Survey Identifies 9 Most Used Tools for Website and App Optimization in the 2020s

Jack Maden
Written by Jack Maden
April 02, 2020

It’s a fact that today’s consumers are swayed by their digital experiences. With 11% of retail sales now taking place online, and e-commerce revenues growing steadily for over a decade, senior business leaders are becoming more aware of just how critical providing high-quality digital experiences is to their organizations’ overall success.

A vast majority now list delivering improved experiences to customers through deploying new technologies or optimizing existing ones among their very top priorities.

This budding awareness doesn’t always translate into strategic action, however. In partnership with Econsultancy, we recently asked web development, digital experience, marketing, and conversion optimization professionals at more than 300 companies about the tools, metrics, and practices they’ve put in place to monitor and improve their customers’ online experiences.

The results are revealing: although nearly three-quarters (72%) of companies’ senior leadership understands the impact of digital experience on conversion, only 32% of respondents believe their organizations take a strategic and proactive approach to conversion rate optimization.

In order to adopt such a truly strategic – and effective – approach, teams must have access to the right tools and techniques. These provide the foundational insights that you can draw upon to build engagement, enhance users’ journeys, and ultimately improve conversion rates.

Let’s take a closer look at the nine tools and techniques that are most often employed by UX and conversion optimization teams today.

1. Web analytics dashboard (69%)

It’s the granddaddy of them all. Among conversion tools, web analytics dashboards are the most widely used, best established, and most technologically mature. Google Analytics made its debut in 2005, and today provides more than 300 individual metrics. These are also used to power third-party tools, which offer additional dashboard display, filtering, and segmentation options.

69% of respondents to our recent survey indicated that they’re currently using some type of web analytics dashboard, although these are ranked among the least effective tools.

This disconnect likely stems from inconsistencies in how web analytics dashboards are being employed by UX specialists and digital teams. If you’re only looking at session length or bounce rates or paying cursory attention to where site visitors are coming from, it’s likely that you’re not maximizing the value that these tools can deliver.

It’s also possible to get lost in a plethora of details: analytics platforms can deliver so much information that it’s difficult to keep your focus on what matters most. Aim to focus on what your customers see, think, and feel as they navigate your site.

2. User experience testing (64%)

With market research focus groups and “voice of the customer” surveys as its ancestors, user experience testing is also broadly employed. In our recent survey, 64% of respondents said they’d put UX testing to work in their digital experience optimization process.

More than half (55%) of respondents consider them “very effective,” and these test sessions (which can be conducted remotely or on-site, and can be moderated or not) do provide digital teams with valuable insights into how users are interacting with web content and apps.

UX testing is able to gather data from only a limited sample of users, however. That means the tests aren’t able to provide a full picture of everyone’s UX in real time, and their results may be skewed by the test conditions or the fact that people are aware they’re being tested.

3. Personalization (61%)

A growing number of organizations are employing website personalization to increase conversions. Various criteria are used to segment site visitors into target audiences, including geography, past purchase history, the referral site or search terms that led them to the website, and simple questionnaires. Groups or individuals are then presented with customized content and experiences based on their assumed or reported preferences.

Like web analytics dashboards, personalization is widely used, with 61% of respondents reporting that they rely upon it. Results are inconsistent, however.

Respondents find that personalization is less effective than other tools when it comes to winning over customers and earning their business. There’s no doubt that personalization sometimes works: studies show that customers who feel a strong emotional connection to a retailer will spend 2x as much or more and will have an average lifetime value that’s 306% higher.

Not all personalization builds emotional connection automatically. The most successful digital brands combine this tool with other methods of tracking online experience to ensure that their attempts at individualizing UX are in fact producing the desired psychological results.

4. Content testing: A/B, multivariate testing, etc. (57%)

Though not in the top three, website content testing (also known as split testing) is still widely used, with 57% of survey respondents reporting that they’d published two or more versions of certain web content to compare performance. The practice receives high marks for effectiveness, with 49% of the digital teams that use it saying that it is “very effective” while another 46% deem it “quite effective.”

Without a doubt, content testing can provide digital teams with valuable insights – and challenge preconceived notions about how site design elements or publishing strategies will perform.

This technique offers quantitative data about user preferences and is a useful addition to any digital team’s optimization toolkit. It should be combined with other tools, however, to gain a more holistic perspective. Split testing can help your team decide on the best-performing site design; other tools can then contribute information about how users interact with that design in real time.

5. Site visitor surveys (57%)

Want to know what your site visitors are thinking and feeling? Just ask them! Establishing “voice of the customer” feedback has become a widely employed tactic by many customer experience teams. 57% of respondents to our recent survey said that they’d employed this technique, and 49% rated it “very effective.”

