Sticky sites — engaging, well-designed sites that visitors find irresistibly hard to leave — offer dozens of benefits for your business and sales, including:
- A lowered bounce rate (because visitors stick around longer)
- Increased brand understanding and awareness (users learn more about you while browsing your site, and thus feel more comfortable investing/subscribing in your brand)
- Higher traffic and increased social shares (more eyes on more content = higher chance of sharing = more referral traffic from shares)
- Increased chance of conversions (more interaction = more opportunities/more incentive to subscribe, follow, like, etc.)
Sounds simple, right? Make your site sticky, and you’ll make your audience stick around for longer. However, with the advent of social media, our sales funnels have become wildly more complicated. Where we used to follow a pretty straightforward path, which began with a Google search and ended with a purchase, we now begin courting customers much earlier in the buying process.
In fact, it’s now become customary for businesses to use social media for brand outreach and awareness. Our social media fans and followers aren’t necessarily past customers or committed future buyers, but they are invested, engaged, and aware of our brand. And the more we can keep them engaged and active with our company, the better chance we’ll have of netting a sale (or accumulating shares that cause other sales).
So now we have two vastly different entrances into our sales funnels: a keyword-based entrance that begins with a targeted organic search, and a social-based one that begins with a click on a social network.
As a result, we have two different audiences with very different goals — and our sites need to be equipped to “stick” both audiences.
The Difference Between Search & Social Users
To illustrate the differences between the two audiences, let’s take a look at two very different potential customers: one searcher, and one social media user.
The Google Searcher
The Gateway: Jordan has finally worn out his favorite pair of skate shoes, and he’s in the market for a new pair. A quick Google search for “Vegan Shoes for Men” lands him at your site.
Looking To Buy: Jordan is at your footwear e-commerce site for one reason: he wants to make a purchase. He’s not necessarily looking to read your blog about skateboard fashion trends or follow your Twitter account to stay updated on the latest footwear sales. Jordan is looking to buy, and your site had better make it easy for him to find what he’s looking for.
Sealing The Deal: Your site looks professional. Your front page makes it clear you specialize equally in both men’s and women’s ethical footwear, and your navigational menus are prominently displayed. So Jordan hovers over your men’s menu, finds Vegan, and clicks Skate Shoes. He selects his size (11) and color (black). He chooses his price range and his favorite style, and within a few minutes of his initial Google search, Jordan is ready to make a selection on his ideal pair. Whether he does further research or pulls the trigger today, Jordan’s all set to add his new skate shoes to his shopping cart.
The Takeaway: Thanks to your professional site design (that made Jordan feel comfortable spending money at your site), your easy-to-navigate layout, and your handy search filters, your site made it easy for Jordan to find what he was looking for. As a result, he stayed on your site (instead of heading back to the SERPs), found his purchase, and is ready for the sale.
The Social Media User
The Gateway: Jean sees a post about a fall faux-leather boot sale on Facebook from one of her friends. The boots look great, ethically made, and the price looks even better, so she clicks the link and arrives at your site.
Looking To Browse: Unlike Jordan, who was looking to make a specific purchase, Jean isn’t necessarily looking to buy a pair of boots today. She’s more interested in browsing the sale; if she finds a pair she likes at an awesome price, she might buy — then again, she might not. How long she hangs around to browse depends on how comfortable you make her feel.
Sealing The Deal: Jean doesn’t see any boots that catch her eye, so she’s ready to leave — until she sees a blog post on runway footwear trends for fall. She clicks. Jean pins a few featured boots on Pinterest and sees that your site also has a Pinterest account. She follows.
Later, Jean sees a pin for another sale — and that Facebook fans get an additional 10% off. She Likes your site on Facebook, which causes her sister Grace to check out the site, who actually buys that pair of snow boots she’s been meaning to buy.
The Takeaway: Your site gave Jean plenty of ways to interact with the site, from your products to your content to your social media profiles. You kept Jean engaged — and though she’s yet to buy a single thing from your site, she still caused a sale. Better yet, Jean still remains actively connected to your brand.
Direct Vs. Indirect, Buy Vs. Browse
In most cases, search traffic is very direct: a user comes to your site looking for something in particular. More often than not, they’re searching with the (eventual or immediate) urge to buy.
Social, on the other hand, is indirect: curiosity brought them in, and only curiosity will make them hang around. They’re just browsing to see what you have to offer, be it products, blog posts, or services. They’re a low-attention-span audience with no real reason to stick around, but with a little incentive (useful content, the promise of a giveaway or sale), they can be persuaded to stay connected.
Of course, there’s no harm in a little crossover, either. A searcher can easily be lured into a Facebook Like or a Twitter Follow at the promise of future sales; on the flip side, a site from a Google Reader subscription or a Google+ Circle can leap to the top of the SERPs for a social media user.
Whether indirectly or directly, both audiences are valuable sources for conversions, sales, lower bounce rates, increased social shares, etc. So, your goal as a site owner, then, is to create a professional, easy-to-navigate site that persuades both of these users to hang around.
