This chapter is a free excerpt from The Viral Startup: A Guide to Designing Viral Loops.

July 8, 2011

Simple products aren’t only better designed, they’re easier to market, too.

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July 8, 2011

Simple products aren’t only better designed, they’re easier to market, too.

Marketing and product UX are seen as conflicting with one another, but there are, in fact, many opportunities for the two to work together. Some of the best tools for increasing metrics are the same ones that are used to create effective interaction designs. These techniques include things like adding “soft” onboarding experiences, stripping out unnecessary features, having clear visual hierarchy and calls to action, and many more tactics. Ultimately, these tactics serve to create simple product experiences that are both desirable and well-optimized.

Let’s explore the different reasons why simplicity is a virtue for both designers and marketing quants.

Highly optimized flows make it easy to understand “what do I do next?”

Every product lives and dies based on how well new users are able to sign up and get oriented with the product’s core value. High signup and onboarding rates depend on a large percent  of users completing each step.

As a result, it’s important for each page to be as simple and directed as possible, so it’s constantly obvious what to do next. If each page gives the user too many options, thus distracting from the primary goal of the funnel, then the  percent s will decrease. As a result, some of the best landing pages and funnels fundamentally depend on extremely simple, stripped down designs. Here, removing things like navigation chrome, extraneous links, etc is not only simpler, but also better performing from a metrics standpoint.

More data and faster learning cycles.

A metrics-informed team depends on deploying A/B tests and evaluating the results as the core of their product iteration process. Early on however, you often don’t have enough users to quickly evaluate tests at a statistically significant level. This data is then further diluted when you have a complex feature set, since only a small  percent  of users interact with each option. However, if you have a simple product, where almost 100 percent  of the users go through the same signup, invite, and sharing flows, then you’ll be able to collect data sooner and thus make decisions faster too.

This is a huge advantage because when you can run A/B tests in three days instead of nine days, for instance, you can learn three-times faster and find product breakthroughs sooner. Think about this like compounding interest in the bank - finding 10 percent  improvements faster leads to exponentially better performance.

Simple products are easier to optimize and pivot.

Ultimately, it’s the optimized flow through your product that wins – you don’t get any credit for complexity. One optimized funnel beats any number of unoptimized funnels, because you only get credit for average conversion rate across all the funnels. Thus, more funnels means that on a practical level, it’s harder to keep them all optimized. It’s easier and better to push users through a small number of signup flows that you can keep well-designed and well-optimized, so that the overall quality stays high.

This is especially true if you decide to make some product changes in a classic “pivot,” or otherwise test significant new additions in a signup funnel like adding Facebook sign-on. If you have a simple product with a small number of onboarding flows, then it’s easy to experiment to see if it’ll work, collect data quickly, and then add it to 100 percent  of new users’ experiences. Contrast this to a complex product where shifting the design takes a lot of time because you have to update so many different places in the product.

Keeps the focus on top of funnel rather than low-impact add-ons.

When a product isn’t working, often the knee-jerk response is to “fully bake” the product by adding more features. However, I’ve found that when examining the data of new startups, the problem most often lies on the first couple pages of a product- often an unattractive value proposition, or clunky signup flow that kills the new user experience. Adding metrics to simple products often makes it clear exactly what’s going on, and most of the time, it’s a fundamental issue that needs to be fixed on the first page.

In this way, simple products with the “right” value prop will end up with better signup rates- this lets you put your attention on top-of-funnel issues rather than low-impact feature add-ons that won’t 10x the destiny of your product.

Short funnels result in more conversions.

One of the most powerful things you can do to a key product flow is to shorten it. (In some outliers, lengthening signup flows with the right steps can help, too.)

Generally, because you lose a percent of users at each step, reducing the amount of work to get started is a highly effective tool - rather than presenting a complicated homepage and asking for tons of information upfront from a user, perhaps you just let them signup with Facebook - that might reduce the number of steps, leading to a simpler product and better metrics too.

Ultimately, this all aligns with the highly opinionated design ethos that prioritizes what users most often want to do, rather than presenting many options equally. As is discussed in the Palm story in the book “Designing Interactions” the features of a product are used in a Power Law distribution - a small number of features are used constantly and the rest are long tail. As a result, you want to make the most commonly used features convenient while putting the unused features available but hidden.

Increasing the prominence of high-value actions by removing low-value actions.

One of the most common (bad) design patterns I see among metrics-oriented products is continually layering more and more prominent calls to action for sharing or other viral mechanics. This got especially bad in early Facebook apps. The problem is that the user’s attention is easily diluted, and each new feature competes with the last. As a result, after a few iterations of this, it’s pretty easy to end up with a frankenstein of a product that’s cluttered and messy.

Instead, a compelling tool is to remove features in order to make what remains more prominent. Instead of making the high-value actions bolded and highlighted in yellow, simply remove the actions that are no longer necessary. This leads to both a simpler product experience as well as raised prominence for whatever actions you want to emphasize.

Conclusion: let’s make design and metrics work together.

Ultimately, the key to the tools above are that they increase the effectiveness of the UI while simultaneously increasing the metrics. This can happen because highly optimized products are dead simple to use- they have landing pages that communicate a compelling value, soft onboarding flows, clear calls to action, and simple mechanics that drive a lot of value. The same things that make it a highly marketable product are the same things that make it well-designed, and a great thing for which every product should strive.

To use these tools effectively, those who are metrics-informed must also become design-informed. While it’s obvious that you can increase the prominence of something by making it blink and highlighted in red, there are many more tasteful tools that lead to less visual clutter and provide an even greater metrics benefit. Even Dave McClure!

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