Content Marketing in the Age of UX

Content Marketing in the Age of UX and the 7 principles to apply to improve performance

Winning in the content marketing game in this new age of UX means knowing how to apply the 7 user experience best practices principles to your communications, here’s how.

Content marketing in the age of UX from

The winning formula for content marketing in this age of UX requires marketers to understand and apply the 7 user experience principles to optimize communications, improve conversion and successfully engage the audience. By doing so, marketing teams can ensure the communications that are so critical to their business success are efficient, effective and engaging. And that ultimately leads to marketing and thus revenue success.

Content marketing is a hot topic these days, because for marketing purposes it defines a better way to communicate and engage with prospects and customers.

Some naysayers may question the entire topic, wondering aloud;

Definition of Content Marketing

For you UX fans who are wondering what content marketing is, the definition on Wikipedia states:

“Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.

Content marketing is focused not on selling, but on communicating with customers and prospects.”

Ahem. That last line may not sit well with executives and the C-Suite, who I’m pretty sure are thinking they are absolutely paying their marketing team to help generate sales and revenue. But that’s a whole other blog post.

“Content Marketing” may be a hot topic now, with some marketers believing it to be new concept. But the truth is content marketing has been around for just about as long as we humans have been around.

A case in point is the infographic (they called it a political cartoon back in the day) that Benjamin Franklin published in his Pennsylvania Gazette in May, 1754.

Join or Die infographic created by Benjamin Franklin image from

Join or Die is a good example of an early content marketing infographic or political cartoon as it was known

“Join, or Die” was a brilliant graphic targeting the independent colonies and suggesting to them that they join forces to fight the French and Indians that threatened the colonists. The ‘information’ part of this infographic is the pieces of the snake representing the colonies. The message was clear, an organization (in this case the fledgling American colonies) cannot live as separate elements, but must be whole to survive. A highly effective content marketing piece that is just as effective at communicating today as it was in the 1750s.

Interestingly, it was repurposed years later as a popular symbol for the opposition of British rule during the American Revolution, which was an early use of a content repurposing strategy (sorry again content marketers, that concept has been around a long time too).

But content marketing IS an important strategy for engaging with prospects and customers. By providing valuable content that is NOT directly calling for a purchase, it has both marketing and UX benefits that are far reaching and include…

  • Engages target audience well before the buyer consideration phase
  • Reinforces the quality of the Brand
  • Provides rich content for SEO and inbound marketing purposes
  • Improves the human condition by adding value and knowledge

7 Content Marketing Principles and UX:

By applying the 7 UX principles as part of a content marketing strategy, smart marketers will benefit from the optimized content and communications that result. As I mentioned in the article how to conduct a usability review, there are important UX principles that can be analyzed specifically to optimize the usability and conversion of a website. What works for websites works equally well for marketing content. Thus, applying one, several or all of the following 7 UX principles can significantly improve content marketing results:

  1. Attractive: UX practitioners and marketers understand that content must be attractive, else risk losing the audience before they ever engage with the information. Content marketing takes information and wraps it into attractive packaging, UX teams use design best practices to ensure the experience and thus packaging is attractive.
  2. Stimulating: Content must be stimulating if it is going to be consumed. Boring information is, well, boring, and thus ineffective. UX best practices identify ways to incorporate value, motivation and incitement to drive engagement. Even the lowly white paper can be made more stimulating with simple additions of charts, graphs, callouts and the like.
  3. Novelty: As humans, our attention is captured by ‘new’ ‘different’ and ‘unusual.’ Good marketers and UX practitioners incorporate this fact into the content they produce. Information presented in new ways works very effectively toward capturing and holding attention. As an example, this is why infographics work so well as a content marketing tool. Infographics take existing information and wrap it into a novel and unique format that most of us find hard to resist.
  4. Efficiency: The core purpose of content marketing is to provide an efficient method for prospects and customers to find and consume information. UX teams live and die by efficiency, it is the core of their mantra. Marketing communications that are highly efficient at communicating will always provide better results than those that don’t. Remember that complexity is the enemy of good communications.
  5. Perspicuity: Clarity or transparency is another critical element of content marketing and UX. How understandable, easy to learn and clear content marketing communications are directly impact their usability, and adoption. UX best practices call for decreasing ambiguity and clarifying the experience whenever and wherever possible. The over use of jargon, abbreviations or company specific terms falls into this bucket. Keeping content marketing clean means keeping content marketing clear and transparent.
  6. Dependable:  The interesting thing about content marketing is it must communicate consistently across many mediums and over time. One-off ads are easy, dependable content marketing pieces must maintain their style, theme and vision across videos, articles, infographics, white papers and much more, and must reflect consistent Brand and tonality of voice throughout. UX best practices focus on creating dependable and consistent user experiences, which helps reinforce a positive user experience and satisfied users.
  7. Satisfying: A major component of good content marketing and UX is the ability of the content to satisfy the consumer. A great headline that stimulates a response to visit the content won’t matter if the content does not satisfy the reader and their expectations. But satisfaction implies something deeper; it implies a connection between the audience and the content. That connection can only come from identifying with and being connected to the audience and what they care about.

