What are visitors arriving at your site for?
It’s a question worth asking because if you don’t know, how can you provide it?
Search stats will tell you, as will some of the visitors if you ask.
In general your readers have followed a scent, a trail that will lead them to their goal. What is their goal likely to be?
Understanding Reader Missions
There are several missions a reader will be on, and while the specifics will be as unique as the individual person, people are always looking for …
- Specific information
- A solution to a problem
- News and commentary about current events
- Ideas, concepts, tips, education
- Further details of the information they have found
- General information on the subject area
- More entertainment
- Just something interesting – “surprise me”
The person who lands on your homepage will be in a different mode than the person who lands three levels deep on a specific article.
Once they have arrived, you need to deliver what they were looking for. Knowing how this works will let you understand why
- You only get one page view per visitor
- Some comments get more clicks than the article itself sends
- Adsense works for some sites and not for others
- Brand banners get fewer clicks than Adwords and contextual ads
- “Click Here” can work to drive more link clicks than product names
- Some people spend only seconds on your site and never return
- While other subscribe and visit regularly
- While further others give you feedback that you are writing about “the wrong things”
You need to get into the mindset of each type of visitor to your site. Take your own browsing behavior as a guide. Here is my standard browse session:
- BBC News – I want to know what is happening in the world, and will look through the front page and entertainment for interesting headlines. Sometimes I get all I need to know from the headline, sometimes I will click through to the article, sometimes I will click through to the further information links.
- Blog Reading – Again, it is all about interesting headlines, but also it might be an image or a subhead that grabs my attention and pulls me in. Each blog will have a different reason to be in my reading list, some are friends I want to keep up to date with, others are topics I want to learn more about. For example, I subscribe to a couple of blogs just because they will let me know when there is a new piece of photography equipment available, but I won’t read every article as I have a loyalty to Canon cameras and not Nikon or Sony.
- Digg/Reddit/SU and BoingBoing – I will generally take a look at several sites just to take a break and see what is out there that is interesting. Although I am saying “surprise me”, I know from referral or past experience that these sites contain the sort of stuff I like to read about. A personal blog could contain the same sort of stuff but is going to have to work extra hard to convince me that they can do a better job, so would need to provide something unique and special.
- Forums – I visit forums to read and ask questions, or answer them. Most people are going to be in the former category more often than the latter, simply because human nature is such that we focus on our own needs or passively consume media most of the time, just as there are more listeners on radio than callers, and more readers than commenters on blogs.
- Searching – When I search I want the answer to the question I asked. It’s very rare I will search for anything general, it is almost always looking for something specific. That specific question though might get more detailed as I find answers and follow the scent. Think of researching a purchase, you might have a problem, then find products exist, then find reviews, then look for outlets, then find the best price. While you are making progress and the scent trail is there you will keep following it until mission achieved, even wading through swamps of spam to get there. If we lose the scent we change searching strategy.
I hardly ever visit directories. The way I discover more sites on a topic is to follow links, and usually it is through a specific article that has been linked rather than “go look at this blog it is great”.
Your own behavior might well be different, as might your audiences, so understanding how your niche works and the kind of reader missions they might be on is important to knowing if you are going to serve them or frustrate them.
Much that has been written about traffic is about getting the visitors to arrive. The problem is, by only focusing on attracting people and not serving them we can often create more problems than we solve.
Consider the searcher who thinks they have found the perfect “Britney Lohan” site only to see a bunch of advertising links. They might well click the links, but only because this site hasn’t got the information they want but the adsense headlines look promising. That site is going to only receive one visit per visitor but they don’t care as all they are about is driving more people in so more people leave via the clicks that pay them. The more people they disappoint the more money they make.
Think also about the blog that starts off promising to be “the number one walrus polishing resource” but has a front page full of politics and election stories.
Make Your Site Useful
The key to a happy, return visitor is to
- Promise benefits in your titles and headlines and actually deliver on it.
- Make your navigation suit the missions your readers are on.
- On your homepage provide links for first time visitors who want to explore and long time visitors who read via the web and not RSS.
- Individual articles should provide the content they promise, then provide links to more on the same subject.
- Add clear signposts to all your best stuff, and your subscription options, while keeping your visitor on the scent of their hunt with series, related articles and category links
Track where your visitors come from and what they are after, and if you can actually talk to them. If you know why visitors arrive you will be in a better position to make them happy.