Standing in the shower this morning I had one of those epiphanies (yes, I know, perhaps TMI but I like to paint a picture in your mind so you can follow along with my logic 🙂 ). This was an epiphany while contemplating why people stay with a website. As I considered all of the marketing tools we use to retain a customer (email, coupons, etc.) it dawned on me that the single most important consideration, that with which you, the marketer, should play a MUCH more significant role, is the user experience. Can we simplify “the user experience” to a few simple concepts that are easy to evaluate? Are there only a few user experience considerations that matter?
As I lathered up with our Target brand, Bath & Body Works, apple scented soap and wept tears as my eye lids expunged the Head and Shoulders from my eyes, I pondered that, from a user experience standpoint, there are only 4, fundamental, methods of retention.
I beg of you to point out if I’m missing one but I also challenge you to consider all of the sites that you visit and the experience therein that keeps you around. The 4 fundamental web technologies for user retention are:
- Personalization – This may be the most self-explanatory but what do you consider personalization? More importantly, how much of a role do you play? Often, personalization is handled by your website engineers or product design organization, building what they think makes the most sense; perhaps, evaluating user expectations through focus groups or an analysis of competitor sites. Almost certainly missing an opportunity. The product in this case can range from personal photos and profile information to limiting categories of content to recommendations and a truly unique experience based on a user’s activity. Ask yourself, what makes the personalization on Amazon so much more engaging than Facebook? First ask, is the personalization of Amazon more engaging than Facebook? I think so. On one hand (Facebook) you personalize with your identity and social network (to the extent that your network uses Facebook). Amazon however, truly redesigns the experience, based on your preferred products and purchases. I always turn to Amazon for product recommendations, whether I buy or not. Amazon treats personalization as a Marketing opportunity and therein succeeds in indefinitely retaining me as a customer.
- Social Networking – While Facebook isn’t best-in-class personalization, they’ve addressed this question of retention through connectivity with friends and updates on their interests and activities. I will continue to use Facebook because my friends and peers keep drawing me back. We rediscover long lost friends and keep in touch with large social groups in ways never before possible. Consider though, that I’m not addressing social networking as a form of valuable engagement. Social networking comes with a question regarding intrinsic value – In the context of a business model, do you really care what your friends are up to? More so than what you yourself desire?? If you still answer yes, what would you pay for that?
- eCommerce – I almost overlooked this facet of retention but all considered, it is true that a form of engagement that drives the user to buy something from you, almost assuredly keeps that customer coming back for more. Let go of the preconceived notion that when I say eCommerce, I’m talking about shopping. I’m not referring to online shopping (though the point is just as valid in that context), we’re talking about the ability for your audience to buy something from you be that a report, a study, a book, a service, or products. Once a financial commitment to your site is made, I’ve noticed that at least I, personally, am more likely to continue to use the site than one in which I can merely consume content.
- Search – In many ways, an effective search experience is tied to personalization as the experience derived from a true search experience is one in which the user gets exactly what they want from your site. It is important to recognize that an effective search experience is much more complicated than a search box that returns a set of results for your site. A true search engine spins popularity, relevance, timeliness, and other factors into the results so you are more likely to get what you expect. How do I know Search makes this list? The popularity of Google is based almost solely on this opportunity to personalize. That is, on a Search experience alone, a search experience that was more comprehensive, relevant, and user friendly, Google dominated the search industry in only a few short years and effectively defended itself from Yahoo and MSN who, arguably, should have (or have had) many more resources at their disposal to create an engaging search engine.
Is it that simple? Can the list be distilled to so simple a consideration set? What does your site offer its users?
Do you have a case which defies this premise?
I do. Perhaps. Then again….
What of a successful blog? A site that delivers neither eCommerce, Personalization, Social Networking, nor true Search? You deliver engaging, entertaining content that users continue to visit for updates and insights. This blog, perhaps.
Here’s where I get giddy thinking about this (embarrassing that this is what I think about, I know). Recall that I suggested that these forms of website development/design are those in which you, the marketer, must participate. If your site does no more than deliver fresh, unique content, you rely on Search, not on-site but off; almost certainly, the majority of your traffic in this case comes from Google. Your form of user retention IS a true search engine; not your own but that of the big red elephant in the room, the gateway to all things online, the engine that keeps most of us gainfully employed. How many visits to your site a result of a search for your brand, domain, or related identity? You retain customers through Search, whether you like it or not, which is why we bid on brand terms and optimize our sites.
Though our own sites may not deliver one of these forms of retention, big daddy Google takes care of one for you – as long as you get involved. So wash the Bath & Body Works out of your eyes and get to work.