Simple Strategies for Engaging Your Visitors

May 4 2010 by Andrew Follett | 41 Comments

Strategies for Engaging Your Visitors

Engaging your visitors (audience, community, users, members, customers, or whichever term you prefer) should be your top priority. Plain and simple. Engagement is all about maximizing the value of your audience – increasing the frequency they return to the site, the tendency to tell their friends and the probability of them making a purchase.

In other words, you need to be creating value for as many visitors as possible.

By creating value, you will be increasing retention, and as most of us have been taught, retaining an existing customer is substantially cheaper than obtaining a new one. The same holds true on the Internet. Visitor retention reduces your marketing expenses and increases revenue. 

Creating a "sticky" website, where visitors keep coming back for more, requires you to improve how your website approaches content, status, personality and usability.

Engaging Visitors with Content

If you’ve spent any amount of time working on a website, you’ve probably heard the phrase "content is king". As cliché as that saying might be, it’s true.

Content — whether it’s the copy on each page, the resources you provide, or the quality of your blog posts — is the hook that keeps your visitors coming back for more. 

Unfortunately, quality content can be the most time consuming aspect of developing a website. It also can be the least gratifying (in the short term). 

Let’s examine four key aspects of engaging content.

Fresh: Content Should Be Updated Regularly

Not only is this good for SEO, but it keeps visitors engaged and lets them know that the site is active. Without fresh content, people lose interest quickly.

Targeted: Content Should Be Aimed to Your Audience

Do you know what your visitors are most interested in? Have you done a survey or spoken to them one-on-one? Producing targeted content that is both timely and relevant can make all the difference.

Valuable: Content Should Be Useful to Your Users

Everything you add to your site, whether a new feature or a blog post, should add value for your visitors. Does it help them do their job better? Does it entertain or bring enjoyment? Does it provide knowledge?

In the words of Chris Brogan , "The real winners are relationship-minded people who make not only the first sale, but all the subsequent sales thereafter. By giving your community much more value (more content, more things they can use) than just promoting your stuff, you win longer term sales relationships."

Concise: Content Should Be Clear and Straightforward

This famous quote from William Strunk, Jr. in The Elements of Style (1918) says it all, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell."

Engage Visitors by Giving Them Status

People love to feel important, and your community is no exception. Status is part of human nature, so find ways to make your visitors feel special.

It doesn’t need to be complex, expensive or cheesy. Airlines, credit cards and night clubs do it every day, so why aren’t you?

You can get started with the ideas below.

Examples in Online Games and Virtual Communities

Virtual status and community competition may sound silly, but it sure is addicting. You may have noticed an emerging trend online of websites and apps using gaming to engage users.

Think about FourSquare , StackOverflow  and Yelp! . All of these places offer points, badges and other "virtual status" to keep users engaged.

Concept Feedback (my own project), an online community for website feedback, uses reputation points and rank to encourage activity and return visits.

Users offer valuable advice just for the chance to earn more points and boost their virtual status. It also provides an incentive for our members to provide quality and consistent feedback.

Concept Feedback

Offering Exclusives

Offering exclusive content, access or features to select users can help drive engagement. Websites like Dribbble and Forrst , restrict access to their communities, making visitors apply or get invited by a current member to get in.

Dribbble has done particularly well, with insiders gloating over their newfound status symbol and outsiders begging for access. There is something about not being able to get in to something that makes us want to get in that much more.

If your website doesn’t seem like it would lend itself well to gaming or exclusives, think about other ways to offer status to your visitors. It could be displaying a list of top commenter’s on your blog, a customer of the month club or exclusive sneak-previews at upcoming products or services.

Engage Visitors with Your Personality

In the age of the Internet, people still like interacting with people. That’s why marketers will tell you to put pictures of people on your website, include a phone number and have a friendly About Us page with your entire family background.

While it might not be necessary to include pictures of your extended family, it does help to be "real" and create a personal engagement with your visitors. Personal engagement fosters trust, which in turn creates loyal customers.

Be Yourself

Like mother always used to say, "don’t pretend to be something you’re not". If it’s just you and your computer, that’s fine, don’t be afraid to let your visitors know.

Stu Green at Project Bubble (and now Invoice Bubble ) engages with his users, always including a picture by his name. People know he’s building his app on his own, and they respect him for that.

In certain cases, like running a bank or a hedge fund (which I hope none of you are doing on your own), too much personality can be a negative. However, I think you’ll find that pulling back the covers a little will create a more interesting, engaging environment.

Communicate With Your Visitors Regularly

As much as you can, try to respond to complaints, questions and interactions with a personal response. Include your full name, phone number and any other contact information.

Getting an automated response or "submitting a ticket" can be frustrating. Quickly responding with a short, personal note can often change a user’s perception of your website, especially following a negative experience. Follow the Golden Rule and you’ll be just fine.

Use Humor

Lighthearted content, when done well, can create a loyal following. Companies like Moosejaw and MailChimp do a great job creating content that is both informational and interesting to read.