Interestingly, though, site visitor surveys were also the tool that was most frequently rated “not effective.” If poorly implemented – whether because they’re too long, too wordy, or too intrusive – site visitor surveys can be worse than ineffective, since they can irritate users enough to drive them away from your site, leaving them with a lingering negative impression of your brand.

So, proceed with caution. Well-designed site visitor surveys certainly can yield valuable information. Combining them with behavior analytic tools that track howthe surveys are being received can help your team reap their full benefit while avoiding the potential drawbacks.

6. User journey flow mapping and bottleneck detection (51%)

User journey flow maps are visual representations of the end-to-end process in which users interact with your website or app. Digital teams often use flow charts to depict journey scenarios, though it is also possible to describe them verbally or create renderings with website analytic tools. 51% of our survey’s respondents said that they employ this technique, but only 48% of its users deem it “very effective.”

As is the case with many other tools and techniques, user journey mapping can be performed with several different goals in mind. Many times, optimization teams create such maps in order to identify bottlenecks. These are often touchpoints on your website or app where things go wrong and users exhibit signs of confusion and frustration, or end their sessions.

This information is valuable, of course, but addressing only pain points is a reactive approach. You’ll do better to consider the entirety of the customer experience – deep engagement as well as frustration, moments of delight as well as questions and unmet needs – across all interactions with your digital properties.

7. Behavior detection (47%)

Behavior detection encompasses a relatively new analytic tool set that has not yet been adopted by the majority of enterprises. For the minority that does use it (47% of those surveyed), however, it promises to contribute a great deal of value to digital experience and conversion optimization workflows.

Ranked first in terms of its effectiveness among all the tools and techniques we considered, behavior detection tools provide UX teams with a means of tracking trends in user behavior and identifying friction points and signs of frustration such as abnormal click patterns or erratic mouse movement early on .

The most advanced among these tools combine the results of machine learning algorithms with a broad array of experience metrics to yield clear, easy-to-understand, actionable insights into your customers’ on-page and in-app experiences – both positive and negative.

8. Heatmaps (43%)

An unsung hero among conversion optimization tools, the heat map is probably used far less frequently than it should be. Only 43% of survey respondents indicated that they use heatmaps. Like web analytics dashboards and personalization, 48% of this tool’s users rate it as “highly effective.” When those who consider it “quite effective” are included, the number of optimization professionals who find heatmaps beneficial increases to 95%.

Heatmaps provide a color-coded visual representation of your website or app interface that indicates which areas get the most visitor attention in the form of clicks, mouse hovers, or scrolling behavior. Heatmaps enable digital teams to see at a glance which on-page content drives engagement, and where the trouble spots lie.

The best among these tools can integrate with other sources of digital experience data to allow you to aggregate results from multiple pages with similar layouts or replay single sessions in which particular user behaviors are evidenced. The teams gaining the most value from heat maps are those deploying them as part of an integrated tool set collecting a broad array of digital experience evidence, rather than using them in isolation.

9. Session recording and replay tools (43%)

Another underutilized winner among conversion optimization tools, session recordings and replays are an invaluable diagnostic tool for UX teams – giving information that can’t be gleaned from any other source. Along with heat maps, they’re employed by only a minority of survey respondents (43%), but are rated as similarly effective. Session recording tools are considered “highly effective” by 48% of respondents. The teams who gain the most value from them are those who are able to use them strategically.

Session recording tools capture every aspect of a user’s interactions with your website or app, allowing digital team members to see how they’re clicking, swiping, scrolling, tapping, or typing. Watching session replays can be a powerfully empathic experience, and can help digital teams understand exactly what works, what doesn’t, and how confusion or frustration gets expressed.

Most organizations have an enormous volume of recordings, however. So, it’s essential to have a logical and systematic method for analyzing this data, as well as tools that can point out which sessions are most deserving of your attention.

Which of these nine tools and techniques should digital teams look to implement when building a more evidence-based conversion optimization strategy?

The short answer is all of them. The most digitally mature organizations are able to measure the commercial benefits of the digital experience optimization strategies they employ. They’re taking advantage of multiple tools, including sophisticated automated platforms, to deepen their understanding of their customers’ journeys.

No single tool, technique, or practice can give you a comprehensive, holistic view of what your users are thinking, feeling, and undergoing every time they interact with one of your digital properties. The best approach is to combine information from multiple sources to give you more robust, accurate, and granular insights.

And be sure you’re keeping the focus on asking why customers are doing what they’re doing, rather than simply tracking their behavior.

Topics: Apps, Conversion Optimization
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