When you create sales pages that convert, you take some of the burden off your team. You don’t have to constantly be hustling to find prospective customers. They come to you. But let’s face it: Traffic doesn’t mean much without conversions. You need people to buy what you sell. Today, we’re going to talk about how to create sales pages that convert. I’ll provide you with some strategic tips and show some examples. We’re going to cover lots of information, so feel free to skip around: What are sales pages? Sales pages versus landing pages Long-form versus short-form landing pages…
Redesigning A Digital Interior Design Shop (A Case Study)
Good products are the result of a continual effort in research and design. And, as it usually turns out, our designs don’t solve the problems they were meant to right away. It’s always about constant improvement and iteration.
I have a client called Design Cafe (let’s call it DC). It’s an innovative interior design shop founded by a couple of very talented architects. They produce bespoke designs for the Indian market and sell them online.
DC approached me two years ago to design a few visual mockups for their website. My scope then was limited to visuals, but I didn’t have the proper foundation upon which to base those visuals, and since I didn’t have an ongoing collaboration with the development team, the final website design did not accurately capture the original design intent and did not meet all of the key user needs.
A year and a half passed and DC decided to come back to me. Their website wasn’t providing the anticipated stream of leads. They came back because my process was good, but they wanted to expand the scope to give it space to scale. This time, I was hired to do the research, planning, visual design and prototyping. This would be a makeover of the old design based on user input and data, and prototyping would allow for easy communication with the development team. I assembled a small team of two: me and a fellow designer, Miroslav Kirov, to help run proper research. In less than two weeks, we were ready to start.
Useful tip: I always kick off a project by talking to the stakeholders. For smaller projects with one or two stakeholders, you can blend the kick-off and the interview into one. Just make sure it’s no longer than an hour.
Our two stakeholders are both domain experts. They have a brick-and-mortar store in the center of Bangalore that attracts a lot of people. Once in there, people are delighted by the way the designs look and feel. Our clients wanted to have a website that conveys the same feeling online and that would make its visitors want to go to the store.
There wasn’t a clear distinction between new, returning and potential clients.
DC’s selling points weren’t clearly communicated.
They had future plans for transforming the website into a hub for interior design ideas. And, last but not least, DC wanted to attract fresh design talent.
Defining the Goals
We shortlisted all of our goals for the project. Our main goal was to explain in a clear and appealing manner what DC does for existing and potential clients in a way that engages them to contact DC and go to the store. Some secondary goals were:
lower the drop-off rate,
capture some customer data,
clarify the brand’s message,
make the website responsive,
explain budgets better,
provide decision-making assistance and become an information influencer.
Our number-one key metric was to convert users to leads who visit the store, which measures the main goal. We needed to improve that by at least 5% initially — a realistic number we decided on with our stakeholders. In order to do that, we needed to:
shorten the conversion time (time needed for a user to get in touch with DC),
increase the form application rate,
increase the overall satisfaction users get from the website.
We would track these metrics by setting up Google Analytics Events once the website is online and by talking with leads who come into the store through the website.
Useful tip: Don’t focus on too many metrics. A handful of your most important ones are enough. Measuring too many things will dilute the results.
In order for us to gain the best possible insights, our user interviews had to target both previous and potential clients, but we had to go minimal, so we picked two potential and three existing clients. They were mostly from the IT sector — DC’s main target group. Given our pretty tight schedule, we started with desk research while we waited for all five user interviews to be scheduled.
Useful tip: You need to know who you are designing for and what research has been done before. Stakeholders tell you their story, but you need to compare it to data and to users’ opinions, expectations and needs.
We could reference some Google Analytics data from the website:
Most users went to the kitchen, then to the bedroom, then to the living room.
The high bounce rate of 80%+ was probably due to a misunderstanding of the brand message and unclear flows and calls to action (CTAs).
Traffic was mostly mobile.
Most users landed on the home page, 70% of them from ads and 16% directly (mostly returning customers), and the rest were equally divided between Facebook and Google Search.
90% of social media traffic came from Facebook. Expanding brand awareness to Instagram and Twitter could be beneficial.
There’s a lot of local competition in the sector. Here were some repeating patterns:
video spots and elaborate galleries showing the completed designs with clients discussing their services;
attractive design presentations with high-quality photos;
targeting of group’s appropriate messages;
quizzes for picking styles;
big bold typography, less text and more visuals.
DC’s customers are mostly aged between 28 and 40, with a secondary set in the higher bracket of 38 and 55 who come for their second home. They are IT or business professionals with a mid to high budget. They value good customer experience but are price-conscious and very practical. Because they are mostly families, very often the wives are the hidden dominant decision-maker.
We talked with five users (three existing and two potential customers) and sent out a survey to 20 more (mixing existing and potential customers; see Design Cafe Questionnaire).
Useful tip: Be sure to schedule all of your interviews ahead of time, and plan for more people than you need. Include extreme users along with the mainstreams. Chances are that if something works for an extreme user, it will work for the rest as well. Extremes will also give you insight about edge cases that mainstreams just don’t care about.
All users were confused about the main goal of the website. Some of their opinions:
“It lacks a proper flow.”
“I need more clarity in the process, especially in terms of timelines.”
“I need more educational information about interior design.”
Everyone was pretty well informed about the competition. They had tried other companies before DC. All found out about DC by either a reference, Google, ads or by physically passing by the store. And, boy, did they love the store! They treated it like an Apple Store for interior design. Turns out that DC really did a great job with that.
Useful tip: Negative feedback helps us find opportunities for improvement. But positive feedback is also pretty useful because it helps you identify which parts of the product are worth retaining and building upon.
Personal touch, customer service, prices and quality of materials were their main motivations for choosing DC. People insisted on being able to see the price of every element on a page at any time (the previous design didn’t have prices on the accessories).
We made an interesting but somehow expected discovery about device usage. Mobile devices were used mostly for consumption and browsing, but when it came to ordering, most people opened their laptops.
The survey results mostly overlapped with the interviews:
Users found DC through different channels, but mainly through referrals.
They didn’t quite understand the current state of the website. Most of them had searched for or used other services before DC.
All of the surveyed users ordered kitchen designs. Almost all had difficulty choosing the right design style.
Most users found the process of designing their own interior hard and were interested in features that could make their choice easier.
Useful tip: Writing good survey questions takes time. Work with a researcher to write them, and schedule double the time you think you’ll need.
User Journeys Overview
Talking with customers helped us gain useful insight about which scenarios would be most important to them. We made an affinity diagram with everything we collected and started prioritizing and combining items in chunks.
The result was seven point-of-view problem statements that we decided to design for:
A new customer needs more information about DC because they need proof of credibility.
A returning customer needs quick access to the designs because they don’t want to waste time.
All customers need to be able to browse the designs at any time.
All customers want to browse designs relevant to their tastes, because that will shorten their search time.
Potential leads need a way to get in touch with DC in order to purchase a design.
All customers, once they’ve ordered, need to stay up to date with their order status, because they need to know what they are paying for and when they will be getting it.
All customers want to read case studies about successful projects, because that will reassure them that DC knows its stuff.
Using this list, we came up with design solutions for every journey.
The previous home page of Design Cafe was confusing. It needed to present more information about the business. The lack of information caused confusion and people were unsure what DC is about. We divided the home page into several sections and designed it so that every section could satisfy the needs of one of our target groups:
For new visitors (the purple flow), we included a short trip through the main unique selling points (USPs) of the service, the way it works, some success stories and an option to start the style quiz.
For returning visitors (the blue flow), who will most likely skip the home page or use it as a waypoint, the hero section and the navigation pointed a way out to browsing designs.
We left a small part at the end of the page (the orange flow) for potential employees, describing what there is to love about DC and a CTA that goes to the careers page.
The whole point of the onboarding process was to capture the customer’s attention so that they could continue forward, either directly to the design catalog or through a feature we called the style quiz.
We made the style quiz to help users narrow down their results.
DC previously had a feature called a 3D builder that we decided to remove. It allowed you to set your room size and then drag-and-drop furniture, windows and doors into the mix. In theory, this sounds good, but in reality people treated it much like a game and expected it to function like a minified version of The Sims’ Build Mode.
Everything made with the 3D builder was ending up completely modified by the designers. The tool was giving people a lot of design power and too many choices. On top of that, supporting it was a huge technical endeavor because it was a whole product on its own.
Compared to it, the style quiz was a relatively simple feature:
It starts out by asking about colors, textures and designs you like.
It continues to ask about room type.
Eventually, it displays a curated list of designs based on your answers.