7 Winning Content Marketing Principles in the Age of UX

By evaluating content marketing strategies and tactics against these seven UX principles a marketer can ensure the communication will be as effective as possible. Given the ever increasing adoption and utilization of UX best practices in products and services, it makes sense for Marketers to utilize these 7 UX principles as a strategic tool to elevate their communications from good to great, and improve results.

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Website Audit Improves ROI and Respect

A Website Audit can improve your ROI (and respect) at least 7 different ways, here’s how:

Website audit funny quote

Website Audit Definition

The definition of a website audit for UX purposes is to evaluate both behavioral data (visitor actions) and user experience data (task-flow other UX vs. best practices) to identify issues and recommend opportunities to improve conversion.

Take My Website – PLEASE!

Sometimes a website audit can make you feel like you get no respect, as if you are the Rodney Dangerfield of the web.

Remember his famous quote?

“My psychiatrist told me I’m going crazy. I told him, “If you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.” He said, “All right. You’re ugly too!””

- Rodney Dangerfield

But I’m here to assure you that a website audit, specifically an audit of your website’s UX, can and will make your website ROI better, and get you the respect from your website visitors (and bosses) that you deserve. Here’s how…

Website Audits Can Improve ROI

Improving the ROI of a website is best accomplished by ‘fixing the leaky bucket.’ What I mean by that is finding and fixing the issues that are causing website abandonment, task flow failure, poor visitor engagement and disappointing conversion.

There are many variations of website audits, and all have their unique value. These include:

  • Accessibility Audit
  • Analytics Audit
  • Conversion Optimization Audit
  • Page Speed Audit
  • SEO Audit
  • Usability Audit
  • Website Competitor Audit

However, I like to combine the best elements of several of the above audits into a comprehensive website audit that evaluates the larger user experience. This is a great way to ensure all the data available is utilized to analyze the website and make recommendations for optimization. ROI improvements based on recommendations from website audits are typically significant and quick.

Website Audit Elements

The two categories of information that a website audit evaluates are the critical elements of a well done audit:

Behavioral Data – Behavioral data will define what actions visitors are doing (or not doing) on the site. This data typically comes from website analytics tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Coremetrics, WebTrends, etc. Typically this data includes information such as:

  • Overall website performance conversion data
  • Paid search conversion data
  • Organic conversion data
  • High-level PPC keyword data
  • Website bounce rate
  • Visits by browser
  • Screen resolution
  • Top content
  • Content paths
  • Length of visits
  • Location (by geography)
  • Page fold
  • Devices
  • Operating Systems
  • And more…

User Experience Data – UX data includes information about how the website compares to usability and UX best practices. This data comes from tools such as the 5 second test, eye tracking, usability testing, and a comparison of the critical website interaction elements versus best practices (sometimes called a heuristic or website review).  This type of data typically includes information such as:

  • Elements that are or are not attracting attention
  • Page fold ramifications on CTAs or critical copy
  • Form field best practices vs. existing forms
  • Navigation flow and labeling
  • Product page elements vs. best practices
  • Contact Us page elements vs. best practices
  • And more…

Website Audit Findings and Analysis

The website audit includes a document with detailed findings and analysis of the behavioral and UX data that precisely defines where the website is performing well, and where there are opportunities for improvements. The subsequent recommendations are then tested, typically with A/B testing, to verify that the optimizations are having the desired benefit.

