Conversion Centered Design vs. the User Experience

Posted by Manuel da Costa / category: Conversion Optimization

Prioritizing what to test is one of the most common challenges of a conversion rate optimization team. There are a million variables that might influence a conversion. Too often we begin testing changes that have little impact. So where do we start?

As with any strategy, we begin with our goals. In this case, we have to examine our high-level business objectives. What is the purpose of the website? What are our expectations? What do we hope to accomplish?

You might have goals like…

  • “I want to increase traffic.”
  • “I want more people to subscribe to our newsletter.”
  • “I want more people to buy a subscription.”
  • “I want more ad impressions.”

(Side note: These are just examples. Your goals should be far more specific than that. They should be measurable and actionable.)

When it comes to achieving these goals through website or SaaS design, we basically have two strategies in our toolbox: Conversion Centered Design or User Experience Design. Each of these methodologies creates a capable website, but they help us achieve different goals.

Take our quiz to find out if you should focus on Conversion Centered Design or User Experience Design.

Conversion Centered Design

Quite simply, Conversion Centered Design means building websites that are optimized to drive visitors toward a business goal. This strategy uses persuasive design techniques and clever psychology to achieve conversions. Sometimes these optimizations come at an expense to the user’s experience.

Facebook’s News Feed ads are a basic example of Conversion Centered Design. These interruptive ads are displayed directly in the main engagement portion of Facebook’s website.

We don’t request them. Sometimes they can be a bit irritating. But since getting us to click on ads is Facebook’s business model, the ads have to be present if they want to make any money, even if the users find them unsavory.


You’ve probably seen other conversion-intended elements on a web page, like popup subscription boxes, slide-out toaster widgets, or hello bars. These elements don’t add much to the user’s experience, and some of them might make us groan, but they increase the likelihood of a conversion.

Conversion Centered Design can be more subtle than ads and popups. It includes several clever tactics to nudge users in the preferred directions.

1. Encapsulation – This is the technique of framing a focus point to capture your visitor’s attention. It can be done with carefully placed imagery, frames, or shadow effects. This method is most commonly used to highlight calls-to-action, but it’s also an effective way to point out social proof or product benefits.

2. Color and contrast – You’re likely aware of this technique. It’s one of the first things tested in a conversion optimization process. Color can be used to create feelings about elements. Red for excitement, blue for tranquility, purple for wealth, etc. If you want something to stand out, make it contrast with other elements.

3. Social proof – We like things that other people like. If a large group of people (or people we trust) are using something, we can conclude that it has some value. This is a great tactic to eliminate doubt. Social proof exists as testimonials, share counters (“2500 people have shared this”), product reviews, etc.

4. Scarcity/urgency – These concepts use loss aversion to convince users to make decisions before the opportunity is revoked or runs out. Tactics include phrases like “Spaces limited,” “Sales ends at midnight,” “Order now to receive by X/X/XX.”

5. White space – Sometimes encouraging a particular action means removing all other possibilities. You’ve probably used landing pages that strip away menu bars and footers so the user can’t travel astray. Empty space forces the user to look at what is there.

6. Directional cues – These are subtle visual indicators that direct the user’s attention, like people facing elements, scenery that leans in a particular direction, or an unambiguous arrow.

7. “Try before you buy” – You’ve probably seen this concept everywhere, especially when it comes to SaaS products. Many apps offer a free trial period or a free pricing tier for users to get hooked. Book sellers give out free chapters and ecommerce store owners have generous return policies. When explained carefully to users, these protections incite conversions.

User Experience Design

User Experience Design means building and optimizing a website or application that focuses on the manner your visitors use the product. The goal is to make it accessible, easy to use, and packed with value. Users should be delighted to use the product and want to come back for more.

In fact, when HubSpot polled consumers, they found that 76% of people feel that the most important factor in a website’s design is their ability to easily find what they want.


Tomer Sharon, a Senior UX Researcher at Google and author of Validating Product Ideas through Lean User Research says “UX design is the art and science of generating positive emotions through product interactions.”

Take careful notice of that word “emotions.” Designing a positive user experience means playing to the emotions of the visitor. What do they want out of the product? What are their expectations? How can we make sure nothing gets in their way or makes them feel angry, frustrated or disappointed?

Focusing on UX design often means stripping away elements that lead to a conversion. Every step you design to funnel your users down a particular path will feel like an obstacle.

For instance, a “Subscribe to my newsletter” pop up will increase email sign ups, but it will also disrupt the user experience. Users will be frustrated by the interruption. If you push them too aggressively in a direction they don’t want to go, they might leave your website.

Let’s go back to our Facebook example. Facebook displays interruptive ads now, but during its early years, all of its ads were kept to the unobtrusive sidebars. Their primary business goal was to build their user base as large as possible, which meant focusing on the user experience over ad conversions.

Unsure if you should focus on Conversion Centered Design or the User Experience? Take our free quiz to find out.

Which is Right for Your Website?

Whether you should be focusing on Conversion Centered Design or User Experience Design depends on your product and your goals.

For instance, if you’re building a trendy news website, it might be smart to focus on the user experience during your early days. Make your website fast, easy to navigate, and delightful to use. Give users ample opportunities to discover more content before they leave.

Eventually you would shift your focus to conversions. This might mean funneling users to your online store, having them sign up to your email list, or getting them to click on your ads.

If you sell a SaaS product, you might take the opposite approach. The public sections of your website would be focused entirely on the conversion; getting visitors to become product users.

Once they’re inside your product, you should focus on providing them an incredible user experience so they’ll use it more often and tell their friends.

Like I said, it all comes down to your goals. Once you know what you want to achieve, you’ll know which strategy to employ.

The beauty of our software, Effective Experiments, is that it gives you a place to roadmap your changes and refine your optimization process regardless of your individual goals. Request a demonstration today.