The whole quiz wizard extends to only four steps and takes less than a minute to complete. But it makes people invest a tad bit of their time, thus creating engagement. The result: We’re improving conversion time and overall satisfaction.
Alternatively, users can skip the style quiz and go directly to the design catalog, then use the filters to fine-tune the results. The page automatically shows kitchen designs, what most people are looking for. And for the price-conscious, we made a small feature that allows them to input their room’s size, and all prices are recalculated.
If people don’t like anything from the catalog, chances are they are not DC’s target customer and there’s not much we can do to keep them on the website. But if they do like a design, they could decide to go forward and get in touch with DC, which brings us to the next step in the process.
Getting in Touch
Contacting DC needed to be as simple as possible. We implemented three ways to do that:
through the chat, shown on every page — the quickest way;
by opening the contact page and filling out the form or by just calling DC on the phone;
by clicking “Book a consultation” in the header, which asks for basic information and requests an appointment (upon submission, the next steps are shown to let users know what exactly is going to happen).
The rest of this journey continues offline: Potential customers meet a DC designer and, after some discussions and planning, place an order. DC notifies them of any progress via email and sends them a link to the progress tracker.
The progress tracker is in a user menu in the top-right corner of the design. Its goal is to show a timeline of the order. Upon an update, an “unread” notification pops out. Most users, however, will usually find out about order updates through email, so the entry point for the whole flow will be external.
Once the interior design order is installed and ready, users will have the completed order on the website for future reference. Their project could be featured on the home page and become part of the case studies.
One of DC’s long-term goals is for its website to become an influencer hub for interior design, filled with case studies, advice and tips. It’s part of a commitment to providing quality content. But DC doesn’t have that content yet. So, we decided to start that section with minimal effort and introduce it as a blog. The client would gradually fill it up with content and detailed process walkthroughs. These would be later expanded and featured on the home page. Case studies are a feature that could significantly increase brand awareness, though they would take time.
Preparing for Visual Design
With the critical user journeys all figured out and wireframed, we were ready to delve into visual design.
Data showed that most people open the website on their phones, but interviews proved that most of them were more willing to buy through a computer, rather than a mobile device. Also, desktop and laptop users were more engaged and loyal. So, we decided to design for desktop-first and work down to the smaller (mobile) resolutions from it in code.
We started collecting visual ideas, words and images. Initially, we had a simple word sequence based on our conversations with the client and a mood board with relevant designs and ideas. The main visual features we were after were simplicity, bold typography, nice photos and clean icons.
Useful tip: Don’t follow a certain trend just because everybody else is doing it. Create a thorough mood board of relevant reference designs that approximate the look and feel you’re going after. This look should be in line with your goals and target audience.
Our client had already started working on a photo shoot, and the results were great. Stock photography would have ruined everything personal about this website. The resulting photos blended with the big type pretty well and helped with that simple language we were after.
Initially, we went with a combination of Raleway and Roboto for the typography. Raleway is a great font but a bit overused. The second iteration was Abril Fatface and Raleway for the copy. Abril Fatface resembles the splendor of Didot and made the whole page a lot more heavy and pretentious. It was an interesting direction to explore, but it didn’t resonate with the modern techy feel of DC. The last iteration was Nexa for the titles, which turned out to be the best choice due to its modern and edgy feel, with Lato — both a great fit.
Useful tip: Play around with type variations. List them side by side to see how they compare. Go to Typewolf, MyFonts or a similar website to get inspired. Look for typefaces that make sense for your product. Consider readability and accessibility. Don’t go overboard with your type scale; keep it as minimal as possible. Check out Butterick’s summary of key rules if in doubt.
DC already had a color scheme, but they gave us the freedom to experiment. The main colors were tints of cyan, golden and plum (or, rather, a strange kind of bordeaux), but the original hues were too faded and didn’t blend with each other well enough.
Useful tip: If the brand already has colors, test slight variations to see how they fit the overall design. Or remove some of the colors and use only one or two. Try designing your layout in monochrome and then test different color combinations on an already mocked-up design. Check out some other great tips by Wojciech Zieliński in his article “How to Use Colors in UI Design: Practical Tips and Tools”.
Here’s what we decided on in the end:
The way we presented all of those type variants and colors was through iterations on the home page.
We focused the first visual iteration on getting the main information clearly visible and squeezing the most out of the testimonials and style quiz sections. After some discussion, we figured it was too plain and needed improvement. We made changes to the fonts and icons and modified some sections, shown in iterations 2 and 3 in the image below.
We didn’t have the time to design custom icons, but the NounProject came to the rescue. With the SVG file format, it’s very simple to change whatever you need and mix it with something else. This sped up our work immensely, and with visual iteration number 4, we signed off on the design of the home page. This allowed us to focus on components and use them as LEGO blocks to build the templates.
I listed most components (see PDF) in a Sketch artboard to keep them accessible. Whenever the design needed a new pattern, we’d come back to this page and look for ways to reuse elements. Having a visual system in place, even for a small project like this, kept things consistent and simple.
Useful tip: Components, atoms, blocks — no matter what you call them, they are all part of systematic thinking about your design. Design systems help you gain a deeper understanding of your product by urging you to focus on patterns, design principles and design language. If you’re new to this approach, check out Brad Frost’s Atomic Design or Alla Kholmatova’s Design Systems.
Prototyping With Code
For our prototype, we decided to use code and set up a simple build process to speed up our work.
Picking tools and processes
Gulp automated everything. If you haven’t heard of it, check out Callum Macrae’s awesome guide. Gulp enabled us to handle all of the styles, scripts and templates, and it outputs a ready-to-use minified production version of the code.
Some of the more important Gulp plugins we used were:
This allows you to use PostCSS. You can bundle it with plugins like cssnext to get a pretty robust and versatile setup.
This sets up a server and automatically updates the view on every change. You can set it to fire up upon starting “gulp watch”, and everything will be synced up on hitting “Save”.
This is a Handlebars implementation for Gulp. It’s a quick way to create templates and reuse them. Imagine you have a button that stays the same throughout the whole design. It would be a symbol in Sketch. It’s basically the same concept but wrapped in HTML. Whenever you want to use that button, you just include the button template. If you change something in the master template, it propagates the changes to every other button in the design. You do that for everything in the design system, and thus you’re using the same paradigm for both visual design and code. No more static page mockups!
Components and templates
We had to mix atomic CSS with module-based CSS to get the most of both worlds. Atomic CSS handled all of the general styles, while the CSS modules handled edge cases.
In atomic CSS, atoms are immutable CSS classes that do just one thing. We used Tachyons, an atomic toolkit. In Tachyons, every class you apply is a single CSS property. For instance, .b stands for font-weight: bold, and .ttu stands for text-transform: uppercase. A paragraph with bold uppercase text would look like this:
<p class="b ttu">Paragraph</p>
Useful tip: Once you get familiar with atomic CSS, it becomes a blazingly fast way to prototype stuff — and a very systematic one, because it urges you to constantly think about reusability and optimization.
A major benefit of prototyping with code is that you can demo complex interactions. We coded most of our critical journeys this way.
Useful tip: With HTML prototypes, you will have to decide the level of fidelity you want to achieve. That might get pretty time-consuming if you go too deep. But you can’t really go wrong with that either because as you go deeper and deeper into the code and fine-tune every possible detail, at some point you’ll start delivering the actual product.
Clients, especially small B2C companies, love when you deliver a design solution that they can use immediately. We shipped just that.
Unfortunately, you can’t always predict a project’s pace, and it took several months for our code to be integrated in DC’s workflow. In its current state, this code is ready for testing, and what’s better is that it’s pretty easy to modify. So, if DC decides to conduct some user tests in the future, any changes will be easy to make.
Collaborate with other designers whenever possible. When two people are thinking about the same problem, they will deliver better ideas. Take turns in taking notes during interviews, and brainstorm goals, ideas and visuals together.
We shipped a working version of the website, and the client was able to use it right away. If you aren’t able to sign off on the code, try to get as close to the final product as possible, and communicate that visually to your client’s team. Document your design — it’s a deliverable that will be used and abused by everyone, from developers to marketers to in-house designers. Set aside some time to make sure all of your ideas are properly understood by everyone.
Scheduling interviews and writing good surveys can be time-consuming. You have to plan ahead and recruit more people than you think you will need. Hire an experienced researcher to work with you on these tasks, and spend some time with your team to identify your goals. Be careful when sourcing participants. Your client can help you find the right people, but you’ll need to stick to participants who meet the right demographics.
