Making a List: Clicking it Twice

Consumers visit a limited number of Web sites each month. How can you make your site one of them?

In the American way of thinking, if some is good, more must be better. Anything useful or interesting gets proliferated until it reaches gluttonous proportions.

Cereal is good. But do we need nearly 100 varieties? How many movies based on comic book characters can be made in a three year period? A lot, evidently. And nowhere is this phenomenon more omnipresent than in reality TV. Real World begat Survivor which begat a death spiral of televised humiliations that explain why most of the world either laughs at or hates America. By the time you read this, you may have watched or Miss Dog America, an actual show on Fox (during sweeps, natch) with 50 fine bitches from around the country – plus D.C. – competing for top canine honors.

If there’s a dead horse, America will beat it.

The Internet is no exception. Being a primarily American creation, the Web lives by the same rules of excess applied to the rest of our culture. In 2002, there were approximately 35 million Web sites in existence. That’s one for every nine Americans.

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the average U.S. home Internet user visited 49 different Web sites in December, 2002. Out of 35 million, each person went to just 49 sites. How’s that for a little competition?

What can you do to get your Web site a small share of the 12 hours the average home Internet user spends online each month? Here are four tips to keep them coming back.

Focus on Why, not What

At this point, most people assume that your company has a Web site. Consequently, while you should include your Web site address on everything associated with your company to maximize the effectiveness of this technique you need to do more than just slap on your URL.

Whenever time and space permit, explain why people should visit your site. It’s easy to ignore or overlook your Web site address alone, and it certainly doesn’t provide a compelling reason for someone to visit the site. For example, instead of tagging ads with the Arizona Lottery should add, “Sign up to have winning numbers delivered by email. Free. Visit”.

Web site promotion that offers specific reasons for doing so can draw discretionary visits that a URL by itself cannot.

Be Found

As people’s use of the Internet becomes more focused and task-oriented (the average number of sites viewed monthly was in the 70+ range as little as one year ago), users “search and surf” less. However, according to measurement firm WebSideStory, Inc., 36 percent of Web site visitors arrived at sites via a search engine or other Web link. This means that roughly one third of your potential audience will (or will not) find you using a search.

Search engine optimization is the classic “get what you pay for” business. If someone tells you they can get you listed in all the search engines for $99, run away. Sure, they can get you listed, but if you’re not in the top 30 results for a given search phrase, there°s no point in being there at all.

We work with search engine optimization companies daily, and in our experience, you should expect to pay a minimum of $250 a month if you are at all serious about driving traffic to your Web site.

Make it Easy to Return

The counterpoint to the 36 percent of Web site visitors who arrive via search engine or link is that a whopping 64 percent don’t. That means that two out of every three people who come to your Web site will do so by typing in your URL or using a bookmark (aka favorites).

Tackle these two important tasks immediately: First, if you are using an acronym as your Web address and you are not IBM, ATT, NAFTA, NBA, NFL, or some other equally recognizable collection of letters, stop doing so immediately. The old rule that your URL needs to be short is bunk. It needs to be easy to remember, and using an obscure acronym for your Web site address is by definition difficult to remember.

Ideally, your Web address should be whatever your receptionist says when he or she answers the phone.

Phoenix Children’s Hospital is a long-time client. For their first Web site (circa 1996) they used as their address, to focus on brevity. Now, however, their award-winning site uses as its URL.

Second, remind people to add your site to their favorites. If you can make a bit of room on your home page add a small line reading, “Visit again. Add us to your favorites.” Just a little note so visitors who truly are interested in your site will take a second to put you in the all-important favorites list before they move on to one of the 48 other sites they°ll visit this month.

Push, don’t Pull

Unless your target audience is more familiar with Harry Potter than Harry Truman, the notion that they will “sur f”the Web and come back to your site on occasion to see what’s new has about as much credibility as Michael Jackson’s “only two surgeries” claim. Adults use Web sites primarily to access specific information, solve problems or research purchases. Period.

So, if you want them to come back, you not only need to give them the specific reason for doing so (see above) but ideally you must give them the vehicle, too. That means getting permission to communicate with them via email, usually a periodic email newsletter where you can give subscribers a compelling rationale to revisit your site.

Indeed, email is getting a bad rap due to misuse and overuse (which we prophesied in this column 18 months ago), but if you do it right, it’s still the most powerful way to get visitors to return. AZ-TV, the independent television station that boasts Pat McMahon and the Wallace & Ladmo revival among its programming, is a client. On days when their email newsletter is sent out, Web site traffic spikes 300%.

Just remember to never send an email that doesn’t have real informational value to the recipient. If you don’t have anything new and useful to say, be quiet.

The Internet is as big as Mike Tyson’s gigantic, hideous face tattoo. After all, there are 683 search results on Google just for “bizAZ.” Getting eyeballs to your Web site is one of the eternal challenges of the industry, but you don’t have to stage a dog beauty pageant to do it. Just implement a few of these tricks and they’ll be beating down your digital door.

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