Does SEO Conflict with User Experience?

If you work with an SEO expert, you have encounter times when her recommendations or priorities conflict with the overall goal of improving the website. This will happen when content changes on the website are written for search engines and not for real people.

Let’s look at an example:

Say you are responsible for your company’s website experience. You sell books online, and some of your key pages are not the product pages for the books themselves, but the category pages for each genre of book that you sell. Your SEO expert tells you that “true crime books online” is a high volume keyword and so recommends adding that phrase into the text of the page sporadically, including in the main heading.

On the surface this is no big deal, but once the copy changes are complete, the page reads as if a robot wrote it and in the language that we use to communicate with other human beings every day, it sounds funny.

That’s because your SEO expert is writing for the search engines.

What should you do in this instance?

In my experience, user experience has to win out over SEO. While I agree that SEO is critical to any site’s success, at the end of the day you have created your website for people to use. And the user experience is priority number one.

A good SEO strategy understands that the user is the champion. We are solving for the user first, and the search engines second. And so every recommendation or assignment that they come up with should factor in the end effect on the user.

Most times, there is no conflict. Search engines prefer a page that loads faster, so does the user. Search engines prefer a domain with higher authority, so does the user. Search engines prefer a page that answers the question a user types in, so does the user.

Where conflict exists, it usually comes down to the phrasing that is used in the website copy. And though every attempt should be made to include text that searchers will use to find you on Google, it still must be written so that it can be read and understood easily.

Because at the end of the day, you are writing for the user.

Design for Idiots

Website design is not easy. And that fact in itself presents an opportunity. Because you can choose to be better than your competition. And many companies today are finally prioritizing user experience. And design is a major part of experience.

There are many different theories on what makes “good design”. But let me propose one to you that is simple, and in my experience, quite effective.

Design for Idiots

In other words, use the design of your website to guide someone through its use.

Assume that the person landing on your site has no idea who you are, what you do, or how they should interact with your website. Now, this does not make them an idiot, of course. But we are using that term as a stand-in for anyone who does not have the same domain expertise or brand familiarity as you do.

How to Design for Idiots:

1. Keep it simple

The quickest way to design something that fails the effectiveness test is to make it overly complicated. New designers like to show off their design skills and often over-design a page or a site. They add a bunch of graphical elements, and moving parts, using fancy fonts and lots of color.

It might feel to them like good design, because they used a lot of different things that they had learned in design school. But good design is not the sum of all techniques, it is identifying the one or two techniques that will have the most impact. Quality, not quantity.

One or two fonts. One or two colors. A prominent hero image. That is often all you need.

2. Avoid clutter

This may fall under the bucket above, but I believe it deserves its own call out. And that is because clutter kills good design.

White space is your friend. And that’s coming from a marketer (not a designer) who used to try to fill every square inch of white space with copy and buttons.

You know it already. The simplest websites to use are the ones that are clean. They only use color and imagery to assist the visitor, not because they can.

Marie Kondo asks us to declutter our homes by taking each possession and asking whether or not it sparks joy. If they answer is no, she says, throw it out. Apply that same critical thinking to your website. For each element, does it improve the user experience? If the answer is no, it needs to be removed.

3. Easy access to help

For many designers, navigation may not feel immediately like a design element. But of course it helps a visitor find what she is looking for. So navigation is a critical design feature.

An easy-to-use navigation is a tool that your visitors can use to accomplish their goal. And when they get interrupted, or can’t figure out what to do next, we want to give them options.

A phone number (which will be answered), a live chat option, FAQs, a contact form – these are all things you can include so that your visitors don’t feel lost and ignored. Because if they do, you will lose them.

4. Mobile first

Good design accounts for the fact that most of your visitors are likely coming to your website from a mobile device. Browsing behavior is different for mobile users vs desktop users. And any time you design a page, you have to consider first what the mobile experience will be like.

If anything, this only reinforces the items above. The site needs to be simple and easy to navigate. Clickable items must be large enough to fit a thumb. Font needs to be large enough that mobile visitors don’t need to squint or pinch the screen. Try to avoid drop downs or other elements that don’t translate will to mobile devices.