Schedule enough time for planning. Project goals, processes, and responsibilities should be clear to everyone on your team. You need time to allow for multiple iterations on prototypes, because prototypes improve products quickly. If you don’t want to mess with code, there are various ways to prototype. But even if you do, you don’t need to write flawless code — just write designer’s code. Or, as Alan Cooper once said, “Sometimes the best way for a designer to communicate their vision is to code something up so that their colleagues can interact with the proposed behavior, rather than just see still images. The goal of such code is not the same as the goal of the code that coders write. The code isn’t for deployment, but for design [and] its purpose is different.”
Don’t focus on a unique design per se, unless that’s the main feature of your product. Better to spend time on things that matter more. Use frameworks, icons and visual assets where possible, or outsource them to another designer and focus on your core product goals and metrics.
For UX designers and design teams, research with stakeholders and users is critical. However, accessing research participants isn’t as easy as it sounds. For both professional and amateur researchers finding people to participate in studies can be an elusive task. We often hear about studies and their findings, but we don’t hear as often how researchers recruit study participants.
Researchers can choose from a variety ways to find participants. Many factors determine the best method to use. This includes resources such as time and money, the research method you’re using, the type or characteristics of participants you want to recruit, and the accessibility of these types of participants. In this post, I’ll remove some of the mystery and provide guidance to those interested in recruiting participants for qualitative UX studies.
You can use incentives to increase the likelihood of participation in any of these methods of recruitment. Use of incentives is usually a personal choice. Do you feel incentivized participants provide skewed or biased data? I don’t have any issues with providing incentives. An incentive can be a small token of appreciation ($5 gift card) or something more substantial ($200 or more depending on time needed and type of participant.
I’ve provided guidance for each method based on my experience with incentives.
Identifying And Interviewing Key Internal Stakeholders
You gain insight when you interview key colleagues, clients, and other relevant stakeholders of a project. Particularly at the beginning of a project. This is a great opportunity to understand everyone’s role, what their vision and hopes are for a project or product, and how you might incorporate their experience into the rest of the project. You can increase buy-in and make people feel like part of the process by including stakeholder interviews in any project. I use the term internal stakeholder broadly to describe individuals who have a vested interest in a product or project who are connected to your organization or the product in some way. Many of these internal stakeholders might also be users of the product you are interviewing them about.
When To Use It
You can always look for opportunities to interview stakeholders and colleagues to learn more. This is especially useful at the beginning of a project. You can learn expectations for a product, background information on what led to the current status of the project, and goals and hopes for the future. Checking in with stakeholders throughout a project will keep them aware of how things are progressing and allow you to get their feedback. I’ve found this is helpful for building trust with stakeholders and making them feel included in the process.
How You Might Do It
You can often arrange interviews with key stakeholders yourself if they are internal to your company. You’ll identify who is relevant to your project, including project team members, and invite them to an interview. You can contact them to schedule a time, or look to schedule using your company’s shared calendar platform (e.g., Outlook or G Suite). You should know ahead of time how long you need to schedule and how you will interview the participant (in-person or remote) so you can share this information with them at scheduling.
Identifying and interviewing stakeholders becomes more complicated when you don’t have direct access to scheduling yourself. If your project team is part of a larger organization, you might need to ask colleagues in other departments to help identify and schedule stakeholders. If you are on a project team with outside partners or have external stakeholders, you will often need someone to facilitate identification and scheduling of interviews. I’ll cover some additional challenges for recruiting stakeholders and others through your clients in the identifying participants through a client section.
Gain insight into roles, backgrounds, and history of stakeholders’ involvement with a product or issue, potentially quick to schedule, low to no cost outside of time, can be done remote or in-person, talking to customer/user-facing stakeholders might provide some insight into what users think of a product.
Difficult to identify everyone you want to participate, might include people at high-levels who are hard to reach, scheduling if not doing it yourself, scaling down if resources are limited, does not replace research with users, many stakeholders are too close to their product to be objective.
I typically don’t provide an incentive if internal stakeholders are participating during work hours.
I worked on a project with a bank that wanted to design an online onboarding experience for new customers. We needed to understand what the current (non-digital) onboarding experience was. We wanted to document available resources to pull into the onboarding experience. Lastly, we needed to build trust with partners who we were going to rely on to champion the experience we created.
We relied on word of mouth to learn who we needed to speak with. First, we interviewed the people we were closest to and asked them who else they considered necessary for us to speak with. We spoke with people in numerous US states, both remotely and in-person. We were able to speak with 30 people in three weeks (this was not a project we were dedicating full time). Occasionally, we spoke to people who were not relevant to our specific purpose. There were two key reasons we were given names of some folks who weren’t relevant:
They were higher up executives with little knowledge of what we were exploring
The people referring them didn’t understand/effectively convey what we were trying to accomplish, so they volunteered to participate in something not aligned with their role
We found our most common difficulties were in scheduling and getting people to reply to our initial emails. We were trying to schedule an hour to speak with people who spend most of their days traveling and in meetings. Many of them had personal assistants managing their calendars. Some didn’t have an opening to speak with us for weeks after our initial request. Most people did want to make the time to speak with us. They viewed our project as one with high strategic importance in the long-term health of their company. We also had many people reschedule due to unforeseen conflicts involving client needs arising.
We were able to paint a clearer picture of the bank’s onboarding experience and what resources were available. We were able to understand what (some) of the leadership viewed as the potential future for an onboarding experience with new customers and what their perceptions of shortcomings were for the current onboarding experience. We were able to identify gaps in knowledge that required additional future research and education. We made connections with critical internal advocates who walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of the experience we were creating. We would not have been able to achieve these outcomes through a survey or through other means of recruiting participants. Later, we were able to approach these same stakeholders to have them provide feedback on the designs for the onboarding experience we created.
Identifying Participants Through A Client
Many potential research participants are unavailable to the general public. You will find situations where you don’t have direct access to recruiting relevant participants. This is particularly true if you work for a design consultancy/studio, or as part of a shared services team within a large organization. For example, if your client is a widget manufacturer and their product is a widget warehouse product supply application, you will need to access their staff in order to understand their current pain points and needs. You won’t have an easy time finding relevant participants using the population you have access to. You want to conduct research and usability testing with participants who will become the end user of the application, which again means you’d need to access this population through your client.
When To Use It
In addition to the reasons given in the previous section for recruiting stakeholders, when you have to reach specific populations, need opinions from specific people, and want to make your client-stakeholders feel like part of the process. When you don’t have direct insight or access to critical research participants when you are looking to build relationships beyond the project team you are working with, when you want to include a diverse set of individuals covering relevant areas of the product you’re working on.
How To Do It
Work closely with your client or person you are collaborating with to identify the right people for the project you are on. Your project will dictate the exact specifications of roles you need. This includes Product Owners, VPs, Business Analysts, and Users. I often provide a script or email language for my clients to use for recruiting participants. I explain the purpose of the research, how you were made aware of the participant (e.g., Jane from accounting gave me your information) how long the conversation is expected to take, potential dates of availability, incentive (if any), prep work required (if any).
You should provide your client with a screener clearly stating:
How many of each type of participant you want to participate
Details you want to know ahead of time (e.g., years using the product, industry)
Factors leading to disqualification from the study (e.g., less than one year of experience with the product)
Bonus: Many organizations keep data on their users. Your client might be able to screen their database and provide you research participants. However, when I’ve used this in the past, there are often many permissions required and processes to gain access to customers. This can add a significant amount of time to your project.
I am always clear to my clients that scheduling participants is one of the largest hurdles to a project’s timeline. Working with others’ schedules is complicated. You should make it clear to your clients how to recruit, and the need to start recruiting as soon as possible.
You get specific people close to a project or product, you learn about long-term and short-term goals directly from the people you work with, you are able to ask to follow up questions that might inform projects well beyond your current relationship, you learn the history of the product or organization, you can reach relevant people you don’t have direct access to, you gain insight into roles, backgrounds, and history of stakeholders’ and users’ involvement with an issue, you will find talking directly to the users of the product provides context and texture you wouldn’t find from someone without similar knowledge.
This can be time-consuming, requires a clear communication of purpose, you might end up talking to people less relevant if your client doesn’t screen effectively, less control over scheduling, lack of control over how information is shared with participants.
Incentives – I typically don’t provide an incentive if they are from the client and participating during work hours. I’d provide an incentive if they have recruited users who are coming in on an off day or outside of work hours. You might also have a larger incentive but only give it to a couple randomly selected participants.
I worked for a team looking at redesigning a digital report for a large mortgage lender. Many other banks and loan providers do business under the umbrella of this company. We needed to identify a specific type of user, one who: worked for a bank under the parent company and used the report as part of their daily tasks.