I always include screen shots of each of the items being audited, with callouts that explain what the issue and opportunity for testing could be. These can sometimes be fairly large documents, upwards of 70 to 90 pages. But because the information is presented one item at a time getting through the analysis document is easy, and fairly quick.

Advantages to Website Audits

There are at least 7 primary advantages to website audits, they include:

1. Ability to use website data to prioritize A/B testing: Nothing beats using your actual website and UX data to define and prioritize where your conversion is not optimized. This removes the guessing game that too often occurs as part of A/B or Multivariate testing.

2. Benchmarks existing versus potential conversion: By using the data from a website audit as a benchmark, the down-stream changes to traffic, navigation flow and conversion can be quantified. Benchmarking removes much of the guess work out of determining if conversion improvements based on testing are temporary, or permanent.

3. Pinpoints issues: The analysis of the website audit provides pinpoint clarity on which elements of a page, form or flow are potentially hindering performance. Specific recommendations can be extremely detailed, which helps focus where to spend testing resources. If you’ve ever heard the principle of “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” you’ll understand and appreciate the detailed approach of a website audit

4. Clearly defines success: Many of my clients appreciate the incremental value that comes from the analysis of a website audit, in that they appreciate knowing what ‘success’ looks like. When A/B testing, how do you know you’ve truly optimized the ‘B’ version to achieve maximum success? Unless you have data that defines what that success looks like, you don’t really know how successful the test could be. A website audit provides that ability to better define success.

5. Doesn’t ‘fix’ what’s not broken: Too often companies optimize using an ad-hoc approach to testing. Sometimes this causes something that was working just fine before, to work poorly, or not at all. A website audit helps define what’s working from what’s not, so that items that are working well are left alone, and items that are not are tested and optimized.

6. Maximizes resources: Unless you have a full time optimization team, the odds are that testing is but a small part of your overall work activities. Maximizing your time and other resources is crucial to optimizing ROI. Spending time optimizing only that which needs to be optimized makes your resources that much more productive.

7. Proves your value (and earns you respect): Facing your bosses and answering to them for how you specifically are helping the company can sometimes be a challenge. Having the demonstrated results from the testing that comes from a usability audit provides you with a plethora of actual data that precisely defines how you are contributing to ROI. Nothing speaks better to your bosses than data that proves you (and thus they) are adding value to the company. You want respect, give them optimization numbers and you’ll get it!

Conclusion:  Website Audit Improves ROI and Respect

A website audit and the resulting optimization of the conversion of the site can greatly improve the ROI and performance of a site. It can also provide you with the respect you need. If you have any questions or would like more information on how you can use a website audit to improve your website ROI just contact me. By using the results of the website audit, you will have a more informed, prioritized and clearly defined road to improving the success of your website.

Posted in Conversion Optimization, ROI, Testing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Optimize Conversion with 6 Persuasion Principles

How to optimize conversion of your websites and mobile apps with 6 persuasion principles

Six Powerful Persuasion Principles:

How to optimize conversion with 6 persuasion principles image from UsefulUsability.comHow to optimize conversion is a question among many website owners and app developers, to which the answer is: by applying the 6 persuasion principles as described by Robert Cialdini, PhD.

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, Arizona State University Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing and a New York Times bestselling business author published a popular and highly acclaimed book called “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.” It became a national best-seller and a must read for anyone in the Psychology, UX, Marketing or Sales functions.


Because in his book he defined the root six principles that advertisers, marketing professionals, sales people and other influencers applied to get people to say “Yes.” These six persuasion principles are important for persuading people to take action, whether it be to purchase a book online, sign up for a program, download an app or even drive on the correct side of the road.

Conversion optimization professionals know and understand these powerful principles and use them to improve the UX of websites and apps. Therefore, this is the true secret of UX:

“It’s not enough to just have good website usability, you also must have good persuasion.”

The six persuasion principles:

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the principle that if someone does something nice for you, you feel a need to do something nice for them. Why do we follow someone back who’s following us on Twitter, Facebook or other social media? Why when someone does a favor for you, do you feel you owe them a favor back? Why do we (most of us) pay back our debts?

