user persona, you can run campaigns with content specifically focussed at converting these users. For example, when Mary-the loyal visits your website again, you can personalize recommendations based on her last purchase, which might interest her into making a purchase.

Here are 11 examples of personalization that you can read about. We simply love how Netflix serves content based on past user views.

Enhancing User Experience – Design and Development

At the design and development level, personas work as a research tool for businesses intending to enhance browsing/buying experience for their online users. These personas that are based on usage goals, browsing and exploring behavior, as well as pain points, tell the why behind the actions that users take on a website.

Such information is critical for designing any product or service. Understand, relate to, and remember the ideal user Mary-The Loyal throughout the entire product development process. The following design and development problems can be sorted by making user personas a part of the process.

  • When design teams do not have an understanding of which design elements on the website to prioritize. In this case, design and development teams end up wasting time on either developing or optimizing features that their ideal customer, Mary-The Loyal, does not use.
  • When design teams are finding it difficult to pitch their proposal to the management. This is where they can use actual data to enhance their idea and show the actual problem they are trying to solve by making the proposed changes.

Mathilde adds to how personas help enhance user experience.

“From a UX perspective, user personas are crucial to prevent self-referential design as they allow to focus the efforts on the needs of the customers and help be mindful of designing experiences as if we, marketers, were the end users.

Data-driven personas are also the foundation to map out customer journeys and ensure full alignment between user needs or perceived needs and the relevancy and length of the experience they have to go through to achieve them.

Personas become extremely powerful when they are taken beyond their naturally descriptive focus and provide a predictive view on how your product or service improves your ideal customers’ lives once they’ve used it for a certain time. The predictive side of personas is a key asset to design future-proof products and experiences.”

To Wrap It Up

When you make personas a part of your strategy, you are trying to maximize value for your ideal users. Here’s how Alan Cooper explains this concept in The Inmates Are Running The Asylum:

“The broader a target you aim for, the more certainty you have of missing the bull’s-eye. If you want to achieve a product-satisfaction level of 50%, you cannot do it by making a large population 50% happy with your products. You can only accomplish it by singling out 50% of the people and striving to make them 100% happy. It goes further than that. You can create an even bigger success by targeting 10% of your market and working to make them 100% ecstatic. It might seem counterintuitive, but designing for a single user is the most effective way to satisfy a broad population.”

Ultimately, filling the gap between the product value as perceived by your ideal user and the actual value that your product provides, will help you convince and convert your users into buyers.

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The post The Complete Guide To Using Personas To Optimize Your eCommerce Website appeared first on VWO Blog.

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A Brief Overview On Responsive Navigation Patterns

To say that responsive web design has changed our industry would be an understatement at best. We used to ask our clients which resolutions and devices they wanted us to support, but we now know the answer is “as many as possible.” To answer a challenge like this and to handle our increasingly complex world, our industry has exploded with new thinking, patterns and approaches.
In this article, I want to look specifically at the issue of responsive navigation.

Source – 

A Brief Overview On Responsive Navigation Patterns

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5 Conversion Rate Optimization Challenges For Enterprises To Solve

Although the interest in conversion rate optimization is increasing over time, organizations are unable to adopt it fully. To ensure its smooth adoption and implementation, certain challenges and misconceptions need to be addressed.

interest in conversion rate optimization google trends
Google Trends

In this post, we will talk about 5 such conversion optimization challenges that enterprises face and ways to overcome them.

Challenge 1. Politics and People—A Cultural Challenge

An organization’s culture is made of 2 core components—people (skill and mindset) and their interpersonal relationships (power to influence and politics ). Creating a conversion optimization culture becomes challenging when either people lack the understanding and skill or when influential people in the organization want their opinions to be valued more than what data and facts indicate.

Political

Brian Massey, Founder, Conversion Sciences shares his view on the political challenge as follows:

Brian Massey

Why has Donald Trump’s top-down, opinion-driven leadership style been accepted by the white-collar working public in the US? Because enterprise businesses have trained us that this is how leadership works. We have a name for this leadership style: “HiPPO,” or Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Joel Harvey calls it Helicopter Management. This is the management style of charismatic or autocratic leaders who drive action in their organizations by helicoptering in, expressing a lightly-informed opinion, and enforcing their opinion in one of the following two ways:

* They bestow budget upon the loyal.

