Power of the User

One of the key things I’ve learned in all the years of optimizing the user experience on websites is that you can’t convince people to get things they don’t want to get, at least not in any meaningful or sustainable way. Initially, you might capture some interest but you will only hold this interest if the experience actually delivers something of use that solves a problem in a beneficial way. Eventually, if people don’t want something they won’t come back to your website or continue to work with your company. The same is true for experiences designed to manipulate or coerce. Sure, you might manipulate a few people but people will catch on and people won’t come back to your website.

This isn’t just user experience. Across all areas of business (and, really, society), the general trend is people eventually find a way to get what they want and give up the things that aren’t what they really want. This is the power of the user and you should only ignore it at your own peril.

Remember AOL? Sure, people wanted to use the internet, but they wanted the internet in a way dial up could never offer it. And we wanted to use the internet more deeply than AOL’s walled garden could provide. Dial up held on for as long as possible but by the end, AOL was practically begging people to use it with free discs and trials. Eventually, though, people gave up to get something they wanted more. We’re not done yet with this change because thanks to the power of the user, we’re seeing that we’re not satisfied with current ISPs as more people opt to use their mobile data to access the internet and with emerging technologies like mesh networks.

Certainly, once we get onto the internet there has been a ton of change around what people want–the power of the use is the driver of this change. People didn’t want to talk to a travel agent to book air far, which led to automated websites that could book flights. People were reluctant to read newspapers, which helps to explain why established media outlets are losing out to alternative news formats. Physical retailers are struggling against ecommerce and online retailers are struggling against Amazon because, ultimately, people want a certain kind of shopping experience. Hec, Myspace was abandoned in favor of Facebook and Yahoo abandoned in favor of Google largely because the new companies offered something users wanted in a better way (and also offered people new things to want).

The key here is that it wasn’t Google, Facebook, or Amazon (or anybody else) who forced users to start engaging with and purchasing from these companies. Users, en masse, shifted toward it. If they weren’t offering good services, we’d switch. History of full of examples of dominant companies that eventually lost their market share because of a new company who came on the scene. The same could just as easily happen to the big companies today. Of course, Google, Facebook, and Amazon know this which is why they spend so much time improving their user experiences to better meet the needs of their users.

Users will continue to want new things and they’ll keep wanting existing things in new ways. Your job when designing and optimizing a user experience is to understand what users want, why they want it, and how they want it. The better job you do answering those questions within your user experience, the more likely it is people will continue to visit your website. Eventually, some company will come along who does deliver what users want in a way they want it. Do you want to be that company or do you want a competitor to be that company? If a competitor already is that company, where are they missing a connection with users? Is there a way you can do a better job meeting the needs of a user?

This is why using data and analytics to understand your user experience is so critical. Without data, you are stumbling around in the dark trying to decide what people want. This is a recipe for disaster. At best, your odds of getting your user experience right without data is 50/50. You need better odds and that requires using data to understand what your users want, why they want it, and how they want it. Yes, you should use data to understand how people convert. You need to continually, actively measure how people convert and find new ways for people to convert. This is true whether that conversion is buying things or filling out a lead form or signing up or whatever that conversion is.

But, conversions are just the start. Along with knowing how people convert, what else do people want? Think of it this way–of 100 people who visit your website, maybe 2-5 will convert. What about the other 95-98 people who visited your website? Don’t you care about them? Don’t you want to engage with them and find out how they could be your customer (instead of your competitor’s customer)? Understanding non-conversion desires of your website’s users is what will help you build a loyal user base who, in the future, will probably want to keep visiting your website, referring people your way, and maybe–just maybe–will also want to work with you. Of course, understanding non-conversion engagements from users is also how you can find new products or services to offer.

Once you’ve collected the data, you have to continually improve your website’s experience to actually deliver what people want. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about aesthetics here. There are ugly websites that haven’t been updated since the early ’00s that deliver amazing experiences. That’s because they deeply understand their users and give their users what they want in a way they want it. Although the design hasn’t changed, other parts of those websites have changed. There are also beautiful websites that deliver a terrible experience–the interface is easy enough to use, but it doesn’t help people do anything they’d actually like to do.

So, think about your website’s experience. What do people want to do, why do they want to do it, and how do they want to do those things? If you don’t know the answer, contact me and let’s start going through your data to find out.