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.
Prior to Google’s implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm in the second half of 2013, search engine optimization and delivering a positive user experience with published content were distinctly different practices. Despite Google’s mission to surface high value content, its algorithms were easily manipulated with SEO tricks that didn’t necessarily deliver the information that the search engine users were looking for. At the same time, content that delivered relevant information often earned lower rankings than poorly written articles that prioritized packing in keywords over adding value.
Hand it to Google, the search engine has stayed true to its commitment to deliver improved user experiences and is now far less vulnerable to manipulative practices. Its ranking algorithm now factors a variety of signals that result from positive user experiences, including:
Links from authority sites – Content that contains valuable source material, topic-relevant information or delivers a positive user experience in general can earn links from authority sites to provide additional information or to be cited as a reference. These links carry an increasing amount of weight in the ranking algorithms due to the quasi-vetting process from originating authority sites. This is a completely different ranking methodology than the one which rewarded web pages that had thousands of spammy backlinks purchased for a few pennies each.
Social actions – When content is posted to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, user can elect to share that material with their friends and/or followers. Sharing or liking posted content is referred to as a social action, which is an indication that the content delivers a positive user experience, whether it’s entertaining, informative or a combination of the two. Steady and/or increasing social actions with specific web pages can then boost rankings due to the implied legitimacy of independent referrals.
Active and positive comment threads – Quality content draws engagement in the form of active commentary threads. Content that is generating shares and likes will also elicit commentary, with the actions reinforcing each other when being weighed by search algorithms. While these reinforcing actions are great for SEO campaigns, they are equally capable of driving higher rankings for negative content, such as news stories.
In today’s SEO campaigns, manipulating the algorithms has become increasingly difficult. This is due in part to the growing sophistication in algorithm methodology that can detect spammy links and content. It is also due to the evolution in the way people communicate and share information on the web. The paradigm change now forces SEO and content distribution campaigns to focus on the same primary goal; delivering a positive user experience.
As the sophistication of search algorithms continues to increase, search engines are improving their understanding of what their users are looking for with their inquiries. Prior to replacing its search methodology with the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, search results typically showed results that had a high percentage of the same keywords included in users’ inquiries. While the pages that were returned based on keyword matches generally reflected some relevance to the search, there were also results that had nothing to do with the nature of the inquiry.
Two of the primary reasons for these unrelated results were black hat techniques that were used to trick the early algorithms into granting high ratings, as well as words that were spelled the same but had different meanings, known as homonyms. An example of a homonym is the word “lead”, which can either be a noun as in the metal or a verb as in “to guide”. An inquiry such as “lead dog” could list sculptures of dogs made of the metal as well as dog teams in the Iditarod race. Refining the search to “what is a lead dog Iditarod” could still return mixed results. With the implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm, searches provided results based on the context of the inquiry, rather than trying to find pages with identical keywords.
The change to contextual search, in addition to providing a higher percentage of relevant results for all users, was also influenced by the more conversational nature of inquiries from mobile device users. When voice commands are used, it’s more natural to ask a question than limiting inquiries to a few key words. As the search phrases became longer, keyword-based algorithms struggled to return listings that answered the questions that were being posed, which required follow-on searches and lead to a less than optimal user experience.
For businesses that have not changed the foundation of their SEO initiatives to the new search methodology, previously high rankings are likely to start falling, if they haven’t already. The key to success in context-based search is to modify content so that it answers the questions posed verbally by mobile users. As a simple example, a searcher may pose the question “Where is a pizza place in Anytown?” Content that answers that question, which would earn a higher search listing, would include something like “Jack’s Pizza is located at 123 Main Street in Anytown.”
As Google and the rest of the search engines try to deliver the best user experience possible, the focus is on eliminating listings that don’t deliver the answers sought by searchers. To that end, the listings that are presented will increasingly address the full context of inquiries with the delivery of specific answers. In this environment the SEO campaigns that are modified to answer questions, rather than match keywords to searches, will deliver website and storefront visits which will drive revenues.
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.
Despite the fact that local listings have basically finished their move from the Yellow Pages to the web, many local businesses are still satisfied with the idea that having a website will get them in front of the maximum number of potential customers. While this mistake probably resulted in missed opportunities when searches via PC ruled the day, it is magnified today as mobile searches now outnumber those executed on PCs.
The opportunity presented by mobile device users for local businesses is highlighted in a variety of studies, particularly one between Google, Ipsos MediaCT and Purchased, which assessed smart phone behavior with over 5,000 users. That study found that 50 percent of mobile device users who search for local businesses end up visiting a physical location within one day. Another study found that 46 percent of searchers use their mobile devices exclusively when doing research on products and services. The net result for local businesses is that missing the mobile consumer could be costing a fortune in missed sales. If you haven’t optimized your site and your content for this new type of consumer, there are three steps to take now.
Answer the questions of mobile users – Mobile users typically pose their search queries as questions, and Google rewards sites that deliver the answers to those questions with higher rankings and visibility. This is a change that went into their ranking algorithm in the second half of 2013, but many local businesses still aren’t aware of it.
Offer great content – Simply composing content that has some relation to your products but focuses more on keywords that used to deliver traffic has been the target of Google algorithm changes for several years. If you’re still using keyword-loaded content on your web pages there are two distinct disadvantages; Google is not paying attention and the mobile users that find you will likely jump to sites that offer a better experience. Instead, Google now surfaces content that is proven to deliver value to searchers and your site has a much better chances of getting valuable backlinks from authority sites.
Re-build your site with responsive design architecture – Delivering a user friendly interface on mobile devices is critical in keeping these searchers on your site after they have landed. Text that is difficult to read, navigation links that are hard to find, and pictures of products that are too small on mobile viewports will typically have users headed for a sight that is mobile friendly. Re-building your site with responsive design architecture can display an optimized interface for mobile users that presents web page information that has been adjusted to the size of the screen of each mobile device.
Local businesses now have a huge opportunity to attract mobile consumers. Make these changes as soon as possible to get in on the action.
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.