The client wanted us to interview 30 individuals with roles interacting with the report. They identified a handful of these individuals upfront, and then put out a call for participation to identify the remaining individuals. There were numerous layers of communication through relationship managers as well as permissions and disclosures the client needed to handle with each participant.
We were able to complete over 30 remote (over the phone) interviews in the month we were allotted to collect data. Our client arranged and scheduled each interview. Our most common difficulties were similar to those I gave in the previous case study, scheduling and relevancy of participants. We were interviewing people who spend their entire workday running the report and using the data to inform their decisions; busy people with limited flexibility of daytime work hours. We made ourselves available at any time a participant had availability in order to solve this. This created drawbacks in scheduling other meetings unrelated to working on the project.
Some of our participants forwarded the invitation to others they thought should be on the interview as well. We would find this out when more than one person would join the call. We were initially caught off guard when we had a call intended for one person take place with four participants at once. We created a separate multi-participant protocol to account for this occurring on future calls, which it did. I recommend expecting this to happen regardless of who is recruiting your participants. It’s difficult to control what happens, once you send out an invitation to the wild.
We used data from our interviews to understand the current behaviors, frustrations, and needs of users. We also presented later participants with sample designs in order to get feedback on report layout and feature changes. We delivered a redesigned report that exceeded client expectations and became a reference piece in their quest to get further funding for research and design projects.
Paying A Recruitment Firm (When You Have An Accessible Population)
Recruitment firms offer services ranging from participant screening and recruitment, facilities to conduct research, recording your sessions, and much more. You can use a recruitment firm when you are conducting research with populations you believe you can reach through contact with the general public. For example, if you are conducting usability testing on an online banking application. You can expect most people familiar with banking transactions (e.g., making a deposit or bill pay) should successfully use your application. Even if they don’t currently use your bank.
I’ve used a number of firms over the past few years. Most of them offer similar services.
When To Use It
When you don’t have direct access to potential participants when you want to have a third party screen your participants, when your sample is available through the general public, when you want to have someone handle recruitment, scheduling, and day-of-research preparation.
How To Do It
You will need to create the screener the recruiter will use. You decide in advance how many of each type of participant you will want. You’ll want to include a number of “floaters” in your recruitment as well. Floaters are people who meet the requirements of the study and are willing to show up for participation in case some of the other participants don’t show up. Floaters are typically compensated at higher levels because they are committing to spend two or three hours sitting around in case they are needed.
You’ll also need to provide the screener with enough advance notice as the recruiter requires. I’ve found this is two weeks in advance for most studies, and three weeks in advance for more complex studies. All recruitment firms offer participants an incentive, usually cash, to participate in a study. You will have to be ok with the fact your participants are receiving money to participate. I haven’t found this to be problematic, but you should be prepared to defend why you don’t think this will add any additional bias to your data.
Very detailed screening, don’t have to find people, often have a facility you can use, will record audio and video as needed, will recruit additional participants in case some don’t show up.
Cost, the time needed in advance if you have a difficult to reach population, participants trying to game the system.
Incentives – Recruitment firms almost always compensate the people they recruit. You will pay the recruitment firm a set fee they pay to participants.
I worked for a team wanting to define the digital needs and behaviors of specific types of Financial Advisors. The client did not want to expose their brand during any of the research, so they did not want to facilitate the recruitment. The client wanted the interviews to pull participants from more than one major city in the US. We worked with a recruitment firm to identify and recruit participants, as well as to conduct the interview sessions.
We worked with the client to create a detailed screener with items meant to refine the population to the specific participants we wanted for the study. The recruitment firm asked for three weeks to find 15 participants for the first city in our study. The usual turn around when working with the firm was two weeks with less specialized participants. We were also advised to provide a higher incentive, over double what we typically offered, due to the probability we were asking participants to step away from work and the perceived value of their time.
We were able to interview 15 participants over the course of two days. We found a few of the participants didn’t actually meet the qualifications we’d screened for. They had manipulated their responses to qualify. Our client was unhappy with this. We were able to use the floaters to replace the participants who didn’t truly qualify. We were also able to get a refund on what we’d paid to recruit the unqualified participants.
Ultimately, we reached our goal of interviewing the right number of participants in the right amount of time, and produced a report on needs and behaviors for our client.
We would not have been able to access this population without the use of the recruitment firm. The client was unwilling to expose their brand and therefore unwilling to identify participants from their contact list. We would have spent more time and money than the project allowed if we were left to recruit participants. We don’t have contact lists or the ability to easily identify specialized populations through our own resources. We still experienced frustration with the lack of initial quality participants the recruitment firm provided. In general, we’ve had positive experiences with recruitment firms, but the more specialized the population, the more likely you will find some duds.
Guerilla Recruiting (When You Want To Find People In The Wild)
You can utilize public spaces to recruit potential study participants. Guerilla research is a term for quick and dirty research conducted with people as they go about their daily tasks (in the wild so to speak). The term is meant to reflect a context in which you are pressed for resources. However, you can benefit from using this method of recruiting even when you have resources for other methods. Sometimes collecting data from people when they are in specific settings is the most appropriate method.
You should determine a space you want to recruit participants for a logical reason. Let’s say you’re designing a smartphone application meant to help people track their workouts at the gym. You would want to recruit participants from that setting, entering or exiting the gym. If you wanted to test out a new form of electronic payment, you’d want to be present in a setting where transactions take place.
When To Use It
When you have little time or budget, when you have access to relevant populations, when you only want to get quick feedback from a few people, when you can spend 20 minutes or less per participant, when you have a product related to a specific physical space (e.g., an art museum tour application).
How To Do It
Find a location, get permission if needed, create a script. I’ve previously written a detailed article on the specifics of recruiting participants in public.
Quick execution, the potential for multiple locations if you have the resources, small or large sample sizes, accessing relevant populations, compatible with multiple research methods.
Little ability for screening, approaching people takes practice and skill, potentially inclement weather if outside, a lot of standing around.
I’d base the incentive on the amount of time and type of activity. For example, I might give a product discount code for something taking a minute or less. A $5 gift card if you are taking a few minutes of their time.
I worked on a project examining the use of technology in library settings. Specifically, we wanted to understand the usability of a system for finding and locating materials within the library. We wanted to work with people who use a library. We needed to test inside of the library because the last part of testing involved physically locating the material.
We sent two researchers to spend multiple days at the library while it was open for patrons. We stood with clipboards at the entrance of the library. We asked patrons if they would spend a few minutes with us participating in our study. We then observed them using the system to search for an item and asked them to locate the material based on where the system told them it should be located.
Our biggest challenge was long periods of time where there were no new patrons coming into the library. We wanted to complete 30 to 40 sessions using three different scenarios. We had budgeted to spend one week onsite to get this many responses. We had to extend our timeline for the following week to reach our goal.
We were able to suggest improvements in the interface, terminology, and an explanation of where materials were located. We would not have had similar findings if we hadn’t been on location at a library and we might not have had as valuable insights if we used people who were not library patrons.
Friends And Family (Low On Time And Budget)
Sometimes, you might have very little opportunity to engage in research. There are many reasons for this, time, budget, or your working for a client who refuses to allow research as part of the project plan. The designers I’ve worked with still want to have some type of feedback to shape their thinking. You can still look to gather some meaningful data from those you have closest access to. Perhaps you are on a project where you are working on a product that is relevant to your coworkers or friends you have easy access to. You might ask a few of them to participate in interviews about the product.
Friends and family are the definition of a convenience sample, and should only be used when no other options exist. This is the most biased and least rigorous way of collecting data. However, you can still benefit from insights into experiences you might otherwise not get. You can use friends and family to participate in interviews or usability testing as a means of accessing informing your design. I strongly recommend conducting additional research, using one of the other methods of finding participants, as your design progresses.
When To Use It
As a last resort, when you have no budget, little time, yet you want to know something about the context or users you are designing for when you have access to relevant people to participate in the study. Background information of your participants.
How To Do It
Reach out to others you and your team know; you can include social media to distribute the call to participate, schedule a time to speak or send an email explaining what you’re asking participants to do (you can also distribute survey links this way)
Positive – you will get some feedback, almost instant, low budget
Most limited pool of participants, possibly less reach, you’re are relying on favors, less ability to screen for specific characteristics, introducing a larger bias due to familiarity with participants.
I would incentivize based on time and budget. A $25 gift card is much less expensive than what you’d pay for a participant from a recruitment firm, but friends and family might find this amount acceptable for up to an hour of time.
I was part of a project team responding to a (paid) request for proposals (RFP) from a major vacation industry company. We had two weeks to turn around our response, including design concepts to show our thinking. Most of our team had no experience in using the services from this specific industry. We needed to find out more information to help inform our response. We didn’t have the resources to undertake our typical research process of finding and interviewing stakeholders or representative end users. Instead, we reached out to friends and family members who stated they’d had experience in this vacation activity within the past three years.
