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October 15 th, 2014

Giving Your Web Visitors a Reason NOT to click "Back"

I have often written about getting visitors to come back to your website, citing how crucial return visitors are to the success of the online portion of a business. (Here and here: A two part series called "Modern Web Site Design: Getting People to Come Back"). There is a far, far more critical element to focus on in your message design, however:

Getting people to stay in the first place.

Everyone has seen Skip This Ad - And they usually doOne area that almost everyone can relate to - and understand this concept - are the ever-present video ads before the content we wish to see on news sites or YouTube; The ones where you see the message "You may skip this ad in 5 seconds" with a countdown. The ones where we hover our mouse pointer over that "Skip" button, impatiently waiting the five seconds to mash the button down to get rid of the annoying ad.

However, most of us have also had the experience of, while waiting to click "skip", the thought of "Hey, wait a minute, I want to see the rest of this" - and let the ad play out. THAT is good message design. (I am using the term "message design", because it is no different whether it is a commercial playing before your news story, or the content on the home page of your web site: Both have the same purpose: To engage the viewer to get them to listen to what you want to say)

Everyone likes free stuffJust now, as I write this, I visited YouTube and clicked on the first video I saw on the home page - Sure enough, it begins with an ad with the five second timer. As luck would have it, the message I heard in the first five seconds was "If you join {bank name}, get a free iPad" - Now THAT is going to cause more than a few people listen to the rest of the ad to learn how they can get the high tech freebie.

The second video I clicked on had an ad with a man hunched over in a small yellow box, saying "Hi, five seconds is not enough for you to decide about auto insurance" - and I clicked on next, because that five seconds was also wasted in NOT telling me why I should give him five more. I couldn't even tell you the company that was selling the insurance.

This is where this thought process comes into play in the design of your web site: ESPECIALLY the home page.
On average, you have less than 30 seconds to convince a new visitor to keep reading on your site - to click futher into your online presence. Often, you won't even get the full thirty seconds if the page they landed on is poorly designed or the reason for staying doesn't jump right out at them.

You need to ask yourself, when looking at your page: "Would I keep browsing on this site ? Would I click at least one more link to learn more ? Would I be interested enough in what I see to give this business a chance with another 30 seconds of my time ?" You have to be careful when doing this with your own business, too: Often, your own bias or experience can fool your mind into thinking "Well of COURSE this is worth the extra time!" - So one trick is to come up with an entry message for a completely different product or service that is unrelated to what you are selling and write THAT message - and see if you've convinced yourself to keep going. When you've succeeded in that, replace the fictitious product or service with your own and compare with the message that is now on your site. Does it convince people to keep going ?

All 9 Muses Healing StudioI had an interesting experience, along these lines; A friend asked me about help in rewriting part of their website for a Reiki studio. If you don't know what Reiki is, it is a very old Tibetan healing technique that involves the 'transfer of energy' from the Reiki practitioner to the recipient. Now: Many people have exactly the same reaction as I did upon hearing about Reiki for the first time: "It must be some form of new-age hocus-pocus, designed to take money from the gullible". I know my initial reaction is not uncommon, because Reiki, in marketing terms, is a very small niche service that is not exactly mainstream. However: I also happen to know the person who runs this website well and also know there isn't a deceptive bone in her body, so I helped out with re-writing some of the content on the page.

Where the process changed, however, is when she invited me for a Reiki session, myself. I will admit that I thought it would be one of those "ok, that was weird" types of afternoons, but to make a long story short: I left the studio that afternoon feeling relaxed - And the oddest thing: That all of my joints felt like there were "little clouds of coolness" around each of them. That's an odd way of describing it, but it's about as accurate as I can get in words. To rephrase it: I left the studio feeling relaxed - And THAT, my friends, is the message that should be pushed for the studio; Whether the website is Reiki or automotive repair, computer tuning or financial investment, the average reader, who is not an expert in what you do - in fact, most visitors are thoroughly unfamiliar with what you do - the average reader is often not interested in the "how you do it" of your business - the nitty gritty, the nuts and bolts and the details: They are interested in the end results.

  • If it's a Reiki studio: They want to know they'll leave feeling pleasant and relaxed.
  • If it's an automotive garage: They want to know their car will run better after they bring it in.
  • If it's a computer tune-up shop: They want to know their machine will be faster after than before.
  • If it's a financial advisor: They want to know they'll end up with more money than they spent.
And so on.

But this message has to be delivered right away. It has to be conveyed in simple terms that the everyman can understand and feel and you can't do it in a gimmicky or snake-oil salesmans' manner.

A financial advisor whose home page screams "MAKE MORE MONEY NOW!" is not going to get many people trusting them with their precious thirty seconds. On the other hand, even if you accidentally stumbled across a financial planners' page and the first message you saw was "The small amount of money you invest with me - for you - grows much, much larger with smart, easily followed financial advice: Let me show you how"

  1. It tells the visitor up-front that yes, you are trying to sell them something (You are being honest)
  2. It tells the visitor that you are about making them money (Your service)
  3. It tells the visitor that you are willing to show them at least part of how you'll do it, without forcing them to call or visit. (Avoid making the visitor feel the only way they'll learn anything is through "the hard sell"

In short: Look at your website: Ask yourself: "If I came across this site, especially in a list of search results:

  • Would I stay?
  • Would I click on at least one link from the home page to learn more ?
  • Do my competitors make me want to click further, moreso than my own page does ?"

Better yet: Ask your friends or colleagues the same question: Ask them for honest feedback on how well your message makes them want to learn more or if they feel it would be a wasted 30 seconds.

Alternatively, you can also ask me for an initial look at your site; I will not do an in-depth, comprehensive site review for free (I, too, have to earn a living), but I am happy to provide some initial thoughts on where improvements could be made.

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