Give the User What They Want

By David Burda  |  August 9, 2016

Person sitting at desk in front of computer

I do a lot of reading in my current position. I spend one to two hours each morning pouring through the latest healthcare business and policy information available online from peer-reviewed journals, industry trade publications, vendor white papers, market research firms, government reports and more.

Not only am I consuming the latest on healthcare, I’m learning how many ways brands can annoy me with the way they link to original and ancillary content referenced in what I’m reading. If there are “best practices” to follow, no one is following them consistently across whatever I’m reading. The only consistent practice is the use of every possible trick and gimmick to keep me from leaving the site, fearing that I won’t spend enough time there or that I will leave and not come back to finish what I’m reading.

Behind those tricks and gimmicks, which I will describe momentarily from some of the brand sites I visit regularly because I have to for my job, usually is a digital general manager or user-experience person who gets incentive compensation based on specific website performance metrics: Number of sessions, pages per session, time per session, bounce rates, exit rates, pageviews, impressions, clicks and more.

Brands often use those metrics as proxies for the user experience of their customers. The better the metric numbers, the better the user experience. That’s not necessarily so. The only metric that really counts is whether a customer can easily do what he or she wants to do when they visit a brand’s website. If that happens, everything else will fall into place.

Know What a User—Not You—Wants to do with Content

Based on my experience as a user, here’s what I think most people—certainly most senior-level healthcare executives accessing B2B content—want to do when they’re reading something on a brand’s website:

  1. They want to print it out. I haven’t met a healthcare executive yet who doesn’t like printing something out, reading it, highlighting the juicy parts and putting it in a folder where they can find it later, rather than searching for it again online by trying to recall certain keywords.
  2. They want to send it by email to themselves. They want to save it for future use by putting it into an e-mail folder on their computer system. But not before they print it out, read it, highlight the juicy parts and put it into a paper folder.
  3. They want to access original or ancillary content referenced in what they’re reading by clicking on external links that connect them to that original or ancillary content off the brand’s website. When they get to that original or ancillary content on another website, they will print it out, highlight the juicy parts, put it in a paper folder and e-mail it to themselves.

I’m visiting more and more B2B websites that don’t let users do these three basic functions. They’ve eliminated the print button (or have hidden it in a bottomless drop-down menu of apps no one uses). They’ve eliminated the email button (or have made emailing content virtually impossible by forcing users to prove to the site that they’re not a robot by picking three pictures with trees in them). They’ve eliminated links to external content (or have made them difficult to locate or dangerous to use as customers can never be 100 percent certain where they’ll go after clicking).

This isn’t about saving trees or Control P becoming innate knowledge or preventing spam or improving readability or being on the cutting edge of website design. It’s about steering users to functions that bolster the brand’s website performance on those key metrics I mentioned earlier. Share on social media and watch engagement scores rise! It’s about the brand wants, not about what the user wants.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge proponent of distributing, sharing and posting content via the most appropriate social channels for that content and for a particular audience. It’s what journalists have always done—disseminate content. We used to have two choices: print or broadcast. Now we have a seemingly infinite number of choices, and that’s good.

But in a brand’s zeal to distribute content and drive up its website metrics, it shouldn’t exclude some of the basics, such as printing, emailing and linking out to original and ancillary content.

Mistakes Brands Make with Their Content Tools

Here is a short list of examples from several brand sites that have lost their way but that I visit because I need to for my job. I find the practices offensive. I respectfully decline to name the offenders. You know who you are.

  • One healthcare IT publication doesn’t include links to any external content in any article at all. Not to a press release it’s reporting on, not to a government report its writing about, nothing. It doesn’t want you to go anywhere. Or print anything from its website.
  • One healthcare business publication links to external original and ancillary content but only after that content is posted on its own site as a content asset. No going off its site to read a piece of significant health services research! You have to read it on the brand’s website, and if you share it, the link takes your recipient back to the same site. You can email content from the site but no printing.
  • Another healthcare business publication lets you print, e-mail and link out to external original and ancillary content off the site. But it doesn’t let you read an entire article on one page. It paginates content in 500-word chunks, driving up pageviews by forcing you to click on additional pages if you want to read through to the end of the piece.
  • A second-tier, peer-reviewed healthcare journal does the same thing with its research articles and promises you a free PDF of an entire article on the last page. What they don’t tell you is you have to fill out a lead-generation registration form in order to receive a link to the PDF by email.

So what sites do I visit that do it right?

Here’s an article on hospital antibiotic stewardship programs published by H&HN, which is owned by the American Hospital Association. In addition to sharing it socially anyway I want, I can print it out or email it to anyone, and two external links in the piece take me directly to source material off the site.

FierceHealthcare’s article on ransomware attacks on hospitals allows me to share it socially on a variety of channels, but I also can print it out or email it. External links embedded in the context of the story and broken out separately at the bottom of the story take me directly to source material off the site.

An article on congressional testimony on a possible delay in new federal healthcare legislation published by Becker’s Hospital Review has email and print buttons sitting by themselves at the top of the article just like its targeted audience prefers. An external link takes you right to the original testimony off the site.

If brands give users what they want—the ability to print, email and be taken directly to referenced original and ancillary content off the brands’ websites—they will come back to the brands’ websites because they gave users what they wanted. Get it?

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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