Choice Architecture & Design-Oriented Conversion Rate Optimization

Marketers, acting as choice architects, can control the mechanisms of decision-making to encourage certain outcomes.

9 min. read

In any modern web design project, you’ll likely hear a lot about two crucial aspects of any good site:

“How does it look and feel for our users? Is it sleek? Does it stand out from the crowd?”


“How will this improve our conversion rates? Is this built for efficient user flow?”

At first, these might seem like different (if not contradictory) topics—because how often have we all run into tech that’s designed to look good, but functions terribly?

Fortunately, there really isn’t a big bold line between “form” and “function.” In reality, the two actually work really close together, and a well-designed site can and should support, improve, and optimize your site’s CRO.

Here’s how to make it happen.

Influencing choices through design

There’s a concept in the field of behavioral economics called “choice architecture.” This term refers to the ability that businesses have to influence a customer’s behavior by strategically engineering the environments in which they make decisions.

Even when it’s not done on purpose, our surroundings impact our behavior. Everything from the layout of a clothing store to the order of items on a dinner menu has the potential to sway our purchasing choices.

People have free will, of course. However, context is a powerful thing.

Marketers, acting as choice architects, can control the mechanisms of decision-making to encourage certain outcomes. Therefore, the question for marketers becomes not if but how to leverage this inevitable force of human nature.

Choice Architecture In The Digital World

The concept of altering consumer behavior through design is not limited to brick and mortar stores. A massive portion of purchases is made online these days.

To capitalize on this trend and get the most out of their virtual patrons, businesses have begun applying the principles of choice architecture to their websites.

In digital marketing, the practice of restructuring a website’s content (copy, images, CTAs, videos, chatbots, menus, fonts, micro-interactions, etc.) to nudge more visitors towards a desired action is called “conversion rate optimization” or CRO for short.

Anytime you want someone to do something and they do it, that can be considered a “conversion.” Common examples of website conversion metrics are form submissions, blog subscriptions, event registrations, and (ideally) online purchases.

An effective way to gauge the performance of a given webpage is through what’s known as its “conversion rate.” This number is a great first step towards gaining a better understanding of how users are interacting with your site as it represents the percentage of people who actually did what you wanted them to do.

Conversion rates are typically calculated using the following formula:

Conversion Rate = (Number of Conversions / Total Website Visitors) x 100

As marketing technology continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, more and more businesses are able to boost their on-site conversions by running data-driven experiments that reveal useful, qualitative insights about their users.

Tools like HotJar, Google Analytics, Google Optimize, Unbounce, Crazy Egg, HubSpot, and countless others are being used to analyze customers’ behavioral patterns and preferences. The knowledge gained from these tests is what fuels the CRO process.

Conversion rate optimization is all about improving your existing website. The goal isn’t to get more pageviews, rather it’s to get the most out of the traffic you already have. Quality over quantity is the name of the game here. Think of yourself like Billy Beane and your website as the 2002 Oakland Athletics.

A Quick Recap on Solid Conversion Rate Optimization Strategy

The natural first step in the CRO process is to define what you consider a conversion. You can’t achieve your goals if you don’t know what they are.

A helpful way to begin thinking about conversions is to ask yourself “what are people doing on my website?”

Then, ask yourself which of these actions are 1) tangibly beneficial to your business and 2) trackable. If you can’t track it, you can’t analyze it; and if you can’t analyze it, you can’t optimize it.

“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” – Karl Pearson

Next, you’ll want to nail down which of these goals is most important in your customer lifecycle framework. This will be what’s known as your “north star metric.” It will reflect a user’s level of interest in your website and therefore indicate their likelihood to convert.

Some real examples of north star metrics from well-known companies are:

  • When a user’s average time-on-site exceeds 10-min per session
  • Facebook: When a new user makes 10 friends in 7 days
  • Slack: When a team sends their 2,000th message

Implementation & Moving Beyond the Basics

Once you’ve established your key metrics (conversions, KPIs, OKRs, etc.) it’s time to begin planning where and how you’re going to kickstart the optimization process. As with all other aspects of content strategy, building a CRO strategy begins by taking a 30,000-foot view of your buyer’s journey.

Think of your conversions as touchpoints along a customer’s path from a total stranger to an enthusiastic promoter.

Every time an on-site conversion is achieved, it means someone has crossed the threshold from one stage of the inbound methodology to the next.

A helpful way to map this process is by using what’s known as the “pirate metrics,” so named because the acronym spells “aarrr.”

Acquisition: How are people finding your website?

