Article

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel 3 February 2016

The Science Of Stickiness: A Data-Driven Guide To Creating A Website People Want To Visit

The stickiness of your website is the differentiating factor between a visitor and a customer.

The stickiness of your website is the differentiating factor between a visitor and a customer, between visits and an audience, and between true ROI and traffic that just won’t convert.

Over the years, I’ve seen first hand as hundreds of startups have come and gone, and do you know what every single one of them had in common? A distinct lack of stickiness on their website, software, or product.

“Don’t let me see you make that same mistake!”

There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time people spend on a website and the chance they’ll convert. Simply put, if you want to run a website that makes money, you need to have a website that makes visitors want to stick around. You need to be sticky.

Not there quite yet? Here are a few fool-proof tips (along with data-driven evidence) to help you create a website that makes your visitors stick.

Be upfront about who you are

According to Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile, when someone lands on a webpage, they decide whether or not they want to stay in 15 seconds.

If that landing page is a blog post or similar piece of content, the key to getting the visitor to stay is pretty simple: make the opening section of that content as enticing as possible.

But what if the landing page is your homepage or a category page?

There are still plenty of things you can do to help entice visitors to stay, but if there’s one thing you need to get right more than anything else, it’s this:

The page needs to clearly articulate who you are and what you’re about.

I’ve worked with plenty of clients whose homepages and landing pages were either riddled with industry jargon or missing that all-important message that would have summed up what the heck the page was about.

In my experience, there are generally two reasons this occurs:

  • They believe the jargon makes them look clever. Here’s a little secret – it doesn’t (though it does make you look a bit arrogant).
  • They can’t see that not everyone shares their level of knowledge.

Let’s take a peek at an example…

This is the “Solutions & Industries” page from CenturyLink (sorry for picking on you guys, but here’s a link to make up for it).

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What do you understand about this company from reading this page?

I don’t know about you, but – at first glance – I’ve safely assumed that the company is aimed at businesses. Unfortunately, that’s not much to go on, and beyond that, things seems a little less clear.

I’m drawn to the phrase “BCDR Solutions,” but what does it mean? A Google search reveals it means “business continuity and disaster recovery solutions,” but I shouldn’t have to Google anything to know what you’re about.

Quick tip: Don’t use acronyms on a landing page.

We then have a tagline: “Continued Operations in a Changing World.” What does this tell us? That businesses continue to operate and things change? I know it means more than that, but I had to read it a few times to figure out what.

The copy below that tells us very little more and, if anything, risks leaving the visitor even more confused.

Thankfully, there is a mention of “business continuity” to the right and to the bottom of the page, but that’s essentially a moot point when what we’re drawn to first is a vague tagline and a picture of a phone tower.

Don’t make your visitors have to think twice in order to figure out whether your site correctly answers their search query. Chances are they’ll just click back and see what else they can find.

For a better example, check out the homepage from Axcient:

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I won’t go into too much detail about what makes this page good since I think it’s pretty obvious. There are three distinct points, each one giving us a feature or benefit of their product without using industry jargon or flowery (read: confusing) sales copy.

In summary: If you’re not quite sure whether your website successfully articulates who you are and what you do, ask an unbiased person that knows nothing about your business to look at your site for 15 seconds and then try to tell you what it’s about.

If they can’t do this, you need to look at revising the language and presentation of your site.

Use your site’s navigation to guide your user journey

Think of your site’s navigation like a roadmap: if the map is badly drawn and misrepresentative of which roads go where, its users will become lost, frustrated, and do whatever they can to change the situation.

In website terms, this will probably mean leaving and going to a competitor’s site.

This means that, when it comes to mapping your site’s architecture, you need to ensure you’re guiding your user’s journey and making it as easy as possible for them to find what they want.

To help achieve this, it’s almost always going to be a good idea to scale your navigation back.

KISSMetrics recommends including a maximum of seven options (in your navigation), since our short term memory can hold just seven items. Give your visitors more options than that, and they could miss the very thing they’re looking for (or that you want them to find).

