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1 Web site + 1 Email = 1 User Experience. by:


June 8th, 2010

Like most digital marketing consultants, I’m concerned with improving the online user experience for users of my clients’ Web sites – arguably the quickest way to provide a positive return on any Web marketing investment.  With few exceptions, upgrading the online experience to meet a marketing objective involves making enhancements to the email marketing program in parallel.  What I’ve noticed, lamentably, is the number of often systemic hurdles that prevent marketers from treating Web sites and emails as one user experience.

Emails, particularly opt-in consumer marketing HTML format emails, basically look and feel like a web page, and invite interaction exactly the way a browser-based Web page would.  And they should – since the goal of non-transactional emails is to “get the click” and deliver a visit to the emailer’s Web site.   So why on earth would marketers allocate budget separately, deploy creative and technical resources inconsistently, and otherwise architect these systems in silos, and thus permit discordant and inferior user experiences to occur?

The answer, in my view, is that different approaches are involved in the enhancement process.  Web site enhancements are generally governed by usability best practices, whereas email program upgrades tend to be governed by list management, messaging, and delivery best practices.   Sure, separate systems are involved as well, leading to significant integration challenges (just try getting email performance data and Web site usage statistics in a unified, clear format, and you’ll know what I mean) but the real issue is that a single optimization methodology is not fully developed, embraced, nor employed.

The key for me (both as marketer and consumer) is to apply the best practices of user experience design across the board – especially in adopting a scenario-based approach to email/Web interaction enhancement.  Rather than optimizing their Web sites, and then optimizing their email programs,  marketers should develop interaction scenarios across the digital marketing spectrum and then assemble the right balance of Web and email expertise to optimize the experience for their customers.

Start with three “core” interaction scenarios:

  • Web site visit > Data capture (email opt-in) > Email (newsletter/promotion) > Web site visit
  • Web site visit > Data capture (on-site behavior/customer service related/transaction)  > Email (transactional/fulfillment-related) > Web site visit
  • Offline data capture (email opt-in via promotion/loyalty program, membership, product purchase/warranty card, etc.) > Email (transactional) > web site visit

Spending time and energy to optimize these scenarios should cover the majority of revenue-generating and cost-controlling online marketing opportunities for marketers.  The benefits for consumers and marketers abound.  Optimized Web sites leverage email to “rescue” abandoned shopping carts, saving hassle and preserving a sale.  Optimized email programs leverage a personalized Web experience to send relevant content and offers, driving repeat engagement and loyalty.

Clearly, there is still an opportunity to extend the value of experience design principles beyond the Web site, and some marketers such as Olympus and British Airways are doing this extremely well.  The good folks at Marketingsherpa also document best practices from email marketing that should make their way across broader experience design and certification related training.

Separating Web sites from emails leaves revenue on the table, ignores the potential of Web site user experience design to improve email layout, and is a wasted marketing opportunity for many.  The marketing math is clear: 1 Web site + 1 Email = 1 (optimized) User Experience.

Tags: Design, User Experience




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