How much is a user experience worth to your long-term bottom line? If your website is centered around providing information or permitting users to interact with each other, chances are UX is the most important part of the function of your site. Without the user experience and the user interaction, there is no traffic. Without traffic, there is no chance to monetize the site. In this case, the user experience is critical to the monetary success of the website.
When the user experience is sound and your site’s visitors are able to get what they came to see, chances are you build a solid stream of loyal traffic, in addition to getting new traffic. These new visitors come from sharing links or getting solid rankings in search engines, because if you have solid content, you will typically rank well. Black-hat SEO folks have yet to figure out this part, and it baffles me to no end.
For us media developers, we have to examine the balance of user experience and monetization opportunities. Monetization comes in many forms, including advertising, direct sales, subscriptions to specific services, and myriad other unique methods discovered by entrepreneurs through the years. Online, the user experience has only recently become a major force behind the development of websites, although Google actually got the ball rolling with their stupid-simple home page. Heretofore, those seeking to monetize their websites or their domains generally did not care too much about the user experience.
I first wrote about the sophistication of users in a 2009 newsletter article I distributed to domain name investors. The article was not well received by the domain industry, which is filled with investors who, like a stock holder, are more interested in aggressive income growth than long-term income streams. There are domain investors who develop businesses on their websites, and their ranks are growing in number. However, in February 2009, my commentary about the failure of parking was not well received by an industry that, by its very nature, viewed the domain name as the primary source of the traffic. The user experience, be it on a parked page or a so-called mini-site, was only a means to route that organic, type-in traffic and make money from paid links.
However, if one reads blogs and news articles from domain industry experts, there is still a gulf between money and design, and the profit motive is the most important factor of development. Twitter’s official IPO filing brought a slew of derisive blog posts, including one from The Art Of The Name, which short-sightedly commented, “They seem not to care too much about making money.”
“Public companies almost inevitably seek to grow profits faster than expected, which means beyond the organic growth that comes from doing what made them great in the first place.” ~ Seth Godin
That kind of thinking is common among the domain investment world, and it means the user experience is hardly the most important aspect of their development efforts. For media types, those who build sites to fill a sales, informational or social niche, the user experience is paramount. Short-term profit is sacrificed in favor a rewarding user experience, which eventually generates long-term income. With UX as the primary driver of development, a well-developed site will eventually be able to monetize the gobs of traffic that will come for the information and the experience. (Hint: This is also the key to a successful, long-term media and SEO strategy.)
It sounds crazy, but think about what happens when profit is put ahead of user experience. Seth Godin, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about “jumping the shark“, in which he points out exactly the same thing I mentioned in that old 2009 article. Twitter’s willingness to sacrifice profit now, in favor of providing a sound user experience, preserving and growing their traffic, and eventually producing a black balance sheet, is a notion that has become quite foreign to today’s investors, be they on Wall Street or online. As Mr. Godin writes, “Public companies almost inevitably seek to grow profits faster than expected, which means beyond the organic growth that comes from doing what made them great in the first place.”
Seth’s blog made the point succinctly, and it inspired me to write this post. I have written about the tug of war between investment, development and user experience in the past. A demonstration of my own willingness to sacrifice short-term profit in favor of a sound user experience will further my argument, I believe. My company, Rodan Media, hand-registered the domain name, TurnpikeInfo.com, in November 2008. In January of 2009 we began putting some light content on the site, providing users with some toll information for the Florida’s Turnpike.
The site generates visitor volume between 40,000 and 45,000 users per month, but it took quite a long time to get there. The user is the purpose of the site, which provides valuable travel information. There are a few ads, but they are unobtrusive. The mobile website, launched in 2012, does not have any ads. The reason is they presently interfere with the user experience. There are new advertising options that are being rolled into a new mobile design, but the user experience remains the first consideration. The money will come later, and it will come, I have no doubt. The site is breaking even, but it is not yet profitable.
The point is that the site has been made great and traffic is growing well precisely because the user is the first consideration. Without the user, there is no profit potential. In other words, lacking sound UX there will be no color of money.