One visit might be all it takes for people to engage in your website (for example a dictionary/wiki site) but I know that most webmasters out there want a little more, so here goes...
Engagement + Profitable Conversions " the perfect marriage
When we surf the web we are sometimes passively surfing " simply drifting from page-to-page without direction. At other times, we are more engaged in what we do and have a strong direction, and of course we make the habit of interchangeably moving between the two. Here though, Im going to focus on how you could consider engaging those visitors by considering your sites intent, and of course get them to not only convert but also return again in the future.
Engage to Bolster Intent
For your visitor to want to return to your site, either with active intent (they search for your company / type in your web address), or passive intent (they see you mentioned somewhere and are prompted to click), they must have at some point engaged in your website and/or its content. Engagement therefore plays a very important role " and as your website(s) is the only place you have 100% control over the content, so lets focus on this area.
Types of Engagement
When we talk about website engagement, what exactly do we mean? These are things that come to my mind...
- You site leaves people with a strong brand impression " an emotional response.
- It leaves people with a good understanding of your websites purpose " a pragmatic response.
- Send people away with something. Is there anything that you can give to people for free? A newsletter, future news updates via RSS, free coupons, email training programme (SEO Book) " a satisfied response.
- Offer sharable content " often, the content that people are most likely to share " a viral response.
- Convert them via a clear call to action there and then. That means they have bought in to your brand and, for instance, if it is a sale, they will have a genuine reason (not spoof reason) to convert right there - a physical / financial / trusting / satisfied response. A converted visitor is far more likely to return.
- Make them want to come back for something fresh. Offer an incentive, fresh updates, resources, a community...is there anything they wouldnt want to miss out on?
There are many more examples of website engagement, Im sure, but as Im taking a more vigilant approach to keeping my posts to fewer words than War and Peace, Ill restrain myself...
Offsite though, where can I engage my visitors?
Your site might be a one-visit wonder, but why not engage in your online neighbourhood...
Although, you cannot realistically take full control of offsite engagement, conversions and return engagement rates, you can target your marketing model at those that do. If you learn about your ideal customer, youll know their behaviours. With this information, you can reach out to your online communities and draw those ideal visitors by building your business model around those customers.
Marketers, for many years now, have quoted the Pareto law suggesting that companies can typically make 80% of their profits from 20% of their customers (note I said profit, not revenue). What do you know about these 20% and how do you target these to engage in your website?
Your site might have hundreds or thousands of visitors, but it can just take the one visitor to champion your content...that one person, might take your content and spread it across their network. If this is one of your ideal 20%, then be very pleased indeed. This is because there is a convincing argument that suggests that referrals benefit the website both by coming from a trusted source and by spreading across like-minded networks that are in a better situation to work out who the content is most suited for. It is often, these customers are most easily engaged and converted, hence the high degree of profit from so few. This is a great way of appealing to the right visitors, but how do we get them to return...
Link-out to increase return visitors
The oldest post that I found on this topic (that was amongst the most comprehensive at least), was by Scripting, which essentially boiled-down to trust and giving up the idea of your site being a portal, and proving to your visitors really how helpful you can be by sending them away as fast and efficiently as possible.
I think one of the best examples of this (after Google of course) is SEO ROI, the writer Gab Goldenburg makes an explicit point of linking-out. As a result of this strategy, hes naturally sent me off his site on so many occasions but as hes introduced me to so many authors and their websites then its a site that I will keep on returning to for great information and introductions to resources. In my mind at least, the sites that he introduces me to have become an extension of his sites resources, but ultimately hes placed himself at the centre of that information. Cool stuff.
Trust your visitors and your purpose
Like with many things in SEO and online marketing, if you over-emphasise a certain strategy (such as trying to keep visitors on your site) then this can become quite obvious, and highlights that you neither trust your visitors nor the quality of the websites offerings.
Maybe that because we work so hard to get visitors, then it has become against our nature to send them away by linking-out to other websites. So maybe you need another incentive. Well may be that relevant and quality linking-out is regarded by many as a positive ranking factor...naturally though, you want to see that visitors are appreciating what they are seeing, so how do we understand their behaviour?
Behavioural Metrics Behave Badly
Understanding site usage is amongst the most difficult forms of site analysis that a webmaster can undertake, but this does not mean it should be ignored. This is because the information presented here can be of resounding value.
Lets take an example. If we look at a pages bounce rate for instance (one of David Harry's favourite talking points, hehe!) this can be interpreted in a multitude of ways " and is dependent on things like site structure, content organisation, page arrangement, navigation layout, landing page development, bookmarking, time of day, or even a short-tail keyword strategy that can pull in lots of wastage from impulsive Googled queries, etc...
The point is, behavioural metrics can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways, and so a high should not instinctively be considered as a bad thing.
If you are looking to understand your behavioural metrics, then heres a few suggestions to make your understanding a tad more comprehensive:
- Understand your analytics.
- Pair / group stats " so those that dont bounce of the page, go to a related page and convert.
- Compare like-for-like " always compare a product page with a product page, or a category page with a category page...dont compare a site to another site.
- Tag and track users to see how they interact with content.
- What are the favourite next steps from key landing pages?
- Have you tried heat maps?
- What are the prevalent exit pages?
- What is the fall-out rate during the conversion phase, i.e. when checking out?
- Interview Site Visitors
- Use a splash-screen questionnaire.
- A negative would be that it can be perceived as an irritant / intrusive so weigh-up the pros and cons.
- Know the converted " one of the best ways to do this is to email the converted.
- Ask customer service staff to log online queries.
From the above, know your ideal customers " profile your ideal customer / visitor and hunt them down to get to know their behaviour inside out...live and breathe in their online communities...this might mean asking very open questions that are designed to provoke an honest response...I once asked a bloggers forum to support a charity that a blog that I was managing was supporting...I then immediately followed it up with a poll to ask whether this was inappropriate in order to gauge a response beyond an ignored thread...this helped engage people in the topic and was reasonably unobtrusive.
Clarity in Engaging Meaning
Could you right a mission statement for your website in a couple of sentences? Maybe you should give it a go...how fast did it take you? Did you know exactly what your site was there for, are you marketing for marketing's sake as my so many people are? Do you think sites like Science for SEO, Smashing Magazine or Seth Godin would have this trouble? Maybe your one goal for your website should be to create a site whereby similar mission staements could be written about it by a number of people?
It is War and Peace after all
OK, so it's a bit of a marathon piece after all, but I hope people can find some value in here somewhere. Maybe the above could have been summarised in that final paragraph but I thought it was important to take you through the logic of such activity and create actionable points in case you wanted them. Thinking of website engagement before conversions could well be a very healthy mindset indeed...what are your thoughts? Have you any examples youd like to share?