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Marketing 101: What is website usability?

April 19th, 2018
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

Simply put, website usability is how easy, clear and intuitive it is for visitors to use your website. This is from the visitor’s perspective, not your company’s perspective.

Of course, website usability isn’t so simple at all. You essentially have to read someone else’s mind, so the expected user experience matches the web experience you design. However, as 18th-century poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry.”

As I said, you’re trying to read someone else’s mind (many people, in fact). So the challenges of web usability aren’t necessarily unique to the web. These challenges are the very fundamentals of human behavior and interaction. Here’s a very visual example that UXer Oliver McGough shared on Twitter …

There are many terms related to website usability that you might have heard:

  • User experience — how people experience your website. This may be very different than you intended because you may not be able to take an outside perspective of your website and assume visitors will understand something that they don’t, or understand differently, from you (more on this in a bit).
  • User experience design (or UX) — the practice of creating websites, computer programs, apps, etc. with the user in mind. UX can also be used as shorthand for website usability. (e.g., “That site has good UX.”)
  • User interface (UI) — where man meets machine. For example, an operating system has a graphical user interface. UI continues to evolve and isn’t always visual. Thanks to virtual assistants like Alexa, the human voice now interacts with a UI as well.
  • Usability — in general. This is, after all, broader than just websites. Any digital offering has (or lacks) usability, from a website to a computer game. But physical objects have usability considerations as well. For example, OXO is a company that is well known for kitchen utensils and housewares usability. When I first learned about usability, the instructor used a car brake pedal as an example. I had never noticed before, but it is a lot wider than the gas pedal for a reason. If you’re accidentally going to stomp on one of them, it’s better to be the stop than the accelerate!
  • User testing — Get your visitors’ opinions about what works well on the site and what doesn’t, what processes and mechanisms are intuitive and which are confusing
  • A/B testing — Measuring your visitors’ behavior to see how well they are able to actually use the site, and if the actual user experience matches the intended website design

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Email Clickthrough Rate: 9-point checklist to get more clicks for your email marketing by reducing perceived cost

April 5th, 2018
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To help you increase the clickthrough rate of your email marketing, here’s a nine-point checklist for minimizing your recipients’ perceived cost of clicking in your emails. This checklist is from the Email Messaging online certification course taught by MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization).

You can click here to download a PDF of the Email Click Cost Force Checklist (no form fill required, instant download), and I will walk through the checklist step-by-step in this blog post.

EMAIL CLICK COST FORCE

For macro decisions, like a purchase, you likely spend significant time and resources ensuring that customers want to purchase the product.

However, it’s all too easy to overlook the smaller decisions your customers are making every day — the micro-yes(s) — like clicking through an email.

Every decision you ask prospective customers to make has a perceived value to the customer as well as a perceived cost. The “force” of value or cost is a term designed to discuss the strength of the effect of those elements on the customer’s decision-making process.

Put simply, if the value force is stronger, your customer will take the action you are asking. If the cost force is stronger, your customer will not take the action.

For example, could the customer be concerned that you are sending a phishing email, and by clicking through they will get a virus or be scammed in some other way? That is a cost, a major cost.

But every click has a cost. Even if it’s just the time it takes their phone to load the data of the landing page they are clicking through to.

Now, the actual value or cost of the email click isn’t what determines if your subscribers will act (although it could affect their likelihood to take future actions). It is the perceived cost or value before customers even take that action. After all, they don’t know what value they will really receive or cost they will incur until they act.

This checklist will help you minimize the perceived cost of an email click to help you increase your brand’s email clickthrough rate. For a checklist that will help you maximize the perceived value of the email click, along with checklists to help you grow your email list and increase open rate, you can download this bundle of six email marketing checklists.

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Referral Marketing: 4 case studies

April 3rd, 2018
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A MarketingSherpa email subscriber recently asked for relevant case studies on referral marketing campaigns. If you’re also looking for ideas and tactics to launch or optimize your own referral programs, here are four case studies that have some interesting examples.

(And if you find this blog post helpful, click on one of those Twitter, Facebook or other referral buttons at the top of this blog post.)

 

Triggered email nets 75% of referral program signups for Roku

Roku, a video-streaming device for television, discovered that about 25 percent of its customers heard about the company from a friend or family member. The team already offered rewards to customers who sent referrals via email, Facebook or Twitter.

To get even more customers to participate, the team planned a triggered email campaign to Roku’s newest customers. They offered incentives for both the referrer and the newly referred customer — a free month of Netflix for each friend who tries Roku, along with a 10% discount to the newly referred customers.