For example, check out Moosejaw’s purchase confirmation page:

Moosejaw

However, before you start trying to generate laughs, keep in mind that interesting, funny content is difficult to produce. It may also not translate well with a global audience. It often requires having one person dedicated to writing, or editing, all content to keep the tone and personality consistent.

Can you — or someone on your team — write interesting content on a consistent basis? Can you convey your message in a way that is fun to read but still informative? Is your audience able to take a joke (I think a little humor is good for everyone, but I also realize there are some situations where it might not be appropriate ).

Engage Visitors with a Usable Website

The other day, I stopped by the ATM to make a withdrawal.

ATM

I had entered my pin, typed in the amount and was all set to go, when I pressed the Cancel button by mistake. For whatever odd reason, the Cancel button was color-coded green. What?! The transaction was canceled and I had to get my debit card out again and start all over.

The pain was minor, but that one experience affected my response and perception of the ATM and my bank (just a little bit).

The experience you provide your visitors on your website is essential to keeping them happy and engaged.

Intuitive Interfaces

Make your website foolproof.Ask your Mom or your Aunt Helga to complete a few tasks on your website and see how far they make it. Do they get stuck on the homepage, or are they able to find their way around. A user-friendly website can make or break your visitor’s impression of you.

You can use online tools like UserFly or UserTesting to get cheap insights in to how people use your site, where they get caught up and what you need to improve.

Keep it Simple

Minimize the bells and whistles. I hate going to diners. Somehow they find a way to include every possible dish from grilled cheese to pot stickers. It takes me forever to make a decision and I usually end up wondering if I made the right one.

I prefer Five Guys – burger, fries, drink, done. Content and feature overload are the downfall of many promising websites. It can be hard to stick to one key message and call to action, but it is a much better alternative than overwhelming your visitors with a hundred different options and losing their attention due to option overload. Think Twitter , or the web apps from 37 Signals .

Some Sites and Resources to Check Out

A list of the websites and resources mentioned throughout the article:

Sites That Engage Visitors by Status

Sites That Engage Visitors with Personality

Sites and Resources for Usability

Developing an engaging website is hard work, but it will pay dividends. Do you have other successful strategies to share? Please let us know in the comment section below.

Related Content

About the Author

Andrew Follett is the founder and CEO of Concept Feedback, a website feedback community for designers, developers and marketers. Follow Andrew and Concept Feedback on Twitter.

41 Comments

Stu Green

May 4th, 2010

Great article Andrew, thanks for the mention!
Stu

saad irfan

May 4th, 2010

nice information man. thx

Armin C.

May 4th, 2010

Very well written article. Enjoyed it!

p.s.: you should correct the spelling of the word clear in subtitle:
“Concise: Content Should Be Cear and Straightforward”

Young

May 4th, 2010

good list to keep in mind. thanks.
…that is absolutely ridiculous about your bank, though. that would make me seriously consider switching banks.

wpBlast

May 4th, 2010

Great Article! Content is for sure what engages visitors the most. I haven’t considered any of the others though, but they’re all great ideas.

esranull

May 4th, 2010

nice article thanks

Cuvix

May 4th, 2010

Noob try to post a comment here :)
Great article and great advise. Now I’ve to go to my bed because you stop me when I read “Communicate With Your Visitors Regularly” :D

Melody

May 4th, 2010

Is it just me or the person in the header pic looks like an amputee?
I like the idea of giving your readers status, haven’t heard anyone speak upon that yet, and you’re right because it’ll make them feel special when they’re on the top of a popular website everyday. =)

Jacob Gube

May 4th, 2010

@Melody: Now that you mention it, I notice it too. It’s the way he’s angled his arm.

And reader status: I’m working very hard on a new site design that has a heavy focus on usability and community engagement. One of those major components is reader status. I’m creating a completely custom commenting system that will hopefully draw out long-time readers to interact more, as well as recognize the commenters who add to the quality of the articles in the comments.

Joe Valdez

May 4th, 2010

Very good read, thanks for the information and links.

Jacob Gube

May 4th, 2010

@Armin C.: My fault. Should be fixed now.

Zoft

May 4th, 2010

I totaly concent about this articel, thanks

Jack

May 4th, 2010

Humor. That is an great advice. I do agree that writing with some humor can get reader attention.

Lynne Gordon

May 4th, 2010

This was a lot of good advice.

I get so much SPAM on my blog that some days I have over 100 comments to moderate.

I answer them all that I think are from real people and a few of the others, just in case.

I do have a few people who read me regularly and when the comment, I recognize them and thank them for their take on the subject.

And to my regular readers, I always say “See ya’ soon”!

But what I need is a way to learn more about who is reading me.

That’s my real email up there or contact me thru my blog. I would appreciate any suggestions.

Thanks.
Lynne

Kris Robinson

May 4th, 2010

I had to take a second look to see that the green button was a “Cancel” button. Great read.

Jacob

May 5th, 2010

Interesting article, useful ideas for getting people involved with your site.

I’ve had a play with concept feedback in the past, and it looks pretty nice. Kudos!

We’ve developed our own usability tool at http://intuitionhq.com – quite a different concept from some you’ve listed here. Our focus is on making it as quick and easy to use as possible, otherwise people don’t tend to get that involved in usability testing.

