Time is Everything

It’s not exactly news to say that the Internet undergoes constant change – those of us that work online are totally aware of that, sometimes painfully so. But how do we view that change?

For an SEO or digital marketer, for instance, our attention may be divided between what is different today, compared to yesterday, and what shape tomorrow’s changes may take. The engineers inside the search engines’ conclaves, on the other hand, probably spend part of their time trying to improve what they’re already doing and the rest figuring out what they may be able to accomplish that their competitors aren’t doing.

But how often do we think about the changes occurring with the users? After all, aren’t they our real targets?

I follow Gary Vaynerchuk pretty closely. He’s a very sharp guy who always has his eye on consumers. Not just on what catches their attention… but why it does. And in a recent keynote (the whole thing rocks, but it’s right after 28:05 that he makes this point) he made a point that I think is very valid. In explaining why he hates Samsung (and he goes out of his way to point it out), he hit on what I think is the biggest online cultural change that, as marketers, many are missing…

Time is everything.

TimepieceWe’re so buried in the flood of information pouring over us, that the slightest intrusions, the tiniest bit of wasted time, is momentarily catastrophic to us. When a webpage loads a couple of seconds slower than we think it should, when the person we’re calling doesn’t answer until the fourth ring, when our WiFi connection seems a little sluggish, it affects us. It pisses us off. It’s time… OUR time… and we take that loss very personally.

I can imagine you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, big shock! People resent having their time wasted.” Granted, it’s not a new idea. But think about it… it wasn’t that many years ago when we might have been irked if someone kept us waiting 10-15 minutes for an appointment. Gradually, that 10-15 minutes diminished to 2-3 minutes. Today, people subconsciously detect a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. And it stresses them!

There’s so much information to be experienced, and little enough time in which to absorb it. So many tasks, and not enough time for them all. And that information is buried in a sea of noise, which makes it even harder to digest the important bits.

What’s the point, you ask? Easy! The point is that consumers resent wasted time, even seconds. So it stands to reason that if we offer a streamlined functionality, easily understood content, fast page-loads, intuitive navigation, fewer clicks… they’ll notice that, too.

And they’ll appreciate it… even if they don’t know it.

Users love saving time

Sure, it’s unlikely that anyone will say to themselves, “That page loaded at least half a second faster than the other sites, so I think I’ll give them my business.” They’ll only notice it on a subconscious level. But it’ll still affect their frame of mind, their receptiveness to whatever action we’re trying to nudge them toward.

In the rush to consume as much as possible, many users find themselves driven to always be consuming. Even if they’re not looking for anything in particular, they’re still consuming… videos, cute kitten pics, their Twitter stream… if they’re not consuming, they get anxious. They’ll find something to consume.

Our mission, if we choose to accept it (cue: Mission Impossible theme), is to be that content they think of when they’re looking for something to consume.

That’s not as difficult as you might think. If they’re already on our site, we might practice what a number of online publications do… show a lot of thumbnails below, with enticing headlines. Views alone may accomplish nothing, but repeated exposure to ads can offer a benefit, by way of brand awareness. And if the content is worthwhile, it may win shares and interaction that can provide other indirect benefits.

Marketers have known this for a long time and have made good use of it. But what too few seem to do is tailor their approach to making the users’ experience quick and efficient. For example, imagine how much better a user feels when faced with site-links in the SERPs that offer a direct link to precisely what they’re seeking on your site. They’ve saved at least one click, as well as a few seconds looking for that page on the site.

Granted, you don’t have ultimate control over whether Google adds site-links, but you can take actions to make it more likely. Have you?

How about site search capability? Have you added that to your site? It’s not just for ecommerce sites, it can provide value to many different types of websites. If users can benefit from being able to search your site for specific information, doesn’t it make sense to provide that ability?

The point is, from the moment your meta description appears in the SERP snippet, the user is on a path to converting from a visitor to a customer . Everything you do to make their journey through your conversion funnel easier can make them more receptive to the next step, potentially improving your conversion rate.

Likewise, any stumbling block they encounter can turn the experience negative, making them more resistant or even driving them away. Don’t underestimate the impact of time on that process… the user won’t.

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Doc Sheldon has been writing professionally since the 1970s, and has worked in marketing since the 1980s. He owned and published weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines during the ’80s, before becoming a business consultant and ultimately "retiring" in 2008. He began studying SEO in earnest in 2003, and now specializes in technical SEO. His passions are the development of the Semantic Web, trying to figure out what changes may be coming next from the search engines and eliminating misinformation.

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