Optimization glossary

User flow

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What is user flow?

User flow is the path taken by a prototypical user on a website or app to complete a task. The user flow takes them from their entry point through a set of steps towards a successful outcome and final action, such as purchasing a product.

The role of user flow in web and app design

The user flow is the basis for content requirements on webpages or app screens. Beginning with an understanding of user needs helps the product team build a user flow and experience that is designed to meet those needs.

For each user flow, the questions you need to consider are:

  • What is the user trying to accomplish?
  • What is important to the user and what will give them confidence to continue?
  • What additional information will the user need to accomplish the task?
  • What are the user’s hesitations or barriers to accomplishing the task?

The answers to those questions will inform how you design the pages, and determine what content and navigational links to include. If a user’s primary goal is to browse various items, your page or screen will offer a different design and functionality than it would have if their primary goal is to purchase a product and move on.

Examples of user flows

User flows can take many different forms, depending on the type of website or app you are building. For example, for an ecommerce site, a typical user flow might look like the following:

  • The user starts on the homepage
  • From the homepage the user clicks onto a category page
  • From the category page the user clicks on a product
  • From the product page the user adds the item to the cart
  • From the shopping cart the user checks out
  • From the checkout screen the user completes the purchase

Of course, the above is a very simplified example. In the real world, users can take many different paths to purchase. For example, in the scenario above, the user could go back to the category page to view more products instead of going directly to the shopping cart. Or they could use search to navigate the site instead of clicking through the site hierarchy. Or the user could come in from a different page other than the homepage.

Because there are many different paths that users can take, user flows are often modeled as flow charts with nodes for each of the major navigational paths. The purpose of user flow analysis is to identify the main user flows through your app or website, and identify areas where the navigational flow can be improved.

Ways to improve your user flow

Collecting data on each step in your user flow will allow you to evaluate how your users navigate through your sales funnel. By their very nature, funnels will shrink at each step where users drop out. Data will indicate where your funnel is ‘leaky’ (with a large percentage of people dropping out between steps) and might need help.

To close up the ‘leaks,’ consider where you can correct points of pain or friction, where to offer more information, and where to reduce distractions and offer less.

For example, on an ecommerce site, you might conduct a user flow analysis and notice that a lot of people are getting to the shopping cart but not completing their purchase. By identifying that shopping cart abandonment is a problem, you can start generating hypotheses for why users are dropping off at that point.

It could be that your shipping rates are too high, and users are getting sticker shock. Or perhaps there are too many fields to fill out, and customers are losing interest. Or perhaps the navigation is not clear as to what action to take next.

Once you’ve generated a hypothesis for why your user flow is suboptimal, you can begin A/B testing your ideas to determine which of the changes will actually have a positive impact on your user flow.

How A/B testing can help improve your user flow

A/B testing is the process of comparing two different versions of a site or app against each other to see which one performs better using real world data. A/B testing is a great way to validate hypotheses about changes to your site or app.

By going through your user flows, identifying opportunities for improvement, and testing different ideas, you can continually improve your conversion rates. A/B testing tools like Optimizely make it easy to make changes to your site or app and provides data that show exactly how much of an impact changes will have on your core metrics.

Start testing with Optimizely today and begin optimizing your user flows!