Is Your Website Engaging
Many website owners are somewhat unhappy with their website. They do not get the results they expected by having a website. An additional problem may be that they are uncertain how others may see the website. Given the proliferation of desktop computers and mobile devices and all those different browsers, it can be difficult to know what others may be seeing. That situation is well summed up by the following diagram which is called a Johari Window.

Many website owners are somewhat unhappy with their website. They do not get the results they expected by having a website. An additional problem may be that they are uncertain how others may see the website. Given the proliferation of desktop computers and mobile devices and all those different browsers, it can be difficult to know what others may be seeing. That situation is well summed up by the following diagram which is called a Johari Window.

The Johari Window For Your Website
  What others see What others don't see
What you know 1. Common Knowledge 2. Hidden From Others
What you don't know 3. Blind Spots For You 4. Hidden From All

Other people may not always see what you are seeing. In some cases of course they may not see things that you are aware of. That is no great problem unless at some time the situation should change and those hidden glitches become visible to all. The more worrying aspect are those blind spots. These are things you may not be aware of but a certain proportion of your viewers are affected by them.

How can you avoid these blind spots? What can you do to ensure the website performs as you wish. This article will help you crunch these questions. It all starts with determining what are your Website goals.

Website Goals

We should be clear that Website goals should really relate to human visitors. There is no merit in having a website that ranks high in Google searches if that does not translate in some way to what you wish to achieve with your human viewers.

One suggested goal for websites is that they should be designed to change what people think and do. They should be persuasive in changing people's attitudes or behaviors. Perhaps they should encourage visitors to buy your product or encourage them to seek more information about some service you provide. That is a topic that has been handled by the Captology Group at Stanford University.

In my opinion a better goal is that websites should be engaging. That means that visitors interact with the website content in a positive way. Captology be seen as manipulative but engagement is more of a two-way street.

If engagement is accepted as a goal, what does this imply for how websites should be designed. One article suggested the following 5 Steps to a More Engaging Website:

  1. Avoid Clutter
  2. Provide Focused Content
  3. Give Visitors a Way to Get Involved
  4. Let Visitors Know How You Want them to Be Involved
  5. Focus On Building Repeat Traffic

That is the essence of what is involved but you will see there is more to it as we explore different types of website.

Non-engaging websites

Engaging websites are ones where visitors linger and explore. They may have needs that they wish to meet and they want to find out what the website has to offer. Not all websites are like this. Indeed perhaps the majority have a much shallower purpose. They are vehicles for advertising and their goal is achieved provided a visitor sees the advertising and perhaps clicks on the advertisement with their mouse. They are often labeled as Built for Adsense websites. Provided they are built well enough to have visitors find them, it is hoped that visitors will leave the web page via an advertisement. The website is quite the reverse of engaging. Some of these websites are even created automatically with that in mind and in effect steal content from other legitimate websites. Other websites do have unique content created but again do not discourage visitors from leaving the website via the ads rather than staying on the website.

When we talk later about measuring engagement, these non-engaging websites can also be monitored to see whether they are achieving that goal using the same tools.

Wanna-be Engaging Websites

Some websites are constructed with technology that will hopefully impress their visitors. They are indeed often brilliant works of art. Many of them may be Flash websites. They may be engaging in the sense that the viewers watch them with awe. However they do not engage visitors in an interactive process and may or may not achieve what their creator had in mind. Flash websites need other methodology to measure engagement that is not covered in this particular article.

Engaging websites

Websites that will perform well and engage their visitors must be strong on a number of different parameters. These fully functional websites must:

  • Be visible to search engines
  • Pass the Blink test
  • Have good navigation
  • Must have Authority and Credibility
  • Must have visible Calls to Action

In summary visitors must easily find these websites through a search process, must be favorably impressed as the website opens up and must then find it easy to move around the website to find what they need.

When the website goal is to achieve a sale then even more refinement of the Engagement Mechanism is warranted. Special care must be taken with landing pages whereby visitors enter the website. An interesting new website that will help with these is Unbounce.

This will offer Hosted Landing Pages so that web designers can make their own campaigns with no IT or software. The Unbounce landing page production environment lets designers build, test and optimize their landing pages for improved conversions and faster time to market.

For more complex selling processes where the prospect will be doing research on alternatives, then what is called a sales funnel may well be involved. There will be different stages of information needs and they may require more complex Calls to Action. All of this can be regarded as part of the engagement process and ways of monitoring effectiveness are needed.

How to monitor engagement

The beauty of the Internet is that it is relatively easy to measure what visitors are doing, since they leave electronic footprints. There are a large number of software packages that help analyze these tracks. The choice among the leaders will depend on personal preference and relative cost. Four of the most solid alternatives are the following:

  • AWStats - Free log file analyzer for advanced statistics (GNU GPL).
  • Webalizer - a fast, free web server log analysis program.
  • Clicky Web Analytics - proclaims it is simply the best way to monitor, analyze, and react to your blog or web site's traffic in real time (free trial available).
  • Google Analytics - the enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness (free).

The volume of data that is available in any of these is immense. However useful parameters can be derived from some of the summary statistics. The important thing is to maintain records over time to see how things may be improving or deteriorating. By analyzing say the top ten pages by which visitors enter the website, good measures of the engagement of visitors can be obtained.

The following data for one website is derived from Google analytics which is free and can be highly recommended. Summary statistics for all visitors to the website provide useful measures of engagement. For example for VETA, a charity website offering therapeutic horseback riding for special needs kids, the two key parameters showed a high degree of engagement with the site.

The bounce rate for the site was 33.94%. In other words only one third of visitors looked at only one page and then left. The other two thirds went on to another web page on the website.

The average number of page views was 4.12. Again this shows a high degree of involvement with the website.

Another useful way of examining the engagement with the site is to see how visitors move from one page to another. The image below shows a site overlay for the Home Page and the small percentage figures against each link shows the proportion of visitors who moved away via that link.

VTEA site overlay

VTEA site overlay

By examining this data from time to time it is possible to see how the design might be improved to correct any obvious failings.

As traffic grows it might be expected that new visitors may react differently from repeat visitors. The statistics for these two groups can be easily compared. For this VTEA site it appears that new visitors have lower bounce rates and on average view more page views than returning visitors. Again this is a good sign first-time visitors do engage with the website.

Conclusion - Internet = Communication

It is often said that Actions speak louder than words. This is particularly true in thinking about how visitors engage with websites. Luckily the tracks of website visitors are easily obtained and they are the most unbiased information on whether the website is sufficiently engaging. If you have not yet installed analytics on your websites, it can be highly recommended. There are free alternatives and even only occasional reviews of the data will signal whether remedial action is necessary.