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5 Overlooked But High-Impact Product Optimizations

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    Home / Product / 5 Overlooked But High-Impact Product Optimizations

    As a product manager, it can sometimes seem like you have an infinite number of options for optimizing your product.

    It's easy to come up with ideas for editing colors and fonts, changing the size of modals, or moving a particular tooltip to a different point on a page.

    Especially if you're a bit of a perfectionist.

    What's much harder is knowing which optimizations are going to move the needle — and, by consequence, the highest-ROI way to spend your time.

    We interviewed some of UserGuiding's product managers to discover the product optimizations which are most commonly overlooked — but nonetheless provide an outsized amount of value.

    TL;DR

    • If you improve the load speed of a minor feature like a widget, you'll give customers an overall impression that your product is high-quality.
    • If one particular action item on your onboarding checklist correlates with activation more than others, move it to the top of the checklist.
    • It's sometimes smarter to limit customization options and only give users the options that they ask you for. It's almost always smarter to make those options no-code, wherever possible.
    • You probably have less time than you think to make a good impression on new customers. Design with the first few hours in mind, not the first few days.
    • The fewer clicks a user needs to make to onboard, the better. Create your UI with this in mind.

    What is Product Optimization?

    First, a quick definition of terms.

    When we're talking about product optimization, we're referring to the set of changes (large or small) that SaaS teams make to their product over time in order to improve it.

    Product optimization can be based on performance. Examples of this could be:

    • Having a page load more quickly;
    • Removing broken links from a product page;
    • Or ensuring your product's functionality compares favorably against competitors.

    It can also be based on customer experience. Here at UserGuiding, we often talk about the value of things like:

    All of these types of product optimization offer some degree of value.

    The question is: given that work time is finite, what is the most effective optimization to prioritize?

    And which small-but-meaningful optimizations have you probably overlooked?

    What follows is the two cents of our product team on this matter.

    1. Optimizing the Load Speed of Minor Features

    Let’s imagine that your product includes a small widget on the side of the page, like this:

    Created with UserGuiding

    The widget isn’t a core part of your product, but it offers additional functionality that your users appreciate.

    Now imagine that this widget loads up a full second after the main page does. Put yourself in the shoes of a first-time user. How would they perceive that difference in loading time?

    Here’s a funny truth about human nature: we select the products that we use for emotional and psychological reasons – and then justify our decisions to ourselves with logic after the fact.

    So even if your product offers incredible functionality, miles ahead of any competitor out there, a widget that loads slowly could be enough to taint a new customer’s first impression.

    In plain English: if your user experience is clunky, customers will assume that your product is clunky too – even if that’s not the case!

    Here’s another example of the same phenomenon.

    If your product is a design tool, you probably offer your users previews of the items they’ve designed.

    If those previews render slowly or poorly, this will create the perception that your entire product is low quality. Humans are unforgiving like that!

    Likewise, if your UI looks like it was made in 1999, then customers are unlikely to care that the features solve their problem.

    Instead, they’ll judge you on the basis of visuals, and will run for the hills!

    So how do you solve this problem?

    Look at the minor features of your product, like our widget in the first example. And ensure that the user experience is as fluid and seamless as possible.

    In the case of the widget, let’s imagine what would happen if it loaded 0.3 seconds after the main page, instead of one second later.

    A small, barely perceptible difference, you might be forgiven for thinking.

    Nope.

    Whether consciously or not, your new customers will feel that your tool runs smoothly. And, as such, they’ll be more likely to activate and start using your app on a regular basis.

    And the value of this product optimization even extends to longer-term users.

    Let’s say you found 4-5 small features that you could optimize, all along the lines of the widget.

    Someone using your product for 6 months is likely to think to themselves: “Wow, Company XYZ has a much smoother product experience now! This is really easy to use.”

    Thoughts like these mean that your users are likely to stick around for longer, bolstering your retention rate.

    2. Changing the Order of Checklist Items

    You’re probably familiar with the idea of using an onboarding checklist to give new users the key steps they need to take in order to activate.

    But have you considered that users almost always work through checklists from top to bottom? Knowing this, you can format your onboarding checklist in a way that maximizes the odds of user activation.

    We discovered this by looking at our own internal onboarding process.

    We have four steps that each new user needs to go through. Once the user has completed all four steps during their paid trial, we consider them activated. There’s a good chance of them becoming a paying customer.

    We noticed that the step that users were having the biggest problem with was installing our code snippet. Most of our users are non-technical. So this step often requires a developer, which introduces extra friction into the process.

    More than any of the other steps, installing the snippet correlates with becoming a paid user.

    But here’s the thing: installing the snippet was the last item on our onboarding checklist!

    To prevent users from getting shocked by this friction later on in the onboarding process, we changed things around.

