The In Search SEO Podcast
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[This is a general summary of the podcast and not a word for word transcript.]
How to Build the Optimal UX by Focusing on User Psychology: Summary of Episode 68
Today we have a UX aficionado for you! Khalid Saleh, CEO of Invesp opens up the world of using psychology to create a UX that converts!
- How to speak to user psychology with your UX in order to boost sales
- How to drill deep into the user mindset and build UX that aligns with it
- What messages do you want your UX to send & how do you send them?
Plus, we take a look at what’s likely competing with your Featured Snippets for user attention!
Google Shopping Opens to Free Product Listings
Google Not Indexing New Content Again
Google Adds Alternative Services for Local Service Ads
All Google Advertisers Will Need To ID Verification
Google Offers New Search Suggestions For Queries
Follow the podcast on Twitter
Using Psychology to Build a UX That Drives Sales: A Conversation with Khalid Saleh [00:08:53 – 00:38:14]
Mordy: Welcome to a very special In Search SEO Podcast interview session. We are live from San Jose at the wonderful SMX conference and I am sitting here with a constantly quoted author and industry speaker. He is the king of CRO and the co-founder of Invesp, Khalid Saleh!
Khalid: Thank you for having me.
M: My pleasure. I have to say, I always do my research on my guests and I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and I just love it. Can I read it?
M: Okay, cool. So you say the CEO of Invesp and, “No growth hacks, strong opinions, weakly held – #dothehardwork.”
K: Oh, yeah. You got to do the hard work, especially in marketing.
M: I love that. No hacks.
K: Right, no hacks because that’s the most common question that I hear. People are always looking for a hack or a trick as if marketing is just a light switch that you turn on and off and I tell them it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a flywheel that takes a lot of effort to move, but the minute it moves you just gotta keep pushing and pushing.
M: It’s an amazing thing. I mean, take a relationship, would you try to hack your way through a relationship?
K: Definitely, not.
M: Of course not. That would be bad. You would end up miserable, especially if you married that person that you were hacking. So why is work any different? It’s called work.
K: Definitely and I think that that’s the problem. I always tell people that ultimately, it’s a relationship. If you’re looking to have something sustainable, long term, it’s about the relationship. I’ll throw in a different story. We have a client who has been with us for a while and we have long term contracts. One day he decided to just stop. I’m looking at the contracts, we still have quite a bit of money, so I ask him if he can at least pay a month because we have people on staff and the guy walks away. We’re talking about a little above $10,000.
M: That really sucks.
K: And I was talking to my partner and by the contract, we can get the money, but it’s the relationship. It’s funny because I know that most likely they might not come back but again, it’s the relationship. I know it’s fine, it is what it is, somebody else is going to come and fill that place. Again, you always have to think about the relationship.
M: Life is not short. I mean, it feels like life is short, but in reality, life is hopefully long. So if you’re going to think short term about it that’s just stupid.
K: I agree. I think lots of times people make decisions when it comes to smart marketing that are stupid or delusional. It’s funny because I have to remind myself of this constantly. Every once in a while I look at something and think, “I can do this. I’ve discovered a trick.” And I have to tell myself, “Khalid don’t do this. This is just not good. You know it’s not good. Back away from it.”
M: So I want to talk about CRO and UX and how they interplay together. But before that, what is Invesp? What do you guys do?
K: So we’ve started Invesp back in 2006. In my life prior to Invesp I was a software architect building lots of e-commerce for Fortune 500 companies. In 2005, I was a software architect for Motorola.
M: Do they still make flip phones?
K: Oh my god. You don’t understand. It was such a huge product with $35 million investments in three months. Mind you, I had a team of about 120 engineers and it was myself as one of the software architects and two others. It was basically a software dreamland, we did anything that we could imagine. We released the platform and in a month we had hundreds of thousands of people come and visit the site, but in a month we’ve only had 10 orders for a $35 million investment. Mind you that some people lost their jobs and some people decided it’s time to do something about this and thus Invesp was born in 2006. At that point in time, by the way, there were only two other companies doing conversion optimization in the US. One of them since then had gone bankrupt. The other still continues to do CRO. And the rest is history. We’ve grown since then and we’ve worked with large and small clients all over.
M: I’m so happy for you guys.
So I love CRO because it pushes me to my limits. I’m not a CRO expert, but there’s so much psychology behind CRO, and I love psychology. So before we get into that, just make sure the audience is on board, what are we talking about?