* They threaten the jobs of the disloyal.

So marketing teams can grab the budget and buy the latest tools. But they then struggle to find the man-hours necessary to make the tools effective.

Like all big business problems, it’s a cultural issue.”

James Spittal, Chief Executive Officer, Web Marketing ROI also talks about the HiPPO effect and the political challenge that obstructs a culture of conversion rate optimization.

James Spittal

Only a small portion of changes are A/B tested, kind of like the “HiPPO” effect. The typically small and under-resourced internal CRO team madly tries to work with an agency to get as many A/B tests launched as possible and keeps up their A/B test velocity while talking to everyone about CRO. Meanwhile, a C-level executive asks for a change to be pushed straight into the source code base without it being tested, costing the organization potentially millions of dollars and because they don’t know any better.

Keith Hagen, VP & Director of Conversion Services at Inflow views politics as an obstacle in the implementation of quality insights for any CRO program.

Keith Hagen

Not all insights are equal. One insight can be worth millions; the other may not move the needle at all while the enterprise pays its employees to test and implement that insight as well.

Terming what an insight actually is, is important as well. Insights come from customers and identify a customer obstacle or opportunity.  If you are not making something better for the customer or capitalizing better on what you have, it should not be worked on. Enterprise organizations have a lot of voices, and the higher paid voices tend to influence what optimizations are made to a site.

The solution he proposes—Score Insights Based on Their Potential.

Every insight should be scored on its potential and shared across the organization. Whether the insight is about an obstacle to a purchase or an opportunity to sell more, the potential should be assigned a dollar value so that it is clear what NOT working on the insight will cost.

People

James Spittal, Chief Executive Officer, Web Marketing ROI attributes the lack of skill—technical or development—with regard to why people in an organization pose a challenge to creating a culture of CRO.

James Spittal

This challenge simply occurs because of people in an enterprise not having the knowledge, talent, or skills. Often, we see people with a graphic design, pure web design, pure analytics, or pure UX background become the “de facto” CRO team. But they struggle because it’s unlikely that they have the technical skills or development skills to be able to implement advanced A/B test ideas (major layout changes, modals, segmentation, changing cart flows, doing tests on pricing, etc.). Often, they also struggle to get resources internally or externally and build a strong business case to increase the CRO budget.

Johann Van Tonder, COO, AWA Digital, shares similar views regarding people and the lack of talent to implement conversion optimization.

Johann Van Tonder

The challenge is to find good optimization talent. While there is no shortage of people marketing themselves as CRO practitioners, only a small percentage of the candidates we screen make it into our organization. This is the same pool that enterprises are recruiting from.  

A good optimizer is both analytical and creative, with a solid grasp of disciplines as diverse as psychology, copywriting, marketing, and statistics. They are brilliant communicators with an entrepreneurial drive and at least basic coding skills. Finding them is not easy.

Solution

The first step of creating a culture of data-driven conversion optimization in any organization is to educate the people about its benefits. Any enterprise planning to implement such a shift—moving from random A/B testing to scientific conversion optimization—must first understand the “why” behind it. That’s why we have 15 conversion rate experts share why they feel it is important to step up from A/B testing to conversion optimization.

Any cultural change requires the complete support of the top management. That’s why it is all the more important to convince it about conversion optimization. Here’s how you can use data to convince your top management about why they need conversion optimization:

  • Highlight improved user experience as a double win.
  • Present a competitive analysis.
  • Stress the gaps in your current approach.
  • Show the money.
  • Show the data.

Challenge 2. No Defined Structure that Supports CRO

It’s a huge challenge for enterprises to put together a structure that supports conversion optimization effectively. There are a number of questions that arise when addressing this challenge. Would it be beneficial to hire a dedicated conversion optimization team, or would it mean only additional expenditure? Who is responsible for conversion optimization?

With regard to this challenge, some interesting observations were listed by ConversionXL’s report on State of Conversion Optimization 2016. One of the findings quoted in the report mentions, “…only 29% of people said that there’s a single dedicated person who does optimization. 30% more said there’s a team in charge of optimization, but 41% of respondents had no one in particular that was accountable for optimization efforts.”

Some companies have internal conversion optimization teams that comprise an analyst, designer, marketer, and project manager. However, should these people invest all of their time on conversion optimization? One way of dealing with this is to have all team members allocate time between core job functions and conversion optimization.