Activation: How do you excite your visitors?

Retention: How do you retain their focus?

Revenue: How do you turn users into paying customers?

Referral: How do you turn customers into promoters?

This customer lifecycle framework will help you contextualize your CRO goals by presenting the buyer’s journey as an interconnected system.

This way, you’ll understand how the different pages on your website work together and how you can leverage CRO to maximize overall conversions.

How to Accurately Test Your CRO

At this point, you’ve defined your conversions and established where they live on your site and in the context of your buyer’s journey.

Now, it’s time to start figuring out how to optimize them.

As you may recall from 7th-grade science class, an experiment must begin with a hypothesis. CRO experiments are no exception. So, before you run a test, there are three important questions to ask yourself. The answers to these questions will inform your hypothesis.

  • What aspect of your website do you want to change?
  • How do you expect this change to influence consumer behavior?
  • What insights informed your desire to change this piece of your site?

As soon as you and your team have decided what you want to change, why you want to change it, and what results you expect, you can start putting together the test.

Regardless of the platform that you use to measure your conversion rate, there are at least seven different types of CRO tests that you should familiarize yourself with before deciding which type of experiment to run.

  • A/B Test: Testing variations of a webpage against a control.
  • Sitewide Test: An A/B test in which the variation applies to the entire website. To do this in Google Optimize, change targeting to include all pages. This way, the experiment will include every page where the changed element exists.
  • Variable Cluster Test: This is a test where you change more than one thing per variation. I.e. you change the headline AND the featured image on a landing page and test that group against another group.
  • Isolation Experiment: When you change one specific thing on a page and test it against a control.
  • Multivariate Test: A test with multiple isolation variables per page. This differs from a variable cluster test because you’re testing different combinations of individual variables rather than testing groups (clusters) of variables against each other.
  • Split Path Test: An A/B test in which you funnel visitors to different sets of pages by altering the navigation from the home/landing page.
  • Heatmap and Session Recording: Using tools like HotJar to actually watch how real people are interacting with different variations of a webpage.

The type of experiment that you choose to run will depend entirely on what you want to learn, where the conversion occurs on your website, and how you want to influence visitors’ behavior.

Getting Your CRO Priorities Straight

Another helpful tool for formulating experiments is what’s known as the “prioritization framework.” It follows the acronym “ICE,” which stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease.

  1. When coming up with a CRO test, ask yourself first how impactful this change will be to your website and your business.
  2. Ask yourself how confident you are in your hypothesis and the data that you expect to receive.
  3. Consider how easy you think the experiment will be for your team to carry out. For each of these three factors, come up with a score from 1-10.
  4. Add the scores together and divide the sum by three.

ICE Score = (Impact + Confidence + Ease) / 3

In addition to helping you gauge the potential payoff of a test, this prioritization framework will also help your team get a sense of the project’s scope.

This matters because CRO is a team effort, and you don’t want to kickstart an initiative without consulting the people who are going to be working on it.

Creating A “Test And Learn” Culture

Securing the buy-in of your entire marketing team ensures that the insights gained from conducting CRO will have a lasting impact on your business.

When something works, it’s important that everyone understands why it worked. Conversely, if something isn’t working, it’s helpful if everyone works together to figure out what went wrong.

This is called building a “test-and-learn culture” within your organization. You should encourage your coworkers to take risks and be curious because what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily what’s going to work today or tomorrow.

Marketing is an ever-changing field and the best marketing departments are the ones that are willing and able to adapt.

Key Takeaways

Despite being a dense subject, CRO is definitely not a complicated subject. Sure, there are ways for marketing professionals to muddy the waters to make them seem deep, but in reality, conversion rate optimization is a very basic concept. All you need to do is figure out

  1. What brings people to your website
  2. How are people interacting with your website
  3. What persuades users to take certain actions

From there, you can begin experimenting with ways to optimize your site to retain more traffic and funnel visitors towards a conversion.

It’s just like reorganizing a menu at a restaurant or the sales floor at a retail shop. The design of your website has the power to influence consumers’ behavior, and as a choice architect, it’s your job to construct an environment that retains their attention and encourages them to convert.

This means:

  • Writing benefit-focused headlines. People should know immediately what you have to offer them.
  • Providing explainer copy in the 2nd-person POV to make your target audience the protagonist of your story.
  • Adding hero images or videos to your web pages.
  • Making unique CTAs. People won’t glance twice at a “learn more” button.

Remember that the easiest way to influence people is by telling them what other people are doing, so be sure to leverage real customer experiences and add user testimonials to your site.

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