An ideal user experience means your product or service meets the exact needs of the customer, without confusion or frustration. This requires a multidisciplinary approach, and constant molding of personas, CRO, and usability testing. We’ve found that while most companies have personas, few do effective CRO and usability testing. Even less, companies that actually do all three rarely bring these three expertises together to uncover cross functional insights. Most don’t realize how personas, CRO, and usability testing can and should be used to build off each other for a more seamless user experience.

What are personas?

Personas represent different user types within your audience. Personas are fictional people, created based on research and observations from real users. Personas help prevent decision-makers from designing for themselves. Remember, you are not your users. Instead, take a persona-based approach. So instead of “I think...” refer to your personas “John Doe would think…”

Why personas?

This is the first step in discovering your user. Personas make the concept of the user concrete and specific. We use various tools such as Google Analytics and SparkToro, as well as crawling reviews/voice of customer research, recording social media insights, and leveraging existing market research to create personas. Together, this research helps us paint a picture of who each persona is, where they hang out online, what motivates them, what challenges they face, and how we can help them. And personality plays a huge part in a user's experience. In our own testing, we found out just how diverse results can be, just from different personalities.

One user, let’s call him Sam, was very careful and had a slowly-but-surely nature. He was not explorative, and wouldn’t take risks. If it wasn’t obvious, Sam was not going to seek it out. Even the smallest moment of not knowing the ‘correct’ path, was paralyzing. However, because of the careful nature of Sam, he had a lot of patience. During these long pauses of confusing moments, his thought process was extremely valuable in real time. He evaluated what he did, how he got there, and options to move forward, etc.

Another user, let’s call her Sarah, was completely opposite. She had no patience. She clicked around and explored with ease and extreme speed. She worked freely, unafraid of making mistakes. However, Sarah gave up quickly if she couldn’t find what she was looking for immediately. Because of the constant speed and decision making, Sarah’s real-time thought process was less than helpful. Because she moved so quickly, her thought process was one step ahead, already solving the problem instead of describing the current problem.

Each persona has a unique approach to their own success in any user experience.


What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a way to evaluate a product or service by testing it with potential users. A usability test will ask users to complete certain tasks. Observers watch what they do, and why they do it. The goal of usability testing is to identify problems a user encounters when using a product or service. Were they able to complete the tasks? Where did they get stuck? Why were they confused? What made them frustrated?

Usability tests are preferably done in-person. It’s important to watch people use things instead of hearing them talk about them. You can also conduct usability tests over Zoom, or through third-party websites. To start, conduct 3 usability tests. From there, create an experience map by organizing user pain points under specific journeys/tasks in the process. Then design, test, refine, and repeat.

Why usability testing?

This is the second step in discovering your user. Usability testing measures efficiency (time to complete), effectiveness (reduction in errors), and satisfaction (happiness of product/service). Overall, understand what is happening, and why it’s happening. The key in usability testing is not to tell them exactly what to do, only the task at hand. For example, let’s say I want to test the filter functionality on an ecommerce site. I would not say “Find a dress.” Instead, I would describe the task/situation at hand. “I have a formal party this Friday and I want something fancy to wear.” Ask situational questions that result in testing a task.

Keep the participant focused on tasks and thinking aloud. Let them work on their own. Don’t say anything to influence them. Don’t ask leading questions or give them clues. Remember, your website or product will always have a beginner. Test for them. An expert is less likely to be frustrated by something geared towards a beginner. But a beginner will always be frustrated by something geared towards an expert.


What is CRO?

The purpose of conversion rate optimization is to increase your conversion rate by compelling users to take certain actions. These can be large improvements (like restructuring or relabeling navigation) or small improvements (like changing the color of a button or rewording it). The overarching purpose of CRO is to optimize your entire marketing process and ultimately see an increase in a specific desired action.

Why CRO?

With large hurdles discovered from usability testing out of the way, CRO is the last step that optimizes micro experiences for the user. Test the language of buttons on the page. Do users respond to instructions (Buy Now) or benefits (Build your X today)? Test placement and proximity of items or buttons on the page. Do users click on the CTA in the hero area more or less than the CTA in the navigation? Test hyperlinks vs buttons. Do users click on hyperlinks more or less than buttons? Test how buttons appear. Do users respond to one color or style (outlined vs filled) more than another? Test messaging. Do users respond to a headline question more or less than a headline statement?

CRO discovers the language, placement, and styling that gets the most action from the user so you can expand those efforts across user touchpoints. CRO testing can be performed in Google Optimize, which allows you to test variants of web pages and see how they perform against an objective that you set. You can send thousands of users to multiple variants at the same time, giving you data on what your customers respond to and insights on how you can improve.

The Trifecta

Personas make the concept of the user concrete and specific. Usability testing turns pain points into resolutions. CRO compels the user to take desired action. Without any one of the three, we only solve partial problems. Without personas, we solve for our own opinions and egos. Without usability testing, we leave undiscovered hurdles for the user to trip over. Without CRO, we have no compelling refinements to win over user actions. Together, all 3 capture a fuller view of the user experience.