The principle of reciprocity states that when someone provides us a benefit we feel we must return a benefit to that person, we ‘owe’ them. Reciprocity is present when you borrow money from your friend and you feel the need to pay your friend back. If someone says something nice about you, you feel the need to return the compliment.

In conversion optimization, reciprocity is present when you provide your website visitor with something they value, in the hope that they will provide a benefit back to you at some point. It might be a free whitepaper for them to download, a free weekly email subscription or a guide on a subject of interest. Whatever the ‘it’ is, if you provide your website visitor a benefit, something they value, then more than likely someday they will provide a benefit back to you. That benefit may not happen immediately, but the odds are the reciprocity principle will be the stimulus for them to eventually return the benefit.

Reciprocity persuasion principle image from

esurance uses the reciprocity persuasion principle

As the above example demonstrates, the Esurance offer to download a free app that notifies the user when to purchase, or not purchase gas to save money, even without purchasing insurance, is reciprocity in action.

Reciprocity Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the following free items to provide something your visitor values…

Free whitepapers, cheatsheets, infographics, training videos, checklists, calculators, podcasts, enewsletters, templates, etc.

2. Commitment (and Consistency)

Commitment and Consistency is the principle that if we say we are going to do something, we feel obligated to carry through with it. Consider making a promise to someone to do something, once we have committed to that promise, we are more likely to carry out our promise, at the risk of feeling bad about ourselves if we don’t.

In conversion optimization, the commitment principle is used to commit a visitor to a course of action, whether that results in a sale now or in the future. For example, having a visitor commit now to a free trial, attending a workshop or seminar to be held in the future even if no money is requested up front, makes the visitor more likely to follow through with the action.

This principle is commonly used in the online world, especially ‘free 30 day trials’ or other offers to test a product or service. In the offline world, if you’ve shopped for a vehicle and the sales person writes down the sales price of the car, and passes you the paper and pen for you to write your price down, they are using the commitment principle.

Commitment persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Hubspot uses the Commitment persuasion principle

The commitment (and consistency) principle in action is demonstrated by HubSpot, who uses a free 30 day trial to commit visitors to using their tool, in the hope they’ll eventually sign up.

Commitment Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the following to obtain your visitor’s commitment…

Free trial, signup forms for future events, reminders that visitors signed up, reminders to attend an event after signup, etc.

3. Social Proof

Social proof is the persuasion principle that links our desire to ‘follow the crowd,’ or put another way that there is safety in numbers.

Choosing a restaurant because of the greater number of people eating there (so it must be good), buying an item because more people bought that item than other similar items, and putting faith in larger versus smaller number of reviews are all examples of social proof.

We typically rely upon social proof when we are not sure about what course of action to take. The uncertainty of the situation causes us to often use the ‘follow the heard’ mentality to determine what to do. If you heard of the term “more people prefer Brand X” or “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Brand Y” you are witnessing the social proof principle in action.

Social Proof persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Amazon uses the social proof persuasion principle

Amazon provides an example of using social proof to help shoppers determine which of many products might be a good purchase. Note the use of the star ratings, including the number of ratings received in parenthesis. Also, the “#1 Best Seller” badge is another social proof tool.

Social Proof Conversion Optimization tactics: Use these tools to add social proof…

Star or quality ratings, top seller text, testimonials, number of downloads or users, etc.

4. Liking

Liking is the persuasion principle that says we are more likely to be influenced by people we like. And this includes people we trust or know, friends, family, relatives as well as strangers such as sports celebrities, TV or movie stars or other famous people. But the people we like don’t have to be rich or famous to have likeability. If we feel they are similar or familiar to us, or that we just trust them, then we can be influenced by them through likeability.

TV commercials that feature famous athletes were specifically created to target the liking principle. Likewise, Avon, the beauty products company was built on the liking principle: women selling Avon beauty products to their friends and family at the local, grass-roots level. Friends and neighbors are more likely to buy from their friends and neighbors. Avon’s market cap is currently $6.41 Billion, clearly likeability works.

