When you consider the words we use to describe internet behavior; web-hosting, visits, social media, it’s clear that social constructs are central to our online experience. The business of hosting a website demands the same rules of etiquette that we would apply to entertaining guests in our homes, yet too many websites treat their visitors like unwanted guests.
A few simple ideas to make the visitors to your website feel at home.
1) Answer The Door!
Keeping your guests waiting out in the cold while you take your sweet time getting to the door, is the cyber equivalent of filling up your web page with graphics, gifs and gobbledygook which takes forever to load. Chances are, your guest will leave before you get there.
2) Welcome Guests Into Your Home
If visitors came knocking at your door, would you tell them to go around the back, enter an 8 digit code to a lockbox on the gate, play a game of fetch with the dog and then climb in through the bathroom window? That seems ludicrous, but websites that require visitors to go through their wormhole of a registration process before accessing their site are sending readers on a detour of frustration. Whether it’s backyard or internet detours, you’ll lose some people along the way.
3) Don’t Block The Exit
If your guests decide that they don’t want to stay, blocking the door so they can’t leave isn’t going to make them change their mind about sticking around. It will, however, deter them from ever coming back. Deliberately disabling the back button is a trick that some websites use to get you stay on their page longer. It’s a form of cyber kidnapping and it must be stopped.
4) Show Them Around
Let visitors know that they’ve come to the right place. Include relevant information such as a bio, an index, a search box, or other tool that will make it easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for.
5) Don’tGet Too Intimate Too Soon
As a host or hostess, you know that it would be in poor taste to immediately start questioning your guests about the intimate details of their lives, but websites that demand registration data from their visitors right away cross those same boundaries. The only difference is that visitors to your website, unlike your home, won’t hesitate to leave. There are some sites that have a legitimate need for requiring user identification for some of it’s functionality, but there’s usually no need to lock all of its features behind a log-in barrier. Requiring a log in to leave comments, for example, is an unnecessary barrier to usability that serves no purpose other than driving readers away.
6) Don’t Assume That Your Guests Share Your Musical Taste
Embedding music onto your home page is annoying, disruptive and interferes with your message. Plus, your musical taste sucks. Well, maybe not to everyone, but the point is, you don’t know.
7) Tidy Up
Stop the cyber hoarding. Too many ads, widgets and buttons competing for attention distract readers in a negative way. Stuffing all your affiliate and adsense ads above the fold might result in some conversion, but at the expense of your readers’ loyalty. More ads might increase the odds of generating a few more clicks. If that’s the only goal, then it’s about as effective as watching your guests trip over the clutter in your home.
8) Don’t Play Tricks
Your guests aren’t stupid, so your attempts to trick them into falling for whoopie cushions, fake spiders and slights of hand will only insult their intelligence. The same is true for websites that try to trick readers into clicking on ad links or subscribing to information they don’t want.
9) Keep Up With Maintenance
Don’t risk putting your guests through a situation like this. Readers have exactly zero tolerance for broken links, loading issues, missing pages or site under construction, indefinitely.
10) Don’t Run Out On Your Guests
Imagine how confused and freaked out your guest would be if you left the room and didn’t come back. Like ever. That’s how readers feel when you take a blogging break without explanation or worse, leave permanently once you get a book deal. The least you can do is say goodbye to the readers who directly contributed to your success.
11) Offer Your Guests A Snack
Strong headlines, unique content, even mindless, but targeted entertainment are ways of giving value to your readers, without expecting anything in return. Isn’t that the definition of a good host?
12) Don’t Do All The Talking
Encourage visitors to your site to voice their opinions, ask questions or give comments. If you want to lecture, write a book.
13) Don’t Interrupt
Jumping in front of your guests every five minutes and yelling, “Let’s Rent A Movie!” is a good way to get rid of them. I’m talking to you Netflix.
14) Take Down That Wall Calendar from 2007
One of my favorite local Metablog sites has an event calendar on the home page that hasn’t been updated since July 2008. It’s deceiving to new visitors who might get the impression that the entire site isn’t current, even though it is updated daily.
15) Invite Your Guests To Come Back
Make it easy for visitors to subscribe, follow, bookmark or share. Give them every option for sharing and reading your content. Show them where to find the bookmark buttons. Every site is different, so don’t expect them to know where the buttons are. If they are engaged enough to want to take action, don’t risk interfering with their momentum. It can fade in an instant if they can’t find what they’re looking for.
When you consider the online time distortion of your reader’s experience, where only a few seconds delay can feel equivalent to a 3 hour wait at the DMV, you simply can’t afford to put obstacles in the way of capturing a visitor’s time and attention. According to statistics, after an online delay or interruption of 2-1/2 seconds, for every second thereafter, a website will lose 20% of its traffic. Lose enough traffic and you’ll turn into that mean old guy who lives on the corner and yells at all the neighbor kids. Nobody wants to be That Guy.