Engagement Hacking: 5 Simple Steps to Bounce-proof Your Website

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Online engagement can be defined as how well your website does at grabbing your visitors, enticing them to remain on your site for longer than the industry average of ten to thirty seconds.

We small business owners spend a great deal of our limited time and money trying to reach more clients and generate site traffic, only to have most of these new visitors immediately “bounce” (hit the dreaded “back button,” leaving your site never to return) all too often. We use phrases like “visit us online,” or, “go to my website” for a reason: each person who clicks a link to your site goes through the same sensory input, subconscious scrutinizing, and screening they would if they were walking into your office for the first time. Nowadays, arriving at an online destination engages the senses almost as vividly as actually being at a corresponding office or store in person.

Making a great first impression is even more crucial online. Without the burden of politeness, people arriving at your site won’t hesitate to turn around and “walk right out the door” at the first feeling of uncertainty. Luckily, there are well-defined, proven techniques we can use to influence the level of comfort our visitors feel when visiting our sites for the first time.

Engagement is the art of doing everything we can to keep visitors on our sites, consuming our content. Engagement is the bridge between reach (traffic) and conversion (leads). Your ultimate success online hinges largely on how well your website and content grabs your visitors and establishes rapport, positioning you and your business as a suitable resource for the information, resources, or services your audience is searching for.

FIVE STEPS TO A MORE ENGAGING WEBSITE

Online engagement is truly about synergy, as each of the engagement elements we’re about to cover work together, many of which on subconscious level, to result in increased time spent on your site. Every second a potential client spends on your site is an opportunity for a bond to be built between them and your brand, increasing the odds that they’ll eventually contact you over your competitors when the need arises.

STEP 1: FOCUS YOUR DESIGN AND CONTENT ON YOUR CUSTOMERS

The first step in designing a highly effective, non-brochure looking, lead-generating website is to ensure we know exactly who your site is supposed to be resonating with: your target customers, and them only. If you’re a pizza place owner, your site should say “Hungry? Let’s eat.” If you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, maybe your dome page should hint, “Ahhhh relief, a fresh start is around the corner.”

In order to define your target customer, create a specific “user persona” for your website. Recall Part 1—all you need to do is clearly state who a typical user on your site should be (the more specific the better) and what they’re looking for (cost of a divorce, closest dry cleaner, cheapest flowers).

Define Your Site’s Ideal User Experience

Now that we have determined whom your site is intended to reach and connect with, we must ensure that the design of your site resonates perfectly with their goals and needs. Online marketing experts and Web designers refer to this step as a “user experience” which is a fancy way of saying “the experience someone has interacting with a brand, product or service.”

In the context of your website, we’ll define user or visitor experience as the overall experience of each visitor to your site. This includes how well the design, layout and structure supports the needs of your visitors.

Elements to Consider in Your Overall Website User Experience:

  • Overall structure and design layout: Remember that too many decisions results in indecision. Do you want a super, Zen-like simple home page or an “authority site” with dozens of links to articles, blog posts, videos and external resources? I recommend you start simple, incorporate each of the elements covered in this chapter, and go from there.
  • Colors: Long before the Internet, much study has gone into the psychological effects of colors. For example, many psychologists and website usability experts agree that blue shades make us feel comfortable and secure, while reds conjure images of confidence, strength or danger. Do the colors of your site reflect your brand and services your business provides?
  • Messaging: Most sites are almost entirely focused on business owners and products/services, when your content should clearly address the visitors’ needs.

Define a Clear Goal of Your Website through a Mission Statement

Before we start tweaking and adding elements to your site, it’s critical that we take a few moments to define the goals of your site. If you’re thinking “the goal is to generate some darn leads,” you’re on the right track. Or as many of us marketing folks might say, the goal of marketing is to help our customers know, like, and trust us.

Now that you’ve gone through the exercises of defining your typical user persona and ideal user experience, let’s combine them into a simple, powerful website mission statement. This easy exercise can really help you define and communicate your online marketing and website goals to staff, contractors and even customers.

  • For example a heath and fitness club may use the following website mission statement: “Busy families in the Denver area should come to denversportsclub.com to find answers to their health, diet and fitness questions and see our business as a trusted resource, eventually contacting us to schedule a visit to our center.”

Writing a mission statement for your website can benefit you and your business by:

  • Ensuring that your staff and contractors (Web designers, marketing consultants) clearly understand and remain focused on the goals of your site.
  • Allowing you to publish this statement on your website and in online and offline ad copy.
  • Keeping you motivated to write content focused on the big picture.

STEP 2: USE SIMPLE NAVIGATION

Navigation is the central guide on your site that shows your visitors which pages are available and how to get there. Usually found at the top or along the side (also called a “sidebar”) of most websites, the navigation menu, often referred to simply as the “menu,” should be clearly visible and located consistently in the same spot on all or at least most pages of your site.

