The most important lesson I learned from CRO & how to apply it to your life

It took be a few months to really grasp what “clarity” meant. 

It’s an area I tackle in the research I do for eCommerce sites through my day job. 
Is it clear to visitors who you are and what you sell? 
Is it clear what makes you different from your competitors? 
Is it clear what the “most wanted action” on the page is?

Working in conversion optimization, I’m looking at eCommerce sites and working directly with owners daily. You’d be surprised how many sites I come across that are missing these basic things. 

I just talked to an owner the other day and asked him what criteria visitors think is most important when looking for a product on their site. He lamented that he really wasn’t sure. But that’s why he came to us for research help. 

When you’re day to day in a business like that owner was, it helps to bring in some fresh eyes to point out “hey, it’s not really clear what your site is or why I should buy from you.” 

Why am I telling you all this about clarity? 

Clarity is important for everyone, not just for eCommerce stores. 

Use can use clarity to improve: 

  • Job applications, resumes, and cover letters
  • Your own website
  • Emails
  • A posting on Craigslist

I’m going to talk about the main forms of clarity I come across in my work: 

  • Value propositions
  • Design clarity
  • Content clarity

Then I will show how you can use these concepts to improve your own life. 

What is clarity? 

Essentially, clarity means making something coherent. But I also consider it to mean simple, understandable, quick. 

When it comes to eCommerce sites, clarity trumps persuasion. If the website isn’t clear in it’s purpose and benefits to customers, no matter how many psychological tactics you try to throw at them, they’re not going to stay on the site, let alone buy. 

Clarity comes in a few forms: design, content, and value propositions. 

Value Propositions

According to Jakob Neilson, 

Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer. To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds.

When I first learned about value propositions, they sounded a little played up to me. 

Really, a few sentences will convince people to stay on the site, ok….

But after running A/B tests where we added a value proposition, we saw improvements in conversion rate. The data sold me on the importance of the concept. 

A value proposition serves two purposes: 

  1. Tells the reader who you are
  2. Tells the reader why they should care (what’s in it for them?)

Rather than explain value propositions, here are a few sites to give you an idea. 

Spotify

There value proposition is that they have millions of songs available to listen for free. There’s a clear incentive to stay on the site. 

Who are they? A music site
What benefits do they offer? Millions of songs, can listen for free

Wealthfront

Who are they? Finance tool
What benefits do they offer? Do all your finance activities (save, plan, invest) in one place. Earn interest. Get advice. Automate investments. 

It’s very clear what Wealthfront offers. If you’re looking to make your finances easier you’ll probably be interested. 

Gymshark

Who are they? Not sure
What benefits do they offer? Uh

This is an example of bad value proposition or lack of one. This is Gymshark, I know they sell fitness clothes but I don’t know what the benefit of buying from them is over competitors. 

Is it starting to make sense? 

Be warned, you’re now going to notice how many websites you land on that don’t have clear value propositions. 

Websites need to make it ultra clear who they are and why you should buy from them. Don’t make readers work to figure out what your site offers.

Personal Value Propositions

Now that you have an intro into value propositions, how can you use them in your own life? 

There are a few ways: 

  • Your own website
  • A social media bio (Twitter, Instagram)
  • Cover letter & resume
  • A cold email (freelance gig, landing a job)

Coming up with a value proposition for a website is tough, and it takes a few iterations to get right. It’s going to be even harder to come up with one for yourself. But don’t worry! Having a value proposition means you’re a step ahead of everyone who doesn’t have one. 

Distilling who you are and why people should care into 1-2 sentences is tricky. Clarity is all about distillation. You can expand upon yourself in your about page, but you need to assume you only get 5 seconds of someone’s time and that they’re not going to read a full paragraph about you. 

Here’s what you can include in your value proposition: 

  • Your goals, ambitions
  • Your job title
  • Why you’re uniquely qualified
  • Projects you’ve worked on
  • Something unique to you

Here are a few examples of personal value propositions: 

I’m a data scientist that loves putting their Python and SQL skills to use helping protect the environment. 

As a freelance designer, I’ve helped create 50+ user-friendly sites that focus on lead generation. Let’s use psychology, design, and UX to optimize your next project. 

I’m spending the next year reading one productivity book a week. Follow my journey to find the best strategies for staying 

Rather than try to explain yourself in 8 sentences, you’ll be able to clearly state who you are and why someone should pay attention to you in just 2 sentences. I’m not saying it will make or break your next cover letter, but it will make it much more clear and easier for a hiring manager to understand. If you can be clear in explaining who you are and why you matter, people are more likely to read on. 

Design Clarity

Design clarity doesn’t mean you need to have a great eye for design or be an artist. You just need to know a few simple principles to help use design to structure information more clearly. 

This image made the rounds on Twitter a while back: 

 

Did you fall for it too? It illustrates the way our eyes interpret information. 
We pay attention to things that stand out, then move onto the next most prominent item, and then leave the smallest or least obtrusive item for last. 

Visual hierarchy refers to the way we structure information on a page. We want the most important information on the top and as large as possible (without looking strange). Then we de-emphasize less important information below that. 