With that in mind, I’m loving the simplicity of terrain’s homepage and navigation (which has exactly seven options):

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And I’ve always liked Quicksprout’s bold approach to the user journey: the website tells the visitor exactly what to do. The rest of their navigation is easy to spot and simple to understand, but it’s positioned so as not to distract from the route Neil Patel and his team want visitors to take.

Conversely, take a look at the screenshot below, from Creative With aK. Admittedly, it’s a stunning site, but how is it for usability? Two words: it sucks. But I like it because it’s an excellent example of how, when it comes to creating a sticky site, an interface that’s simple to use is far more important than design.

sujan5

Get (and use) a blog

Across all the sites I work with, I’m blogging multiple times a week. I enjoy it and it keeps me busy, but that’s not why I do it.

I do it because having a blog and regularly updating it with quality content offers tons of benefits…

  1. It helps to build your brand (or yourself) as an authority in your niche.
  2. Each new blog post is a potential new listing in the SERPs, giving it the potential to drive more traffic.
  3. It (may) lead to new, natural backlinks.
  4. It increases the stickiness of your site by providing more content for your audience to read and interact with.

Of course, the key is in quality. You won’t get very far by churning out poorly written, regurgitated content. If anything, it could have the opposite effect to what you intended.

That said, while quality is always going to be more important than quantity, there’s a definite correlation between volume of content published and impact on traffic levels and leads.

Based on their 7,000 customers, Hubspot’s chart illustrates the link between traffic levels and number of published blog posts:

Of course, more traffic’s nice to have, but if your blogging isn’t encouraging people to stay on your site longer and subsequently convert, what’s the point?

Thankfully, Hubspot has also shown a strong correlation between number of blog posts published monthly and the number of leads generated (something we can safely assume wouldn’t have happened if said blog posts hadn’t also increased the stickiness of the site).

Lesson summary: Although the impact of blogging may not be immediately apparent, the stats show it does work. No ifs, ands, or buts – just do it. You’ll thank me later.

Create a site that works fluidly across all devices

According to Margin Media’s Digital Marketing Report 2014, 67% of users said “they’re more likely to purchase a product or service from a site that is mobile-friendly” and 52% said “they would be less likely to engage with a company if the mobile experience on their site was bad.”

Let’s set aside the fact that a poor mobile experience could now actually affect your rankings and traffic levels (Google didn’t release their mobile-friendly update for fun – they did it because a great mobile experience is what users want). The fact is that a user experience that doesn’t translate fluidly across all devices could have a massively negative effect on the stickiness of your site.

If you haven’t yet invested in a mobile or responsive website, doing so should be one of your top priorities.

Sort out your site speed

If your site takes too long to load, you’ll lose visitors. Fact. That’s the stickiness of your website screwed, right there.

This is a snippet from a KISSMetrics infographic that demonstrates how we can expect page abandonments to increase in line with the amount of time a page takes to load:

In an ideal world, your website should load in under two seconds – go beyond that, and you risk losing vast numbers of your visitors without them even seeing your site.

If you’re not sure how long (on average) your site takes to load, or if you need some pointers on how to reduce load times, check out Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Inject some personality into your site

The web is absolutely flooded with stock image and cliche ridden sites – please do me and every other internet user a favor and don’t join them.

If, instead, you want to build a website that stands out from the crowd – and is compelling enough to get visitors to stick around – you need to inject it with a little (or a lot) of personality.

Why does this work? Two reasons:

  1. A brand (and website) with personality draws the customer into a relationship that makes them more likely to stick around and more likely to buy.
  1. It’s just a whole lot more fun. Why would anyone want to spend time browsing a website that’s the epitome of dry and corporate when there’s a more interesting alternative a few clicks away?

While I was trying to pinpoint some stats that backed up why it’s beneficial to give your brand a personality and build a relationship with your customers (it is, and I’ll get back to that in a minute), I stumbled upon something really interesting…

Marketing strategist Gregory Ciotti cited some research last year which stated that, “77 percent of customers don’t want to build relationships with brands.”