The term “menu” could not be more relevant to the purpose of this website element, as it has one singular goal: to ensure that your visitors can quickly see what’s available and get to the specific content on your site that they’re looking for.

Poor navigation is a primary reason people bounce from websites—you can’t expect a new visitor who’s just arrived on your site to automatically be interested enough to invest the time and energy required to decipher how your website works and where to find what they need. You must keep it simple and easy to use.

“Don’t make me think. I’ve been telling people for years that this is my first law of usability. And the more web pages I look at, the more convinced I become. It’s the overriding principle—the ultimate tie breaker when deciding whether something works or doesn’t in web design.”

—Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think!

Here are a few powerful tips to ensure your next website visitor pulls up a chair and sticks around for a while:

  • Follow the status quo. Setting up the navigation style of your website isn’t the time to get creative. When browsing the Web, we expect things to be located in certain places, with little tolerance for the new and unusual. I am as big a fan of art, design, and creativity as the next guy, but when I’m browsing a website looking for a new dentist, I expect ease of use and a predictable navigation menu. Thus, place the main navigation of your site either horizontally across the top (above or below the header) of your pages, or within the right or left sidebar.
  • Keep it consistent. One of the top ways to keep visitors engaged is to maintain consistent, predictable navigation on every page of your website. This “persistent” navigation helps visitors get their bearings on your site and gives them the comfortable feeling that they understand the overall structure of your site without “re-learning” how to get around after each click to a new page.
  • Practice Zen-like simplicity. Limit the main navigation of your site to the three to five most important sections or specific pages you really want your potential customers to see. This is counterintuitive to most small business owners, as we often want first-time website visitors to learn all about our companies, our products, and us. However, you can’t skip to the honeymoon before at least buying them (a drink) first. A “barrage” of options will usually result in a bounce. Just keep in mind that, quite often, too many decisions leads to indecision!
  • Prioritize contrast over camouflage. Make sure that each menu bar and navigation element used on your site clearly stands out. Many sites are seemingly designed more with the goal of winning design awards than of generating leads. But it’s much more important that the navigation of your Web pages clearly present your visitors with compelling content.
  • Always go wide instead of deep. Most Web usability experts and online marketers agree that most websites should maintain a very “shallow” Web page hierarchy, meaning that no page on your site should be more than two clicks away from the home page. If visitors can’t get to any page on your site within one or two clicks, the content is probably not important enough to be on your site.
  • Use action verbs. One of the most effective changes you can make to the navigation of your site is to change the “anchor text”—the specific words users click within your navigation—from the boring, canned text most sites use to action verbs that convey a sense of energy and action! Change terms like “About us | Services | Contact | Blog” to way more energetic, click-inducing action verbs such as “Read Our Story | See How We Can Help | Learn About Fitness | Schedule a FREE Visit.
  • Use breadcrumbs. As a wise man once told me while I was lost in Costa Rica: “You only need two pieces of information to navigate anywhere on the planet: exactly where you are now and exactly where you’re trying to get to.” Most small business websites place too much focus on the home page and not enough on the blog posts, content and other pages. This is a poor tactic, as most visitors landing on your site from Google will land on one of your content pages (also called “deep” or “inner” pages). Bread crumbs help users keep track of where they are within a website, by providing a path from the home page to the current page. For example: Home > Blog > 10 Ways to Get Larger Biceps
  • Simple navigation. One of the biggest mistakes small business website designers make is placing all their eggs in one basket when it comes to navigation, making it very simple to access all the content on your site from your home page but not from “deep” pages (your individual blog posts or pages). It’s important to create navigation that allows your visitors to see a clear path to any page or section of your site from the page they are currently on.

STEP 3: INCORPORATE SOCIAL PROOF AND TRUST

Have you ever decided not to dine at a restaurant after seeing only a handful of folks eating there? When you shop for a new book on Amazon.com or decide which movie to see on your next night out, do you base your decision on reviews from other book readers and moviegoers like yourself?

Regardless of the type of business you operate, nothing builds trust and confidence more quickly and effectively than evidence that many folks just like us have enjoyed a positive experience from using your products or services. In the marketing world, we call this social proof.

There are many powerful psychological factors at play when it comes to social proof, but all you need to know now is that you’ll likely find an immediate increase in visitor engagement after you’ve implemented a few powerful social proof elements on your website:

Testimonials: This is the simplest and most direct type of social proof to implement. Ask your satisfied customers for written permission to publish an endorsed comment on your site. Including as few as one or two comments from happy clients on your home page and products/services pages can be the most effective piece of copy you add. Set a goal to obtain at least three testimonials from clients, including photos if possible. Videos are even better! Include a “Testimonials” tab or link right in your navigation.