In order to achieve this on your own website, resume, email, you can use the following elements: 

  • Headers and font size
  • Color
  • Boldness
  • Bullet points
  • White space
  • Position on the page
  • Images

Here are two good examples of design clarity:

Here’s a bad example: 

It’s easy to see the differences between the good and bad examples. Your eye has a natural flow through the good examples, you know what to look at first and what to look at after that. In the Forbes example, your eye goes all over the place because there is too much going on and there’s no use of design clarity to tell you what is the most important thing to look at. 

Design clarity is important for your own website, but also for:

  • Craigslist posts
  • Resumes
  • Business cards
  • A flyer

Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it. Think of it like a room’s air conditioning. We only notice it when it’s too hot, too cold, making too much noise, or the unit is dripping on us. Yet, if the air conditioning is perfect, nobody say anything and we focus, instead, on the task at hand.” 

(via User Interface Engineering) Jared Spool

When you are designing something, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it easy to read? (Is the font large and legible?)
  • Is there enough white space? Are elements too close together?
  • Does the top area contain the most important information?
  • If I cover the text, do the visuals hint at what I’m communicating?

Content Clarity

Lastly, content clarity gets into how you’re communicating through writing. This is different than design clarity which uses color, graphics, sizing to emphasize important aspects. Content will help get your message across, and you want to ensure your copy is clear and effective. 
Content clarity will help you tackle a few important things: 

  • The most important information to make a decision is easy to find and understand
  • Communicating the goal of the page
  • Making the page scannable

You can do this with a few elements: 

  • Short sentences
  • Headlines
  • Bullet points
  • Speaking your audience’s language
  • Legible font

Long, run-on sentences are a killer. They can be difficult to read and comprehend. Our brains are much more suited to short, quick sentences. That’s not to say you can’t have any long sentences, just try to keep them to a minimum. 

When you’re writing, you’ll want to communicate in a way that resonates with your audience. If you have a freelance marketing website catering to software engineers, speak their language. You wouldn’t use that same language though if you’re a professional dog walker. If you are fun and playful in your work and don’t like to be too serious, don’t make your copy too businessy. 

Use headlines to break up your content, especially if there is a lot on the page. Bullet points also help break up content so it’s easy for people to scan the page to find what they are interested in.

Legible font seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many sites I see with font that’s hard to read, is light grey on a white background, or is too small. I typically recommend at least 14-16 pixels for the font size and a dark color on a light background. 

Interactive users read very few words on most web pages, because they’re impatient and already have their mouse-finger itching to move to the next page.

– Hoa Loranger from NN/g

Writing often sounds like the easy part, but once you start learning about copywriting and persuasion (which is a whole other essay I plan to get into) you’ll quickly see how important it is that your choice of words and the order you put them in make sense. 

My recommendation is to write once. Then wait a while and come back to it. It’s likely you’re going to realize something isn’t completely clear or could be distilled. 

Here are some examples of content clarity: 

Simon Sinek could probably write paragraphs on end about himself and his accomplishments. But he’s able to distill down his about to a few short paragraphs that make it clear who he is, what his goals are, and what he’s done in the past. One thing I would improve is a call to action, because I don’t know if the goal of this page is really to download images or read a full bio. 

For Ximena, her headline clearly explains who she is. Her bio tells us what she does, her accomplishments, and links out to other places she has been featured. She got all of this across in just 6 sentences and one headline! 

Content clarity isn’t just for writing bios, you want to do this for your whole website, as well as for emails, resumes, and any other communication. 
Think about it: would you rather read a whole page of someone’s accomplishments or Ximena’s bio above? 

A few tips for content clarity:

  • Every word in your writing should tell the reader something new.
  • Avoid idioms and common phrases that don’t improve clarity. 
  • Write a lot, and then distill
  • Have someone review it and see if they understood your main message

Tools You Can Try

If you really want to geek out on improving clarity, there are some tools you can use. These will help you get a more feedback, as well as data to back up your hunches. 

5 second test
This tool let’s you show an image (like your homepage) to a group of visitors and you can get their reaction. It’s a super simplified version of user testing. You could show your personal website homepage with a new value proposition and ask visitors to take 5 seconds and see what they think the site is about. 

User Testing
This is if you’re wanting to really invest time and money into improving clarity. We run 10 user tests on client sites as part of the research process. We give users around 10 tasks to perform on the site. We can see their screens and listen to them talk aloud about what they think about the site, any frustrations, or issues, what they like about the site. If you have a business site, you might want to think about user testing. 

Heatmaps
There are plenty of free heatmap tools you can try. These are tools that will provide click data and scroll data from visitors to your site. You can see what people are clicking on (and what they’re not clicking), as well as how far they are scrolling. If you have a main call to action on your homepage and nobody is clicking it, then you’ll need to do some investigating to find out why (is it the copy? does it not stand out? are they clicking something else?)

Analytics
Google Analytics is free and it’s a goldmine of information if you know where to look. If you have, for example, a consulting site and the goal is to get people to sign up, you can track that goal in Google Analytics. Then you can see how many people are signing up, what traffic sources bring in the most sign ups, and what pages people are visiting. 

Using Clarity to Optimize Your Life

Clarity is such a useful principle once you start to truly understand it. I’m sorry to say you’re now cursed with knowledge of clarity and will see unclear things all around you. You’ll see bad road signs, confusing advertisements, cluttered displays at the mall with no visual hierarchy. But now that you know about clarity, you can use it to improve your presence online and how you communicate your message to others whether it’s a business card, resume, or personal website.