User experience rules, meaning that continuing to broadcast only what your business does will likely lead to diminishing returns over time. One of the best examples of the cost of emphasizing utility over experience was made by HomeAway when it became apparent that Airbnb was going to become a significant competitor in the private rental space.
HomeAway developed a marketing campaign that stressed its high-end accommodations versus Airbnb’s lower cost offerings (which included sofas to sleep on). HomeAway pounded away at the differences between the two companies, emphasizing the superiority of its rentals in a way that didn’t engage its audience. Airbnb, on the other hand, marketed the advantages of finding privately owned rentals by highlighting unique vacation experiences that were convenient, affordable and accessible. In addition to neglecting the vacation experience, HomeAway’s comparison-based marketing also included the flaw of introducing Airbnb to its own customer base. This took place in 2008, when HomeAway had the lion’s share of the private rental market. Seven years after the misguided marketing campaign, Airbnb’s market cap is about $20 billion versus HomeAway’s $3 billion cap.
While this example is based on a large-scale marketing campaign, the user experience also takes place during every touch point with a business. Here are 3 ways to enhance the experience of your potential and existing customers as well as the results of your digital marketing initiatives.
- Present a mobile-friendly website – The chances are that your site is being seen by more mobile than desktop users, a trend that will increasingly lean toward smaller device access as we roll along. Make sure that your website recognizes the size of the viewport that is being used for access so that the page can be organized for easy viewing and navigation.
- Engage readers – Pages that don’t capture attention within a few seconds are usually left in a cloud of dust as visitors bounce away looking for information that speaks to them. Aligning your content with the information that drives visitors to each page can ensure that visitors get what they expect when they arrive.
- Make conversions easy – Arrange your mobile pages so that your “call to action” buttons are easy to find. The optimal location will depend on several variables and should be tested in real time to determine the place that drives the most conversions. For example, call to action boxes are usually placed near the top of the page when the objective is to build an opt-in list with a free product offer. Buy buttons, on the other hand, are usually placed lower on the page, especially if readers are presented with more text to consume before making a purchasing decision.
The competition for internet sales steadily intensifies. To win your share of sales, your digital marketing strategy has to prioritize the customer experience at every touch point.
The big buzzwords that are typically attached to the building of a website usually include SEO, user experience, responsive design, internet marketing and a few others. While A/B testing is often left out of the conversation, this is an essential process that can optimize a website’s performance and maximize its conversion rate.
So, What is it?
A/B testing takes two versions of a webpage and then compares how visitors interact with the different elements on each page. When testing is being done on an existing site the “A” page, also referred to as the control page, will usually be the interface that is currently in use. The “B” page is also called the variant page and will be designed with 1, 2 or several elements that are different from the control page.
What Gets Tested?
A/B testing can be run on a wide variety of elements including page layout, the headline, background color, text color, and the wording of the call to action. While these are all viable assessments, one of the most common A/B tests focuses on an essential element of every purchase; the “Buy” button. Here’s an example of how an A/B test could be set up to determine the optimal configuration and placement of a buy button. The existing control/A page has a single small gray buy button just above the footer (admittedly horrible placement, which is being used to support the example). The variant/B page changes the color of the button to red, makes it larger and places it near the fold of the page.
A/B tests are driven by software programs that can be customized for each assessment. In most tests, the interface that is presented to visitors alternates between the A page and the B page to ensure an even split for collected data. In a buy button test, data is collected on the number of times visitors click the buy button on each page version. As you probably guessed, the B page, with a button that is more visible, larger, and easier to find would likely have a much larger percentage of conversions. In addition to being statistically true, the conclusion fits in beautifully with the premise of the article.
Does it Matter?
Yes, it absolutely does. An A/B test can reveal page elements that improve conversions immediately and increase a business’ revenues. This is due in large part to the fact that collecting quantitative data about how different pages perform eliminates the guesswork and assumptions that are commonly used to build web pages. In addition to generating short term benefits, A/B testing enables businesses to learn and then cater to the preferences of their visitors. This enhances the user experience, which encourages repeat visits and purchases over the long term as well.
With black hat trickery more difficult to get away with than ever, the development of quality content now serves as the driver of successful SEO initiatives. Here are three steps to optimizing the materials that will ultimately determine the visibility of your content with your target market as well as the success of your SEO efforts.
Create content that resonates with your audience – Creating content that matters to your target market may require some research to see exactly what people are asking about your products and how they search for answers. As inquiries have become more conversational through voice commands, the content that answers the most common questions posed by people who are searching is getting rewarded by search engines with increasingly high rankings. This changes the game from focusing SEO efforts on high traffic keywords to really learning and providing what people are looking for in their searches.
