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So you think your digital product is easy to use. Are you sure?

woman using a mobile app
(Image credit: Getty)

If there’s one quality that separates great digital experiences from the merely good, it’s ease of use. In our research (opens in new tab), 89% of consumers surveyed chose “ease” as a top determinant when choosing between two websites that accomplish similar goals. Given this, you might expect teams to be acutely aware of how well their websites deliver on this. So are they?

Unfortunately, our research suggests the answer is "probably not". While almost half of consumers (43%) say that the majority of websites they visit are not designed around their needs, a full 95% of product teams reported they believe it’s “somewhat” or “very” easy for users to navigate their company’s website!

It is clear that digital builders are out of touch with the end-user and their actual experience. Luckily, new advances in analytics make it easier for teams to uncover areas of friction and identify the best ways to fix them. Here’s how:

Define what’s causing friction

Moving your digital experience from good to great begins with learning how users experience your app or website. Most teams track funnels, which summarize conversion rates between milestones on the path to success. But how difficult is it for users to get from touchpoint to touchpoint? Which steps are frustrating?

Traditionally, there were three ways to find out how difficult it is for real users to use your product: stand over a customer's shoulder and watch them as they navigate your site; watch recordings in a session replay tool; or ask for feedback and hope that users tell you exactly what you need, and are self-aware enough to even realize what it is. 

Beyond the expense and time commitment required to gather feedback this way, the problem with all of these methods is that they only deliver qualitative feedback. You can never be sure how generalizable your learnings are.

What if there were a way to deliver quantitative signal on the amount of friction users experience on your product or site? What if it were possible to improve your understanding of where, specifically, users experience friction, and keep that understanding up to date as your product evolves?

It turns out this is possible. You can start by measuring the number of user interactions between steps in a given user flow. The more interactions users need to perform to complete each step, the greater the possibility that there’s too much friction in that flow.

Quantify effort to measure friction at scale

Why is this important? As products scale, it becomes challenging to locate the main areas of friction, which is the first step to making products easier to use. This is especially true if friction is hiding in places where a team hasn’t thought to collect data.

Having a quantifiable measurement for effort lets teams understand where users are running into trouble and gives suggestions about why. Teams can identify those points of friction, make product improvements quickly, and immediately assess if those fixes are working.

Even better, effort – as a metric – can be benchmarked, scaled, and shared. Teams can track their effort numbers across funnels, and across other areas of their product. They can set effort-related KPIs, and know that they’re actually reducing friction where users most experience it.

Prioritize the right fixes

Data should help product teams discover opportunities, size them, and prioritize work that’s likely to make an impact. When businesses have the ability to benchmark their funnels, and even individual funnel steps, they can prioritize what steps to take to best improve their products.

For example, there might be two areas of a product with relatively low conversion rates; effort data helps teams drill in deeper and understand what they should do about it. The data might show that completing one task requires many interactions – i.e., a lot of “effort” – but that this isn’t true for the other. For the former, the product owner might want to prioritize improvements that would streamline the flow; for the latter, the user dropoff is more likely due to low intent, and the best path forward isn’t by making that step “easier”.

Without this kind of delineation, product teams are doomed to waste time trying to fix the wrong things or fix them in ways that won’t help, while other product areas languish in need of improvement. Understanding user effort gives agile businesses the insights they need to improve and iterate on their digital experience, and to do it faster than the competition.

At the end of the day, the digital experience that wins is the one that delivers on user expectations while remaining easy to use. But eliminating potential points of friction is almost impossible without complete visibility into the end user experience. Digital teams need a clear picture of where their users experience friction, so that they can build strong roadmaps that prioritize the improvements with the greatest potential for impact. 

With effort as an instantaneous, scalable, shareable, and benchmark-able metric, companies have the data they need to build great digital experiences that are easy to use, over and over again.

Dan Robinson is CTO at Heap (opens in new tab).

Dan Robinson is the CTO at Heap, a leading platform for digital insights. Before Heap, Dan worked at Palantir Technologies and Google. Dan holds B.S. degrees in Math and Computer Science from Stanford, with a focus on machine learning. He likes playing chess and hiking, and he's been known to get a little too much satisfaction out of solving a problem with an imprudent bash one liner.