Social “Fan Boxes”: Nothing says “you’ve come to the right place” like a Facebook fan box. These are simple “widgets” that display information related to your “fans” or “followers” on Facebook or other social sites.

RESOURCE: Three Simple Steps to Adding a Facebook “Like” Box to Your Site:

  • Go to Social Plugins.
  • Log in to your fan page.
  • Go to the following URL.
  • On the left sidebar you’ll notice a link that says “Add a Fan Box.”
  • Copy the “script” (simple piece of pre-generated code) and paste it on your site wherever you’d like the Like box to appear (usually in a sidebar or footer).

Trust Icons: When you head to your neighborhood grocery store, how conscious are you about which brands you buy? Do you prefer to fly on certain airlines over others? Virtually every purchase we make is driven by branding. Each year, companies spend billions of dollars building familiarity and trust in their flagship brands.

Like many components of a successful website design, the trust we feel occurs on a subconscious level. When we encounter familiar logos we have grown to trust (Visa, American Express, The Better Business Bureau), we experience increased feelings of security and confidence in the online destination where we’ve just arrived. The following types of trust icons should be implemented in your site to increase your business’s trust factor.

Trust by Association. One of the easiest and most powerful techniques small business website owners can use is leveraging the trust of larger companies.

Best Types of Trust Icons to Use on Your Site

  • Associations and Memberships: Logos from trade or business associations, such as the American Dental Association (ADA), and paid membership programs, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), are effective trust icons, especially when they are recognized by the consumer.
  • Certifications: Any certifications that you, your employees, or your business hold that separates you from your competition make great trust icons. These include continuing education certifications that require a higher degree of skill in your field, or health and safety certifications.
  • Media Icons: Has your business been mentioned in any online or print media? If you’ve ever been quoted, reviewed, or cited by local or national news outlets, you need to add these trust icons to your site, pronto! Few things can build instant trust faster than “As seen on Oprah,” or, “As seen on CNN.”
  • Social Media and Reviews: Although we’ve already talked a bit about using your social media “fan boxes” and sharing tools to increase your online engagement, there’s a third, very powerful, use for social media in your engagement plan: celebrate your 5-star reviews (or at least 3.5 and above).
  • Security: If you have taken the time to secure anti-spam or commerce security (SSL) for your site, be sure and include these icons prominently as well.
  • General Trust Icons: Including Visa, MasterCard, and other payment provider logos is a great trust-building technique.

KEY CONCEPT: Don’t Use Trust Icons to Impress Your Friends

Many ego-driven industries like real estate, law, medical, and other professional services (what I call “face-driven” trades) focus too much on peer validation and not enough on the consumer (target customer). Don’t make the common mistake of filling valuable space on peer- or industry-focused trust icons—make sure to use icons that your clients will recognize.

  1. Online Reviews: Online reviews are quickly becoming the currency of small business success. In decades past, marketing and advertising was centered on businesses telling us how great they and their products were. Nowadays, our ultra-connected online environment has transformed each of us into mini research analysts who look for, and expect to find, reviews for any product or service we’re considering using.

Recent changes by Google, Bing, and Yahoo have also placed greater SEO value on reviews, making the tasks of reviews acquisition and promotion even more important in your online marketing strategy.

If your site is built on WordPress or another popular CMS platform, you can easily add “widgets” that will display your latest rating and reviews from Yelp and other popular online reviews sites.

RESOURCE: The Yelp Bar WordPress Plugin

The Yelp Bar is a great free plugin that you can easily add to your site with a few mouse clicks . Once installed, the Yelp bar plugin will publish your business’s number of reviews and its average rating, as well as a link to your Yelp business page.

  1. Expert Endorsements: Another powerful but seldom-used form of social proof is expert endorsements. Many larger companies center their entire marketing and advertising budgets around paying for celebrity endorsements (Michael Jordan might wear Hanes underwear in real life, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that Shaq really drives a Chrysler—unless perhaps they removed the front seat).

Obviously the reason most small businesses don’t use celebrity endorsements is that they don’t have the budgets to hire talent of such caliber. However, you have in your possession one bargaining chip worth great value—your products and services! Offer them to local celebrities or figures of prominence at no charge in exchange for a published endorsement. If you run a bakery, send free cookies to the mayor. If you own a print shop, offer to print jerseys at no cost to your local pro or semi-pro sports team. Get creative and get your business out there—a little sweat up front can pay huge dividends when your website visitors see a figure they recognize raving about your business!

  1. Client Lists: This tried-and-true technique has been employed by larger companies for centuries. If you’re in the process of acquiring solid testimonials and have little or no online reviews, publishing a client list on your site can be a fast way to improve social proof.

