Heuristics for digital experience optimization feature image

How To Solve Common Optimization Issues Using Heuristics (With Examples)

Introducing the Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™ and how they can help you solve website challenges.

With everything digital leaders juggle day-to-day, efficiency is crucial. You need to improve the online experience to better serve the users and your business, a task with conflicting goals, priorities, and often unrealistic expectations.

Amidst the plethora of apps and algorithms promising to streamline processes, there’s an often overlooked hidden gem—a tool deeply rooted in psychology and human behavior.

Welcome to the world of heuristics, where problem-solving meets intuition to build better digital experiences.

Heuristics, or mental shortcuts, could be the key to unlocking optimal performance in your role and your digital property.

In this article, we explore how these cognitive shortcuts pave the way for smoother, more intuitive user interactions. We unravel the significance of each of our six Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™ and offer actionable strategies for enhancing user experiences.

What are heuristics?

Heuristics are mental shortcuts used to solve problems quickly and effectively. They allow people to speed up analysis and make informed, efficient decisions.

Our brains are wired to take shortcuts and make quick decisions. So, heuristics play a crucial role in how customers navigate and perceive digital experiences.

How do heuristics apply to digital experience optimization?

By understanding the mental shortcuts your customers rely on, you shift the focus squarely onto their experience. Ensuring we understand and adhere to those shortcuts aids users in quickly and successfully accomplishing their goals. At the same time, actively removing barriers that interfere with these heuristics builds a subconscious level of trust with your customers.

We unpack more of these elements in our book, Behind the Click, but fundamentally, heuristics in digital experience optimization are a way to frame common optimization challenges and turn them into a trustworthy experience that:

  • Feels familiar
  • Does what they say
  • Functions intuitively

Feels Familiar

From the classic navigation menu to the ever-present search bar at the top right, there’s a certain rhythm to digital experiences. Customers have developed a strong expectation of how websites and apps should function.

When a digital experience adheres to these established norms, customers feel a sense of familiarity and control. This subconsciously reduces friction and makes them more receptive to your company.

Does What They Say

Customers crave predictability and transparency in their digital experiences. Honoring a promise—whether about your pricing structure, refund policy, or product features—is essential.

Unexpected fees, convoluted purchase processes, or hidden terms and conditions violate the customer’s trust. Be upfront about all costs and keep the interactions straightforward to build confidence and credibility with your customer base.

Functions Intuitively

Intuitive design is crucial, especially for SaaS products. Users are already familiar with countless digital platforms, so don’t force them to relearn fundamental workflows for your product.

Leverage common design patterns and visual design cues. When your product functions in a way that feels natural, customers can focus on the value you provide rather than the mechanics of using the interface.

The Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™

The Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™ are a tool developed at The Good to theme common optimization issues and opportunities with the user at the center of analyses.

These heuristics can guide your strategy and help you build digital journeys that feel familiar, do what they say, and function intuitively, as mentioned above.

The six heuristics are:

  1. Priming & Expectation Setting
  2. Trust & Authority
  3. Ease
  4. Benefits & Unique Selling Points
  5. Directional Guidance
  6. Incentives
The heuristics of digital experience optimization with icons

Let’s take a look at each heuristic in more detail. We’ll cover what it is, how it manifests, and optimization examples of how you might adjust your digital experience to account for these heuristics and any barriers impeding users from accomplishing their tasks seamlessly.

Heuristic #1: Priming & Expectation Setting

Set users up for success by clarifying how the interface will perform, what actions users should take, and what they can expect.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • Unmet Expectations
  • Poor Priming
  • Unclear System Status

To adhere to this heuristic, you can apply a tactic like explicitly mentioning free shipping early in the journey to reduce cart abandonment rates or sharing estimated delivery dates. Doing so targets the poor priming violation.

Share Estimated Delivery Dates

Get as specific as possible with shipping dates on both PDPs and checkout pages.

