Happier customers, sustainable profits, and an ROI that dwarfs email marketing at an astronomical scale.
What do these three things have in common?
They’re all characteristics of what happens when you tap into user experience (UX).
And they’re just the tip of the benefits iceberg.
When you have a good -- not even a great -- UX, your profits don’t just rise. Your brand reputation increases, people talk about your products more, and you spend less time triaging support tickets from customers at odd-end hours of the night, too.
Conversely, if you’re not making UX your top priority, you’re undermining your sales potential. Your blogging and SEO won’t be half as effective, your affiliates won’t sing your praises without some significant push, and your marketing funnel will have enough friction to start a fire.
There are a lot of strategies in marketing that are “take it or leave it”. UX isn’t one of them.
The good news is you don’t have to learn a new discipline to start benefiting from UX. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, either.
Here’s why, and so much more importantly, how to make UX the foundation of your online business.
What is user experience (UX) and why is it important for businesses?
User experience refers to the emotional, practical, and interactive elements of a users’ individual experience on a website, app, or other touchpoints.
Its purpose varies among businesses, but at large, the idea behind UX is to make it as easy as possible for customers to use a product and, more importantly, enjoy it.
And it’s more critical for businesses than ever before.
Check out what the numbers say:
- 42% of consumers report they would pay more for a friendly, inclusive experience with a brand.
- Alternatively, if you don’t provide that experience, they may not be willing to pay at all. 88% of online customers aren’t likely to return to your website after just one bad experience.
- And when that happens, 79% of users will find another site -- i.e., your competitors -- to complete their task if your website doesn’t make it easy enough for them.
As you can hopefully see, neglecting your UX comes at a significant expense -- though these are just the most obvious costs.
There is a far less obvious, but just as detrimental, impact on your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts when you wing your website design.
Let me explain.
Google’s UX directly impacts how SEO works.
For instance, do you remember interstitial ads? Forbes was famous for them back in the marketing day: they’d block your way forward as soon as you landed with a window you had to interact with before seeing the content you came for.
In 2016, Google (rightfully) deemed them too intrusive for mobile users and started penalizing website rankings for anyone who sported them for phone-bound visitors.
And since Google also started laying the seeds for its mobile-first index in the same year -- in other words, your SEO merit became determined by the mobile version of your website first -- the result was an almost overnight eradication of this ad type.
That’s just one example of how Google’s UX philosophies impact search engine ranking, too. If you want something even more on-the-nose, consider this:
The overwhelming majority of users won’t wait longer than 6 seconds for a website to load on their phone. If it takes longer than that, most will bounce by hitting the back button and heading back to the search engine results page.
This signals to Google that the page they’re serving up to the user isn’t what they wanted, which means the search engine giant is providing a less-than-stellar experience for users.
So what did they do?
On July 9, 2018, they officially rolled out a penalty based on website speed to improve the experience they provide for users.
Which, in turn, means website speed -- already an important metric for user satisfaction to that point -- became a direct ranking factor for all websites.
It’s a never-ending process.
The much more recent diversity update, which is intended to provide users with a wider array of content by diversifying the domains that rank for a given term, is just the latest in a long series of UX-driven decisions that radically change the shape of digital marketing.
And since digital marketing is the crux of how you sell digital products, be they digital downloads or otherwise, it comes full circle.
After all, Google search drives at least 50% of all referral traffic on the internet. There is no greater gateway to customers than organic search and SEO, and no greater obstruction than when that gateway is closed.
I could keep going on, but I think we’ve made our point:
UX is the foundation of how people make money online, whether you’re trying to sell online courses, net more visitors to your blog to convert them from subscriber to customer, or run a mastermind group.
It’s all connected, and if you aren’t making those connections as strong as possible, you’re doing your sales a disservice.
Beyond that, you’re also missing out on the highest ROI you can tap into on the web at a return of $100 to every $1 spent.
“Marketing without UX is like throwing darts in the dark. Don’t hope to hit a goal.”
So, what is UX?
It’s the most pivotal aspect of an online business, and one you can’t afford to ignore.
But it is one you can definitely afford to improve, and here’s how -- in three steps, no less.
3 steps to improve your website’s user experience and drive more digital product sales
Step #1. Turn your market research into user research
The difference is in the details, as you can see below.
Don’t just look at the buying habits of your users; look at their browsing habits, too. Do they have a lot of time to snack on content, or do they need to get from “point A” to “point B” in as short of a window as possible?
What are the tasks they need to complete on your website to satisfy their overall goals as customers (e.g., buying an online course to become self-sufficient at money management, or finding a checklist to help them organize their closets)?
Don’t stop there, either. Dig into your demographics -- what one cohort needs as users can vary significantly from another cohort’s needs.
Older users, for instance, are more likely to struggle with small and stylized font faces than younger users. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) makes it harder to see fine details and focus your eyes on the nitty-gritty.
And on that note, don’t assume you know your demographics without consulting your analytics, either from your Google webmaster dashboard or your Facebook Pixel.
It’s worth keeping your eye on future user growth, too, if you plan to expand your audience over time.
So even if they’re not currently in your audience, they will be. Understanding and accounting for their needs ahead of time will save you a lot of website design correction work down the road.
The point, however, isn’t to talk about designing about older users (though it is a pet passion of mine), it’s to emphasize the need to think of people in terms of their user needs.
Not only does researching and understanding your customers as users improve your SEO -- see our earlier section -- but it also improves your overall credibility when your website functions optimally for your audience.
75% of people base the perceived credibility of your website and business on not just how it looks, but how it feels as they move through the sales funnel.
What’s more, over half of customers in both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) demographic say engagement depends entirely on how well a business understands their needs, which includes their user needs.
Still, if that’s not enough to convince you to research your customers as users, maybe these success stories will be.
Starting with user research, one design team improved conversion rates for a client by 75% after just a few small tweaks.
Likewise, in-depth research led another team to consecutive marketing experiments, all of which uplifted conversions by over 15% a piece, or 45% cumulatively.
As for how to turn your customer research into user research, beyond looking in your analytics, I recommend doing some guerilla-style research on your primary user groups, which we’ll cover more deeply in a moment.
Otherwise, the Pew Research Center is a great, free resource to learn more about the browsing habits and technology needs of different user groups. The Interaction Design Foundation’s guide to qualitative user research is also an excellent starting point.
OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for a caveat. While doing your homework on your users is imperative, there’s no way to validate your research, let alone your website, without putting it to the test. That’s where our second step comes in.
Step #2. Test your current website
You need a lot of traffic to run most marketing tests, but you don’t need a lot of traffic to find most of your UX hiccups.
In fact, the guiding rule is 5 users can discover 85% of your usability problems, or things which are standing in users’ way from completing their goal.
It can be as simple as asking five people you know to complete a specific action on your website, such as buying a product, and watching how they do it from start-to-finish. As they work through, document their process and ask them to share their thoughts.
Note, however, the user -- like the customer -- is never ‘wrong’. If they’re not doing things the way you think they should or want them to, you need to adjust to their step, not the other way around.
These platforms can be expensive, though, and while certainly worth the investment, they’re not a must-have expense in the early aughts of your business.
(Want to find out what the must-haves for a fledgling online business are? Our weekly live demo may be just the ticket for you then.)