Step One: Focus On Your Site Design
No matter if your visitors are social media or search users, your site design is your first line of defense against a high bounce rate. Your site design is the first impression you’ll make with your audience, and that site needs to be:
- Professional. With very few exceptions, having a professional site generally means having a professional design it. If you want your audience to commit to returning to your site, you’ve got to show them they’re in good (professional) hands. A commitment to a professional, sleek design will lead to further commitment from your audience.
- Easy-To-Navigate, Easy-To-Use. For the search crowd, this means having an easy-to-navigate site with prominent menu options and an effective in-site search function. The social crowd should be attracted to these key features on your site: sales, promotions, popular blog posts, etc.
- Welcoming. Your home page should function as a start here page: an introduction that eases your customers into what you’re all about. They should be presented with a number of options for further exploration, but they shouldn’t be bombarded with thousands of links or features.
- Personalized. We’ve come a long way since the days of sales-brochure websites. Your website shouldn’t look like every other site out there; rather, your audience should be able to instantly get a sense of what makes you different from your competitors.
- Unique (And Definitely Not Boring). Stop worrying about offending everyone’s taste or sensibilities with your tame, bland-as-beige site. You have a target audience, don’t you? Why not play to that audience and design for what that audience would respond to? Show them something different, eye-catching, unique, bold… If you catch their eye with your design, you have a better chance of catching their eye with your products.
Your website should feel like something your audience will want to spend time in. As Barry Feldman writes in Your Website is Your Mousetrap and Your Content is the [Soy] Cheese:
“…Visitors should be saying to themselves, ‘I should go here,’ and, ‘I like it here.’
Make your users feel at home on your website. Decorate it accordingly. Don’t make it too busy. Show them around. Offer them assurance and invite them to get involved. Ask them questions. Answer them. Give them treats. Ask them to come back often, and tell them to invite their friends.”
Treat your audience like welcomed guests and care for their needs, and they’ll come back. It’s as simple as that.
Wooing The Social Crowd
Don’t underestimate the power of winning over social media users: Americans spend three times as much time on social media than email, according to a Nielsen report. What’s more, 70% of social media users shop online — 12 percent more than the average adult.
Here are some tips on wooing that flighty, low-attention-span social crowd:
- Make it easy to find and follow you. First and foremost, you’ll need your social icons to be prominently displayed on your site, so potential social joiners can easily find and follow your accounts (bonus points if they’re prominent and uniquely integrated into your design).
- Let your audience get lost in your content. Ever go to a site to read one article and, an hour later, you find you’re still on the same site? These sites have an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole effect: once you get sucked in, it’s infinitely harder to leave (just one more Buzzfeed/Cracked.com/The Oatmeal/The Onion article…). The key factor here is to stock your site with well-written, engaging, must-read/must-see content. Without it, your audience won’t care enough to read more. However, it’s also crucial to provide plenty of rabbit holes to fall down: link internally to further related content, offer up your most popular posts, etc. With every link your audience clicks, you want them to tempt them with further links to keep them reading — and sticking to — your site.
- Optimize your site for browsing. Social browsers don’t always have a set purchase or focus in mind (they’re the customers who say I’m just browsing to the sales clerks in brick-and-mortar stores). They may not painstakingly root through your virtual sales racks piece-by-piece, but they still want to get a sampling of what you’re about. Make it easy for them to browse at their leisure. Instead of posting 1-3 entire blog posts on your blog’s home page, list multiple posts in one-paragraph excerpts that allow readers to choose what they’d like to read. Offer a Bestsellers or All-Time Best Posts feature that showcases some of your most popular products and posts, or add a New Products section that shows off some new arrivals.
- Freshness matters. Social media users love fresh, topical content — and so do successful social media strategists. Each piece of (relevant, timely) new content brings a new opportunity to bring people into your site. Social media is strongly rooted in the here and now, so capitalize on news stories, latest trends, or hot topics to get the conversation going.
- Give non-fans something to miss out on. There’s nothing shoppers hate more than a missed opportunity. Social media promotions, giveaways, and fan-only sales create a feeling of exclusivity: if I don’t Like them on Facebook, I might miss a sale. Give back to your community on social media, and you’ll be rewarded with a much more active, invested (and larger) community.
Finally: Measure − and Deliver − What Your Customers Are Looking For
If you want to make your site stickier, you’ve got to find out what’s already making your customers stick. What keywords are bringing searchers to your site? If it’s a question, develop a multi-part blog series answering that question.
If a product is bringing in ten times more traffic than usual this week, feature it prominently on your site. Similarly, what features are bringing in the most social referrals? What posts or promotions cause the most increase in followers or fans?
Make your audience feel welcome. Make it easy for them to get around. Find out what they want and need, and then offer it. Make your audience want to stick around — it’s the only way to make a truly sticky site.
Image used under license, courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.