In digital marketing, boosting key metrics at the expense of a good user experience is not so uncommon. In chase of ever-growing business needs, many marketers or business owners yield ground and adopt things that web users hate: multiple pop-ups, flashing banners, hidden free choices (yes, Coursera, I am talking about the option to audit courses for free on your platform that becomes harder and harder to find every time 🤨) and so on.
I understand: digital marketing is built upon numbers and achieving results (e.g. generating leads, increasing conversions). But UX design is all about meeting business goals too (as well as satisfying users, which is a great marketing asset by the way).
So why is there always some tension between marketers and user defenders and how to smooth it out? Let’s try to get all this straightened out.
Are all the web marketing tricks always bad for good user experience?
Not every marketing tactic affects user experience negatively. If executed smartly, used in the right context they can enhance user experience while helping marketers achieve their goals. All in all, these are just the tools, and how they work fully depends on how we use them.
For example, a chat window that appears only when you need some “human” help and provides relevant info can freshen up the experience and increase the engagement. Just look at the so-called conversational interface that transforms simple blog posts into the enthralling journey. While reading, you can chat with the article’s author Paul (or at least his digital alter ego) and get some extra info on the topic:
On the other hand, if you try to adopt a similar technique by putting a chatbox on your website that pops up every few seconds, makes an annoying sound, covers important content and sends generic irrelevant messages – the experience will be absolutely different.
In other words, there is nothing bad in a subtle usage of web marketing tricks if you keep user interests in mind. And this is why good cooperation between marketing and UX teams is so important. Instead of clashing business and user interests, we should work together on translating the business goals into the user-centric tactics.
But when opinions are divided, how to tell if marketing efforts went too far? And how far is too far?
Use both quantitative and qualitative data + track long-term performance
When it’s not clear whether a new change on the web imposed by marketing needs will be effective, neutral or do more harm, the next step is obvious: bring hard data on the table.
Usually, teams run A/B tests on disputable options, and (surprise, surprise!) in the majority of cases it will prove marketers right. All in all, all these ads, pop-ups and banners wouldn’t flood the Internet if they weren’t so effective, right?
What’s worth remembering is that quick marketing wins often have a momentary effect and A/B tests won’t show you the whole picture. You might achieve your short goals (like increasing conversion rate). But it can harm your business in the long run (like getting a higher customer churn rate).
So if you care about customer loyalty and retention (I hope you do), look beyond short-term results:
1) Use in-depth methods for testing your assumptions early-on (e.g. usability testing, interviews with real users, heatmaps). This way you can gather insights on how users really feel about introduced changes and whether these changes don’t distract them from your essential (and more desirable) user flows.
2) Make sure to keep an eye on key metrics that can get affected with time. Ex.: rate of churn, unsubscriptions, number of renewed contracts/subscriptions, etc.). This gets difficult though if you experiment with multiple web marketing tricks regularly. Because you won’t be able to track cause-and-effect for every case.
Patterns that shall be avoided by all means
Whatever approach you decide to follow, the key is to stay honest and clear about your intentions. There is nothing wrong when businesses describe the value they offer and ask their users to subscribe/buy a product in return. All in all, this is how business works.
However, trying to trick users into actions that they otherwise wouldn’t do freely by adopting manipulative misleading interface elements (known as dark patterns), is shameful, unethical and should be avoided by all means. Here are a few examples of how you should NOT treat your users:
Asking tricky questions
Some websites provide forms with ambiguous questions that trick you into agreeing on terms you otherwise wouldn’t. Like in the example below: would you understand what actually happens with your data when pressing the on/off button?
This is what most of us have encountered. Quite often airline companies are guilty of showing extra costs that you have to pay only at the checkout. Another common example here is emphasizing low monthly payment for a subscription without specifying that billing is annual. That means you pay for 12 months at once. So nasty!
This is when the ads on the web pretend to be something else: an article, a download or “see more” buttons. You expect to perform one action but instead click on the ad, or download an unnecessary programme, or virus…
Some companies believe that if their users don’t prolong their subscription, they can force them to do so. To do so, they make it hard to cancel a subscription or ask your card credentials for entering a free trial to start silently charging you when the trial is over.
Making your web unsafe for certain groups of users
Besides the dark patterns, it’s highly not recommended to opt for anything that flickers, flashes, blinks on the screen for attracting users’ attention. Not only these remnants of the 90s are annoying, but can also trigger photosensitive epilepsy for users with vestibular disorders.
To sum up…
Web opportunities are limitless. Instead of hogging the covers, it’s high time for marketing and UX teams to find the common ground and cooperate in finding new smart innovative ways to achieve business goals in a user-friendly way.
I hope you enjoyed the reading. Check out my previous blog post if you want to learn more about how to improve your websites’ user experience. Keep tuned for more insights 😉