Rupert Hughes

User Experience (UX): Online Customer Acquisition

6 July 2009, Rupert Hughes

User engagement part I - Online customer acquisitionAcquistion: Using UX to Improve Search Marketing
UX is most effective when it permeates the whole customer life cycle through all the touchpoints that a company or product has with that customer. I remember buying my first iPod online a few years’ back. I was already sold on Apple’s brand and loved the design and functionality I’d seen from friends’ iPods, but when mine arrived in the post, it was clear that the same care and thought had been applied to the machine’s packaging, which opened in all sorts of unexpected (though intuitive) ways and which actually created a mounting sense of anticipation for the moment of finally holding your iPod in your hand.

It’s the same with online marketing. If you leave responsibility for UX solely in the hands of your web designers or UX specialists then it will only extend to the limits of their sphere of influence. Thus your site design may be great and your information may be structured superbly, but your text content may read like it’s been written by the legal department (or worse, Sales!), your email newsletters may never get opened and the click-through rate from your search marketing might be the kind of number only an email spammer could be happy with. Over the next four weeks, I’m going to look at the how UX affects the success of online marketing at the four key stages of the online customer life cycle: Acquisition, Engagement, Conversion and Retention.

Acquistion Channels
From a UX perspective, the only acquisition channel that really counts is search marketing. Sure, you could make an argument for banner advertising, but since that starts from an interruptive format that, by its nature, makes a website less usable, the only UX aim with banners must be to ensure that your site or landing page lives up to the experience trailed in the banner.

Some may also argue for affiliate marketing and email marketing as acquisition channels, but the responsibility for UX in the former lies mainly with the affiliate (your responsibility is to choose an affiliate who won’t do anything actively detrimental to your UX) and the latter is really a part of the Retention stage, since you’ve already acquired that user when they signed up for your emails (or you bought their address because they told someone else they didn’t mind being marketed to).

Defining UX
A basic definition of good UX is that a user’s expectations are fulfilled and they are satisfied with the end result of their action. In the Acquisition stage then, good UX is simply that they find a link or banner that appears to lead somewhere that they want to go. Once that link is clicked, Acquisition is over and they’re into the Engagement stage.

So, with your user acquisition, what you’re actually trying to do is to improve the user experience of searching by making your link (whether paid or organic) stand out as being the one most likely to satisfy the user’s need. The key UX concept at work here is “Information Scent” as described by Jared Spool who recommends using trigger words that users recognise and avoiding jargon. A good place to start looking for the right words is in your web analytics or tools like Google’s Webmaster tools.

But it’s not enough just to stuff these words into your page titles and meta descriptions. That might get you ranked highly in search but it won’t get you clicked on. To get the clicks you need to give users confidence that there might be a guiding intelligence behind the site they’re going to.

Writing techniques
Think about your tone of voice and an appropriate call to action. You may need to unlearn what you thought you knew about writing for the web. Jakob Nielsen has some interesting thoughts on how passive voice can work in search.

Think also about what makes your business stand out. If you’ve got a strong brand then make sure it appears somewhere in your search result and if that brand is an authority in your market, then Nielsen thinks it may even be worth front-loading your links with your brand name.

The acquisition user experience is all about writing. Find out what the trigger words are for your market and then write them into your titles, meta descriptions and Adwords copy with the same thought you’d give to creating a haiku. That way, you’ll imbue your search results and your paid ads with enough “scent” to garner the clicks to give your site UX a chance to engage users with your website. Next week: UX and Engagement.

This article was written by Rupert Hughes – managing consultant at Firehorse Digital.