Navigation buttons. Calls to action. Positioning of images and other visual elements.
Are these website items pure "content"? Or are they part of a website's user experience (UX)?
This was the question Andy Crestodina, strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, posed to me as we sat in the speakers' room at the recent Content Marketing Conference (CMC) in Boston after his keynote—arguing the point that whatever lines exist between web content as such and web UX are blurred at best.
"People who do UX work are traditionally building the container for content; they build websites and software and things that are usable in their functionality. People who do content are traditionally creating the stuff that's going to go into the container," says Crestodina. "So at its worst there is a hard line between these two people and between these two philosophies. There's a problem in digital where web developers say, 'Oh, that's just content,' and where writers and content developers say, 'Oh that's just part of the design'—where in reality the extent to which your website is successful is in the ability for it to do both: Be a good container and be filled with good content."
In a separate conversation with one of Crestodina's fellow CMC keynoters, Lee Odden (CEO of TopRank Marketing), goes even further—arguing that UX and content are essentially one and the same.
"What good is content if it doesn't create a great user experience, right?" says Odden. "It's informal, but I did a survey asking people 'What is content?' and the answers clustered into 3 groups.
- The first group said it's stuff you make, so it's very functional
- The second group said it's too ambiguous to define, and
- The third group said it's experience ... They talked about it in terms of the outcome that you would expect to occur as the result of consuming the content.
"I thought that was really interesting. Content is experience. So I think that's the relationship," summarizes Odden. "It's how you create context, it's how you create experience."
Funnily enough, a good experience on the user's part is often the result of a good experience on the website creator's part.
"Successful sites are those that combine a process; a process combines the job of the writer and the job of the designer to make sure that [the site] meets all the needs, answers all the questions, and addresses all the objections of the visitor so that they'll take action," advises Crestodina. "It's possible to design a website that doesn't allow the writer or content developer to include all the places and ways in which they want to use a phrase. It's possible to build a website that makes it difficult to indicate relevance."
Hence, UX can be almost as important (if not just as important) as the content itself when it comes to SEO.
"Google's going to make more money off of the ads they run next to your content in the search results when your content is creating a great user experience," observes Odden. "Google's intent is to identify the things that will create the best possible user experience, and those are the things that they will reward with better search visibility."
Accordingly, says Odden, pages that are slow loading or cause errors—particularly on mobile devices—create a lower ranking signal on search engines. Conversely, pages that are quick to load and error free rank higher.
More to the point, according to Justin Rondeau, DigitalMarketer's director of optimization and another CMC speaker, design is one of the very few things that "will impact conversions on any page."
"Design builds trust. I've been noticing what's beautiful doesn't always convert, but it certainly helps," Rondeau told me before his session. "You need to have a solid [design] ... Your user experience and the design of your site are going to dictate whether people convert—so take [them] very, very seriously."
In this way, UX is the new relevance—or, at least, is a container for relevance, just as much as it is a container for content.