Another challenge related to the lack of structured process to conversion optimization, as explained by Tim Ash, CEO of SiteTuners, and a digital marketing keynote speaker, is the isolation of the CRO team from the rest of the teams.

Tim Ash

The biggest problem that an enterprise CRO faces is the siloing emblematic of big companies. All job functions and even departments are compartmentalized and do not communicate well with each other. So even though a CRO group or team exists within the company, it is only able to focus on limited tactical objectives and simple split testing. Typically, CRO initiatives pass through compliance and approval reviews, get watered down by the branding gatekeepers, and then languish in the IT development queue to get implemented.

At SiteTuners, we have developed our Conversion Maturity Model to grade organizations on key aspects of their optimization effectiveness. Dimensions include culture and processes, organizational structure and skill set, measurement and accountability, the marketing technology stack, and of course the user experience across all channels.

One of the biggest determiners of success is whether there is active and consistent support for CRO from high-ranking executives. If there is political air-cover and the CRO team reports high up in the company, this team can work across the silos to tackle fundamental business issues involving products and services, the business model, back-end operational efficiencies, and fundamental user experience redesigns.

Solution

Lay down a clear process for conversion optimization that needs to be followed by everyone in the organization. Create a dashboard or platform where all the conversion optimization activities are planned, updated, and reported. Share this platform with everyone in the organization. Encourage a culture where everyone contributes to conversion optimization. However, make decisions based only on data. For example, while deciding what to test and optimize, follow a scientific hypotheses prioritization framework. The benefit—though everyone gets to share their observations and hypotheses—is that only the most relevant of those are tested.

Challenge 3. Inefficient Methodology to Implementing Conversion Optimization

Paul Rouke, Founder and CEO, PRWD points out that lack of user research is one problem in the current conversion optimization methodology followed by most enterprises.

Paul Rouke

Among enterprises, a lack of an intelligent and robust optimization methodology is a major barrier to them making experimentation a trusted and valued part of their growth strategy. Lack of user research in developing test hypotheses, alongside lack of innovative and strategic testing, instead a focus on simple A/B testing, are some of the biggest barriers which prevent enterprises from harnessing the potential strategic impact conversion optimization could have for their business.

As shown below, the interest in A/B testing is far more widespread than in conversion optimization.

interest in a/b testing vs. interest in conversion optimization - google trends
Google Trends

It is important to understand that testing random ideas based on opinions is not a smart way of testing. You may get a winning variation even by testing “ideas,” but this will not help solve the real pain points that users face. The challenge, therefore, is to eliminate guesswork; and the solution is to focus on data instead.

Here’s what Brian Massey has to say regarding eliminating guess work and relying on a behavioral data-based methodology.

Brian Massey

Enterprises are missing out on an area, that is, following Moore’s Law in terms of increasing capability and decreasing costs. Behavioral data collection is dropping precipitously in price, and new capabilities are coming online weekly. Just as Microsoft didn’t realize that mobile phone market would follow Moore’s Law, enterprises run the risk of missing the growth in Behavioral Science, a discipline designed to eliminate guessing from business strategy and tactics.

Mathilde Boyer, Head of CXO, House of Kaizen and Peter Figueredo, Founding Partner, House of Kaizen also talk about what is inefficient about the current conversion optimization methodology, as followed by some enterprises.

Mathilde Boyer

Opinion-based A/B testing is the gangrene of CRO programs. It hinders the process of objective creation and prioritization of test hypothesis. This tendency can lead to situations where a high level of resources are invested in low-impact optimization activities. Generation and prioritization of test hypothesis needs to be data-driven, systematic, repeatable, and teachable to allow for expansion of optimization activities across a business.

Peter Figueredo

Companies who invest in CRO typically rush to get testing started and overlook the importance of conducting research. Without proper research for informed testing, the design process CXO has lower chances of success. If your doctors do not know the root cause of your ailment, then they are likely only treating the symptoms but not curing the disease. Research should never be ignored and should be a critical component of House of Kaizen’s CXO success.

