How to Craft a Conversion Funnel

April 24, 2018 Molly Norris Walker

Build products that grow their own user bases

Funnel users from low- to high-barrier actions that have increasing business value for your product.

Marketing’s oldest framework is a sales funnel, which we can borrow as a design framework too. There are a number of things users can do besides buying the product that actually deliver additional business value, for example: visiting the website, following the company on social media, sharing their email addresses, referring their friends, subscribing to the service or signing a petition.

Instead of funneling users towards a sale, we craft a user journey that links together actions from the easiest to do, with the lowest business value, to the hardest, with the highest business value. We start by asking our users to do the easiest thing they possibly can for us, like “Find out more” by watching a short video about how the service works, and end with them referring their friends to join. In between, we could ask them to sign-up for a service trial, leave a review or subscribe to the service.

We can take different cohorts of users on journeys through tailored conversion funnels. Perhaps new users are being nudged along to refer their friends, while our long-time power users are being asked to become investors in our business through an equity crowdfunding campaign.

The Pact coffee-by-mail bags. Once a customer gets to five bags they’re usually retained indefinitely. (Photo by Huh Magazine)

Let’s look at an example to help illustrate the conversion funnel. Pact is a London-based subscription service that sends freshly roasted coffee pouches to its customers by mail. They’ve found that once someone has bought five bags of coffee, they will mostly likely be retained as an ongoing customer. For Pact product designers, they can compose user journeys for First Bag, Fifth Bag, and perhaps even Hundredth Bag customers. Each cohort should have a different series of actions that invite them to engage with the brand in a range of meaningful ways.

For First Bag people, the ultimate step in the conversion funnel is retention for five consecutive orders. What are some useful preceding actions that we can offer to the customer in order to nudge them towards this retention goal? Perhaps, we can ask the customer if they liked their first bag of coffee and offer them other flavour profiles if they didn’t. Maybe we can ask them to open a thank you note from a coffee grower to get the customer invested in the direct farm to consumer brand. The customer doesn’t need to take each step, but they’re receiving continual invitations for brand engagement. The product team can brainstorm an array of possible steps for the First Bag customer’s conversion funnel and experiment to find out which actions work best to reach their retention goal. What we want to avoid is user experience dead ends where there is nothing for the customer to engage with and no vision of what additional business value can be derived from the relationship.

One Big Ask?

Designing website landing pages used to go like this: Put a stunning full-width billboard picture as the background image, add a snappy headline and a big call to action button that said something like “Sign Up”, “Buy Now,” or “Get Updates”. You’ve seen this a thousand times, or if you’re a designer, you’ve made this a hundred times. It’s an example of when old school isn’t the good school. Why?

Most first time visitors will not be ready to take action right away. It’s common for websites to see 99% bounce rates — in other words, the percentage of single-page visits where the person leaves the website without browsing any further. So for the 1% of people who do stick around, it’s a pretty tall order to expect them to think “Yes, I’m ready to try this product right now.” It’s like asking someone to buy a book after only glancing at the cover. We need to invite them to read the back jacket and flip through the pages.

The old way of one big CTA can be too high-barrier for visitors to overcome initially.
The new way of engaging with a question and two CTAs converts better.

We can capture a larger proportion of our website visitors by proposing a “maybe later” option, as in “I’m not ready to buy today, but maybe later.” In the meantime, we offer them something else to do that makes that purchasing choice easier later on. To continue the metaphor, we give them a chance to read a sample chapter or to check out reviews of the book. In simple design terms, this “maybe later” option usually takes the form of a secondary call to action button, or a series of modules with a lower information hierarchy placed farther down on the page. These “maybe later” options are things that require less commitment than the main CTA, but they still open the door to a relationship in the future. They’re the actions you identified at the wider end of your conversion funnel. Good examples of “maybe later” asks include “see how it works,” “find out what others are saying about us”, “sign up for a newsletter,” “tell us what you think,” “compare price,” or “set a price alert.”

You’ll have to experiment to find the best “maybe later” options that work for your users. Primary and secondary CTAs are a great place to start a series of A/B tests to optimize for conversion. Nearly all testing software will allow you to create copy and style variations of buttons directly in their interface without touching your own codebase or creating new design assets.

Next reading: How to Simplify Your Value Proposition

Do you like this? No, you love it!? Aw, thanks. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book UX Design for Growth available on Amazon.

Change is the only constant, so individuals, institutions, and businesses must be Built to Adapt. At Pivotal, we believe change should be expected, embraced, and incorporated continuously through development and innovation, because good software is never finished.


How to Craft a Conversion Funnel was originally published in Built to Adapt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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