    We made installing the snippet the first item on the checklist after “Sign Up to UserGuiding” (a step that doesn’t require any action from the user once they’ve made an account). Here's what that looks like:


    Created with UserGuiding

    And we also introduced a modal that displays to users immediately after sign-up that tells them they’ll need to install the snippet in order to get value from our product.


    Collectively, these two steps made installing the snippet more visible and come as less of a shock to our non-technical users at the end of the onboarding process.

    And they led to us increasing our activation rate by more than 100%!

    Try moving some of your checklist items around and see if you have the same result.

    3. Intentionally Limiting Customization Options

    It’s no secret that users love being able to customize your product to their needs.

    Customization according to the feel and color scheme of your brand is table stakes in 2024. There’s even a growing white-label software movement in the SaaS world that takes the idea of having users customize your software even further.

    A lot of companies approach customization using code.

    Let’s imagine a company wants to let users customize a hotspot color. Generally what happens is that the company gives the user various RBG code options and allows them to choose what they want.

    Sounds simple enough – but it ends up causing problems.

    A lot of users are non-technical. They don’t want to deal with code: they want their product experience to be as easy as possible.

    A counter-intuitive way to deal with this problem is to limit customization options when you first launch a feature.

    What you lose in customization ability, you make up for in an easy, smooth customer experience.

    Then, survey your users to see what customization options they actually want. There’s no sense in giving people something that’s more complex than they need.

    Give them the options they’ve asked for, making sure that a non-technical designer or product person could use them. Remember: it’s much cheaper for your clients to get a designer to use your product than bring in a developer.

    In the final stage of the process, you can offer a custom option that lets users upload an image file and use that.

    We did this for our hotspots and it worked really well 🙂

    4. Focusing on the First Four Hours

    A lot of SaaS companies offer a 14-day free trial, us included. So there’s a temptation to think:

    “We have 14 days to convince our trial users to buy from us.”

    Entirely reasonable. It follows that product teams spend a huge amount of time and effort taking users by the hand in those first 14 days, showing them the value of the product, and trying to persuade them to sign up for a paid account.

    Generally what happens is that product teams define the key actions that users need to take in order to activate, and then push users to take those actions using in-app checklists, email series and other onboarding materials.


    Creating a Checklist with UserGuiding

    When we were looking at our own internal analytics, we saw that a large percentage of free trial users never come back after the third day.

    So we decided to focus less on the 14-day period and more on those first three days.

    By looking at the actions taken by paying users in their first three days, we found out that the majority of them had completed onboarding within the first four hours of signing up for an account.

    This was humbling. Instead of having 14 days to persuade users to sign up, we actually had closer to four hours!

    With this insight in mind, we trimmed the unnecessary steps off our onboarding process to ensure that users can get through it in four hours. We even got the process down to a mere two hours.

    The result?

    We doubled the amount of users that activate during the free trial period 😀 – simply by reframing the amount of time that we thought we had to get users to activate.


    5. Reducing The Clicks Required to Onboard

    How do you measure the amount of effort it takes for a user to onboard?

    This was the question that we posed ourselves when we started positioning ourselves as the easiest, cheapest onboarding software on the market.

    We found our answer in an unlikely place: the number of clicks it takes a user to get onboarded.

    Let me explain.

    The SaaS world is a competitive market. Even for what we do, there are already dozens of competitors offering similar solutions, with more popping up every month.

    Simultaneously, users’ attention spans are shrinking, and their expectations for how seamless their product experience will be are growing.

    Put this together: if you don’t give a user what they want right away, it’s very easy for them to churn and go find another solution to their problem.


    ‎‎

    So we reasoned that an easier onboarding process is a better onboarding process. And we decided to measure the ease of use in the number of clicks a user has to make.

    You can think about the number of clicks theoretically: how many times do they have to click in order to complete all the key actions in the onboarding checklist?

    You could also use a screen recording tool like Hotjar to see how many times they actually click.

    This type of thinking has an impact on UX design, as well.

    Let’s imagine a modal with a field that has five options. 90% of users consistently choose option five during onboarding.

    To reduce the number of clicks, it makes sense to make this field less prominent in the interface hierarchy. You could also consider reducing the amount of options, if there are some that are never being selected.

    To be even faster, you could make option five the default option at the top of the modal, and only make users click if they want something else.

    Reducing clicks is a tiny adjustment that can go a long way. Try it and let us know if it helps! 😀


    Finding Inspiration Where You'd Least Expect It

    So in summary, here's our list of overlooked optimization ideas for you to try:

    • Optimizing the load speed of minor features
    • Changing the order of checklist items
    • Intentionally limiting customization options
    • Focusing on the first four hours
    • And reducing the number of clicks required to onboard

    Who knows, you might end up finding inspiration in a place you never would have considered.

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