STEP 4: MAKE YOUR CONTENT HIGHLY SHAREABLE

Now more than ever, it’s very important to encourage your readers to share your content on social media sites, giving you increased exposure with each “Like,” “+,” or tweet. Each time an article you’ve published on your site gets shared via social media sharing icons, that article also gets shared with the reader’s entire social network.

Social Sharing Expands Online Reach

Social sharing yields holistic benefits, helping you reach, engage, and convert.

Recently, Google has published the increased SEO value they are placing on social media sharing in their ranking algorithms, using real human editors to express which content they find useful via social sharing. One of the easiest ways to increase these social signals on your online content is to place social media sharing icons or widgets in your content, before, after, or even next to every page and blog post on your site, making it extremely simple for readers to share your content.

For your website, I recommend you use “floating social media widgets” (pictured below). This is another case of “function before form” in online marketing and Web design, as many website owners may balk at the awkward appearance. Don’t worry, the lift your site will experience in social media traction will change your opinion and make you a “fan.”

RESOURCE: Use the Digg Digg Plugin on Your WordPress Site

One of the great benefits of using WordPress is the almost limitless library of pre-made “plugins” that perform countless functions, most of them at no cost. For social media sharing on WordPress sites, I recommend Digg Digg, which allows you to easily add your choice of social media sharing icons before, after, or floating next to your content and Web pages. See appendix A for a list of recommended WordPress plugins.

STEP 5: LEVERAGE MULTIMEDIA

“A picture is worth a thousand words” says it all when it comes to the exponential engagement power that images have compared with text alone. Written copy combined with images, photos, video, and other forms of multimedia are much more effective at connecting with readers/consumers than just text. Keeping in mind Web surfers’ short attention span, it’s critical to reach out and grab their attention with a visual aid.

Forms of Multimedia 

1. Photos and Graphics: Adding high-quality photos and graphics to your blog posts and Web pages has never been easier. The Web is filled with photo/graphic sharing and hosting sites, offering thousands of amazing images, many at no cost.

On each of these sites, you can do a simple search for the topic of your choice, resulting in a large selection of images to choose from.

RESOURCE: Free Stock Photo Sites

WARNING: Avoid Being Sued for Image Copyright Violation

Doing a Google images search is not a good way to find photos. Recently, there have been many lawsuits over the unauthorized use of photos and other copyrighted media, including one from Getty Images, who sued several website owners for illegal use of their images.

Another copyright consideration: any time you take a picture or video of an individual and use it for commercial purposes—which includes your website—you must acquire a “model release” (information found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_release)

If you want to play it safe, use a paid image licensing site like iStock (http://www.istockphoto.com/), the Web’s largest publisher of inexpensive, royalty-free images and video.

2. Online Video: Most small business owners cringe at the thought of this unknown, seemingly technical and expensive medium. However, the truth is that video has become extremely simple to create, edit, and publish online.

One of the measures of online engagement is “time on site,” or how long the average person stays on your site during a typical visit. As you can imagine, video, with its unique ability to engage viewers’ senses, is one of the most engaging forms of content.

Later, we’ll cover simple steps for creating your own videos. For now, there’s a simple way for you to reap the online engagement rewards that using videos has to offer, with zero technical knowledge: adding existing videos to your site. All you need to do is find a video that does a good job explaining or adding to the topic your article intends to cover and embed that existing video right into your blog post.

Top Video Hosting and Sharing Sites

3. Slide Presentations, Audio, and Other Multimedia: Websites and services like Slideshare and iTunes have developed into their own formidable niches of multimedia, each with its own unique benefits and tools for increasing engagement on your site. In Part Three, we’ll cover how to use several forms of media to help syndicate—that is, publish your content using these different platforms.

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BLOG SUMMARY

You now have a completely different idea of what it takes to produce a high degree of engagement on a Web page, a specific blueprint that combines several consciously placed “engagement elements” to produce a synergistic effect, engaging your visitors on multiple levels of consciousness.

BLOG CHECKLIST

  • Ensure that the design and content of your website is focused solely on your target customers.
  • Be sure that your site produces an ideal user experience that reflects your brand. Your overall design theme, colors, and messaging all support this ideal visitor experience.
  • Use simple and consistent navigation that stands out, containing only the site content that is the most important for your visitors to see. Be sure that your navigation elements contain action verbs rather than canned phrases.
  • Incorporate social proof and trust icons into your site:
  • Publish testimonials from satisfied clients
  • Use at least four trust icons
  • Include online reviews from well-known review sites like Yelp and Google
  • Add a “Facebook Fanbox”
  • Make it easy for users to share your content by including social media sharing widgets and icons on every page.
  • Leverage the power of multimedia by incorporating at least one photo, video, Slideshare presentation or audio clip to each piece of content.

NEXT STEPS:

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