Of all the channels through which customers could send referrals to contacts, referrals sent via email drove 70 percent of all sales in the program.

“Email has been the biggest way to promote [referrals],” said Lomit Patel, Senior Director, Direct Marketing, Roku. “The newsletters definitely help, but these individual emails after purchase have had the most effect.”

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Subfolders, Subdirectories and Subdomains: The URL difference that can drive a major increase in organic traffic

March 28th, 2018
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We were recently asked if it’s better to use a subdirectory (also known as a subfolder) or a subdomain on a website.

If you’re unfamiliar with these two terms, you’ll know them right away when you see URL examples.

A subdirectory looks like this: marketingsherpa.com/freestuff.

A subdomain looks like this: sherpablog.marketingsherpa.com. Even www.marketingsherpa.com/ is technically a subdomain.

The difference may seem like an esoteric or gorpy concern that only developers and programmers care about. After all, why should the URL matter anyway? Most people are just clicking on links. And occasionally when they actually have to type one in (say, from a newspaper ad), you’re creating a vanity link that redirects to the actual URL anyway.

Well, search engines may care. A lot. Even if they claim they don’t. And the experts I asked said that subdirectories are almost always the better option.

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Email Open Rates: 9-point checklist to get more opens for your email marketing by reducing perceived cost

March 21st, 2018
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The Radicati Group predicted that the average business user would receive 97 emails per day in 2018.

97 emails per day.

So why should they open yours?

To help you optimize your open rate, we’re giving you a nine-point checklist for minimizing the perceived cost of the email open. This checklist is from the Email Messaging online certification course taught by MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization).

You can click here to download a PDF of the Email Open Cost Force Checklist (no form fill required, instant download), and I will walk through the checklist step-by-step in this blog post.

EMAIL OPEN COST FORCE

For macro decisions, like a purchase process, you likely spend significant time and resources ensuring that customers understand the value of the product.

However, it’s all too easy to overlook the smaller decisions your customers are taking every day — the micro-yes(s) — like email open.

Every decision you ask prospective customers to make has a perceived value to the customer as well as a perceived cost. The “force” of value or cost is a term designed to discuss the strength of the effect of those elements on the customer’s decision-making process.

Put simply, if the value force is stronger, your customer will take the action you are asking. If the cost force is stronger, your customer will not take the action.

Now, this isn’t the actual value or cost of an action. It is the perceived cost or value before customers take an action. After all, they don’t know what value they will really receive until they act.

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Social Doubt: Beware the downside of social proof in social media marketing

March 8th, 2018
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Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Florida, our basketball team won in the Elite Eight round of March Madness, meaning we were headed to the Final Four. Right after we won that game, students poured out onto University Avenue. There was jubilation in the street.

And then … all of a sudden … everyone just ran down to the football stadium and tore down the goalposts. (We were a football school at the time, not yet accustomed to basketball success)

It was a very odd moment. No one planned anything. People didn’t even shout out any directions. Most (but not all, let the record show I stayed put) of the students in the streets simply started running together toward the stadium.

Ah, the human animal

Much like a V-shaped formation of birds adjusting down the line to keep the formation tight, or a school of fish quickly changing direction, humans also engage in unthinking, subconscious herd behavior without even realizing what they’re doing.

And this is one of the most powerful drivers behind social media marketing.

Psychologists call this phenomenon social proof, which Wikipedia describes as “where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.”

Do you see what I just did there? Wikipedia is another example of social proof. If enough people agree to a definition of a term — even if they’re not experts — I guess it’s reliable enough to include in this MarketingSherpa blog post.

But social proof has its downsides for social media marketing as well

Now, I’m not the only person to write about social proof in social media marketing. Just search the term, and you’ll find endless articles and blog posts.

However, I noticed a serious dearth of conversation about the opposite of social proof in social media marketing. If social proof works because it shows other people are interested in your brand, the opposite of social proof shows that other people are not interested in your brand. What is the word for that?

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Marketing 101: What is above the fold?

March 2nd, 2018
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

Above the fold refers to the part of an email message or webpage that is visible without scrolling. It refers to a printing term for the top half of a newspaper which is, literally, above the place in the newspaper where it is folded in half.

Unlike a newspaper, however, email and webpage fold locations aren’t predictable. The fold may be affected by the user’s preview pane, monitor size, monitor resolution, device type (i.e., mobile vs. desktop) and any headers placed by email programs such as Gmail or Yahoo!