We emailed our staff and asked if anyone had friends or family members with this qualification who’d be willing to engage in brief phone conversations about their experience. We conducted interviews with seven people over the course of the next two days. Our designers were able to use the insights we gained to better understand the types of needs users might have while vacationing. Our concepts attempted to address some of the issues our participants stated existed when they had experienced while vacationing.
Although we didn’t win the long-term work, our team was able to place among the top candidates. We credited the participation of friends and family in our research as part of what helped our design stand out in a positive way. We were later awarded separate work from the team we presented to for the initial RFP.
The table below provides a summary of key characteristics for each participant recruitment method I’ve covered in this article.
Ability to pre-screen participants
Ability to access participants
Varies – harder to reach specific populations
Friends & Family
Easy depending on topic
Table 1: Characteristics of common research participant recruitment methods
We need to access users and potential users in order to effectively conduct research. I’ve covered a number of common ways you can find research participants. Each has certain strengths and weaknesses. You’ll want to become familiar with each of these and adapt your approach based on your product, budget, and timeline.
Take a moment and think about a first meeting with a prospective customer. A good salesman will not try to sell right away. Instead, he will start by asking specific questions and subsequently use the answers provided to give valuable advice. Why does this work? Because in this way, trust is developed between both parties. This trust forms the necessary foundation for a sales transaction to take place further down the road. If a prospect visits your website, you’ll want to apply this principle of building trust in an online environment. Therefore, you typically provide useful content on your site such as articles, white…
Over the last few years, I ran several usability studies with participants with various disabilities. I thought it would help others if I shared some of my experiences.
In this article, I provide lessons learned or tips to consider in planning and executing usability testing with participants with disabilities. The lessons learned are divided into general that can apply to all types of disabilities; and lessons learned for three specific disability categories: visual, motor, and cognitive. These tips will help you regardless where you work: If you work with an established user research team where usability testing is part of your design process or if you work on your own with limited resources but want to improve the quality of the user research by expanding the diversity of participants.
Several of our clients from a state government agency to several fortune 500 companies came to us at the User Experience Center (UXC) for help with their websites. They wanted to make sure users with disabilities could access their site and accomplish their goals.
There are many different kinds of disabilities, however, there is a general agreement to categorize people with disability into four general categories: visual, auditory, motor (also referred to as “physical”), and cognitive. There are different conditions and much variability within each category, e.g., within visual disabilities, color blindness, low vision, and blindness. There is also a distinction as to when a disability is contracted, e.g., a person who was born blind as opposed to one who lost vision later on in life.
Furthermore, as we age or encounter unique situations (such as multi-tasking), we may have a similar experience to people we think of as disabled. Therefore, disabilities should be thought of as a spectrum of abilities that should be accounted for during the design of all user interfaces and experiences.
Typically, in order to ensure that disabled people can use their digital products and services, companies aim for compliance with accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). While this is critical, it is also important to have users with disabilities try to accomplish real tasks on the site in usability testing. There may be gaps in the overall user experience…
Think about the typical doors found in buildings. How many times have you tried to open a door one way and realized they actually open the other, for example, push instead of pull. Technically the door is accessible, but it is usable?
In most ways, usability testing with this segment of the population is no different than testing with anyone else. However, there are several areas you need to pay just a bit more attention to so your sessions run smoothly. The lessons or tips are broken down into general ones that can apply to all participants and specific tips for various disability types such as visual, motor, and cognitive.
General Lessons Learned
1. Ensure a baseline level of accessibility before usability testing
Ensure a baseline level of accessibility before usability testing: Planning usability testing, especially recruiting participants can take time both for the project team and the recruited participants.
Two good examples of basic accessibility issues that should be addressed prior to usability testing are:
Missing alternative (alt) text. Usability testing can be used to see if the alt text used is appropriate and makes sense to participants, but if all the participants are doing is confirming that the alt text is missing then this is not a good use of their time.
Appropriate color contrast. All page designs should be reviewed beforehand to make sure all foreground and background colors meet WCAG 2.0 AA color contrast ratios.
2. Focus the recruiting strategy
If you work with an external recruiter ask them if they have experience recruiting people with disabilities; some do. If you are recruiting internally (without an external recruiter), you may need to reach out to organizations that have access to people with disabilities. For example, if you need to recruit participants with visually disabilities in the United States, you should contact a local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (https://nfb.org/state-and-local-organizations) or a local training center such as the Carroll Center for the Blind in Massachusetts (http://carroll.org/). If you use social media to advertise your study, a good approach is to use the hashtag #a11y (stands for accessibility — there are 11 letters between the “a” and “y”) in your post.
3. Bring their own equipment/assistive technology
Allow and encourage participants to bring their own equipment such as their own laptop, especially if they use assistive technology. This way, you can truly see how people customize and use assistive technology.
4. Have a backup plan for assistive technology
As stated above in #3. It is best if participants can bring their own equipment. However, it is always wise to plan for the worst, for example, if a participant does not bring their equipment or if there is a technical problem such as you can’t connect their equipment to your Wi-Fi network. In the case of visually impaired participants, install assistive technology (AT) such as screen reader software they will be bringing in on a backup PC. For many of the AT software packages, you can get a free trail that should cover you for the usability testing period. This has saved us several times. Even though the configuration was different than what the participants had, we were able to run the session. Participants were quickly able to go into the settings and make some adjustments (e.g., increase the speech rate) and get started with the session.
5. Allow additional time
Provide additional time in-between sessions. Typically we like to reserve 30 minutes between participants. However, when participants plan to bring in their own equipment additional time may be required for setting up and resolving any issues that may arise. When testing with individuals with disabilities, we schedule an hour between sessions, so we have extra time for setting up assistive technology and testing it.
6. Confirm participant needs
Either with the recruiting screener or via email or telephone, confirm what equipment participants will bring in and need to be supplied beforehand. In our lab, we can connect external laptops (that in this case, were outfitted with special accessibility software and settings) to our 1Beyond system via an HDMI cable. In a recent study, all of our participants’ laptops had HDMI ports. However, we forgot to check this beforehand. This is an example of a small but important thing to check to prevent show-stopping issues at the time of the test.
7. Consider additional cost
Depending on the disability type transportation to the usability testing location may add additional burden or cost. Consider the cost of transportation in the incentive amount. If feasible, consider providing an extra $25-$40 in your incentive amount so participants can take a taxi/Uber/Lyft, etc. to and from your location. Depending on access to public transportation and taxi/ride-sharing rates in your area the amount may vary. Our participants came to the UXC in different ways — some more reliable and timely than others.
8. Revise directions
Check the directions you provide for accessibility. Make sure they include an accessible path into your building. Test them out beforehand. Do you need to provide additional signage? If so, ensure all signs are clear, concise, and use plain-language directions.
9. Review the emergency evacuation plan
Review the plan in the event of a fire or other emergency. Map out the emergency evacuation plan in advance.
10. Consider logistics
Consider remote usability testing as an option. One of the benefits of bringing individuals with disabilities into the lab for usability testing is observing first-hand participants’ use of the product or website in question. However, the logistics of getting to your location may be just too much for participants. If it’s possible to test remotely (we typically do this through Zoom or GoToMeeting), it should be considered. This poses the additional challenge of making sure your process for capturing the remote session is compatible with all of the participant’s assistive technology, as well as accessible itself. Troubleshooting remotely is never fun and could be more difficult with this segment of the population.
11. Hearing impaired participants
Some participants may have a hearing impairment where the position of the moderator and participant is critical for adequate communication. In the case of hearing-impaired participants, it is important to get their attention before talking to them and also to take turns when engaging in conversation.
Lessons Learned For Participants With Visual Disabilities
Participants with visual disabilities range from people who are blind and use screen readers such as JAWS, to people that need to the text or the screen to be enlarged using software such as ZoomText or relying on the native screen enlargement in the browser. People that are color-blind also fall into this category.
For any documents needed prior to the study such as the consent form, send via email beforehand and ask them review and send back in lieu of a physical signature. If you don’t, be prepared to read aloud the consent form and assist in signing the documents for some participants.
Make sure directions provide step-wise directions; do not rely only on graphical maps as these may not be accessible.
For all documents, make sure color is not used as the sole cue to convey information. Print out all documents on a black and white printer to make sure color is not required to make sense of the information.