K: Sure. CRO, conversion rate optimization, is basically persuading your website visitors to take the action that you want them to take on a website, typically it’s a conversion. Now if it’s an e-commerce website, it’s typically somebody placing an order. If you’re a SaaS website, somebody is subscribing. If your website is a lead generation, somebody is filling out that form.
I’m biased a little bit so I consider UX to be part of CRO. UX, to me, is that user interaction with the website. I click on a button, the right thing happens. What I’m expecting to happen happens. I always say UX is about the functionality, the functional aspects of your website, you want your website to be functional.
There’s this famous saying from a Harvard professor that says no one buys a quarter-inch drill, everybody buys a quarter-inch hole. That’s the very famous saying and people always shake their heads and I tell them, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never bought a quarter-inch drill. I’ve never bought the quarter-inch hole either.” We just moved to a new house in Chicago and I had no pictures and paintings on the wall and my wife kept on nagging me to hang the pictures up. So I go to Home Depot, I get the drill and I start drilling and hanging the pictures. And I think to myself, UX is about having the nail in the wall. That’s the functional aspect and that’s something I need to do.
Now, there are other elements to the process of what I did. There is an emotional side, my wife getting off my back, no more nagging, that’s the emotional side. So whenever people are buying a product, there’s an emotional side that they’re trying to get. And then there’s a social side which is how I’m perceived within my friends when they come and visit and they see the pictures and the beautiful basement. So anytime you are selling something on the web there is a functional aspect. You want to make sure that the UX is there and people want what they want to check out there, they’re able to check out. But you also want to focus on the emotional side of things and the social side of things. That’s where I think CRO is by focusing on those two aspects. It doesn’t make sense to focus on the emotional or social aspects if you have a major bug in the site. Give them the basics and then after that think about that second level of the emotional and social aspects.
M: I love that. There is a psychoanalytical side to it. Theodore Reik has a thing called listening with the third ear which basically says that I understand you emotionally because I understand myself emotionally and we’re foundationally the same so I could be empathetic, sympathetic, or understand you. I wonder when you’re doing CRO or you’re looking at UX, how much is it about you being in touch with your own emotional experience so that you can project it onto the user?
K: It’s a tough one. I always have to remind myself I am not the user.
M: Right because you can look both ways with this.
K: Definitely. What we do is a bit different when trying to get to those emotional and social sides. So lots of times what happens is people are thinking about psychology and the human emotion and what they do is they bring the users and they ask them, “Why did you buy our product?” And what happens is that people give you Top of Mind answers like, “Because I need XYZ.” So I’ve learned over the years to never ask why you bought the product. I always ask, “When did you buy the product?” and “When did you first think that you needed to buy the product?
Let me give you an example. So one of our clients sells these very expensive bikes, we’re talking about $5,000 – $7,000 bikes, and we’re trying to figure out how to increase conversions and we bring some people who bought the bike in the last 30 days, and we’re talking to them. So I ask this guy, “When did you first think about buying this bicycle?” He said, “Well, it was Saturday morning, I was riding with a group of other guys, and I looked at the guy who’s leading the group, and he had this amazing beautiful bike,” and I asked him, “How did that make you feel?” and he answered, ”I felt very envious.” I’m like wow, as a marketer, that is a treasure. You would never get that by the way from asking, “Why did you buy the bike?”
If you know the emotion, you know exactly what you can do with it as a marketer. I think that’s where it becomes really powerful. What can you do with those emotions?
I’ll give you another example. One of our clients sells apartments for a retirement community and as they’re doing the interviews I’m looking to see the pricing was right, everything was right, people were just not buying. It turns out that people were not buying because of their dining tables. As it turns out, the dining tables that they’ve had in their house for many years and so many memories were too large for the apartments and they just really had a tough time giving up those dining tables. So food for thought, again, if you’re able to drill really deep and figure out the emotions behind buying a product, your conversion rates are on a whole other level.
M: What first strikes me is that I know they’re emotional and I can go for it. But the good part of me says I have to be careful. You don’t want to squeeze too hard or manipulate too far. In the long run it won’t work for you so how do you balance that?
K: I’ll answer that by a story from one of our clients that came to us in 2011. It was the CEO at that point and a single person doing all the marketing so a two-man operation. I mean, they were doing like half a million dollars. It’s amazing. I saw them go from about 1% conversion rate until about 2017 where they had gone up to 8.5%. What was a single person marketing department, now they have a CRO team that’s about eight or nine people. But what they’ve done is they forgot about the relationship. They really used all the hacks and tricks and people eventually caught on. And guess what happened to them? People bought an item once and they never came back. Until that point, they went up from 1% to 8.5%, and now they went down to about 2%. I still remember their CEO calling me saying, “Hey, we started sales at half a million, we went to 20 million, and now we’re down to a million in sales.” He panicked and I told him you over-optimized. I was being nice. I told him you over-optimized to the point that it was just a loss of trickery. You’re not going to trick people into a relationship.
