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Staying current with marketing techniques is a tricky process that involves both adopting new technology and implementing it in an effective manner. There are a myriad of ways to use digital marketing to your business’s advantage, but I’d like to address an aspect of marketing that has gained a lot of attention in recent years: user experience.

User experience (UX) is, in the words of the International Organization for Standardization, “a person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and or anticipated use of a product, system or service.” It’s how an individual reacts to, well, anything. It’s the task of companies to create experiences that are appealing to the user, but many make the mistake of confusing strong design with good user experience. While the two certainly intersect on many levels, design is only one part of UX. Yes, a user interface (UI) can look polished, but if it cannot easily be understood and operated by users, then it fails to do its job.

UX starts with the first impression and ends when the user forgets about any given experience. The old adage has always been that one can never judge a book by its cover, but a UX professional knows that first impressions are everything, especially when a poorly optimized website can discourage users in less than a second. An opinion of a website can be formed within 50 milliseconds, according to a 2006 study. Much of your first impression is based around your brand; so, what do you want to convey to your users in that one brief moment that you have?

Using data to inform UX strategies will make or break your campaign.

Impressions are a matter of perception. Extensive research is required to assess user feelings towards your products, systems, and services and determine how you’d like them to feel. For instance, a medical care provider would likely want to adopt clean, friendly imagery for their website, likely in a soothing blue color scheme. Any UX efforts should be data driven and make use of both quantitative and qualitative results. Likert scales are often used among UX professionals to put solid numbers to user opinion. For the uninitiated, a Likert scale is a surveying method that makes use of a scale of opinions, usually from one to five, where one represents low levels of satisfaction or agreement and five represents high levels.

Beyond this, there’s a wealth of different types of data that can inform UX. On the quantitative side, clicks or tasks necessary to reach an objective are common to measure, as are number of mistakes made. Web analytics and factors such as microconversions and common interactions can reveal patterns in user behavior. Heatmaps also allow UX researchers to determine areas of particular interest when examining websites or digital UI.

For qualitative research, the key is to discuss products with focus groups and get their thoughts and reactions to certain aspects of the product. Asking specific questions that generate varied answers are the best for yielding insight. Field studies and leveraging customer feedback can also paint a picture of the faults in a site or product, especially when customers do not know that they are being evaluated.

Even beyond quantitative and qualitative, UX researchers need to ask themselves whether behavioral or attitudinal testing would be more valuable. The former gauges the ways that users interact with a system, while attitudinal assessed their feelings toward it. Consider a combination of the tests listed above to paint a complete picture of how systems are perceived and used; you may find patterns that you had not previously considered.

There are three primary factors that should guide your UX efforts.

Good UX design involves creating systems with a purpose. Ricardo Tayer likened systems creation to a functional human body; while the outside should be presentable, it needs everything working on the inside, as well. Even before testing is executed, companies interested in making an impact through UX should consider the value that they wish to provide their customers with. There’s a common myth that marketing and UX are mutually exclusive.  This myth purveys that marketing involves drawing customers in and benefitting the business, while UX only benefits the customer. The truth is, UX is something that serves the business in revenue and reputation, while also addressing user concerns.

There are several factors that companies should strive to consider when building systems:

  • Accessibility: A system that a user can’t reach is of no use to them. On the outermost level, ensure that sites, products, and websites are easy to locate. Within websites, good wayfinding practices that keep users oriented can minimize frustration and help them achieve objectives faster.  The faster a customer can find your products/services the better, because you are not guaranteed that they will take the painstaking time to find what they want from your site.  They can simply go somewhere else.
  • Value: Why would anybody want to use your app or website? What can they expect to get out of it? Does it save them time or achieve some kind of goal? For instance, a website for a restaurant should be designed with the notion that users will likely visit to find an address, determine operating hours, or view a menu. Take the aspects of your system that you’re certain will see heavy use and make them appealing and easy to find.
  • Desirability: While we want to build a system that works as efficiently as possible, care must also be paid to intuitive, on-brand, and appealing design. Users should use systems because they want to, not just because they have to. Weave your brand into a design; users should feel the same way about it as they feel about any other aspect of your company.

There are even more factors worth considering; Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb, though published in 2004, is still very relevant to modern designers.

Adjust your UX strategies to best meet your customers’ needs or lose out to your competitors.

The great thing about UX is that there is always room for improvement. While it may seem frustrating to continually reevaluate your systems, a product, app, or site that provides value to your customers in such a way that keeps them coming back is worth the extra effort. Now’s a great time to get started; though UX as a concept has been around for years, improvements in research and technology have made it more effectual than ever. Strive to serve your customers first, and they will support you right back.