Solution

Data-driven optimization is focused on identifying friction, understanding the why behind user behavior, and testing hypotheses based on that data/information. Here’s what a formalized conversion optimization methodology would comprise:

  1. Researching into the existing data
  2. Finding gaps in the conversion funnel
  3. Planning and developing testable hypotheses
  4. Creating test variations and executing those tests
  5. Analyzing the tests and using the analysis in subsequent tests

You can read more about the scientific methodology for conversion optimization in this post.

Andre Morys, CEO of Web Arts,  in one of his interviews, talks about what’s wrong with the methodology. According to him, 80–90% of big companies do not aim for bigger goals, which could be change in the growth rate. This is another methodology-related drawback, as the goals being set do not take the profitability into account. Andre’s interview answers many other questions related to business growth.

Challenge 4. Choosing the Right Tool to Meet the Business Goals

The decision-makers in an organization have a variety of tools to choose from for meeting their business goals.  For example, when deciding on an A/B testing tool, they have to make a choice between a:

  • Frequentist-based statistical engine
  • Bayesian statistical engine

Moreover, there are multiple tools that help accomplish specific objectives. Enterprises might use hotjar for heatmap reports, a/b testing from VWO, and some other tool for on-page surveys. Reporting becomes a pain when instead of using one connected platform, enterprises use multiple tools to execute their conversion optimization program. If enterprises instead switch to a single connected platform, they can save a lot of time and resources.

Another problem with not using a single tool for testing and optimization is that it becomes difficult to explain instances of success and failure to the top management. This could be confusing for managers who are not in touch with day-to-day implementation of the conversion optimization program.

Solution

For selecting the correct tool, decision-makers need to weigh the pros and cons of their actions. They need to evaluate the tool based on how effectively and efficiently it can solve their specific business problems. For enterprises looking to invest in a tool for business growth, here’s a post on what decision-makers need to know before investing in CRO or A/B testing software.

Challenge 5. Insufficient and Incorrect Budget Allocation

Back in 2013, most companies spent less than 5% on conversion optimization from their total marketing budget.

budget for conversion optimization - graph

Moving on to 2014, a report from Adobe says that top-converting companies spend more than 5% of their budgets on optimization. Per the conversion optimization report 2016 by ConversionXL, businesses have increased their spend on optimization. The problem, however, lies in correct allocation.

Paul Rouke talks about inefficient budget allocation as follows:

Paul Rouke

Budgets for conversion optimization within enterprises are continuing to increase, but typically in the wrong direction. Enterprises focus far too much of their marketing investment in enterprise technology. As a result, there’s little investment in people and their skills to actually harness the technology—whether building their in-house team or harnessing specialist agencies.

Enterprises which invest in Human Intelligence (HI), above and beyond technology, and AI are the ones who are positioning themselves for significant and sustainable growth. Growth is about people.

Solution

Before deciding the amount that enterprises should spend on conversion optimization, they should think about the return on investment from CRO. Organizations need to budget for the conversion optimization tool while analyzing their goals and actual gains. To read more on how to budget for conversion optimization, read this post by Formstack.

Summary 

Although the interest in conversion optimization is growing, due to certain challenges, it is not being adopted fully by enterprises. Some of the drawbacks that this post talks about are related to organizational culture, structure, methods and processes, tools for conversion optimization, and budget. These challenges are either related to adoption of conversion optimization or its smooth implementation. Solving these can help enterprises deploy conversion optimization efficiently and effectively to achieve growth and success.

Hope you found this post insightful. We’d love to hear your thoughts on challenges that enterprises face when implementing conversion optimization. Send in your feedback and views in the comments section below.

Approach_Increasing_Conversion_Rates_Free_Trial


The post 5 Conversion Rate Optimization Challenges For Enterprises To Solve appeared first on VWO Blog.

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5 Conversion Rate Optimization Challenges For Enterprises To Solve

Why Passphrases Are More User-Friendly Than Passwords


A user’s account on a website is like a house. The password is the key, and logging in is like walking through the front door. When a user can’t remember their password, it’s like losing their keys. When a user’s account is hacked, it’s like their house is getting broken into.

Why Passphrases Are More User-Friendly Than Passwords

Nearly half of Americans (47%) have had their account hacked in the last year alone. Are web designers and developers taking enough measures to prevent these problems? Or do we need to rethink passwords?

