Vocab for Marketers: Heuristic

what does heuristic mean in ecommerce marketing

What Does "Heuristic" Mean in Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?


Adjective: Describes a hands-on approach to problem-solving that uses a set of general principles, best practices, or guidelines to evaluate the usability of a problem, system, or website.

Noun: A mental process people use to aid in problem-solving or arriving at a conclusion. It’s a “short-cut” strategy using generalizations, or rules-of-thumb, that reduce how much effort (or cognitive load) a human uses to solve the problem at hand.

How eCommerce Brands Use a Heuristic Approach

In CRO marketing, “heuristic” is used as an evaluation approach in a CRO audit. That being said, a heuristic audit is an interactive process for auditing a website to identify potential problems. People participating in the audit use heuristics like design consistency, relevance, friction, clutter, clarity, and error handling. No standard set of these exist because it all depends on what’s being evaluated and the desired result. The only criteria is that it should be a small set of terms (one or two words each) that relate to each other and can be quickly understood.

To perform a CRO heuristic audit, a small, organized panel of experts is presented with a website, device context, buyer persona, and task to accomplish. Each participant evaluates their experience based on an established set of heuristics, and they are asked to document any potential issues they observe.

This process is similar to a usability study; the main difference is that participants are trained experts in evaluating against a set of heuristics rather than representative end users (i.e. shoppers) providing open-ended, untrained opinions.

The value of a CRO heuristic audit is in the ratio of time-to-insight. A well-conducted audit can take an hour or less and easily identify at least 20 issues or potential points of friction. At the core, a CRO heuristic audit acts as a process to identify areas that need deeper investigation, but it’s not a method to actually resolve problems.

How We've Used Heuristic Audits at Omnitail

We’ve performed heuristic audits to help our customers quickly identify issues and potential points of friction on their websites. To ensure an audit considered as many scenarios as possible, our group was split into smaller teams and each tackled a specific combination of buyer persona, device type, and focus area.

The research gathered from this one-hour CRO audit helped our team prioritize the next steps for optimizing our customer’s website, which was presented to and discussed with the customer:

  1. Fix issues, or make changes to a site
  2. Run tests
  3. Conduct deeper investigation
heurisitc audit setup at omnitail
A snapshot of how we set up heuristic audits

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