Material in the above-the-fold area is considered more valuable because the reader sees it first. According to the Wikipedia entry for Above the fold, “Most web design advice available today encourages designers to place important information at the top of the website, but also to prioritize usability and design.”

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Optimizing Email Capture: 9-point checklist to grow your email marketing list by minimizing the perceived cost of opting in

February 27th, 2018
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In the early days of email marketing, many sites used to brag about their FREE email newsletters and try to entice customers to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE.

Today, many email marketers have simplified the ask to “Subscribe Now” or “Send Me Updates.” Email newsletters with no monetary cost have become so commonplace that it is no longer worth mentioning.

Notice how I said “no monetary cost” as opposed to “free.” Email newsletters aren’t actually free, and they never were. Sure, the vast majority do not require a monetary payment, but they cost the customer’s time. And the friction and anxiety involved in signing up is essentially a cost to the customer as well.

So to help you get more opt-ins for your email list, here is a nine-point checklist for minimizing the perceived cost of the email capture. The checklist is from the Email Messaging online certification course taught by MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization).

You can click here to click here for a PDF of the Email Capture Cost Force Checklist (no form fill required, instant download), and I will walk through the checklist step-by-step in this blog post.

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Business Intelligence: If only more of our customers were like Larry David

February 23rd, 2018
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I usually watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm” through the eyes of a fan. But recently I watched the popular HBO show through the eyes of a marketer.

And it struck me — Larry David is an extremely valuable customer. And not just because he has all of that “Seinfeld” money (some $900 million of it, according to Adweek).

Larry is valuable because he actually tells brands what he is thinking. Commonly derided as “complaints” or “rants,” in reality, Larry is offering up valuable customer intelligence.

Complaints are business intelligence

In a recent episode, Larry is staying at a hotel. When asked by the front desk employee if he had any feedback on his stay, he suggests that they shouldn’t tuck the sheets in so tight when making the bed. Who sleeps like that?

But Larry isn’t the normal, quiet customer. He’s a super-suggester. And he goes far beyond replying to a question from an employee asking for feedback. He offers unsolicited advice on topics the hotel doesn’t even think to ask about.

While the hotel brags about cookies made by its pastry chef, Larry isn’t buying it. He says the cookies are from Pepperidge Farm.

And Larry is none too happy about the cookie retrieval system the hotel has set up in its lobby. Larry doesn’t want to use tongs to grab the cookies — he is afraid the cookie will get crushed — and he suggests a wider cookie layout system so guests can pick cookies with their bare hands without touching an adjacent cookie.

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Screw the Competition: How to avoid dreaded commodification

February 16th, 2018
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In high school, I never quite found my niche. I wasn’t a jock or preppie, neither freak nor geek. I just had to be me.

In other words, my focus was on my intrinsic value proposition, not what the competition was doing.

Competitive analyses are valuable, don’t get me wrong. They are necessary to ensure you have a unique value proposition. After all, your product isn’t for sale in a vacuum. I’ve worked with a competitive sales office in the past and you can learn a lot from win-loss reports as well.

But don’t go too far with this business intelligence. My point is this …

Don’t let the competition define you

At some point, you have to say, “screw the competition.”

If your focus is on the competition, you’ll just be another Why Bother Brand.

And if your focus is on the competition, it’s in the wrong place. Your focus should be on the customer. That’s the way you create differentiated value.

Here are three examples of focusing on the customers, not the competition, from otherwise commodified industries:

Example #1: Southwest Airlines

Airlines have become a dreadfully commoditized industry. Just look how they move in lockstep. One airline adds baggage fees, and then every other “me too” airline jumps in behind it.

Not Southwest Airlines. I’m sure it has analyzed the competition. I’m sure it is aware of fee revenue.

But that simply doesn’t work for this brand. So Southwest offers “No change fees. No matter what.” And communicated that value proposition cleverly in a recent TV ad about a coach who believed in his basketball team so much, he already booked tickets to the championship game.

The kicker, of course, is that the team doesn’t make it to the championship game and has to change their flight plans. Cue the tagline — “That’s Transfarency. Low Fares. Nothing to Hide.”

Does this mean you’ll fly Southwest every time? Probably not. I know I prefer non-stop flights. And you might have a favorite frequent flyer program.

But I tell you this — next time you’re charged $200 for canceling a flight, you’re going to remember that Southwest commercial. And if you go through negative experiences with your current airline enough, you may choose not to shop only on price but to favor flights from Southwest Airlines.

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