Monday, April 26, 2010; 12:00 AM
Every small business loves the exposure, empathy and sense of community that having a website that's a daily destination for consumers can generate. But getting people to visit on a regular basis can be a challenge, especially if updates are infrequent or all you have to offer is the occasional monotone press release or product announcement. Thankfully, building a website that's sticky enough to keep users engaged and coming back doesn't have to require investing thousands or reinventing yourself as the next online media empire. All it takes is a little elbow grease and personal touch, as indicated by the simple strategies below, each designed to send your homepage's daily number of visitors soaring:
Connect and Communicate: Make no bones about it: Blogging should be an essential part of any modern website. After all, a few clicks is literally all it takes to post updates in real-time around the clock, creating a steady stream of content that promises something new and exciting with every visit. Better still, professionals at all experience levels have the capability of readily doing it, and the practice also helps put a personal face on your organization, shining the spotlight on the individuals behind it. However, to really captivate an audience enough to keep them returning, take note: You'll also need to provide content that's dynamic, unique and offers measurable informational or entertainment value, plus speak in a language that all can understand. In short, the occasional pre-approved sound bite from the HR guy or gal won't cut it. Rather, you need to address audiences like you're having a normal conversation, and provide content with meaningful substance to the reader. Making-of articles, features detailing how to get more from your products, partner profiles, project diaries, step-by-step how-to guides, interviews with notable personalities or internal stakeholders: All present compelling ways to connect with audiences while also keeping them interested and informed, providing ample incentive to keep coming back.
Emphasize Community Building: As social media insiders well know, creating a sense of community around your website is one of the most powerful tools for engaging and ultimately enthralling prospective fans. But doing so doesn't simply mean throwing up a sponsored message board then leaving it to stagnate, or e-mailing customers sporadic newsletter updates that regurgitate existing material easily found elsewhere. Rather, you have to not only encourage discussion and actively take part in conversations by dedicating internal time and resources, but also make customers feel as if they truly have a voice in the discussion by listening to their concerns, responding and sourcing feedback at every opportunity. Implementing programs that recognize and reward valued contributors is also vital, as is creating fan-based initiatives that allow community members to contribute and share ideas, concepts and creations of their own. Even simply giving enthusiasts the chance to submit designs for your next fundraiser's logo or arranging times where they can chat with top execs to provide input on upcoming ventures won't just engender goodwill. They'll also excite and empower a legion of amateur brand ambassadors--an essential source of free ongoing updates and constructive conversations, which will both attract users to and keep them enamored with your site.
Design for Mass Distribution: Sharing is good--even more so if you've got a message worth spreading and it winds up in front of millions of eyeballs. As such, you should be not only updating your website with unique pieces of content (surveys, research reports, custom editorial clips, guides to solving common problems, unique looks behind-the-scenes, etc.) designed to grab viewers' attention, but also making everything from blog posts to pictures, photos, PDF documents and videos shareable, embeddable and ready to be commented upon or re-tweeted via social media platforms. When it comes to corporate assets, the tendency--especially among hyper-competitive start-ups--is always to tightly hold and control. But often, the more powerful strategy is to design pieces of content with the specific idea in mind of seeding them throughout the user community, as it's a great way to build brand awareness. Beyond heightened exposure and additional media mentions, using your website to disseminate unique, specially branded pieces of content can also lead to improved search engine optimization results through a larger number of incoming links. And, more important still, generate heightened word of mouth surrounding your homepage, letting countless potential readers know exciting things are happening there on a regular basis.
Focus on Value: Exclusive specials, contests, promotions and timed discounts can all be powerful drivers of website traffic, especially in these cost-conscious times. By offering direct bargains and rebate programs on both an ongoing and sporadic basis through your online headquarters, you can keep customers' interest piqued, and generate additional sales. These marketing programs become even more valuable when coupled with Facebook, Twitter and other social marketing tools, which have the potential to help news spread like wildfire online. Just make sure that the only place such bargains can be found is on your homepage, and be consistent in terms of the pages to which you drive this traffic, to establish in shoppers' minds the importance of regularly checking a certain destination. Similarly, establishing relationships with key bloggers and members of the media can also help reinforce the message, as can a regular series of e-mail or newsletter updates designed to inform current and prospective buyers. Customers get to save on purchases while you benefit from enhanced publicity and heightened sales, creating a win-win situation for all.
Use Targeted Demonstrations: While special membership options, premium subscription packages and frequent buyer programs can all prove great incentives, services that you freely give away are often just as important as those that you reserve for more exclusive clients. Whether you're looking at offering complimentary computer virus scans by having users visit your homepage, providing a suite of free continuing education resources or simply hosting an archive of complementary, corporate-branded webinars on software engineering, realize: Providing helpful services or information at no charge that solve pressing, evergreen problems or answer important questions can all serve to generate a steady source of online traffic, and provide a ready supply of leads to upsell on premium services. Sometimes you have to give in order to get. It may seem counterintuitive, but ultimately, the practice makes a ready way to demonstrate your organization's capabilities to a potentially lucrative client base, while also giving them a taste of the benefits to be had by partnering on more advanced or long-term services.
TechnologyexpertScott Steinberg is the CEO of high-tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global, and a celebrated gadget guru andvideo game expertwho frequently appears as atechnology analyston ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN, and has contributed to 400+ outlets from The New York Times to Playboy and Rolling Stone.