User Flows: What They Are and How to Optimise Them

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A user flow is a path taken by users through a website as they perform a task, such as buying a product. Diagramming, analysing and optimising user flows can help you and your design team focus your site’s traffic toward specific tasks and destinations. The end result can increase retention, improve conversion rates and provide your users with an optimal overall experience.

User flow diagrams

Depictions of user flows generally take the form of flow charts or diagrams. One of the most useful aspects of user flow diagrams is that they provide a clear picture of the simplicity or complexity that the user faces when navigating the site to perform a particular task. If the user flow diagram appears needlessly complex, this probably reflects a frustrating user experience. In this case, the site owner and the design team can eliminate steps and options that may only serve to distract you users or compel them to abandon their task.

It’s also useful to think of user flow diagrams as paths through a site map. Viewing a user flow diagram in the larger context of a site map can give the site owner and the design team a high-level picture of the various user flows that are available to the user as they navigate the site. Moreover, the site owner and the design team can clearly see how the site’s user flows converge, diverge, run parallel, or otherwise relate to one another.

Creating new user flows

Because of their visual, intuitive structure, user flows are an ideal starting point for site owners and design teams to begin to visualize how the design of a new site should take shape. If your site is designed to facilitate a single, specific task, such as buying a particular product, then you will want to spend time with your design team working on the central user flow that helps your users perform that task. On the other hand, if you are building a general, informational, ad-supported portal where all pages have roughly equal value, then you and your team will want to expand your focus to encompass a large network of user flows working optimally together.

Analysing and optimising user flows

By monitoring current user flows on your existing site, and comparing them to your ideal user flows, you and your design team can find the right balance to benefit both user experience and conversion rates. During your analysis, you may discover that the most important user flows for your business may not coincide with the most common paths users are taking through your site. An in-depth user flow analysis can help reveal the problem so that your design team can fine-tune your design to solve it. For example, the analysis may reveal that your site map is too complex, with traffic divided among dozens of uncoordinated user flows. Yet only two or three of those flows may benefit your business and ultimate your users. The design team’s analysis may further reveal that the root of the problem is that your preferred user flows involve too many pages, too many fields and too many options per page. The most effective user flows, on the other hand, tend to have the fewest steps, and the fewest distractions at each step. This discovery and insight can serve as an opportunity for you and your design team to simplify your design and re-channel your site’s traffic through a new set of streamlined user flows that help both your users and your business.

Getting started with user flows

Whether visualised as stand-alone flow charts, or paths through a sitemap, user flows are an ideal starting point for thinking about your site’s design. If you are building a new site, then you and your design team can create user flow diagrams to envision the overall shape and direction that your site’s design should adopt. If you already have a site, then you and your design team can perform an in-depth user flow analysis. The results will lead the design team to  make any adjustments necessary to optimize your user flows for maximum conversion rates and an optimal user experience.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you optimise your user flows.

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