You can do this in a few ways. First, you can list the date the item will arrive instead of giving a nonspecific range. “Standard Shipping 3-5 Business Days” becomes “Standard Shipping: Arrives by February 24.”

Here’s an example of estimated delivery dates. Notice the “Delivery Options” box in the bottom right corner.

estimated delivery dates as an example of expectation setting

Alternatively, you can add a zip code search option, where users can type in their location, and your website will provide estimated delivery dates (EDDs).

Setting clear expectations for EDDs can reduce customer anxiety, improve purchasing confidence, and even reduce the workload of your customer support team.

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Heuristic #2: Trust & Authority

Establish and maintain perceived trust, authority, and security throughout the digital experience.

This is critical because issues like bugs or anything that violates users’ sense of trust can lead to disengagement. Building trust enhances users’ confidence in the website while violating it can lead to abandonment.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • Poor Usability
  • Comparison Shopping

To follow this heuristic, mitigate bugs, build trust by featuring social proof, or consider adding additional educational “how it works” content for complex products.

Highlight Positive Reviews

While brands can say a lot of great things about themselves, they can be more effective, more relatable, and more believable when real customers are singing their praises.

Featuring positive reviews can build user confidence to make a purchase decision and increase user trust.

This is especially great for brands with high-price point products (bikes, furniture) or products with trust-reducing user-dependent variables (makeup: compatibility with dark skin, shoes: true to size fit).

reviews as a form of social proof to build trust and authority

Offer Guarantees

Guarantees can help prime users to make purchasing decisions and incentivize them to purchase. They give users a feeling that the brand is making a commitment to them.

Highlighting guarantees in a quickly scannable way can increase a sense of trust, reduce decision paralysis, and highlight the value of a product.

Highlighting guarantees is great for sites that have high-value items (mattresses, bikes) and/or brands with trust-reducing user-dependent variables (dress fit, color match).

happiness guarantee

Add a How-it-works Model

Describing “How it Works” for some business models and/or features can give users the context and confidence that they need to understand competitive differentiators like price and quality.

Doing so for complex products will boost user trust, encourage buy-in to the brand, and instill purchasing confidence.

how it works model example for heuristics of digital experience optimization

Heuristic #3: Ease

Ensure your interface is easy to use, including aspects like information architecture, navigability, and seamless functionality.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • High Interaction Cost
  • Heavy Cognitive Load
  • Content Fatigue

Making a website easy ensures that users won’t abandon it due to its complexity. It also offers better accessibility to diverse audiences. You can address this heuristic by reducing content or building in clear navigation elements like a mega menu.

Add a Mega Menu

Adding a mega menu can show the breadth of products, provide directional guidance, and increase visits to PDPs. This can ease product discoverability.

Mega menus are great for brands with a wide range of product offerings and/or multiple sub-categories.

chewy mega menu to help with directional guidance as heuristic of digital experience optimization

Truncate Long Lists & Copy

Large amounts of copy or long lists can overwhelm users and create additional cognitive load.

Truncating long lists and copy can improve directional guidance, help users differentiate products better, and increase the likelihood of purchase.

Note that it’s not just about adding a “Read more” and hiding ineffective copy behind a click. It is sometimes necessary to bring in a copy expert to rewrite product copy entirely, focusing on decreasing the work to read and increasing the value for the user.

truncate long lists or copy

Heuristic #4: Benefits & Unique Selling Points

Highlight the benefits and unique features of products or services to persuade users to purchase them here instead of elsewhere.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • Low directness
  • Attentive/intentional reading

To address this heuristic, consider testing factors like faster shipping times or highlighting product quality.

Add Quality Tiles

Brands often over-rely on homepages to sell the brand and product pages to sell a product’s features. Few users make it to all of a website’s pages (home, category page, product page), leaving users with knowledge gaps about brand positioning and product benefits.

Displaying quality tiles within collection pages can increase engagement, help users connect with brand values, and reiterate purchase incentives.

