Imagine you're in an ice cream shop, and you've just created *the best* ice cream sundae in the world. You've selected your favorite ice cream as the base, and it's smothered in your choice of toppings - chocolate sauce, nuts, sprinkles, crushed Reese's peanut butter cups... whatever you like best.
The ice cream shop is crowded, so you have to find somewhere else to eat your *perfect* sundae. There are two doors to exit the ice cream shop. You open both doors and discover that they each lead somewhere different:
Door #1 leads to a dark, cold, damp, moldy basement. You're shivering, and even your delicious sundae can't mask the dank, overpowering musty scent.
Door #2 leads to a beautiful sandy beach. You feel the gentle sea breeze, hear the gentle sound of the waves rolling in, and enjoy the sunshine... ahh.
I'm willing to bet you'd exit through Door #2. Even if you're not a "beach person", nothing beats the experience of eating a cool treat on a hot day. You feel no need to escape your surroundings - rather, the entire experience allows you to sit back, stay a while, and enjoy every bite of that delicious, *flawless* sundae.
A similar phenomenon occurs with your content experience, or the environment in which your content lives. Even if your content is *the best* - well-written, relevant, valuable to your audience - its performance can be impacted by the environment in which it lives.
Environment impacts behavior
It's no secret that environment impacts human behavior - in fact, this is something that the retail and service industries have known for years. In both physical and digital environments, subtle environmental cues (including sound, layout, colors, etc.) are purposefully set up to appeal to consumers to compel them to act.
And it works. In a recent study on personalized online shopping environments, it was noted that a potential buyer's decision was significantly impacted by the presence of personalized product recommendations. In particular, the assistance of personalized product recommendations reduced the extent of product search that a potential buyer engaged in by almost 50%. Highly relevant product recommendations allowed potential buyers to make faster, more informed decisions.
Your content isn't exactly a product, but it should live in an environment that encourages consumption of more content. The more relevant and contextual your experience is set up for your end user, the better results you'll see.
User experience has SEO implications
Long gone are the "black hat" SEO practices of keyword stuffing, adding invisible text, and so on. Search engines (namely Google) have updated their algorithms to provide the best experience for the end-user.
As such, optimization efforts shouldn't be focused on the search engine, or the search engine's algorithm - rather, they should be focused on providing the best experience for the end user. This change of focus is often referred to as Search 'Experience' Optimization.
At a high level, marketers can optimize their search experience by providing:
- Answers - When conducting keyword research, try to understand user intent. This means considering keyword modifiers and long-tail queries that indicate that someone is looking for highly specific information, and creating content that provides the answer to that query.
- Value - Any old answer won't do, however. Your content needs to provide enough value that it prevents the end-user from returning to Google, or, as Mark Munroe says, "kill the search". You can accomplish this by truly understanding your end user's needs and intentions and anticipating what will drive them to search on Google.
- Responsive design - Mobilegeddon is upon us. Instead of thinking of Mobilegeddon as an issue that'll affect your search engine ranking, think of it as an issue that will affect your content experience. If your end-user can't view your content in its optimal format on all devices, you're creating a leak in your experience. Don't underestimate how many potential leads will slip through the cracks.
If people don't remember a good experience, they'll remember a poor one - and the implications of a poor experience go beyond SEO issues.
All it takes is one bad experience
To expand on an observation, your content experience doesn't just have a massive impact on your content's performance. Your content experience can also positively or negatively impact all other aspects of your brand. In psychology, this bias is known as the Halo effect.
The Halo effect is a term used in marketing to explain the bias shown by customers towards certain products because of a favorable experience with other products made by the same manufacturer or maker. Basically, the halo effect is driven by brand equity. [Investopedia]
The important thing about the Halo effect is that it can also work in reverse (otherwise known as the "Horns effect"). One poor experience can cause someone to form a negative predisposition about everything related to your brand - your product, your content, your employees. Since content is often the first and most frequent point of contact between your end user and your brand, it's more important than ever to provide a good content experience and leverage the power of the Halo effect (and, more importantly, avoid causing the Horns effect).
Again, providing a good experience means, first and foremost, thinking about the user and how they consume your content. Consider:
- Organizing your content so your end user doesn't have to jump through hoops to find what they're looking for
- Eliminating credibility killers so your end user will return to your content and rely on your brand's content as a reliable source of information
- Strategically placing CTAs and forms so your end user can easily access content without being booted out to a landing page
Your content isn't just functioning as marketing collateral. It plays an important role in the formation of a user's opinion about your brand - a formation that occurs within your content experience.
Your content experience matters
Where your content lives and how it's designed to be consumed can make or break the relationship between a brand and a consumer. Since digital marketing introduces multiple channels through which this relationship can be formed, every experience needs to be remarkable - especially your content experience.
Like a delicious ice cream sundae, on its own, great content is great. However, if you really want to tap into the power of your content, you need to think beyond the content itself and focus on optimizing the experience.