Get participants mobile phone numbers in advance and meet them at their drop-off point. Be prepared to guide them to the testing location. Review best practice for guiding blind individuals:
While Braille documents can be helpful for participants that read Braille, the time and cost involved may not be feasible. Furthermore, all blind people do not read Braille, especially people that have lost sight later in life. It is best to make sure all documents can be read via a screen reader. Unless you are sure if there are no accessibility issues avoid PDF documents and send out simple Word documents or text-based emails.
If participants bring guide dogs do not treat them as pets, they are working. Provide space for the dog and do not pet it unless the participant gives you permission.
Make sure to explain beforehand any sounds or noise that are or may be present in the room such as unique audio from recording software. This may avoid the participant from becoming startled or confused during the session.
Initially when I started to work with blind participants I was worried my choice in language might offend. However, over the years I have learned that most blind participants are fairly relaxed when it comes to speech. Therefore, during moderation do not be afraid to use phrases such as “see” or “look” and similar words when talking to blind participants; for example, “please take a look at the bottom of the page” or “what do you see in the navigation menu?” In my experience, blind participants will not be offended and will understand the figurative meaning rather than the literal meaning.
Test out all recording equipment/processes beforehand. Ensure all audio including both human speech in the room and audio/speech from AT such as screen readers will be recorded correctly. During testing of the equipment adjust the locations of the microphones for optimal recording.
Lessons Learned For Participants With Motor Disabilities
Motor disabilities refer to disabilities that affect the use of arms or legs and mobility. These individuals may need to use a wheelchair. Some people may not have full use of their hands or arms and cannot use a standard mouse and keyboard. These people may need to voice recognition software which allows to use voice input or use a special pointing device, for example, one that is controlled by their mouth.
In the directions, make sure the route is accessible and routes them via elevators rather than stairs. Also, if participants are driving note the location of accessible parking.
Note if doors have accessible door controls. If not you may need to meet the participant and guide them to the testing location.
Make a note of the nearest accessible restrooms to the testing location.
As with all participants with disabilities, it is best if they can bring in their own laptop with their assistive technology software installed and any other required assistive technology. However, in the case of participants (such as Adriana in Figure 3) that use voice recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking this is critical because they have trained the software to recognize their voice.
Make sure the desk or table where the participant will be working can accommodate a wheelchair and the height is adjustable. According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), conference tables must be 27 inches high in order to accommodate knee clearance for individuals in wheelchairs..
Lessons Learned For Participants With Cognitive Disabilities
Individuals with these disabilities cover a wide range of relatively mild learning disabilities such as Dyslexia to individuals with a more profound cognitive disability such as Down syndrome. In general, people with cognitive disabilities have challenges with one or more mental tasks. Rather than looking at specific clinical definitions it best to consider functional limitations in key areas such as memory, problem-solving, attention, reading or verbal compensation. Consider how best to accommodate participants during usability testing. Many of the tips below should also apply to all participants, however for this group you need to be extra aware.
Sometimes participants will be accompanied by a caretaker or an aide. This person may assist with transportation or may need to be present with the participant during the usability test. If the caretaker is present during the usability test, make sure they understand the structure of the usability test and what will be required of the participant. If you know the participant will be accompanied before the study, you review the goals and protocol prior to arrival via email or phone. That is as much as possible the participant should be one conducting the usability testing, and the caretaker should not be involved unless it is completely necessary.
In some cases, the caretaker or aide may act like an interpreter. You may need to communicate with this interpreter in order to communicate with the participant. If this is the case, make sure you record the audio coming from both the participant and the interpreter.
Provide instructions in multiple modalities, for example, both written and verbal. Be patient and be prepared to repeat the task or ask the same question multiple times.
Be prepared to break tasks into smaller sub-tasks to support memory/attention challenges or fatigue that may set in.
Ideally, it is best to be consistent with tasks for all participants however for some participants with cognitive disabilities you should be prepared to go off-script or modify tasks on the fly if the current approach is not working.
Have the participant’s comfort and well-being the number one priority at all times. Don’t be afraid to take multiple breaks or end the session early if things are just not working out or the participant is not comfortable.
The tips above should serve as guidelines. Each participant is unique and may require various accommodations depending on their situation. Furthermore, while some of the tips are categorized for specific disability types, specific individuals may have multiple disabilities and/or benefit from a tip from a different category than their primary disability.
If you or your company have conducted user or customer research, you know the value of gathering feedback about the issues and benefits of products and systems. Testing with individuals with disabilities is no different, as you learn many insights that you would not gain otherwise. However, an additional takeaway for us was the realization that people use assistive technologies in different ways. The following example is specific to people with visual disabilities, but there are similar examples across all groups.
An assumption might be someone that is blind only uses a screen reader such as JAWS and is an expert at it. We found that people with visual impairments actually differ greatly in the level of support needed from assistive technology.
Some users need a screen reader for accessing all content.
Some users (with more sight/with low vision) only need to enlarge content or invert page colors to increase contrast.
Others may need a combination of approaches. One visually impaired participant used both a screen reader along with the zoom function embedded in the web browser. She only used a screen reader for large paragraphs of text, but otherwise simply zoomed in with the web browser and got very close to the screen when navigating around the website.
Furthermore, just like anyone, all users are not experts on the software they use. While some users would consider themselves experts, some only learn enough about the software to accomplish what they need and no more.
Hopefully you have learned some useful information that will help you include more diversity into your usability testing. However, since there is variability with different disabilities, this may seem overwhelming. I recommend starting small; for example by including one or two participants with disabilities as part of a larger group of 5 to 10 participants. In addition, initially bring in someone that has both experience with usability testing and a lot of experience with their assistive technology so you can focus on getting their feedback rather than how the usability testing process works or their use of their assistive technology.
I would like to thank Jocelyn Bellas, UX Researcher at Bank of America and Rachel Graham, UX Researcher at Amazon. When Rachel and Jocelyn worked at the User Experience Center as Research Associates in 2016, they worked with me on some of the projects referenced in this article and also contributed to a related blog post on this topic.
When high potential projects fall apart, it’s often a failure of collaboration and alignment. The tools, the assumptions, the opportunity, and the intentions may line up, but if people don’t communicate or don’t have a clear map to help them move in the same direction, even the best projects falter.
Communication failures are human problems, so they’re messy and hard to solve. They involve feelings and a willingness to have uncomfortable conversations.
(This is a sponsored article.) What is a product? Until recently, the term was used only in relation to something material and often found in a retail store. Nowadays, it is coming to mean digital products as well. Apps and websites are modern products.
When it comes to building great products, design is the most important “feature.” We’ve moved into the stage where product design dominates — it’s what sets companies apart and gives a real edge over competitors.
It’s Day 2 of Product Marketing Month. Today’s post is all about accelerating your marketing teams productivity with some creative new SaaS product adoption ideas. — Unbounce co-founder Oli Gardner
You don’t need a big budget or a six-week-long strategic planning session to get started with product marketing. Sure, you’ll need to do this eventually, but it shouldn’t put on hold your product adoption and awareness tasks. Educating customers and prospects about the power and utility of what you’ve worked so hard to build is easier than you think, and today I’ll show you exactly how we think about SaaS product adoption and awareness at Unbounce.
Back in 2012 we launched The Landing Page Conversion Course (LPCC for short), and as part of the rollout, I sat down and rattled off 25 quick and easy things we could do to create awareness. It took me less than ten minutes. I then grabbed Cody and Dan, and headed to a local bar to continue the session. Between the three of us, we notched it up to sixty before our first pint was done.
Getting scrappy is a great way to mobilize your team. These impromptu brainstorms not only created over 50 ideas we could implement really quickly, but it uncovered some that would become part of a larger strategic vision. Also, one of our dogs is called Scrappy, and he’s very cute.
Last week I sat down and repeated this exercise for the new products Unbounce: popups and sticky bars. Even though my focus was our own products (you can check them out via the 3 orange buttons in the nav ^^^), the majority of this list can be applied to any business, SaaS in particular.
You can create your own list like this too
I’d encourage you to repeat this exercise, starting by yourself, and then with some team members. Encourage them to come up with crazy and ridiculous ideas, as this will help expand your minds into ideas you’d typically consider off limits. After all, setting up a stall outside a conference (not your own), handing out bacon to tired hungover attendees as they arrive in the morning, might seem bizarre, but I guarantee you’ll be the favorite sponsor of the event.
Help us out by sharing your best ideas
With the collective wisdom of all of you reading this, we should easily be able to come up with 50 or 100 more ideas, so please drop them in the comments below and if they’re awesome I’ll add them to the master list with your name/company/product listed beside them.
Below are 50 ideas you can get started on today, broken into two parts, SaaS product adoption, and SaaS product awareness.