M: There is nothing worse I can think of than feeling used.
K: Oh, definitely and unfortunately, there are lots of tricks that you can do but eventually people catch on. And if you think people are stupid, I always tell people there is nothing that irritates me more than finding out that a vendor thinks I’m stupid or an employee for that matter. I’m too nice. I will ignore it once or twice, but if you continue doing it, I’ll catch on and goodbye and good luck.
M: People are not stupid and you are going to get caught. Speaking about this, when you’re thinking about your UX, I’m not talking about for a particular product or a particular moment, but foundationally speaking, what do you want it to say so that people feel confident or comfortable making the purchase?
K: I think what you need to do when it comes to UX, you need to make sure that the user experience, how they interact and what they expect on a website, whether it’s a mobile site, or the desktop version, if it really matches what they were expecting. It’s funny because I was trying to buy audio equipment days ago, I’m ready to buy and I go and I add an item to the cart. It was almost a $300 mic. And for the life of me I could not find the checkout button. It’s 2020, come on, guys.
M: Love that. That means, by the way, no one working there actually tried to buy anything on their own site.
K: Oh, definitely. I’m looking through for the checkout button and it turns out that typically it’s in the right upper corner but they had designed it so differently that it threw me off completely. And mind you, I’m somebody who’s on the web constantly.
Same thing happened when I went on Presidents Day. I wanted to buy some furniture for the kids and there were some sales and discounts and I have a credit card for this furniture store. I added two bedroom sets, and was about to spend $4,000, it is what it is. I’m ready to checkout, I’m on their mobile site, and I’m sure almost everybody’s on mobile. And I get this pop up that appears and disappears. So unbelievable. Are you kidding me? This is $4,000. So my wife pulls it up and gives it a look as she does a lot of the CRO work for us and she says they have a bug. Then she literally does a couple of things and figures it out. This is horrible because lots of times people don’t visit their own site.
So I continue looking after she figures it out. I started the checkout and guess what? My session expired and the items were removed from the list and I have not placed the order. I’m not going back, I’m not going to deal with this. But imagine how much money they’re losing. $4,000. And I’m sure it’s a lot more than that. If it’s $4,000 per day, you just do the math.
M: I don’t want to. That’s crazy to comprehend.
When you’re talking about what’s safe or what’s familiar, do you find that it’s hard to be innovative at the same time? If you’re always trying to make sure that it’s familiar how do you innovate?
K: So that’s actually one of the challenging things with marketers. Marketers are very predictable because we always copy other marketers.
K: Yeah. I mean to some extent it is just easier that way. There’s this balance between providing users with the experience that they expect with the buttons in the right place and when I click on them this happens. The product offering though has to be unique and different. I’ll tell people something which I took from Keith Cunningham where he says you need to figure out the difference that makes the difference. The difference in your product and your offer is what makes the difference for your prospect where they’ll say, “I want to buy this.”
I’ll give an example from the Purple Mattress. They say that 50% of the people who go to Purple and use it love it and the other 50% absolutely hate it because of the way it’s structured. Now, when you go on Purple’s website, it’s kind of standard, but the mattress itself and how they create it is very unique and very different. In that sense, I think there’s a place for innovation, and there’s a place for traditional things that people expect.
M: When you’re innovating, everyone has certain biases you walk in with and they’re very hard to catch and very subtle, but they’re very meaningful and they’re very dramatic when they do come out. If you’re being innovative and there is a certain amount of bias that I like this, how do you catch that?
K: It is so extremely challenging so I’ll give you another story. There’s this guy in India, who sits there and looks at the billion people living there and he says, “You know, a high number of those people don’t have appliances. They cannot afford appliances. They cannot afford to have a fridge. And he says, “we can build a fridge that’s really cheap.” Instead of paying $500, $600, or $1,000 you can buy the fridge for $60. He goes to Harvard and he talks to a whole bunch of professors. He talks to the late professor, Clayton Christensen, who’s basically the father of innovation, that we have this idea. It sounds like a great idea so they invest, they raise funds, and they build this fridge for $60 which is amazing. It’s an innovative product. And they had interviewed people and people told them they can’t afford the fridges that are $1,000 or $600. They put it out in the market and no one’s interested in buying the $60 fridge. Why? Simply because people have figured out ways around buying the $600 fridge. They buy their produce every day. They have ways to cool the water. They cannot afford to pay even the $60 for this fridge.