The post Why Passphrases Are More User-Friendly Than Passwords appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

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Why Passphrases Are More User-Friendly Than Passwords

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32% Increase in Conversions by A/B Testing for The Right Reasons

Good design is good business, as Thomas J Watson so succinctly put. Naturally then, the problem of business is discovering ‘good’ design. And the answer, on-going testing. Offline businesses struggle at this because data is infinitely difficult to gather. Luckily for online businesses, gathering data has never been a problem.

Over the last few years, we’ve published case studies of over 150 successful conversion optimization tests. A lot of these case studies make for some intriguing reading, and if you observe closely enough, you’ll find a few tests and changes thereof that have consistently delivered results. Today, we’ll examine a case where a handful of such ‘best practices’ (scroll down to the bottom to see my thoughts on what ‘best practices’  is) came together to deliver amazing results. Validated, all through, by data.

The Client

‘White Card Courses’ offers induction training for workers operating in the construction space across Australia. Aimed at replacing a range of other certification cards, it delivers standard and consistent training that complies with the National Code of Practice of Australia. The FAQs section on the site explains that it is mandatory for a prospect to have a white card if he wishes to work in the construction industry down under.

Such validation from the industry helps www.whitecardcourses.com.au receive strong traffic. However, sales, could always get better (wink). And for that, they looked in the direction of conversion optimization and found Conversion UP (a team of conversion specialists based out of Australia). Then, Grant Merriel at the agency turned to VWO.

The Hypothesis

Grant hypothesized that even though the home page contained the differentiating factors of the business (money-back guarantee and same-day-dispatch of certificates), they were buried somewhere deep in the page (below the fold) where no visitor ever goes. After doing his research he concluded that these trust badges were competitive advantages that deserved better visibility to create the desired impact – sales.

Three changes were proposed to the original home page

  • Change CTA text from “Click to Purchase” to “Start Now”
  • Change CTA and subheading background color
  • Add trust and guarantee badges below the hero image

How Was the Hypothesis Arrived At?

Grant explains, “Before going into a lot of data, the test idea came from solving the most common questions that customers were asking, as it suggests that there was a large disconnect between what the business offered and the website.

To understand the pulse of customers and their concerns about the site, Grant and team went through support tickets filed by users, sat down with the client for a one-to-one discussion and went through site analytic.

At this point it’s worth noting that Conversion UP didn’t test these changes because they were ‘best practices’, but because they gathered customer insights pointing towards these changes. Sadly, a lot of us a/b test certain changes because it worked for another business.

The A/B Test

Control vs Variation

The Result

The test ran on 6585 visitors over a period of 3 weeks and the winning variation recorded a robust 32% increase in conversion(visits to the payment page) from the main homepage, and a 20.9% increase in clicks on the payment page.

To put that in perspective, the control gave 21.79% conversions (visits to the payment page linked to the homepage CTA) and 10.13% on the payment page CTA. The variation trumped the control with 28.76% conversions from the homepage and 12.25% on the payment page. Both the results had a confidence level of 99.9%, which is to say the client could be 99% confident that they would achieve these conversion rates with the variation every time.

Why did the Variation Win?

To arrive at a plausible explanation, we’ll need to understand the typical user.

The average user reads about 28% of the text on a webpage, spending less than a minute doing so. We don’t have much time to impress the user and nudge him/her towards engaging with the site.

How does the learning from above tie in with web design?

The control had one color theme for its header, the hero message and the CTA button. While all three were important parts of the user experience, serving different functions – the header lays out the site structure in a palatable format for a quick browse-through, the hero message is intended to clearly communicate the core value proposition and the CTA button exists to egg a visitor towards completing a particular action. By keeping a similar color theme for these three key elements, the control created a visual barrier to the user, against taking any meaningful action.

It all comes down to contrast. Our eyes are led by colors, and the perceived contrast among different elements on a page. Zero contrast equates to zero attention.

By representing the three page elements in different colors, the variation succeeded in effectively leading the visitor’s attention from one element to another, all separately perceptible.

Messaging

Let me now tell you about Joe. He is hoping to get into the Australian construction industry. He read up on the prerequisites for a job in the industry and is convinced that he needs to get the training done and receive the white card.

Joe comes to know about White Card Courses and immediately looks up it upon internet and lands on the homepage.

