Improving User Experience through Relationship Marketing

The evolution of search engines have allowed more useful data to be found through quicker and more efficient means, and with the rise of monoliths such as Google with its computational power, we no longer have to rely on the very few top results we once had. This is subtly echoed in the notion that we can search for a single, generic word such as 'shoes' and be served results for local shoe shops in our area.

Before these personalized results, nearly all search results trended towards a global audience, and with the more primitive methods of ranking these search results, (PageRank I'm looking at you), there were very few ways to have your content stand out towards any particular audience. To remedy this, in the year 2000 Google launched what would later become a multi-billion dollar revenue stream for themselves and opened millions of advertisers a more direct stream onto the attention of internet users.

For many years since then, and even leading up to that point in some capacity, advertisers and webmasters have been seeking and implementing ways to fool Google's system into believing their content was more relevant, interesting, and more importantly, trustworthy than it actually was. This lead Google in 2010 to stop publicly releasing a websites PageRank and moved their algorithms in a way that lead to the discouraging of spam and link-building networks of yore.
In more recent years, Google has been pushing for what I’ll call “User Experience Rank”, it’s a mixture of their newer algorithms, machine learning, actual data from page analytics and a whole bunch of other metrics that Google uses to rank their content. In a sense, what Google is doing now more closely resembles rewarding great websites with great content that give their customers (their users).

Remember now, the more Google gives their customers a better experience, the more those customers will return; it is Google’s incentive to direct their users to websites that deliver good user experience as well. It is most certainly a symbiotic relationship.

At the end of the day what this really means is that AdWords can be a powerful tool for many websites and advertisers, but we are now seeing a trend in marketing called “content marketing”, where great content is being produced and webmasters are being rewarded for it.

More clicks now are now coming organically, and Google wants to keep it that way. Ads are great for revenue, but terrible for user experience. Google is primarily accessed on an on-demand basis by their users, who are willing to spend some moments of their life entrusting Google to provide them with what they’re looking for.

In this article, we’ll explore some more into what these “micro-moments” of user experience can mean for Google and what they can mean for Webmasters as well.

When looking at defining a User Experience, most people will imagine a designer sifting through wireframes and paper mockups; which is certainly by definition the development of a user experience, so instead, we’ll focus on, Improving the User Experience beyond what a designer initially put together.

The most simple and cost-effective way to “improve” a user experience is to use data. I’ve put improve in quotes because in nearly all cases, the experience that is being improved is not necessarily for the user or customer, it is the experience leading a customer to a conversion. A conversion in this case means the user joining a mailing list, donating to a cause, downloading an app or even purchasing an item. Most UX (user experience) designers goals are not to actually improve the experience for the user by providing value, but to improve the value of a user by altering the experience.

Using data to inform your strategy can be powerful, but it must be used in conjunction with rational thought and reasoning. While analytics will tell you that putting animated characters on your homepage and popup ads get more email addresses, the fundamental fact is that what is the best experience for the webmaster is not always the best experience for the user.

User Experience has been abused by the masses to improve the “user experience” for those who would make money from influencing a user to do some action. They are behavioral influencers that use analytics to trick and influence customers to their whim.

This may seem inherently evil at first, but ultimately, it is the crux of what advertising has always been. Sure, you don’t really need that 28-page ebook on how to improve your mental state, but for this “Limited time offer, Only $2.99, Buy Now while Supplies Last!” There’s just something that makes you want to pull out that credit card.

Do you remember those “1 Millionth Visitor! Click now to claim your prize!” ads? We can look back on those laughingly now, but at the time they were quite effective at preying on a deep fundamental human desire. The truth is that these desires have not gone away, we’ve only become privy to such marketing tactics.

So how do webmasters make their content desirable without becoming a nuisance?

Well, by creating good content and by understanding their audience. 

You will have a million UX designers come to you and tell you they can increase your website conversion rates by 3%. They’ll A/B test hundreds of different colors, layouts, marketing messaging, more colors, email blasts, etc. They will develop “customer personas” where they generalize your entire market demographic into 3 stereotyped caricatures. Let’s say you’re selling chainsaws, “Redneck Ralph”, “Woodsman Willy”, “Dad-who-wants-to-feel-empowered-by-cutting-the-trees-in-their-back-yard”, would be idea candidates for a UX designer to tell you your marketing needs to reach.

It is truly appalling how these “analytical marketers”, “UX designers” and “growth hackers” will go out of their lengths to generalize and simplify their user base, and for good reason:

More varied demographics make their spreadsheets and charts harder to understand and manage. 

Companies and webmasters that have discovered this single fundamental flaw with UX designers have sought more effective alternates, that both increase the experience for the customer, and themselves.

Enter, the computer. 

While trying to manage the analytics for 3 demographics most humans will spend some time, understanding, some time speculating, some time implementing, some time reviewing… and so on. In that same time, properly developed computer systems with the same analytic data, can generate entirely personalized experiences for every single demographic that lands on a website; that means a new experience for every person.

After someone enters a search on Google and click a link they seem relevant, they will find themselves at some times in an entirely unfamiliar place, unaware if where they’ve landed is trustworthy and relevant. Within a few moments, they will ask themselves "is this what I need/looked for?” If they cannot answer that question within 2 seconds, or if that answer is a direct no, they’ve pressed the back button. (Google sees this, and with their many algorithms, punishes your content ranking because (as someone landed and left) it might not be as relevant to that search as initially thought). 

We can use data to drive customer experiences, but only if such experiences are driven for the customer. The ideal customer is complex and has unpredictable patterns of activity, usage and expectations and to think we should leave such for a single person to design becomes laughable in this day and age of parallel computing in the megas-of-billions-of-giga-flops.

Customer behavior happens on a spectrum in an incomprehensible amount of permutations. Data informed designs are designs that bring the user the information that they need, and lead them to the place they need to go next. Proper User Experience is a story, a hierarchy of actions that leads to the best possibly outcome for both parties. It is a branching tree that breaks into the 7.4 billion nodes that represent each and every one of us. Getting the story right is the next major step in providing users with the experience they are expecting.

There is a content surplus, and there is always competition for our attention.

What is our opportunity to surprise the customers, how can we make their day better?

What can we give that cost us nothing but gives the customer some value or use?

How can we improve the quality of content, the experience of a user, and ultimately, the quality of both parties lives?

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