5. Clear calls to action

Your calls to action are not just buttons for people to click on. They are like the road signs for your website. They tell people where to go, and what to expect.

Actionable items are critical elements of any design. But one of the biggest mistakes we often make is trying to be clever or subtle with them. We hide buttons within images or use language that does not clearly state what they will be used for.

If you want someone to use your website without confusion, clearly identifiable calls to action are a must-have.

Email Marketing is About Quality, not Quantity

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The traditional metrics when it comes to email marketing have changed over the years, from “quantity” metrics like number of subscribers, raw sends, opens and clicks early on to conversion and ROI metrics today.

From Quantity

In the early days of email marketing, brands wanted to amass the biggest possible list of email addresses to send to. These were the days of batch and blast email marketing, where the more people you could reach, the better off you’d be.

It worked for a time because there were fewer brands using email on a regular basis. People were still receiving more emails from friends and family than marketers. So the marketing emails they did get managed to attract more of their attention.

The Transition

After a little while, a few different things happened that made email marketing more difficult to get right. First, brands started to abuse the channel. Inboxes were flooded with promotional emails. When that happened, people began to either complain, or tune out.

And when more of them started to complain, the Google’s and the other email service providers of the world caught on, developing more sophisticated tools that allowed people to ignore promotional emails brands were sending.

Batch and blast stopped working. Brands’ reputations were hurt. Deliverability dropped.

To Quality

Smart email marketers saw the opportunity that these changes created, an opportunity for “quality” focused email programs that added value and broke through the clutter. The brands that adopted these new practices were more interested in measuring deliverability rates, open rates, click thru rates, and conversions. The size of the list matters less, and the return on investment matters more.

By focusing on the user experience, brands have been able to create more engagement emails, personalized and segmented, delivered at times when people are most likely to take action.

The Magic of 1-Question Surveys

What can you really learn about a person from a single question? A lot.

When we think about surveys, we tend to think about long, time-consuming exercises. We think about page after page of questions that all sound the same, some of which require that we type out a full response in a box entirely too big for what we have to say.

But companies everywhere are starting to learn that the modern survey is much simpler. 1-question surveys get more engagement, and more answers. And if the question you ask is the right one, you can glean key information about how to grow your business.

Three examples:

  1. A domestic airline uses a single question survey after every single phone interaction between staff and customers. The question – “on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, how would you rate the quality of service you received on this call?” With that simple question, the company can determine changes in customer service quality, and focus on improving areas where customers are least satisfied.
     
  2. A large ecommerce brand uses a single question survey on their website, always visible on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. The question – “were you able to find what you were looking for today?” With that simple question, the company knows how usable their website is to its visitors, and can begin to focus on improving the user experience based on the responses.
     
  3. A consumer software tool uses a single question survey, sent via email, to all customers after they use the product for the first time. The question – “how likely are you to refer this tool to a friend or family member?” With that simple question, the company can determine how well they are meeting expectations, and focus on improving the product over time.

Let’s rethink surveys and create simple, engaging experiences for our customers.

Simple Website Fixes – Part 2

Welcome to the first edition of our newest weekly blog series, Simple Website Fixes. Each week we will identify and explain one easy change that you can make to your company’s website in order to improve performance. Last week’s fix was - Replace Big Blocks of Text with Lists.

This week’s fix = Limit Your Navigation Options

Take a step back and think about your company’s website. I’ll bet you can tell me off the top of your head what you want your visitors to do when they get there. Where you want them to go. What you want them to click on and read. What action you want them to take.

The point of a navigation is to make it easy for visitors to…navigate…your website. But there is no rule that says it needs to show them everything you have to offer.

Companies can succeed by creating a “skinny” navigation that steers visitors to the appropriate pages in order to increase the odds that they convert. I am not saying that you should eliminate all the other pages you have – the blogs, the contact forms, the privacy policy, etc. – just don’t put them front and center.

This follows the classic “Keep It Simple Stupid” philosophy. A visitor is more likely to become a customer if they can easily find what they’re looking for. Overly complex websites make it easy on users by simplifying the navigation and guiding them through the process.

Make your website easier to navigate and you should see an increase in performance.

Have an idea for a simple website fix? Submit it here and maybe we will include it in an upcoming post.