He’s greeted with this hero message:

Get White Card Online $50.00” and below it,

Click here to Purchase

But Joe hadn’t gone there to purchase anything. Joe only wanted to do the training and get his white card. By to ‘purchase’, the CTA button tells Joe that he needs to finish another action first (in fact, there is no mention of beginning a course, at all). And what’s the action Joe’s asked to do? Part with hard-earned money, without any evidence or guarantee that he’d get his training.

Joe hesitates. Joe leaves.

And really who could blame Joe?

(except perhaps, Bad Design, The Evil)

With the variation, however, the messaging was changed to something more appropriate, something more in-line with the immediate intent of the visitor. If Joe visited the site after the change, Joe would find the below message instead:

Get White Card Online $50.00

Start Now

Joe is told exactly what he’d have hoped to listen. He could start with his course right away. Clicking on it would still lead Joe to a payment page. But Joe doesn’t mind it so much anymore, because he knows he’s clicked on “Start Now”, and is in the right direction.

Right direction, that’s all Joe ever needed out of life, and design. But I digress, as always.

Check out this kickass post from WordStream on creating effective call-to-action messaging.

And here’s another of those excellent belling-the-CTA (Oh, is that an almost-pun?) case studies from our archives.

Trust Badges

They work. They do,

especially on eCommerce sites that accept payment first and deliver later. The control page had no trust or guarantee badges leaving the credibility score pretty low for ‘White Card Courses’. In human-to-human interactions, their brains labor, crunching verbal and non-verbal cues to create a measure of credibility or trust. But on a web page, in the absence of any human element, visitors require clear reasons to trust.

The variation carried three badges, one each for guarantee (money-back), trust (recognized Australia-wide) and an assurance of quick turn around time.

Here are some more case studies that show why badges are a relatively safe bet in conversion optimization – Bag Servant (conversions up by 72%), Horloges (sales up by 41%), House of Kids (32% increase in conversions). Want more? Here’s a link to our resources section, simply filter by “Trust Badge” in the ‘element’ drop down box and select ‘case studies’ from the ‘resources’ box.

Wait, what about the 20.9% increase in conversion on the payments page? There was never a mention of any change to that page. True, and yet, the page converted 21% more than the control. Trust badges to the rescue again; more importantly, they appeared above the fold, ensuring that most visitors saw the badges before they clicked through to the payments page.

Grant concurs, on being asked why he thinks the variation won:

1. Change from a confusing heading to an actionable button

2. Easy to understand what the ‘Next Step’ is for the user (and above the fold)

3. Prominent supporting sales propositions just below the fold

So, Should You Too Test These Same Changes?

You could, and you should, if you see clear commonalities between your business and the ones that have already tried it and succeeded. But not because x y z businesses tested it and profited out of it. I think, and practically believe, that there’s no such thing as a best practice. ‘Best’ practices followed over time become common practices, and sooner more often than later, we’ll need better practices. Why not come up with them right away, instead of waiting for ‘best practices’ to go stale? There’s room for many new discoveries in the conversion optimization space.

Keep testing. Keep discovering.

Do you have conversion optimization ideas in mind that you’d want to test on your site, but feel that it could do with some brain-storming? Head over to the comments section and let us know!

You can engage with me @SharanTheSuresh, and connect with us @wingify

We’re listening!

The post 32% Increase in Conversions by A/B Testing for The Right Reasons appeared first on VWO Blog.

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32% Increase in Conversions by A/B Testing for The Right Reasons

A Frank Lloyd Wright Approach To Digital Design

Frank Lloyd Wright was a century ahead of his time. He was a pioneer, an avant-garde architect who broke free of the traditions of his era. His views on materials, form, function, space and environment define his iconic works. These ideals and principles are still used in architecture today, and his buildings have stood the test of time, remaining relevant even in today’s digital age.
I find a lot of inspiration in Wright’s timeless work.

See more here: 

A Frank Lloyd Wright Approach To Digital Design

How To Customize Twitter’s Bootstrap

Twitter’s Bootstrap has taken off like a rocket since its release a year ago. The popular CSS framework supplies a responsive grid system, pre-styled components and JavaScript plugins to a parade of websites.
One of Bootstrap’s appeals is that it just works. It’s a significant time-saver when starting a website, so much so that major organizations such as NBC, NASA and the White House are adopting it. And it empowers even the non-designers among us to turn out something decent.

Read this article: 

How To Customize Twitter’s Bootstrap