You see, we love our optimization.
But for all this optimization, we’re missing something absolutely critical. It’s so critical that I’m prepared to dispense with my much-loved SEO and CRO for this one thing.
It’s called user experience.
What is user experience?
User experience, or UX for short, is really broad, so be prepared to be dissatisfied with my definition.
User experience is how someone interacts with, feels about, and uses your website. It describes the overall interaction between human and website.
The scope of my article is on websites, so I’m intentionally ignoring the role that UX plays in mobile development and other facets of technology design.
Smashing Magazine describes user experience as “how a person feels when interfacing with a system.” Feeling is definitely part of the issue, but it’s not the whole thing. Nielsen Norman Group gets closer to the point with their definition: “‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” A definition that broad, however, casts the net too wide. Issues like branding and messaging get all mixed up with color selection and mobile usability.
It’s helpful to view user experience in light of three main issues:
- Interactivity – Can they user do what she needs to do? How hard is it?
- Feeling – Is the user frustrated or at ease?
- Usefulness – Does it work? Does it work well?
Again, UX is broad. This is the main reason why the importance of UX outweighs both SEO and CRO.
The other two reasons get at the heart of the two issues.
- SEO: To rank for search results, you must successfully deliver what the search engines want. In order to do so, you must first achieve an optimal user experience.
- CRO: To gain conversions, you must create a website that is easy and enjoyable for users. This is all aboutuser experience.
Today’s search algorithms favor sites with good user experience.
In the old days of SEO, all you had to do was figure out what the algorithm wanted, and make your website do it.
- Algorithm favors sites with lots of keywords? Easy. Stuff your pages with hundreds of keywords.
- Algorithm favors sites with lots of backlinks? Easy. Whip up a few websites and spray your website with backlinks.
- Algorithm favors sites with lots of content? Easy. Pay inexpensive writers to churn out blog articles.
- Algorithm favors sites with higher quality backlinks? Easy. Pay a bunch of websites to link to yours.
That was then. This is now.
- Pigeon Update (July 2014) – Local results are designed to be “more useful, relevant and accurate” for users.
- HTTS/SSL Update (August 2014) – The more secure a website, the more likely it is to be ranked higher in the SERPs.
- Panda 4.1 (September 2014) – Sites are rewarded for high-value content, topically relevant links, and reputable reviews.
- Penguin “3.0” (October 2014) – Google devalues and downgrades sites with spammy links.
- Mobile Friendly Update (April 2015) – A web page must be easy to use and interact with on a mobile device. Issues like text size and touchpoints are critical.
That’s just the last year. I could go back a few years further, and show you a clear progression that have tilted the SERPs in favor of user friendliness, over against search techniques. Even the repeated leaks of Google’s “quality rating guide” confirm the fact that Google cares about quality.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this insistence upon quality in the search world. Since we’re focusing on Google, by far the most significant search engine, we need only to look at their mission statement to see why they love quality and user-friendliness.
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Useful? Yep, that’s search engine optimization.
Since the primordial dawn of SEO, there have been “keywords.” Keywords and their query counterparts are phrases that users type in to find what they need. A website will only rank in the search results if it has the right keywords. Ah, but what are users typing in?
Search engine optimization needs to understand user intent before they can win user’s searches. Whyis the user looking for that phrase? To make it even more complicated, search engines care less about the actual word being searched for, and more about the semantic relevanceof the phrase.
At its core, then, search engine optimization is about making your website useful. It’s not just about the search engines. It’s about what the search engines are designed to do — to give the user the greatest possible value.
A SEO can’t simply expect to check all the boxes and gain rank. SEO isn’t a science anymore. It’s the art of delivering the user precisely what he needs and wants.
To convert, a user must have a positive experience on a website.
Conversion optimization is the process of compelling more people to complete a desired action. What action do you want people to complete? Buying a t-shirt? Downloading a free trial? Signing up for your mailing list?
But there’s more to it than just smart split tests and psychological hacks. Conversion optimization is not about optimizing for conversions. It’s about optimizing for users who will then convert.
The difference is fundamental, yet crucial. To have a higher converting website, sure, you need to test the heck out of it, tweak your button colors, adjust your headline, and shorten your capture form. By why are you doing all of these things?
The reason is to help the use interact successfully (interactivity), feel good (feeling), and accomplish what she needs to accomplish (usefulness). In other words, conversion optimization is, at its core,user experience optimization.
Users don’t want irrelevant content, spam-riddled websites, and typo-infected content. Users don’t want to convert on clunky websites with ugly colors, tiny buttons, garrish fonts, and broken menus.
Users want high-quality, spam-free SEO. Users want beautiful websites with seamless interfaces.
Users are at the heart of digital marketing. You can and should invest cash, time, and concern into your SEO and CRO. But you should do so with this mentality — it’s all about the users.
How does user experience affect your digital marketing strategy?