Creating Sticky Websites

by Barry Welford January 26th, 2010 

This post is a follow-up to previous posts on three brains and we now get down to practical applications.  This is where the rubber meets the road.

Day 355/365 - The Sticky Man by Tiago Rbeiro.If you have not thought of sticky websites before this, you may wonder why this is important.  Sticky Websites are websites where people stick around and explore different web pages.  Unless you could write the perfect single web page that supplied all a visitor's information needs, you probably need your visitor to click around your website.

If you have a sticky website, then your visitor will develop a greater commitment to the website as they navigate from web page to webpage.  That must be a good thing and indeed for an e-commerce website may make their purchase more likely.  Here we will discuss what makes a website sticky.

Framework for discussion

Blink

Mark Gladwell wrote his book Blink and to my mind, it has never got the attention it deserved.  It suggests that people may click away from web pages in the blink of an eye.  It is a question of milliseconds just like a flock of birds changing direction.  If a visitor clicks away from your web page in an instance, what causes that to happen.

Three brains

In many cases this instantaneous reaction is the result of different parts of your brain acting in different ways.  In previous posts we have described how some suggest this is almost like each person having three brains.  There is the logical brain that is handling this text you are reading.  In addition there is an emotional brain (the heart brain) handling what comes through your other senses and there is also the gut brain, which even the dinosaurs had.  The gut brain handles the Fight or Flight decision instinctively when we perceive some threat.  In addition the gut brain or perhaps the heart brain may cause us to take some action that we have a job explaining logically.  Indeed in trying to explain what we are feeling about a given web page, our logical brain will inevitably have problems in capturing all the nuances that our heart brain or our gut brain may have been handling.

Persistent Perceptions

Even though our logical brain cannot describe what our other brains are perceiving about a webpage, that does not make these concepts any less real.  They do affect our actions.

If you have a problem believing that, consider what happens when you meet another human being.  Your initial impression may affect everything about your ongoing interaction with that person.  Yet you may be unaware of some feelings that were triggered by some imperceptible aspect of that person's body language.

Once some perception about a website (or person) has developed, then it will persist even though you may be completely unaware of it.  In human interactions, it may take someone else to point out to you that you are treating someone unfairly, even though you were unaware of this.  Equally with a webpage you may not be consciously aware of why a certain perception has been created.

The problem is that analysis of situations and actions is all done by the logical brain and the two other brains may not get involved.  This is certainly true in all that is written about search engine optimization and search engine marketing since the search engine spiders only have logical brains.

The Logical view

Considering the logical view about websites, you can see some interesting debates.  One such debate is whether it is best to have a single website with folders that cover different aspects of the website or use subdomains that give a certain separation to the aspects.  This is usually debated from a purely logical standpoint.  Which format will ensure the best indexing of web pages so that they will rank best in keyword searches.

Taking a big picture view, different considerations come into play.  If we assume that when landing on an entry page to a website, we instantaneously built up a perception about that website, this may influence how we build that landing page.  That perception will include elements from our gut brain, our heart brain and our logical brain.  Unless the webpage is very confusing, we should build up an instant perception of what this website is all about.  The strategy behind the website should be very apparent to us. If we have to logically figure out what the website is all about, then it is almost game over.

If the landing page does signal what the website is all about, then that will influence what we do next.  It is the start of a journey that may be long with a sticky website or very short with a website that is clearly not for us.  In the balance of this article we will discuss two case studies that use these ideas.  In both cases it is early days and only detailed analytics will confirm that these principles have created truly sticky websites.  If these views are correct, then we should see a higher average number of pageviews for each visit.  In the interests of full disclosure, both of these websites are for clients of SMM.

A Multi-purpose Website

The first case involves websites of a celebrated UK saxophonist, Pete Thomas.  He started his own Pete Thomas  website some years ago and then added a discussion forum for the website.  This was then moved to its own domain, Caf Saxophone.  Over the years he had developed a large collection of saxophone tutorial web pages, which were recently moved across to the Caf Saxophone website from the Pete Thomas website.

Although all these associated web pages are very much about saxophone playing and ways of improving, the Caf Saxophone website seemed to be straddling two different concepts.  Accordingly a new domain was set up specifically for the saxophone tutorials.  This is called Taming The Saxophone and on landing on the home page one is clearly aware of what the whole website will be about.

taming saxophone

An E-commerce website

When working in highly competitive markets, there are really two ways in which sales are made.  For example in considering Australian souvenir gifts, there are a large number of competitors  and purchasers can select their purchases in two main ways.

If they wish they can do a search for the particular souvenir of interest, for example a boomerang, and they will see a large number of possible web pages for boomerangs, some of which come through the major shopping websites.  To compete for such buyers, one can only make sure that via Google Base and other product databases your product has the maximum exposure in the marketplace.  Many of the competitors model themselves on Amazon and do their best to rank well in product search pages.

What works for Amazon does not necessarily work for lesser-known competitors.  Any potential buyer might land on an Amazon page and decide to do more exploration of the Amazon site given its reputation.  If a buyer reaches a product page on a me-too website that is indistinguishable from its competitors, then the chances that they will stay and explore are much less.

That first exposure to the website is of critical importance.  If the website is very distinctive, then the immediate reaction may be favorable and the buyer will explore more choices from that website.  Standing out from the crowd may be difficult but it is worth finding a way to do so.  For example AustraliaSouvenir.com showcases its position as the Australia Souvenir Gift Shop in the heart of Sydney.

australia souvenir gift shop

Pinching a ride on the back of the Sydney brand may well allow them to stand out from the crowd.

Conclusion

Given the way human beings react to a website landing page, a sticky website must establish its distinctive presence right from the get go.  Unfortunately this simple finding is often overlooked.  Website owners forget all too quickly the importance that the gut brain and the heart brain play in people's actions.  Google has so well established the importance of developing web pages that appeal to the logical brain that these other aspects are often neglected.

If others are aware of these phenomena and in consequence have developed higher pageviews per visit performance for their websites, it would be helpful for us all to hear about their successes in the comments to this post.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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3 Responses to “Creating Sticky Websites”

  1. Actually I think the key to sticky websites is just "knowing your audience", and then creating your content specifically for the audience.

    The issue I see with websites is that they don't define their target audience – they end up trying to cater for everyone and catering for no one.

    (well, that is, at least, for small websites. If you'd had the budget Facebook had it would be easier to cater for a larger audience eh)

  2. Janet H. says:

    Currently it sounds like Movable Type is the preferred blogging platform out there right now. (from what I've read) Is that what you're using on your blog?