Jeremy Smith Apr 7, 2016 4:29:34 AM 27 min read

Conversion Triangle: A Process For Identifying User Intent

Introduction:  Optimizing For Conversions With User Intent

What You’ll Learn In This Post

Why relevance, motivation and a value proposition are essential to increasing conversion rates.

Whether you’re new to conversion optimization as a whole and work as an in-house marketer, or you’re an industry veteran of a successful e-commerce site, it can be overwhelming trying to decide what you really need to understand about conversion optimization right away and how to take those initial steps to start optimizing your site.

I get it. You want to dive in head first to increasing revenues for your site by deploying conversion optimization tactics you’ve seen in tweets or tips on other blog posts. But before you do that, I want to go over five fundamental elements of conversion optimization that every digital marketer aspiring to be the next superstar CRO must understand at a foundational level.

These five conversion optimization fundamentals exist everywhere, and they’re the first issues I examine when I begin work to optimize a page or site.


Defining Conversion Optimization

Most definitions of “conversion optimization” or conversion rate optimization (CRO)— fall short of truly stating what it really entails.

At its most simplistic construct, conversion optimization is enhancing a website so that more of the people who use the site are likely to take a desired action (i.e., a conversion).

More realistically, conversion optimization is seen as an ongoing process dedicated to ensuring the best possible online user experience, which ensures that it easy and compelling for site visitors to convert (i.e., make purchases, subscribe to newsletters, submit email addresses, etc.).

Every facet of a website can and should be optimized, from landing pages, to sign-up forms, through to checkout and even payment procedures.


The Conversion Triangle and Its Primary Threats

In our definition of conversion optimization, we can identify the three factors that are foundational to all website conversions, the Conversion Triangle:

  • Relevance: What the user experiences must be relevant to their needs or desires.
  • Motivation: There must be something to compel the user to move along the purchase / conversion funnel.
  • Value Proposition: The user must understand the value of making the conversion.

The other basic factors of conversion optimization are negatives. The main enemies of the Conversion Triangle are:

  • Friction: Anything that slows a user down – a sticking point or something that rubs them the wrong way – can block a potential conversion.
  • Anxiety: Most conversions require the user to give something up, from personal information (e.g., an email address) to money. If they are uncomfortable with the exchange, it won’t happen.

Your optimization efforts should be focused on reducing friction and anxiety in hopes of increasing conversion rates and revenue overall.

After reading this article, you should be able to quickly and efficiently identify these five elements on your website. This will not only help with your optimization efforts but also help you to explain why online conversion rates and revenue sink, and what to do to fix this problem.


The Three Pillars of Conversion Optimization

A triangle is a closed figure with three sides. The three points of your Conversion Triangle must join and support each other.


Everything on your website, everything you do as a digital marketer, should support a user experience that leads to conversions. The foundation of your optimization efforts creates the Conversion Triangle.

As you’ll see in my explanations below, the sides of the Conversion Triangle don’t stand independently. For example, Evergage describes motivation and the value proposition as combining to create relevancy.

But you have to understand how relevance, motivation and the value proposition work separately before you can effectively use them in concert to ensure a better conversion rate.

Let’s make it happen.



If you’ve ever clicked on an ad or a search result and were surprised by the web page that opened, you probably understand why relevance matters.

Every user who comes to your site does so with their own motivations, something they want to get out of the visit. Your message to them must be relevant to what motivates them.

dictionary definition of relevance is “the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about.”

Online, relevancy is often applied to search results and rankings. Paul Nelson of Search Technologies says a document is relevant (and ranked higher) if it actually answers the question or solves the problem that motivated the search to begin with.

Ultimately, what’s relevant is up to the user. A search result is relevant if it is readily apparent to the end-user why the search engine retrieved the link, Nelson says.

It works the same on your website. Your landing page needs to answer the user’s questions or solve their problems, and it needs to do so right away make it readily apparent to the user that they are in the right place.

Typically, landing pages establish relevance with a headline and at least one large “hero” image.

NordicTrack, one of the most recognizable names in the fitness industry, is best known for selling treadmills. Thanks to the two prominent photos on the landing page below, anyone looking to buy one will know immediately they’ve come to the right place. The word “treadmills” is pretty easy to miss at first glance, but the visitor won’t mistake what this page is about.

Nordick Trak landing page
(Image source)




There are two ways to look at motivation. It can be intrinsic (internal) to the user, as referred to above in its relation to relevance. There are also extrinsic (external) motivators, such as the text you use to persuade the site visitor that your product meets their needs at a reasonable price.

Motivating the customer is essential to marketing. You work to make the customer want to buy your product by telling them how it satisfies their needs, which in turn demonstrates its value to the customer.

If we return to the Evergage post mentioned earlier, we see that they embrace both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

Once you understand what is motivating your visitor, you are then able to understand what they want from your product. That lets you fulfill your promise to them more completely. This way you can focus on what parts of your product they will value the most.

To more completely fulfill your promise to your customer and thus motivate them, you must first know your customer.

To truly pursue conversion optimization, you need to know who you are optimizing for. That is, you have to develop one or more customer personas, sketches of who is coming to your site and their demographics, behavior patterns, (intrinsic) motivations and goals.