Sheep Inc. does a good job of highlighting value propositions through quality tiles on their collections pages

This is great for brands that have strong value propositions (sustainability, luxury) and selling points (hand-made, organic) that will connect with users.

Note that each quality tile variant could focus on a different theme, such as sustainable business practices in one, quality in another, and incentives like free shipping and returns in another.

Add Value Proposition to a Banner

Global promotion banners aren’t just for sales. They can be utilized to quickly communicate brand values, product benefits, and key differentiators with simple microcopy.

Showcasing positioning, brand values, and key differentiators in banners can increase engagement and decrease adds to cart.

old world christmas value proposition website banner

Heuristic #5: Directional Guidance

Support users in finding and discovering what they need through visual hierarchy, way-finding, and guiding them to the next best step in their journey.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • Low Visibility/Low Discoverability
  • Low Findability

This is particularly helpful for users who may need extra assistance in decision-making. Think of them as your friend who never knows where they want to go for dinner. We’re offering them an easy guide to follow, directing users toward desired actions or outcomes.

You can address the directional guidance heuristic with improvements like predictive search or sort order.

Increasing the use of search is a great way to encourage intentional browsing, but often, users need a helping hand to guide them to relevant products or pages.

Featuring popular or relevant products in search suggestions can improve product discoverability, increase the helpfulness of search, and help users quickly and easily navigate the site.

suggested search terms

Deeper customizations might include featuring different products based on user segment, search terms entered, seasonality, or geographic area of the site.

Change Sort Order

Sort orders often default to standard settings that don’t support user goals.

Testing alternative default sort orders (by popularity, by price) can help users quickly discover the products that are right for them and improve directional guidance.

change sort order for danner boots

Heuristic #6: Incentives

Provide additional motivation, confidence, and urgency for users to make a purchase. Ideally, incentives encourage a user to convert today rather than at a later date.

Violations of this heuristic may manifest as:

  • Abandonment
  • Comparison Shopping

You can address this heuristic by offering things like expedited shipping for VIP members, promotional offers, or guarantees.

Create Value-Based Promotions

Instead of discounting to incentivize purchases, which can ultimately devalue your product, consider a promotion that adds value. For example, buy-one-get-one-free, free shipping when you reach a minimum purchase amount, or a free gift with purchase.

free gift with purchase heuristics of digital experience optimization

Suggest Bulk Orders

Nobody likes running out of their favorite product. There are plenty of ways to incentivize adding products to the cart with tactics like cross-sells, upsells, or product bundling.

Suggesting shoppers stock up is a good way to increase AOV and secure long-term brand loyalty. This can be particularly effective if you have a shipping threshold.

value based promotion as an incentive hueristic of digital experience optimization

How The Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™ Can Inform Your Strategic Roadmap

One of the most powerful ways to turn these six heuristics into an actionable improvement plan for your digital property is to use them to inform your strategic roadmap.

Armed with user research, identify common patterns or pitfalls that your users are experiencing. Then, group those patterns by the Heuristics for Digital Experience Optimization™ we covered above.

You can then prioritize the themes based on their potential impact on performance and develop a plan to test improvements. The whole process is outlined in more detail in our article on theme-based roadmaps, so I highly recommend checking that out if you’re looking to turn conversion challenges into opportunities.

The power of heuristics is being able to strategically and efficiently identify your digital challenges in a way that is centered on the user experience. At the end of the day, if your customer is getting stuck in your digital journey, you need to find out where and smooth out their path to purchase. Until that happens, not much else matters.

If you want to do just that and would like expert support in the process, take a look at our Digital Experience Optimization Program™. The custom program gives you access to an entire team of researchers, strategists, designers, and developers so you can build a better website, app, or digital product.

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About the Author

Maria Balus

Maria is a UX Specialist at The Good. She uses her knowledge of user-centered design, evidence-based methods, and human behavior to provide research that inspires intuitive, functional design.