Create Timeless Content – One of the biggest differences between the life of content on the web versus traditional media is that digital materials remain easily available indefinitely. To take full advantage of the longevity of online assets, create content for your SEO campaign that will be relevant today as well as in the future. Referred to as "evergreen" content, these materials typically don't reference specific dates or events in a context that can make them look increasingly out of date over time. For example, terms like "last week", when referring to an event dates the content as being written at a specific time. If the content calls for a date, give only the month if you're writing an article in the same year. After the end of that year change the content to show the month and the year in which the event occurred. To stay on top of this, keep a file of content that you'll want to edit at a future date.
Put your content where your audience is – Great content has to be seen by its audience for optimal results. Rather than just distribute your SEO-related content through the standard channels like your blog and Facebook page, do some research to determine the sites that your target market frequents, such as industry-focused social media sites. You can also look to publish content on websites that provide general information about your industry, products or services. For example, a restaurant could create articles with tips on cooking soufflés on a site dedicated to baking and desserts. Putting your content on sites where people are passionate or at least interested in your products/services will increase the amount of views as well as actions, which can drive traffic to your site and boost rankings on search engine results pages.
Content is the key to your SEO campaigns. By creating relevant and timeless materials and then putting them where your audience can find it, your content will yield optimal results.
When was the last time you thought about making changes to your business page or assessing how your company interacts with its community on Facebook? If your business has been doing things the same way for a while on your social media pages and isn’t getting the expected results, it may be time to make some changes. Here are 5 ways to upgrade your Facebook page experience for your visitors.
Start with an objective assessment of a visitor’s experience on your page – Businesses often set up social media pages (and websites) from an internal point of view without considering the experience of first time and repeat visitors. Taking a look at your Facebook page from the viewpoint of your target market may provide insights on whether your business is delivering the experience visitors are seeking or conveying company messaging that misses the mark in the context of a social media environment.
Don’t be static – Businesses often set up their page on Facebook and then leave the same content in place for months or years. The problem that occurs in this situation is that when visitors start seeing the same thing on every visit, their motivation to come back starts to ebb. Instead, by staying current with content, such as an ongoing series of best practice tips for products, industry news and/or promotions, your Facebook page can give your audience plenty of reasons to keep returning.
Go social versus commercial – Always remember that the key word in social media is “social”. The most successful companies on Facebook have a communal voice that seeks to engage their audience with 2-way communication as opposed to blasting out advertisements.
Vary your forms of content – Support your written content with podcasts, images and video to change up the interface between your business and page visitors. Alternating mediums for your content will give your page a dynamic feel that can lead to longer stays by visitors. You can also increase engagement by posting contests and surveys.
Keep your posts to a “Twitter-like” 140 characters – Even your most loyal visitors may be perusing your information in a brisk succession, so keep your posts short enough to convey the basics of the pertinent information within a few seconds. To add value to your short posts, provide a link to longer form content to enable access for those seeking additional information.
Your business’s Facebook page may be the preferred channel for members of your target market to interface with your company. By providing a positive on-page experience with dynamic, fresh and timely information, your business can grow its number of social media followers, increase social actions and ultimately drive more sales.
When it comes to SEO initiatives, there are two schools of thought; one that understands that the web is a highly competitive arena that requires professional strategy and execution to succeed and the other that assumes that building a website and a couple of social media pages should be enough to drive a stream of consumers to a place of business. The second school of thought tends to embrace additional misconceptions that can prevent successful SEO initiatives, including:
The web is a low cost haven for business – This perception is probably based on the fact that the first steps of building a business presence on the web cost very little or can be done for free. For example, buying a URL and paying for hosting costs $25 or less. Setting up Facebook and Twitter pages is free. When these steps are perceived as the most important work that needs to be done to establish a presence on the web, the logic tends to follow that everything else shouldn't cost much more. This is one of the reasons that black hat SEO companies were so successful in selling their services. For example, buying 1,000 spammy links for $10 represented the prices that had previously been paid to get on the web, so the cost made sense to business owners.
SEO can be done on the cheap - Here’s the thing; the vast majority of consumers now search the web for things to buy. Even at the local level, the competition for the listings on search engines is fierce by necessity. For example, according a Marketing Land study, the top 5 search rankings for user inquiries get over 67 percent of the clicks. Attaining and keeping a top 5 ranking in almost any product category is only possible with the foot constantly on the SEO gas pedal, which is both labor and time intensive. Additionally, the best SEO campaigns get their results by distributing content that positions products with consumers while also building the brand of the business. Always keep in mind that SEO is a "get what you pay for" business, so getting high click through rates, professionally designed marketing pieces, and branding simply isn't going to happen for a couple hundred dollars per month.