Part One: SaaS Product Adoption Tips
Click on the ideas to show the full description and instructions.
Take a first pass at it yourself, then run a brainstorm with a shared Google doc. Take a different approach from a conventional brainstorm (where you plaster a wall with sticky notes). Instead, have everyone bring their laptop to the session. Have the team verbalize their ideas, and then enter them into the shared doc. It’ll make the process much faster.
The primary technique for content marketing is to provide educational content that helps people become better at their job – in the hopes that they will eventually end up buying your product. This is great, except for when they don’t know what your product is or why they should care.
To enhance the impact of your content, try showcasing it directly in your content. This won’t apply to every business, but if you offer any kind of website tech you can try it. If you do it right, you can create an experience that is better than the content alone.
I just demoed our sticky bar product by asking for your participation.
The on-click trigger is one of many options available in Unbounce, including scroll down, scroll up, entrance, exit, and timed delay.
Brainstorm ways that you might be able to show your product in the context of your content.
If your software involves building something, a great way to help with onboarding and adoption is to drive first-time evaluators into a self-guided experience within a template. That way you can show them exactly how to use the product, inside the product! #inception
Here’s the “Builder Basics” template we created for this purpose. You can use it to get the full builder experience in less than 10 minutes or less, which is perfect for showcasing initial value and improving your Time to Value (TTV) metric.
This concept allows people to try your tool without needing to already have an idea they want to build and launch. You can also use it to specifically guide people to using the features you’ve identified as having the ability to create those all-important ah ha moments.
This is something we’ve wanted to do at Unbounce for years, and it finally became a reality in December. Essentially it’s a live session inside the Unbounce builder so people can get a hands-on experience without signing up.
With an interactive sandbox experience like this, the only barrier to entry is the complexity of the product or the clarity of how you communicate its use. And because we’ll be linking to ours from tens of different campaigns and contexts, we’re using entrance popups to speak directly to the message and source that led people to the demo, as well as introduce how the demo works.
Entry popups are a brilliant way of scaling this idea as we can use referrer or URL or cookie targeting to show the right message to the right people.
We gave some of the top brands that use Unbounce beta access to the popups release, which was a great way to source a high-profile testimonial, like this one from Campaign Monitor.
Not everyone likes to consume content the same way. To combat this, on our demo page we offer three lengths of video: 2 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins, and live 1-on-1 sessions.
A delightful and unexpected postcard can be a lovely touch, and if people have signed up for your product or products, you’ll most likely have their mailing address. It’s important to remember that your product marketing should be focused on your customers as much as those who are prospects. Your goal here for a single product is getting dormant accounts to adopt the product. For multiple products your goal is awareness and adoption or ones that people haven’t used yet.
Something else we’ve learned is that, beyond email onboarding, those handy product tours in app can be a great way of guiding someone through new additions to a SaaS product (or otherwise). You can try out something like Appcues to add a guided tour when you go from one product to two to ensure 1) people notice something’s new, and 2) they can discover its features in a quick, interactive way.
Largely we’ve talked about awareness in this post, but product marketing needs to go beyond this, too. It’s all about who can successfully use your product, fulfilling its initial promise of value. As legendary onboarding expert Samuel Hulick advises, you need to determine all the ah-ha moments leading up to where customers find value. I.e. in a journey, what exact tasks do people need to complete before they’ll see even the smallest amount of value you advertised?
It’s key once you outline your product’s ah ha moments that whatever they are, they’re trackable from inside your product. This ensures you can truly measure adoption and understand where people get stuck.
Taking Sam’s advice above, when we identified our ah-ha moments to product adoption, we started tracking them, made our dashboards, and then began creating educational content designed to help people over tricky steps. You can do the same for your products, too. Either via emails, or something like a skip ahead guide for product setup, similar to the one we made:
The resource above was delivered to those who started a trial within their onboarding emails. They could skip through the progress bar of ah-ha moments or must-do tasks to see value quickly.
Part Two: SaaS Product Awareness Tips
Click on the ideas to show the full description and instructions.
Get everyone on the marketing and customer success/support team to write one letter per day for 30 days. Cap the time at 15 minutes per letter. If possible take a look at how they use your product: “I loved your landing page for the blah blah” etc. (check with your boss or legal as to whether it’s okay to mention their work – in my experience as long as you’re not making it public it’s very cool).
Here’s the product marketing kicker: don’t sell or mention the product in the letter – keep it personal and thankful – but follow your signature with a fun and made up job title that mentions the new product or feature.
For example: Oli Gardner, Chief Unbounce Sticky-Bar-with-Geo-Targeting Champion
I just mentioned the new product, and one of its features. In a delightful manner.
Bonus points if you create some content (like a custom landing page) that ranks for the keywords in that job title (and has your face on it).
Side benefit bonus: your coworkers get to rewrite their own job title every day for a month.
Ask your entire company to change their email signature to promote your new products. This can gain some exposure to different segments of potential customers. For example, your developers run in different circles than marketing, so their email conversations might connect with a different functional buyer persona. This also has the benefit of mobilizing the whole company with the same message, which is beneficial in its own right. Here’s an example email that our events manager sent to the company to help increase awareness for an event we were hosting at Hubspot’s INBOUND conference.
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We like to have fun with our Out Of Office email autoresponders at Unbounce. Something funny or different can be a delightful way to respond to your customers and prospects when there might be a delay in responding. From a product marketing perspective, you can use this opportunity to talk about your new products or features. Try emailing me at email@example.com to see my current OOO autoresponder.
Try running a 5-second test using UsabilityHub.com to see what percentage of people can determine what your product(s) is in five seconds. Not only will you get a sense of how many can figure it out quickly, but you’ll get insights about how people might be misinterpreting your value prop. To turn this experiment into a product marketing effort, you can recruit free test participants via social media or an email list, effectively getting your product’s UVP in front of people.
If you look at the top of this page and scroll, you’ll see how the navigation bar sticks to the top (and gets slimmer to maximize the viewport). Our web developer made this. You can use a sticky bar to do something similar. If you click here, you’ll see a sticky bar with the same content appear, and because it was created in the Unbounce builder, a developer would never have been needed.
Note: I made it appear at the bottom because if it appeared at the top you wouldn’t really see it because it’s so similar to the header.
Add a link to your Twitter bio that leads to a product landing page. Double down by asking your employees/coworkers to change their Twitter header image for a period of time. You can’t add links in the main body of the bio, but you can add one below.
With a “Did you know that we have this product/feature?” to gauge awareness and create it at the same time. Have Yes/No/Tell me more options, with a link out to a landing page or product page if they say “Tell me more” or “No”. The product marketing gold in this one is that if they say “No”, you’ve made them aware of the product by simple virtue of asking the question. BOOM.
Offer early access to your product (or a free account) to influencers in your industry. If they get value from using it, ask for some social sharing love, and ask them for a testimonial you can use as social proof on upcoming campaigns and your website. We recently released an amazing Landing Page Analyzer and asked Rand Fishkin if he’d try it out and provide a testimonial. Here’s what he sent back to me:
As I mentioned above, we called our new products by an umbrella term “Convertables”, including in the Unbounce app sidebar. We’ve now removed that and replaced with “Popups & Sticky Bars”. Sometimes you gotta get out of your own way, and call a spade a flippin’ spade.
Note that this was a fairly simple interface change, but there is still a massive amount of code that our engineering team had built based on the previous hierarchy. That will remain for now as we run these experiments, but it was a substantial barrier in getting buy-in to make these changes.
Overall, if you’re not being 100% clear about the context of use in the naming of your products, don’t stick with a name because you came up with it, be prepared to pivot for the sake of both awareness and adoption.
Reach out to your favourite podcasts to get on them as a guest. It helps if you have an influencer on your team. Typically, most interviewers will give you at least a small window to give your product a shout out.
Position yourself as an expert (I’d say thought leader but that term is kinda gross), by hosting or giving big-time participation to a Twitter chat session. If one exists related to what you do, join in, and offer to co-host or just help out. If there isn’t one, just f#**** make one. Start something. It’s not that hard. If it fails, so what?! Try things. Try things all the time. You’ll become a better marketer if you try.
You heard me. Get a plane flying over your city writing a romantic red script-style message in the sky. This tip comes courtesy of my wife Nicole, cos she’s hilarious.
Another gem from Nicole. Clarity is the most important part of your product’s value proposition, and as you will find out if you follow my advice with a 5-second test, not everyone gets it. I can’t imagine a more fun way to get your team describing what you do. Have them all mime it, then make a video and share it with the world. I guarantee a great time, and you’ll probably also have a team more aligned on your value prop – and perhaps some ideas for a better headline.