Liking persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

Amazon uses the liking persuasion principle

Avon built the foundation of their company on the liking principle. Their approach as demonstrated above is that no sales pitch or experience are necessary, you just have to be you. Other firms such as those that practice what’s known as Multi Level Marketing (MLM) are attempting to use the same liking principle to try to achieve their goals.

Liking Conversion Optimization tactics: use the liking principle in the following ways…

Build trust by providing value in your content, include testimonials from people who match your buyer Personas, add recommendations from well-known individuals, provide promotions that include celebrities, feature logos of well liked firms that use or have tried your products, etc.

5. Authority

The authority principle is based on our feeling of a sense of duty to obey those in a position of leadership or power. It includes the likelihood that we will follow recommendations of those we perceive to have authority, such as doctors, police officers, religious leaders or even our local pharmacist.

Airline pilots, military personnel, judges, doctors and even plumbers all wear uniforms of one sort or another. Why? Because the uniform they wear provides visual clues as to the authority of that individual. We are more inclined to follow the advice of an figure such as a dentist on a TV commercial if we believe they have authority.

Oddly, the authority principle works even if we logically understand that the figure we perceive as having authority does not in fact have actual authority. As an example, one popular TV commercial in the U.S. featured an actor who clearly stated at the beginning of the spot: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…”

Authority persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

This successful TV commercial uses the Authority persuasion principle

This well known and successful 1986 TV commercial for Vicks featured a soap opera actor, Peter Bergman, who proclaimed at the beginning of the spot, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…” Even though Bergman was not a doctor, his perceived authority from playing a doctor on a popular TV show was strong enough to sell cough medicine to millions of people.

Need a more current example? As shown below, Redbull features Tom Pages, the X-games motocross superstar on their home page, specifically targeting the younger, extreme sports crowd with an authority figure they know and follow.

Authority persuasion principle for conversion optimization Redbull image from

Redbull uses the Authority persuasion principle

Authority Conversion Optimization tactics: include authority tools such as…

Testimonials from recognized authorities in the field, logos from well known and authoritative firms that use your products or services, badges that validate quality or authority, images that relay a sense of authority or expertise

6. Scarcity

Scarcity is a powerful principle based on our belief that rare and relatively scarce items are more valuable or attractive than those that are very common or readily at hand. Consider gold, diamonds, precious furs or limited edition cars.

In addition, the scarcity principle includes limited quantities even for common things if those things are quickly becoming scarce. As an example, consider trying to buy the last case of water in a crowded store just before a Hurricane hits when there are many others trying to buy the same water.

But scarcity has another aspect to it, which is time. We have a tendency to act more often if we are faced with a limited amount of time to acquire an item. Content that features “Act now, this offer ends in 1 day” typically converts at higher percentages than content that does not include this limited time information.

Scarcity persuasion principle for conversion optimization image from

eBay uses the scarcity persuasion principle

In 1995, eBay started a business that today is worth $73 Billion using the scarcity principle in their auction format. Knowing that time is running out to acquire an object generally causes us to not only take action, but to increase the value we perceive for that object. As the image above shows, the Tommy Hilfiger Brand on eBay prominently features a limited time event, with limited time savings and free shipping as part of the incentive to take action.

Scarcity Conversion Optimization tactics: Use the scarcity principle inclusive of value, quantity and time to incentivize action…

Clearly state the value in beneficial terms to visitors, include a limited quantity description and/or countdown, include limited time notices and/or countdowns, differentiate your product or service to highlight why it is rare or special, etc.

Conclusion: How to optimize conversion with 6 persuasion principles

Understanding how to optimize conversion by including the 6 principles of persuasion as defined by Robert Cialdini is critical for website and application success. In Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” he summarized the principles impacting why people take action based on research he conducted among top sales teams, marketers, advertisers and other prominent influencers.

The 6 principles of persuasion include:

  • Reciprocity
  • Commitment
  • Social proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Conversion optimization of websites and applications can and should utilize some or all of these persuasion principles to help visitors complete actions that are of benefit to them. But these techniques should be included as part of a usability (task flow) optimized site. Including both usability and these 6 persuasion principles will improve conversion and increase the number of satisfied users of your site or app.

For more information on how to combine usability, persuasion and findability to optimize website and application conversion see the article 3 Pillars of Website Success.

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