It takes too long to get results - This is a key area of frustration for many business owners as money spent during the first few months on an SEO initiative may not deliver substantially more web traffic. The same is true with buying advertising with the rule of thumb being that consumers, on average, need to see an ad 6 times before taking some sort of action. While these practices are different in many ways, they are similar in that there will be some time that elapses between the first payment and an upswing in traffic.
The bottom line is that the web is the primary medium for consumers searching for everything from the best pizza in town to replacement parts for a vintage automobile. The competition for these consumers is intensifying, and the businesses that hire and pay for the best SEO talent available will reap the lion's share of the rewards.
In the not too distant past, the practice of search engine optimization could be summed up as an endeavor to generate as many backlinks as possible combined with the creation of content crammed with selected keywords. In this relatively simple environment, thousands of spammy backlinks could be purchased for a few dollars, a single piece of low quality but keyword-loaded content could be posted on a plurality of sites, and listings at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) could be realized post-haste.
From the searchers’ side of the equation, the listings that appeared at the top of the SERPs sometimes delivered information that was relevant to the search term being used while other listings linked to sites that were confusing, poorly designed, and/or had nothing to do with the intent of the search. For a search engine like Google with a stated mission to deliver the best user experience possible, listings that had achieved their rankings through manipulative practices and then delivered nothing were a complete anathema that had to be fixed.
Thousands of algorithm changes later, Google has now essentially eliminated the most popular black hat techniques and a new world of SEO exists. Here are the 4 aspects of SEO that are now required to achieve high rankings on the search engines.
$ On-site content that was created with the sole objective of high keyword ratios must be replaced – In August of 2013, Google replaced its long-standing keyword-based algorithm with a new formula that assesses the context of on-page content. As part of this change, the search engine started devaluing content with unnaturally high keyword counts and began surfacing quality content that delivers answers to search inquiries.
Consistent creation of solution-based content as the backbone of the campaign – Google’s improved capability to define and surface web pages that deliver solutions now mandates that the content that is generated as part of an SEO campaign provides answers to questions that are commonly posed regarding a business’ products and/or services. The companies that achieve the highest level of success in the new search paradigm will first understand the questions that potential customers are asking and secondly create on and off-site content that answers those questions.
Backlinks that matter – In addition to its improved capabilities in assessing content, Google’s ability to detect spammy backlinks has diminished the benefits of that practice as well. Now, the only links that matter originate from relevant sources such as authority sites and signals/actions from social networks.
A mobile-friendly website – This is another component of Google’s quest for an optimal user experience, in which the information that is presented to the viewer must be optimized for the size of the viewport. This website architecture is referred to as “responsive design”, in which on-page content is configured for easy viewing and navigation for screens ranging in size from large desktops to the smallest mobile devices.
The recent changes at Google have eliminated the instant gratification that used to be delivered via black hat techniques. SEO success is now predicated on delivering an optimal user experience, which has been the search engine’s objective all along.
While the primary objective of the vast majority of SEO campaigns is to surface listings on the search engines that drive traffic to the sponsoring company’s website, the resulting traffic numbers will include both high and low value visitors. Defining both types of traffic is as easy as analyzing the pages within the site that are viewed during each visit. For example, a landing on the home page with a quick departure would be the most basic definition of a low value visit, but navigation to additional pages such as “FAQs” and “About Us” and won’t necessarily change a visit from low to high value.
When analyzing these types of visits, assessing the information that is being consumed on each page can provide an indication of where the visitor is in the timeline of the purchasing process. In most cases, the consumption of general information would indicate that the visitor is doing research at the start of the purchasing timeline. On the other hand, the consumption of information with higher degrees of specificity would indicate that the visitor is closer to making a purchasing decision. It should be noted that measuring a higher degree of specificity in this exercise is relative, depending on the nature of the business. For example, a visit to the menu page for a restaurant is about as specific as it’s going to get and would indicate a high value visit. On a website with highly complex products, there would likely be a progression deeper into the site, which would also indicate a high value visit.
This is not to say that low value visits will not turn into conversions at a later date, but that drawing visitors to the site that are near the end of their decision making process offers a much higher likelihood of conversion. To that end, Google provided a huge assist in August of 2013 when it replaced its keyword-based search methodology with an algorithm that provides results based on conversational inquiries. The new search paradigm now provides the opportunity for businesses, through their SEO efforts, to focus on providing content that answers the types of questions that are posed just before a purchase. For example, an electronics store could develop content related to connecting a new Blu-Ray player to the components of a home theater, which is a question commonly asked just prior to the purchase of this type of product. In terms of arrivals on the site, this type of visit would rank at the high end of value as the decision to make a purchase has already been made, and oftentimes the site that answers the consumer’s last question is the one that gets the sale.