M: Wow, that is bias right there.
K: And people had told him that during the interviews but they just did not listen. They were hearing in the interviews that the people couldn’t afford the $600 fridge but they didn’t listen to the fact that they can’t really afford even the $60 fridge but they just did not listen. You’re talking about Harvard professors who failed the investors and basically they went bankrupt.
M: Wow. That’s good intentions failing miserably.
K: There you go. I always have to remind myself, you always ask yourself this question, what am I not seeing? What don’t I see?
M: But you need to have somebody on the outside.
K: Oh, definitely. And sometimes it’s the thinking time.
M: It hurts your ego, by the way.
K: Oh, I’ve been humbled by CRO so many times.
That is just funny, because sometimes I would look at something and think surely this is going to win. I mean, this is just absolutely genius. And then you put it out and people think otherwise.
M: I’ve had that where I love this article, it’s my best article I’ve ever written, and then it falls flat on its face.
K: Yeah, or I will do an article really quickly and I’m wondering why people are sharing it.
M: I was talking to Barry Schwartz about this at one point. He said he was surprised when he thought everyone’s going to talk about this article and then no one talks about it. And then he gave me a couple of topics who he thought no one’s going to talk about and then everyone’s off the charts talking about it. So you never know.
K: I’ve learned this. In the old days, 13 or 14 years ago, digg.com used to be big. One of the things was to get on the first page of digg. And we would write these articles and I think this is first-page worthy and nothing happens. And then a couple of times I write something so silly and I wonder is this what people like? But, you know, people and their minds.
M: I want to talk about ranking as this is an SEO podcast but as you know, CRO and SEO sort of go hand in hand together. I’m wondering, regarding a good UX from an SEO perspective and a good UX from a CRO perspective, do they completely align or is there some sort of discord between them?
K: I think at some point maybe 10 years ago we used to say that there is some discord between them, but in all honesty, I think everybody caught on that whether it’s SEO, UX or, CRO, ultimately, the goal is to help increase sales. I can have the most amazing ranking but if I’m not generating sales, who cares? I can have the most amazing UX but if people aren’t coming, then who cares? You got to work hand in hand.
On that note, understand that lots of times your competition is also extremely critical. For a long time, I thought that we compete with other CRO firms because people hire us to increase conversions. Then one day it hit me that people actually do not hire us to increase conversions. People hire us to increase sales. Guess what? All of a sudden my domain’s competition increased tremendously. How did this hit me? I go to this one company, we’ve been chasing them for a while, with a large marketing budget of 100 million dollars annually. I’m talking to him and I tell him we don’t cost that much, you can hire us. He said, “You know, we’re spending about $80 million on print catalogs that we send in the mail.” I’m like what? That’s what I’m competing with? I would have never thought about that. But really, in his mind, it made sense. He knows exactly how much money he generates. I’m competing with a service I’ve never considered that I’m competing with. So understanding your competition also helps you increase your conversion rate.
M: That’s a good point. Wow. And there are many points or many instances where who you think your competitors are are not who your competitors are because we take competitor analysis very linearly a lot of the time.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: When thinking of UX and CRO. If you had to pick one or the other, you’re building a team to do CRO, do you build your team with people who have a strong technical background or a strong background in marketing psychology?
K: It’s funny because I have to deal with that quite a bit. I would go with strong psychology. I would choose that anytime.
I come from a technical background. Every once in a while I’ll pull up something and I’ll program it myself. You can hire a good programmer. They’re easy to find, with all due respect to my programmer friends. However, finding a marketer who really understands psychology, that’s very rare, so difficult. I can also teach a developer how to become a marketer, but not the other way around. So I’m always looking for that marketer that’s able to sit down, drill deep into human motivation, and spend and invest the time into understanding marketing. I have some marketers on my team who always tell me they want to learn programming. I tell them no. Marketing is such a humongous ocean and you have limited time in this life. Invest it in learning marketing.
M: Like I said, in my SMX speech, stick to your core profile.
Thank you so much for coming on.
K: Awesome, thank you for having me.
