User experience (UX) is shorthand for how a person feels when visiting and navigating your website or application, as well as how the individual perceives its value, usefulness, and usability. Whether you acknowledge it or not, your site has its own distinct UX. The question is whether it’s working for or against you.

Today’s visitors expect a high level of UX that combines pleasing design with personalized features and an easy-to-navigate interface. Increasingly, brands are compared by the online experiences they offer, with the most compelling and desirable interactions winning out.

The Psychology of UX Meets the Psychology of CRO

Successful UX designers must have intimate knowledge and understanding of users’ perceptions of and reactions to various site structure and design elements. The psychology of UX considers users’ emotions and cognitive limitations (i.e., how much attention and memory they can use before becoming overloaded). Each design decision is driven by a core question: What motivates human behaviors?

A deep understanding of motivators can help you influence visitors to remain engaged with your content, return to your site, and choose your products or services over the competitors. Among the most powerful human motivators are:

  • Accomplishment
  • Freedom
  • Connectedness
  • Growth

When UX taps into one of these internal incentives or desires, it draws users into a more meaningful relationship with the brand, leading to a sustainable increase in conversion rates. What form of motivation do you weave into your brand message? How does your product or service motivate people to engage and stay engaged?

Drive CRO with In-Demand Experiences

What’s the one thing about your site or app that users love most? Is there a defining feature that would send users into an uproar if it went away? The UX imperative is to create an in-demand experience. The conversion rate optimizer (CRO) imperative is to continually ensure that the right people easily reach this experience. The two work together to reduce friction, enhance personalization, and drive engagement from every angle.

Begin taking an experience-centric approach to conversion optimization with these three principles of powerful UX design.

1. Think Like Your Users

Thinking like your users helps you discover what is unique about various segments, and treat them accordingly. The point is to avoid making assumptions about UX based on your own behaviors and preferences. As a marketer, developer, designer, or analyst, you probably use the Web much differently than the average visitor. You’re not the everyday user, so you need to stretch and challenge your thinking to get inside the everyday user’s head.

One way to think more like your users is to observe and measure their behavior. Study their paths like an anthropologist in the field, objectively noting every detail. Eventually you’ll amass portraits of your most common user types—or visitor personas—that will help you predict future behavior and preferences. Are you using analytics to better understand your visitors? Are you able to segment based on their behaviors on your site?

2. Ask Your Users

Another way to learn what users are thinking and feeling is to simply ask them. Conduct in-person and online surveys, create simple exit questions for users leaving your site, have customer service reps note individuals’ questions and concerns, read reviews—any method you can find to hear from users in their own words.

First-hand stories from the user experience can become your most valuable asset. A single story can give you a whole new perspective on your website or app, and help you communicate your goals to your coworkers and executives. Andrew Mottaz of ProtoShare, a Web-based collaborative wireframing tool, explains:

By focusing on a user story, which can be written quickly and understood at a high level, you can make a pretty good rough-cut at what you should build and what the business value should be.

Surveys and stories aren’t the only way to hear from users. UX research and usability studies give you direct input on how actual people interact with your site. This can reveal points of friction, user habits and perceptions, and whether or not people can actually fulfill their intended purpose for visiting your site.

3. Reduce “Cognitive Overhead”

Cognitive overhead is a type of site friction that happens in the user’s head. It’s the doubt, confusion, indecision, and brow-furrowing that users feel when faced with poor design and communication. High cognitive overhead is often the result of a shallow understanding of your users’ objectives and level of knowledge or familiarity with your brand before entering the site. A Qualaroo user experience guide describes the gap that often exists between marketers’ and users’ goals:

Projects usually begin with design briefs, branding standards, high-level project goals, as well as feature and functionality requirements. While certainly important, these documents amount to little more than the technical specifications, leaving exactly how the website will fulfill the multiple user objectives (UX) wide open.

Optimizing user experience begins with looking at the objectives of the visitor, and imagining the potential flows that need to be designed in order for them achieve their goals. What’s the first logical or intuitive step for someone looking to compare a product, download a report, consume and share content, subscribe to a service, or find more information about their account? What’s the second step? And where will they ideally end up?

User-Centric Design Builds Loyalty

Some companies chase spikes in conversion, doing whatever it takes to see immediate results. Then, when the numbers dip, they’re left scrambling to find the next quick fix. Sustainable CRO tends to happen gradually and steadily, with long-term strategies centered on getting the right people to form a bond with your brand through engaging experiences.

UX is integral to CRO. When properly attended to, it has the power to reduce abandonment and increase conversion rates. UX is all about elevating the users’ goals above your own preconceived ideas of usability and design. When you eliminate hurdles and empower visitors to achieve their objectives, they will view you as a trusted ally and come back for more.