The longer I work in internet marketing, the more I wonder if we're often missing the point. We tend to think primarily in terms of "link-juice," conversion rates, or increasing traffic, and when it comes to accountability, we usually look to Google as some omnipotent deity, hoping it will bestow favor upon us. But with so much emphasis on these inanimate statistics, we've forgotten something really important:
The internet is not about Google.
The internet is not about ads.
The internet is not about traffic.
The internet is about PEOPLE.
Shocker, right? Amidst all the hubbub centered around how to best optimize X, or increase Y, or reduce Z, we overlook the simple, raw purpose of the internet.
At its core, the internet was created as a tool for sharing information and connecting networks of people. Websites were developed to be a place for users to engage with unique content, and Google was designed to help people find this content. The internet has always been about making things easier for people.
But in our hurry to "rise-to-the-top," we often forget that there are living, breathing humans behind the mouse and keyboards and hyper-focus on marketing tactics instead of creating engaging and helpful experiences for our users.
Usability First. Optimization Second.When designing a piece of content for your users, it's really important that you don't let yourself elevate the role of tactics. Yes, optimization is important, but it's more important that you focus on the user's experience. People are really good at sniffing out marketing strategies, and so you have to ask yourself whether or not your piece is actually bringing value to your users. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter where your page ranks if no one is interested in what you have to offer.
Skip the JargonAs marketers, it's really easy to over-optimize content and spend too much time talking about our brand(s). But here's the deal: no one likes an egocentric company. So cut everyone a break and quit talking about yourself. One of the most common mistakes is when websites/creative pieces assume others are interested in their products. Don't assume anything. Instead, convince your user that you actually have something valuable to offer.
With regards to design, there are a few things to keep track of. First, be aware of how you use your calls to action. We've all seen sites that inundate their readers with "buy now" or "find out more" buttons scattered throughout the page. Instead, try and hone in on a clear navigational path and then use your resources to show your users what you have to offer.
Refine Your ContentWe've all read the studies about how much more distracted we're becoming, and yet so many websites still rely too heavily on text. While there's nothing wrong with well-written copy (you are reading an article after all!), it's usually better to distil your content down to its bare bones and implement visual elements like icons, charts and video. Focus on creating easily skim-able columns of content with a clear option for the user to read more.
There's a common dilemma between designers and marketers regarding how content should be displayed. Designers typically want things stripped completely down, usually only showcasing images and video. Marketers, on the other hand, typically like to fill pages with search-friendly content that can often create a cluttered design. Fight the desire to swing to an extreme. You'll run the danger of creating a beautiful site that no one can find, or an easily accessible site that nobody wants to use.
DO Sweat the Small StuffIn the age of agile, we've grown used to shipping projects. And while this works really well for a whole host of tasks, don't let it make you lazy when testing your projects. When it comes to user experience, the beauty is in the details. Take the time to sift through your contact forms, navigate to deep pages and assess the quality of your design elements. While it may not seem pressing to have a universal system for all your colors and images, its details like these that will go a long way in allowing your user to engage with your content.
Meet People Where They're AtIn a world where anything can be accessed from anywhere, it's vital that your content has the chops to meet users in their current contexts. And with a growing mobile market, you content can't just slide by on smaller screens. Instead, it has to be just as beautiful on a 4-inch display as on a 27-inch monitor.
While there's a lot of discussion around whether to utilize responsive design or build a separate mobile site, make sure to keep your user's interests at the forefront of your decision process – there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Regardless of your decision, when it comes to designing for mobile, it's important that you recognize responsive design not as a inferior to its desktop alternative, but as a completely new medium in itself. While there are a ton of different techniques, the bigger theme is that you focus on making it a pleasant experience for your users to engage with your content on mobile platforms.