Online travel giant Expedia had no idea that one tiny box on its website was sending customers on a journey to Confusion City, a virtual side trip that cost the company $12 million in profits.

It was only after diving into user experience (UX) data that the firm identified the problem. According to UX analytics, many customers who started the ecommerce journey to pay for bookings on Expedia’s site didn’t end up completing it.

It turned out they were stumped by a single form field marked ‘company name.’ Although customers were supposed to type in the name of the company where they worked – a feature meant to trigger potential corporate discounts – many of them typed in the name of their credit card company instead. That led to frustrated customers, abandoned conversions and lost revenues for Expedia.

Once Expedia removed the baffling form field box from its website, its profit surged by $12 million that year, a bottom line boost it has directly attributed to finding and fixing UX flaws online.

UX analytics revealed that a form field marked ‘company name’ (left) led to abandoned sales on Expedia’s site. At right is the new form with the confusing line removed.

Expedia’s a-ha moment illustrates the importance of analytics in UX design and testing, said Tara O’Doherty, who cited it during her session on UX and digital marketing at TechWeek Toronto on Tuesday.

“You’d be shocked that a lot of huge brands don’t have analytics running in their (marketing) program. They don’t think end-to-end,” she said.

O’Doherty, formerly of agencies Cossette and MacLaren McCann, is a marketing veteran who has worked on digital strategy campaigns for Tesla, McDonald’s, AT&T and other brands.

O’Doherty is now chief strategy officer at RED Academy, a digital skills training school with campuses in Vancouver, London, England and Toronto, which is where she shared the following UX tips for digital marketing with the TechWeek crowd.

1) Harness social swaying power

O’Doherty said consumers are 12 times more likely to buy products or services based on “social media proof” than they are after reading a vendor’s own descriptions of its wares. She listed five key types of “social proof”:

  • expert testimonials
  • celebrity endorsements
  • actual user testimonials
  • wisdom of the crowd (i.e., proof that a high number of people use the product)
  • wisdom of your friends (i.e., people you know personally are using it)

There’s one caveat to this, however. Social proof is a distraction and a friction point for customers who have made it to your purchasing page, she said, because they’re already convinced they should buy. So use social proof elsewhere on your website, but leave it off your purchasing page.

2) Make strategic landing pages

Remember that a landing page is not the same as a home page or a product page.

“A landing page is a single (web) page meant to convert, usually from an ad. The ad links directly to that landing page,” O’Doherty said.

Tara O’Doherty of RED Academy.

So each time you build an ad to push people to your site, you have to build a different landing page that corresponds directly to that specific ad. For example, if one ad promises “more information”, it should take them to a landing page on your website that delivers more details, not a buy button, map or other unrelated content.

What makes a good landing page? O’Doherty said the main ingredients are:

  • a “sexy title”
  • three bullet points listing product benefits above your call to action button
  • a video (she said “a video testimonial converts 60 times more than any other kind of testimonial”)
  • phrases indicating scarcity and urgency like “tickets selling out fast” or “only three days left”
  • stacking the main content above the imaginary fold of the web page so it looks more horizontal than vertical (because “people hate scrolling down,” she noted)

3) Test everything, then test again

O’Doherty is a big proponent of testing UX design both before and after going live.

“Look for friction points and things that are pissing people off, and fix them,” she said. “Removing those friction points is all about walking in the shoes of your customer.”

One such test is a feature functionality test, which lets people use a website or app while it’s still in development, then surveys them about which features they liked or disliked so the site can be improved. Yet another type is usability testing, which also occurs before an app or site is finalized. It includes using webcams to videotape how testers navigate the website or app so it can be tweaked before deployment.

O’Doherty uses HotJar, a site that creates on-screen heat maps and video recordings of how users navigate web pages.

“It uses cookie technology and makes it run like video. It can track your cursor and you can watch how and where people click on something,” she said.

HotJar creates heat maps (shown above) and video recordings to show how users navigate web pages.

Other testing programs O’Doherty suggested are Appsy for mobile apps and Optimizly for A/B testing websites.

4) Video is about psychology, not just pictures

Don’t get so caught up in producing a video with amazing visuals that you neglect to think about how your audience … well, thinks.

“There’s a lot of psychology that goes into it,” said O’Doherty.

She was referring specifically to a video campaign she helped create for Toronto’s SickKids hospital when she was a VP at Cossette. Launched last fall, the fundraising campaign won eight awards at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in April, including two golds.

While the videos do feature striking images of children, parents, doctors and nurses doing battle with various illnesses, the campaign’s scenes and wording were chosen very carefully based on viewer tests and research.

In the VS: Undeniable video, for example, the word ‘cancer’ flashes on-screen because tests revealed that, although some viewers don’t care much about sick kids in general, they do relate to cancer if their friends or family have had it. Similarly, the end of the video emphasizes babies (the phrase ‘infant mortality’ appears on-screen) because research shows even childless people are affected emotionally by the prospect of a sick or dying baby.

A hard-hitting image from a SickKids hospital fundraising video. Scenes and wording were chosen for the campaign based on psychological data about what resonates most with potential donors.

O’Doherty encouraged marketers to think about the psychology of certain potential customers when making their own videos. Make one video for someone who knows nothing about your product, one for someone who wants product info, one for a consumer who has expressed interest but hasn’t converted yet, and another to lure back past customers.

For companies lacking SickKids hospital’s sizeable marketing budget, O’Doherty recommends free or affordable video production apps like Animoto, which often come with an easy DIY template for editing videos and adding graphics.

“UX is based on science,” O’Doherty said. “It’s about understanding design psychology. People are lazy and they love to multitask,” she said, pointing to research that humans have an average attention span of just eight seconds compared to 12 seconds for a goldfish. “If you keep that in mind, you’ll cut down on errors and time and get more conversions.”

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