Wistia does a great job of this (after all they are a professional video hosting company with amazing viewer analytics, HD video delivery, and marketing tools to help understand your visitors.) << See how I did some product marketing for them there? At many conferences, you’ll see some fun and useful videos in every break where they share video production tips and some light hearted comic relief.
This is something we tried at CTA Conf in 2017 and it was awesome. In the “Product” tent, we had a bunch of workstations set up with gamified tasks which exposed the best product features. Two of the best were:
Drag & Drop Match For this challenge, we had two screens: one showing a completed landing page and the other where the Unbounce app was open and you had to replicate the completed page from jumbled components. You had to match the two pages by dragging elements, changing widths, colors and page sections.
Lock Box There was a locked box with sweet sweet swag inside, and to get the combination, you had to trigger a popup or sticky bar using all of the available triggering settings: click, entrance, exit, scroll down, scroll up, and timed delay. Each one had a number on it that made up the combination for the lock.
We also had some quiz questions that people could answer to get more tokens. It’s a wonderful way of marketing your products while also giving people some cool swag to remind them of you often. Your swag does need to be legit, otherwise people won’t really care enough to participate.
This is really simple and obvious, yet hardly anyone does it. Take the content you write for your blog and repurpose it in as many other formats and places as possible. For Medium write a more personal and transparent version, for LinkedIn create a shorter version and link back to the main article. Stick some slides containing visual highlights on Slideshare.
Have you talking to the camera and/or showing the coolest features of the product – and tailor them for specific search terms. For instance, we have a feature called Dynamic Text Replacement, that allows you to pass keywords from your AdWords campaigns to your landing page, increasing the relevance and often your Quality Score too. So for that we’d want to create a video called “How to use Dynamic Text Replacement to increase AdWords Quality Score”, and another called “How to use Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) to increase AdWords Quality Score”, as that’s an industry term for the same thing. And always have a CTA at the end of the video, driving people to a landing page.
If you have any email drip campaigns running, add a p.s. at the bottom of each email with a mention of your new product. As always, send it to a dedicated landing page if you can.
Update your Twitter profile header image, and include a text bit.ly link (or similar). This will let you track its impact. You can see mine here.
If you have any content or tools that are in Google Sheets you can add a Google Analytics event pixel to know how many times it’s opened and which tabs are being viewed. This could help you understand what’s drawing people’s attention.
Here’s how to do it. Choose (and protect) a cell somewhere in your sheet(s), and paste this code into it:
Obviously replace the xxxxxxxx with your GA account ID, and the doc and sheet names.
When customers are on our free plan, there is a small “Built with Unbounce” strip at the bottom of the page. Link this to your best product demo.
Here’s what mine looks like currently. It talks directly about Product Marketing Month, and this now appears at the end of the 300 blog posts I’ve written!
If you put on events (meetups or a conference), bring out your inner child and write & sketch cute product references on the sidewalks around the event location. Pro tip: the curb beside a crosswalk traffic light is the best spot as people have to stand and wait. It really works, after all, the “Look Right” paint that we’re all use to seeing was created because British wartime prime minister Sir Winston Churchill was visiting New York City and got smoked by a cab because he was looking the wrong way (cars drive on the left in the UK).
If you segment your customer list by those who have adopted your product, a simple thank you card is a lovely surprise. Make sure you include a link to a landing page to ask them for feedback or a testimonial. You should always be sourcing fresh commentary to add to your marketing collateral. A bonus for this approach could be that you might get some love on social media which helps spread the word through your customer’s networks.
On mother’s day record videos of your coworkers’ moms describing what your product does. Gold, Jerry, gold. Dads for father’s day. A robot text-to-speech audio generator for cyber Monday. Spread that golden poop on social.
Look at Google Analytics for your top 20 highest traffic blog posts, then comb through them for opportunities to add a contextual explicit ask of the reader. Such as: “You can create a blah blah, like that blah blah in the photo, by using blah blah, click here to see it in action.” Pro tip: try to put this in the first two paragraphs, as older blog posts, even with high traffic, can often be bounce traps where people run at the slightest hint of a bygone expiry date.
Following on from the last one, if you show an old date, many people will leave. Remove it, and some people spend their time wondering when it was published. It’s a constant dilemma for marketing teams.
No harm in experimentation though, so throw in a single line of CSS to set the ID or class of the meta info (date etc.) to hidden. .blogMetaEtc: display:none !important; will most likely work.
Replace .blogMetaEtc with the actual class or ID. Then after a week/month (depending on traffic levels), look in GA to see if the bounce rate or time on page is different.
Note that both of those metrics can be a bit shady if it’s the only page they visit on your site, as GA can only produce a real number if you visit more than one page. But you might spot something. If you DO find that people spend more time on the “no date” version, you can focus on getting more product mentions on those posts.
Mind blown, amiright?! Might seem basic, but how often does your team Tweet about new products or product features, or customer case studies etc.
Probably very rarely.
So just ask them! But don’t waste people’s time with a long-winded and generic, “Can you Tweet this?” email.
That shit drives me bonkers, it’s total amateur hour.
Send them a three-line email that says, “Hey team, it would really help if you could give our new product launch/feature some love on social.
Here’s a Click-to-Tweet ready to go, and here’s one for LinkedIn.” etc. etc. for the social channels that matter for you.
Include a p.s. “p.s. I would like to bug you to help like this once per month, so expect emails with that frequency. Thank you!” << letting them know it’s a regular thing will A) make you do it regularly, which you should be, and B) stop you from having to grovel every time you send an email like that.
You can even have a consistent “Product Marketing Tweet Request #23” in the subject line. Super clear, super simple, super respectful of people’s time.
Grab 20 people from your office and go do a dance outside the local art gallery. Choose some awesome 80s music and wear company t-shirts underneath a plain white/white/green one. Rip ‘em off and dance like tomorrow is a great day for signups.
If you didn’t get a chance to read the first post in Product Marketing Month, you might not know that the blog design you’re looking at was a very rapid overhaul for this category only. It took one of our developers a days work to set up a different WordPress template that is way more product focused.
Start by doing a Google image search for your brand, company, products, founders, and see what shows up. I guarantee you’ll see a bunch of old logos and old product screenshots, not to mention some old hair (on the founders) Find those images and update them.
Wistia has shown that the default image on your videos is critical to optimizing for more plays. If your product marketing involves videos, then you need people to press play or what’s the point? This post has some great ideas.
This doesn’t have to be your core product. It can be anything that you’re releasing. We launched the Landing Page Analyzer there and managed to get to the #2 spot for the day, earning us a place in the PH newsletter.
Similar to how some ecommerce stores have a small notification appear when “Ashley from Minnesota just bought the Hawaiian Luau Shirt in Blue”, you too can share feedback from your customers and funnel this positive feedback directly onto your site via sticky bars designed to look like small push-style notifications.
In SaaS, for example, you can use a Hotjar poll to collect 2-month onboarding feedback, and then use sticky bars to funnel a the positive feedback onto your site using the on-scroll trigger. This can help address purchase anxiety by helping current prospects see who’s already starting trials and providing terrific feedback about their onboarding experience.
If you’ve got proper app security, it’s likely that your customers are automatically logged out after a given period, and will often see the login screen. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your new products or even old ones that need a bit of love. This was a big learning for us, as we were only starting to use a portion of it (but look at all that space!!).
In Unbounce, one of the buttons you push most often is to “create”. People are very used to hitting this button, making it the perfect place to add an interstitial notification.
An interstitial is just a fancy way of saying a gateway experience that you pass through.
Something along the lines of “Did you know that you can also create website popups and sticky bars with Unbounce?” We haven’t done this yet, but the idea came from the product team during a brainstorm.
Personally, I think it’s genius.
If you have a login link on your website (don’t we all?), check Google Analytics to see how many people are clicking on it. It’s very common behaviour for people to come to your homepage every time they want to log in, which in and of itself is critical info as you should be filtering it from your website traffic.
Like the in-app “Create” button, this is a brilliant way to present an interstitial popup to tell returning customers about your latest and greatest, with a simple button to continue on their way.
Phewf! That was a lot of tips. I hope they help you get more people seeing and using your products. Let’s open this puppy up! Share your own tips below and if they rock, I’ll add ’em to the post (with attribution).
Making improvements to your mobile app’s design isn’t necessarily the easiest of tasks. After all, how much can really be accomplished within such a limited space? You recognize that mobile users’ attention spans are waning and that, consequently, they expect a speedy, convenient and engaging experience when using apps.
Realistically, how many other ways can there be to satisfy these expectations that haven’t already been done before?
Let’s take mobile dating apps.