How to Understand How Powerful Your Featured Snippets Really Are [00:39:00 – 00:57:08]
A while back, we looked at what SERP features are showing alongside a Featured Snippet, essentially competing with Featured Snippets on the SERP for user attention. We looked at dozens of data points over 2019 to see what SERP features showed on both desktop and mobile. Below is the percentage of time a given SERP feature appears on the same results page as a Featured Snippet:
Knowledge Panel: 6.52%
Local Pack: 6.55%
Top Stories Carousel: 3.28%
Video Box: 57.71%
Related Questions: 88.13%
Video Box + Ads + Related Questions: 29.22%
Knowledge Panel: 1.17%
Local Pack: 2.56%
Top Stories Carousel: 2.05%
Related Questions: 63.73%
Ads + Related Questions: 48.9%
You might notice that video on mobile is missing above which is because we didn’t start tracking it in earnest until late 2019. We did look at the data and the Video Box on mobile seems to show with a Feature Snippet about 10% of the time, but that’s with limited data.
So there’s a lot of features on the SERP to compete with a Featured Snippet, but you have to be careful with the data here as each of these features have their own advantages/disadvantages. For example, take ads. While they do appear above the Featured Snippet, they’re still ads and for many ads suck.
You can also say that the Knowledge Panel and the Local Panel are not competing with the Featured Snippet. One could argue that a Knowledge Panel could have the same intent as a Featured Snippet which in theory is true, but those cases are outliers especially on mobile with there being so little space as everything is in the main column. There are also cases where Wikipedia is both in the Featured Snippet and the Knowledge Panel and they’re showing very similar content so Mordy is not terribly afraid of the Knowledge Panel if you have a Featured Snippet.
Our point is the data is awesome, but you have to look at what the implications are based on what those competing features mean!
There are a million ways you can do this IF you have a strong Featured Snippet. Meaning, this is a real Featured Snippet for a real informative query and not one of those obscure long-tail keywords where Google tends to throw up a Featured Snippet that few will ever see. Imagine a real Featured Snippet and there are no other SERP features on that page except for a People Also Ask box. It could be that if Google is getting the intent wrong for the Featured Snippet then people will start clicking the questions/answers in the People Also Ask box by either skimming the content or visiting the URLs within the feature.
This is Mordy’s point, you have to truly understand what’s on the page. Mordy didn’t do this study to tell you that Featured Snippets are ‘x’ percent less valuable than you thought they were. This study is not telling you that your traffic will go down more if an ad is placed next to your Featured Snippet. This study was a wakeup call. It was meant to challenge the general notion that a Featured Snippet is an automatic win. Meaning, there are a lot of features competing for the user’s eye and what you need to do is investigate them. Mordy spoke about this in a recent post on rank tracking and just like you have to qualify rank you need to qualify Featured Snippet wins.
How do you investigate? It’s a two-step process:
- You need to see what is actually showing on the SERP with your Featured Snippet. Whatever it is you need to know what’s there.
- Once you know what’s on the page, you need to qualify it from an intent perspective.
Let’s say you search for where does the ivy at wrigley field grow? This query brings up a Featured Snippet that answers the question that it grows on the outfield bricks of the stadium but let’s say there was an Image Box that also appeared in the SERP. Wouldn’t the Image Box answer the question by showing me where the ivy grows? In fact, you can go so far to say the intent of the query is to see an image. Part of the intent is to see where the ivy grows and if it’s not part of the intent it’s at least a natural after-thought that if you see an image of the ivy you’ll get your answer. This is a good example where you might think a SERP feature is unimportant to the query but it actually answers the intent perfectly!
SEO News [00:57:27 – 01:03:54]
Google Shopping Opens to Free Product Listings: In a move that will be permanent, Google has opened its Shopping program to all retailers for free! You will not need to pay to be featured within the shopping tab. Of course, you can still advertise for sponsored slots on the shopping SERP.
Google Not Indexing New Content Again: There is an indication that Google, as it did a few months back, had an issue with indexing new content, which is, of course, a very big problem for news publishers.
Google Adds Alternative Services for Local Service Ads: Google’s Local Service Ads are offering vendors the option to list if they offer alternative services that are COVID-19 specific. For example, a plumber could list if they offer VIDEO consultations!
All Google Advertisers Will Need To ID Verification: Google will soon be asking all advertisers to verify their identities. The new program is set to launch in the summer of 2020.
Google Offers New Suggestions For Queries: Google has gone live with a feature that will offer you suggestions when the search term used doesn’t bring up the right results. This way, when Google doesn’t seem to have results that fit the query, you have some direction on how to search.
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.