The quality of the user experience has always been a primary focus of Google, which has resulted in their constant battle against SEO practices that were designed to manipulate their ranking algorithms while offering little or no value to searchers' inquiries. While this battle was somewhat like a game of "Whack-a-Mole" for many years with Google on one side knocking down spammy tactics and black hats on the other side constantly developing new ones, the Panda algorithm update followed by the Penguin update changed things considerably.
The one-two punch of these algorithm updates, made possible by increasingly sophisticated spam detection techniques, virtually eliminated the benefits of SEO strategies that were designed to get ratings and nothing else including the mass distribution of keyword filled, poorly written content and backlinks originating from sites with a sole purpose of generating backlinks. With the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in the late summer of 2013, Google knocked down another foundation of SEO; the optimization of specific keywords within search terms.
Instead, the new algorithm focused on the entire context of search terms to better understand what was being asked in order to deliver the appropriate results. For example, prior to the Hummingbird update, a keyword-based search such as “best James Bond movies” might display a variety of results focused on the keyword James Bond but not necessarily the best of the movies. Hummingbird is designed to take the entire phrase and deliver results pertaining to “best James Bond movies”.
While these algorithm changes have mandated a variety of modifications in SEO strategies, there are still practices that are being deployed by many companies that are now being ignored by search engines and/or hurting rather than helping rankings on the search engine results pages.
$1 Guest blogging – Google’s own anti-spam guru Matt Cutts said that, due to the high levels of spam in these posts, guest blogging is officially dead.
$1 Press releases as marketing materials – Much like guest blogging, distributing spam/marketing press releases isn’t working either. Releases that are written to announce events in a news based format, however, remain sought after and can still play an important role in SEO campaigns.
$1 Staying with a keyword-centric SEO strategy – As mentioned above, Google is striving to deliver results that answer questions or deliver solutions, rather than display lists of web pages that look relevant to queries because they have high percentages of keywords in their content. This change makes it necessary for businesses to evaluate the questions that searchers pose when looking for their products and then create content that answers those questions.
SEO has changed. The choice now is whether to make changes to keep up or to continue to see diminishing results by executing a stale strategy.
For many businesses that have dedicated time and resources to engage in social media platforms the question remains, “How do we monetize this work?” a query that grows in urgency as defining the financial rewards resulting from these efforts remains difficult. The complexity of this issue is exacerbated by the fact that abandoning social media altogether really isn’t an option, in the same way that shutting down the company’s main website and walking away from the web isn’t an option.
In many cases, one of the main reasons behind the challenge of monetization rests in the fact that Facebook and Twitter have become the default choice for many businesses’ social media optimization initiatives. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, oftentimes the presence on these platforms exists mainly for reactive and/or sales-related communications, neither of which really resonates with the existing and potential community of friends, followers, etc.
There are, however, three areas to which companies can shift their focus to deliver a more dynamic presence, energize their potential target market, and ultimately monetize their social media initiatives.
Increasing video content – Images and video, when integrated with written content, increases engagement and social actions such as sharing, which expands the potential audience while also generating positive signals for search engine algorithms. Getting started in this area can be as simple as shooting images and videos with a smartphone and uploading them to the company’s social media pages where they can be optimized for maximum impact.
Assessing smaller social media platforms that may deliver better results – With an ethos based more on social communication than anything else, many companies are constantly fighting a headwind in terms of marketing and sales efforts on Facebook. This headwind virtually disappears on social media platforms such as Wanelo, Fancy, Fab and Pinterest where “social shopping” is the focus. Due to the sheer number of members on the “Big Two” social media platforms, walking away completely isn’t recommended due to the fact that a company’s presence on these sites can be used to refer friends, followers, etc. to their pages on shopping-based platforms. Instead, focus your communications on social platforms and your marketing on social shopping sites.
Generating quality content – The purpose of all the algorithm changes at Google can be summed up in four words; quality content is king. Gone are the shortcuts and tricky practices meant to manipulate rankings on the search engine results pages (SERPs), both of which have been replaced by algorithms that reward publishers for providing positive user experiences, whether adding value through informational or instructional content.
By re-focusing attention on these areas, companies that are frustrated by their current social media initiatives can increase engagement rates, align with sites that share the same goals, and build their brand. The end results can include higher customer acquisition rates as well as the realization of the elusive goal of monetizing social media efforts.