Anyway, I really enjoy the points you’ve listed here. Thanks again.

ngassmann

May 5th, 2010

Good article. I was interested in Dribble for about 5 minutes. Asked around for an invite, didn’t get one and realized it’s basically a circle jerk version of flickr. Sure, I like being part of groups and cliques, but by not being part of one doesn’t make me want to be part of it even more. We’re not in high school. Remember how cool Facebook was it was just for us college kids? Yea it was OK, but it didn’t become what it was until it opened it’s floodgates. It became less exclusive, but a much better networking and communication tool overall.

Russell Poulter

May 5th, 2010

Good article. Bookmarked!

Thanks

Agence web

May 5th, 2010

Nice article thanks alot

Divyang

May 5th, 2010

Good article Jacob.
What do you think of Survey of one’s blog engagement?
Will that work?

Jacob Gube

May 5th, 2010

@ngassmann: I like your analogy. I do remember “thefacebook.com” when it was just for college students. Personally, I’m not much for private sites, since I’m a firm believer of openness, information sharing, and transparency. That’s why I support and advocate open source, open standards and socially-generated media, and dislike proprietary technologies (full disclosure: I do own an iPhone, and have owned one since it first came out, but have never bought an app from the App store). I also think that it can give off a sense of elitism, which is another thing I’m not fond of. I try to respect everyone, regardless of who they are, and engage them/help them/answer their emails, etc.

@Divyang: Survey or a poll? Both are great, I think. For surveys, I find that Digg does a wonderful job with them. I’ve been wanting to do occasional surveys for Six Revisions and Design Instruct, just to see what people are thinking. I’ve done Twitter polls asking our followers and friends about things that can help improve the site, such as “What features do you want to see the most, choose one from the list below.”

Chris from CSS-Tricks does polls (on the sidebar), which I like and engage with occasionally.

Those polls influence the development direction of both our sites (Design Instruct and Six Revisions) and I think is a great way to engage your community, for sure, because you give your community a chance to shape your site and contribute to its future development.

Jordan Walker

May 5th, 2010

real nice article, those are all great points.

STINGER_LP

May 5th, 2010

Interesting read. Thanks.

Nelson Pacheco

May 6th, 2010

A very well written article. Thanks for the information.

Mike

May 6th, 2010

Polls or survey is used by many sites to involve the readers and it seems successful way to do that…

nivi

May 7th, 2010

Good article. I was interested in Dribble for about 5 minutes.

lavvi

May 7th, 2010

excellent…….

ravi

May 7th, 2010

Survey or a poll? Both are great

rod rodriguez

May 7th, 2010

Wow, this is a must read for web designers like me who’s struggling to drive traffic to their website, thank you for sharing I’m already doing some of the stuff mentioned here but theres a lot more I haven’t tried. Great article.

Kathy Cook

May 12th, 2010

I like the mentions of useful, usable and intuitive – so acknowledge the usability of blogs as being important to their success. I am a postgraduate student studying a MSc in Computing Interaction Design, and am writing my dissertation on the usability of blogging tools and blogs. As I do my research I will post my findings, including heuristic evaluations of blogging tools, and usability tests of blogs, on the blog at http://tvustudent.wordpress.com
I welcome all views and comments on the results as I publish them.

steven

May 13th, 2010

The most important thing I think is to write a certain style and maintain that.

Chad

May 19th, 2010

Great advice. I agree you need to develop a personality. This should be consistent throughout the site, and should attract (or be similar to) your target market.

Also, don’t be stuffy – even stuffy people don’t like stuffy websites.

Will Jones

May 20th, 2010

Oh yeah!

Very insightful!!!! Think outside the box.

Jeewantha

May 24th, 2010

Really nice.I bookmarked it.keep in touch

Neil Fahey

June 3rd, 2010

This article is spot on! I’ll refer back to it when I’m writing my next About page for sure…

The ATM example made me laugh – I’ve done the same thing before myself. I wonder if you get charged for a transaction when that happens!?

Neil Fahey

June 3rd, 2010

Whoops… I’ve got about 15 articles from this blog open at the moment and had just read the About page one before this one. I just realised I got confused between the two articles. Sorry! They’re both spot on anyway.

Craig

September 18th, 2010

Definitely one of the keys to being successful online is to engage visitors and really great strategies, and the ATM was very confusing, and shows it sometimes is, just the little things that count.

Jeffrey Bennett

January 13th, 2011

Great article! Thanks for sharing. This information will come in handy! :)

kropped

March 14th, 2011

A really well written article, thanks.

Peach

May 16th, 2011

Finding this very interesting to read. Perfect article for the perfect time.

I am the owner of MyColorscreen and I still find it hard to make users engage with each other in the community. I believe everything initiate by the owners initial actions during the growth.

Thanks for such a great article. Learned a lot.

Sally

September 23rd, 2011

Boy did you get me thinking. My blog is just photos for now and most visitors surf on and off rather quickly. I am thinking about letting the visitors rate the photos or having a few polls. By the way that ATM machine looks like one of those fake ones that have been showing up as skimmers get your info from……be careful out there.

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