Delivering Great Digital Experiences

Blog Post created by jthibeault on Jan 9, 2015

Imagine walking into a store and having everything off by just a few seconds. Associates standing still, like statues, responding to inquiries only after a protracted pause. It’s kind of like the television commercial aired by Cox Business about “business buffering.”



But that’s exactly what it feels like to visitors when a website is slow or unresponsive. The issue is that the mechanics of delivering a high-performing website are just as important as providing the right content for the right relationship need. It’s all wrapped up in providing a “pleasant experience.”


Everyone is Selling an Experience

As B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore explain in their book, The Experience Economy, “companies stage an experience whenever they engage customers, connecting with them in a personal, memorable way.” Every company, through every channel with which they engage consumers, is selling an “experience.” Think about it this way:

  • Consumers spend attention with you
  • Once attention has been given, engagement can happen
  • The experience is evaluated through the engagement
  • A relationship is formed (either positive or negative)


What kind of experience are you selling?


The Web Doesn’t Make it Easy

When the World Wide Web first hit the scene, it was easy to sell a great digital experience. There were no expectations. But over time, that has changed. With increasing penetration of broadband and high-speed wireless, consumer expectations have become fickle. They want things delivered fast. In fact, according to Google researchers, when your website loads 250ms slower than your competitors, your visitors will tend to migrate over to your competitor’s site rather than stay on yours (250ms is faster than the blink of an eye, by the way). Only those expectations for increased performance have gone lock step with an increase in expectations around the entire experience. Consumers aren’t willing to trade off better performance for less interactivity. No, if anything, websites have become larger and more complex. Providing consumers an awesome digital experience acknowledges that they have a choice. In order to get them to spend their attention on your experience, you must be more helpful, more quickly, than other options.


In 2014, we launched a survey called the State of the User Experience. The objective was to understand what made people tick about accessing digital experiences. So we surveyed over 1,000 people to find out. Although there were lots of interesting tidbits contained in the report (which you can download from here), the gist was simple—people care about performance. They want websites to load quickly. They want videos to load quickly. And when your digital experiences don’t? Well, that’s when they stop recommending your brand or they toddle off to a competitor’s site.


So what can you do? Of course, this is a tangled knot of a problem to solve. There’s no easy way to deliver great digital experiences. But what I have come up with is four high-level things you can do, four steps that, if you take, your are guaranteed to improve the overall reception of your digital experience which, of course, is critical given that we are all selling an experience now.


Step 1: Stop Delivering from a Single Location

The first step to providing a digital experience that performs as expected is to get it into the cloud. We all know that the digital world is a global one. There’s no telling from where your audience will visit your digital experiences. But if you are serving it all out of a single datacenter or, heaven forbid, a server in some closet at your corporate headquarters, there’s no way that you can provide the kind of experience that your audience is expecting—fast, reliable, and consistent. You need to distribute your site into infrastructure that is located around the world so that visitor requests for your digital content are served closest to them.


Step 2: Build for devices

Everything has gone mobile. More and more consumers are using their mobile devices to access the Internet…and your digital experiences. Which creates a major problem. Most websites, for example, weren’t designed for mobile to begin with. They were designed for the PC with mobile compatibility bolted on. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean your website is good for mobile. In order to appeal to this new and browsing behavior of using mobile devices first, you have to design your site for a mobile experience. It’s not just about making your content fit into a smaller screen, it’s about understanding what mobile audiences want from your site in the first place and ensuring that the content, menu options, and other elements are available in the manner with which they wish to interact from their devices.


Step 3: Optimize

Once you have your digital experiences built (hopefully for mobile first), it’s time to optimize them. There are lots of ways that you can improve the way your site operates, especially for mobile consumption. You can turn on persistent connections to provide a better, more consistent delivery experience. You can reduce the number of round trips that have to be made by combining javascripts and other elements so that they can be loaded in parallel. You can reduce the roundtrip time by utilizing more efficient infrastructure (i.e., a CDN cache). The best thing to do is put together a list of ways that you can optimize your digital experiences. Identify which can be accomplished today, which tomorrow, and which a year from now. Then start picking off the low-hanging fruit. I bet that even if you made small, incremental changes in the way your digital experiences perform your audience will applaud you for them.


Step 4: Measure and Monitor

The last step to ensuring a great digital experience is to measure and monitor what is happening on a daily basis. Where are users connecting from and what devices are they using? How long is it taking a request to reach your web server (even if you are using a CDN, dynamic content must be served from origin; CDNs can just help accelerate the delivery)? How many round trips is it taking to satisfy audience requests for content? And if your digital experiences happen to have video in them, there’s all kinds of information you could be gathering. Without this kind of detailed insight into your digital experiences there’s no telling where they are falling or succeeding. Of course, there is no one way to do this. It’s a combination of data sources like your web logs, Google Analytics, and other third-party software all munged together into something like a dashboard from Omniture. But it’s not all about just measurement. You have to be committed to measuring. Every. Day. If you aren’t monitoring what’s happening, the data that you measure will be old before you can put it to use.


Note: this post is partially excerpted from Chapter 17 of Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences That People Want to Share by Jason Thibeault and Kirby Wadsworth published by Wiley, Inc. (February 2014).