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