The image below speaks to any young soccer player on multiple levels. Speed is a crucial element of the game and any increase, even incremental, can be the difference for making a game-changing play. Mention of the U.S. National Team and the red-white-and-blue color scheme also appeal to a player’s desire to represent their country in the World Cup. Buying this pair of Nikes is meant to get them one step closer to their dream.

Nike soccer kit landing page



Value Proposition

The simplest way to think of your value proposition is to decide how you’d answer the following questions from a user on your site:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • What do you propose to provide?
  • Why should I be impressed enough to give you something for it?

In any transaction or conversion, the buyer/user expects to receive something they need or desire. As a marketer, it’s up to you to explain why they should believe your product or service provides what they are looking for and, preferably, why it’s better than their options.

Your value proposition must have four elements:

  • Clarity: Make sure the potential customer understands what you offer.
  • Appeal: Explain your offer in a way that reinforces the intended buyer’s desire for your product or service.
  • Exclusivity: Explain why your version of this offer is unique. (Often it is known as the “unique value proposition,” or UVP.)
  • Credibility: Back up the claims you make for your product or service, company or self.

All of the content of your landing page should support the establishment of your value proposition.

Again, you have to have customer personas drawn up before you can adequately describe your value proposition. You need to know who you’re trying to reach and what needs they have that you can fulfill. In the end, that is your value to them.

The Rolex crown logo, which takes up a large part of the page below, implies that this is a watch fit for royalty. It imparts a sense of luxury and sophistication. Everything, down to the gold color of the text, suggests the prestige of owning this timepiece.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sky-dweller landing page


Detractors from the Conversion Triangle

Relevance, motivation and a value proposition? Piece of cake, eh? I hear you: It’s Marketing 101, just get out of my way.

Thing is, there could be plenty of problems in your way. You could have a great landing page with a great offer, but two of the biggest problems you’re likely to run up against are the aforementioned friction and anxiety.

Get a handle on them before they get you.


A couple of years ago, I wrote a longer explanation of friction and how to fight it, and defined friction as “anything that gets in the way of conversions.”

I also quoted a colleague who said, “Friction arises from any element of the conversion process that causes frustration, mental fatigue or confusion.”

Anything that keeps the user experience from being unfailingly positive and free of difficulty is friction.

Which, you may have figured out, means that no website is totally without friction. Anything can rub somebody wrong. The best you can do is identify friction through qualitative and quantitative research and hope to eliminate it through diligent iterative testing.

A busy page design is one too common example of a website that  creates  friction. Golden Paints has far too much going on on its page below. Instead of trying to figure out what to do next, the user might just decide it'd be easier to try somewhere else.

Golden Paints

(Image source)


Anxiety is a form of friction. It, too, gets in the way of conversions. While researching my previous article about friction, and in numerous outcomes of thousands of tests, I have found that user anxiety is the most prevalent type of friction.

But anxiety deserves its own discussion because it is sensible to have some degree of anxiety about doing business online.

Even as far as e-commerce has come in its short existence, there are still plenty of data breaches and plain old hacks that make user information vulnerable. This includes identity and other personal information, as well as bank account or credit card numbers.

Most users know  it’s a mistake not to give a second thought to making an online transaction unless they’re dealing with a site they know they can trust.

Indeed, trust is the remedy to anxiety. Fight user anxiety by increasing reasons for users to trust your website.

Without trust, you won’t have conversions, customers or revenue. Every conversion is an indication of trust. Every new customer is a person whose trust has been earned. Every return customer represents a person who continues to trust your site and company.

For starters, you’ll inspire trust by:

  • Describing your products or services with professional-quality text and images.
  • Clearly stating prices and any additional S&H costs or other terms and conditions.
  • Having an easy, clearly stated and consistently honored return policy.

In short, offer a valuable product or service at a reasonable price online, and treat your customers fairly.

But there are more trust signals you can send online.

It's a fine welcome from Brookstone to ask for our email address right off the bat (below).

But they temper the request by telling us what we'll get in exchange and reassuring us  that they don't sell or rent their address list.  The close-window button is prominent, too, and once it was gone it didn't come back while we looked around the site. All of this (and a well-known brand name) build trust in the Brookstone site.

Brookstone sceenshot

(Image source)


It seems simple at a high level, but so many of us who work everyday trying to create a better user experience online through our marketing efforts miss these main points:

  • The three elements of the Conversion Triangle and its two primary detractors exist on every single page of your site.
  • You need to ensure that your site's relevance, motivation and value proposition are in line with your site users' intentions.
  • Optimizing the elements of the Conversion Triangle and minimizing friction and user anxiety is how you increase conversions.
  • You need to ensure that each of them answers to your site users’ intentions.

Being diligent in your attempts to identify the negative elements stated here is as important as optimizing the three positive factors of the Conversion Triangle. Never be satisfied when you think you have found all the anxiety and/or friction that can exist, because there is always more and always something new popping up.

The same advice applies to the Conversion Triangle: constantly test your site’s relevance, motivation factors and unique value proposition, and optimize at every turn.

Learn more from our series about the Conversion Triangle — how to use relevance, motivation and the value proposition to boost conversions, and how to eliminate conversion-killing friction and anxiety.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.