How Important is UX to Your Product’s Growth?

| October 14, 2014
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Today’s guest post comes from Sean Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Qualaroo and founder of Enjoy!

UserTesting’s own Hannah Alvarez recently posed a question over at regarding the importance of UX within the larger framework of growth hacking, or more broadly its role in a company’s growth strategy. Not only did the question spark a fun discussion among the community, but it highlighted just how important a role UX plays in driving growth.

Most growth teams that work with digital products are aligned around the critical need for the product to create lasting growth. Growth teams often report into the product team, not the marketing team. They are charged with finding wins by turning the natural use of the product into growth levers.

One of the most famous examples of this is Dropbox, where file sharing (an intrinsic piece of the product) became an important growth vector for the company.

Dropbox referral page

Image via Dropbox

Because so many technology companies rely on the product to generate growth, user experience impacts the success or failure of the product as a growth engine in a handful of key ways.

Reduce friction to improve key conversions

For starters, good UX reduces friction, and reducing friction is one of the most powerful ways to drive growth throughout the conversion funnel. Reducing friction can mean eliminating clicks, screens, or general confusion—or it can mean making it easier to share, invite and distribute. Either way, a better user experience means more users are willing and able to move from visitor to active user to referring advocate at a greater rate. When a good user experience makes it easier for a user to join and share, every growth effort’s success improves.

Reducing friction is one of the most powerful ways to drive growth.

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UX can do this in several different ways, from eliminating form fields and extra steps, to improving the user onboarding experience, to optimizing the user interactions for greater distribution and sharing.

Reducing the number of contact fields

Image via Quicksprout

UX research is customer development

In addition to a decrease in conversion-killing friction throughout the funnel, good UX research also means good customer development research, which often results in insights that lead to new growth opportunities.

After all, it doesn’t matter that your site is getting tons of traffic if it’s the wrong kind of traffic. Tapping into your ideal market—those users who will engage with and love your product or service—is the key to authentic growth, and this can only be achieved through a deep understanding of how people interact with the product.

This UX principle is also an essential element of unlocking growth. Understanding what the “Aha” or “Must-have” moment is for your users, and then focusing on how to get more of them there, is critical to growth. Optimizing the user experience around those moments creates more activated users and more growth.

Pinterest redesigned their first user experience to improve activation through the creation of a “guided first pin” experience that focused on getting users to pin their first item. By revamping this experience, they improved activation rates by more than 20%.

Pinterest's activation experience

Image via CNN

UX uncovers growth levers in the product

Great UX is the difference between growth levers that make intuitive sense when using the product—as with Dropbox—and a bolted-on referral function added as an afterthought. With great UX, sharing becomes a natural and frequent part of the product’s standard use case, while the latter results in referral programs that are often largely ignored.

Airbnb referrals

Image via Airbnb

When Airbnb relaunched their formerly lackluster, underperforming referrals program earlier this year, they quickly saw the difference that a well-designed, user-focused referral program can make: user signups and bookings from their referral program increased by over 300% per day.

UX-inspired delight

In addition to inspiring users to happily share, delightful user experiences drive word of mouth and organic virality. When a product feels a bit like magic, it’s often due to a well-crafted user experience. For example, Mailbox’s Betacoins, which unlock their Mac Mail app, are a delightful spin on the basic referral program mechanism.

The experience of depositing the coins created a novel interaction that fueled the referral process. People wanted their own Betacoin, perhaps more than they wanted the underlying software.

Mailbox's betacoins

Image via Linda Eliasen

UX dark patterns drive growth (but it’s short-lived, inauthentic growth)

Just as UX can be used for good, it can also be used maliciously. Growth “dark patterns” are employed by less-than-ethical products in order to trick people into helping an app or product grow. While this kind of growth can seem impressive in the short term, the deceit does not lead to the sustainable, lasting growth that we discussed above.

For example, the UX design in the popular Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game is driving growth through UX trickery—at least for now. As depicted below, the game displays a fake, in-game Twitter feed alongside an integration with the user’s actual Twitter feed, frequently resulting in confused users both following and Tweeting about the game using their real profiles.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game

Image via Nir and Far

Nir Eyal, an expert in customer psychology, refers to the flood of identical Tweets about the Kim Kardashian game, including the one one below from the US Environmental Protection Agency, as “viral oops”—distribution generated without the consent of the user. These dark patterns stand in stark contrast to the authentic viral loops created by companies like Dropbox.

Kim Kardashian game tweet

Image via Nir and Far

Growth is tied to UX (for better or worse)

    As you can see, in many ways UX is inextricably linked to growth because it defines how users interact with the product and the growth levers within it. Just as UX can be used for building sustainable growth by removing friction and creating delight, inauthentic and unsustainable growth via dark patterns can also be achieved through UX.

    Don’t be tempted by the latter—violating your users’ trust is not worth the short term gains. To achieve the maximum growth potential, UX designers should work together with the growth team and product teams to uncover and seize new, often unexpected opportunities.

    How does UX work with the growth team in your organization? I’d love to hear any stories of UX-driven growth successes in the comments.