The data was extracted from the Harvard Business Review, so I have no doubt about its credibility – I fully believe that 77 percent of consumers surveyed said they don’t want a relationship with brands.

But, you know what? What customers say and what they do are often very different things.

It’s not unusual for consumers to say “they’re not influenced by advertising,” but if it didn’t work, why would companies invest so much into it (an estimated $592 BILLION for 2015)?

The fact is that the best advertising has a very subtle effect on consumers. It builds an affiliation with a brand without the consumer having any real clue what’s happening.

Building relationships with customers is no different – the customer might say that their “relationships are reserved for family and friends” – and they probably mean it. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t unconsciously be drawn into relationships (of sorts) with brands.

In essence, a brand/consumer relationship is simply brand loyalty, and I’d happily bet my lunch money on that same 77% who said they were against brand/consumer relationships admitting to having loyalty to certain brands.

So, to prove that personality and relationship-building does – despite what consumers might say – work, let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples of a brand that injects personality into their website (as well as their products and their marketing): Innocent Drinks.

Innocent are still a little-known entity in the U.S., but I became aware of them a few years back while on a quest to find some of the world’s most awesome brands. Everything they do is packed with personality and reflects their “innocent” ethos.

The website itself is all kinds of awesome and as sticky as they come.

They’re not afraid to “build relationships” with their customers either – even down to inviting them to ring the office “banana phone” – an actual, banana-shaped phone that’s said to ring hundreds of times a day.

Most importantly, this approach has worked. Innocent is now the biggest smoothie maker in Europe, are turning over £200 million a year, and in 2013, were taken over by Coca Cola.

Keep your site’s content fresh

Optimizing a website for stickiness isn’t just about getting new visitors to stick – you need to consider how you’re going to get your returning visitors to hang out for a while too.

Thankfully, this part isn’t overly complicated. If someone is a return visitor, we can safely (and happily) assume they liked what they saw and experienced on their previous visit. However, if they’re back, there’s a good chance it’s because they want to see something new.

Think of it like this: if a clothes store sold the same clothes all year round, how many people would keep returning? Or if a restaurant never altered their menu? Or a theme park never introduced new rides? How many repeat visitors would they get?

If you want visitors to keep returning to your site, and then stick around, you need to offer them a fresh experience each time.

This could mean:

  • Updating your homepage
  • Adding new products
  • Updating a sale with new items
  • Adding new content to your blog

Even something as simple as a plugin that pulls in your Facebook or Twitter feed can help create the illusion of freshness.

You can magnify the impact of this tactic even further by taking steps to ensure your visitors know when to expect something new.

I, for example, always try to update this blog with a new post on a Thursday. I (assume) some of my more regular readers know this, and will visit the site on a Thursday because they expect to find something they’ve not seen before.

Encourage engagement

It makes perfect sense that the more engaged somebody is with your website, the longer they’re going to stick around.

Needless to say, if you build an awesome website, that alone should drive engagement, but there are tons you things you can do to encourage this further:

  • Activating comments (if you haven’t already) on your blog
  • Responding to comments (as quickly as possible)
  • Incorporating opinion polls into key pages of your site
  • Adding videos to key pages (shoeline.com did this and conversion rates on those pages increased 44%)
  • Using rewards to incentivize engagement (I hear good things about Captain Up for this)
  • Allowing users to personalize your website (try Commerce Sciences)
  • Installing social sharing buttons (HubSpot say they lead to 7x more mentions)
  • Encouraging users to leave reviews
  • Timing the publication of new content to reach the maximum number of users
  • Running competitions (that require entrants to interact with your site in some way in order to enter)

And don’t forget… if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I want my readers to engage with me by commenting on my blog posts, so I always end my posts with a CTA encouraging my readers to let me know what they think, and if possible, add their thoughts and ideas to the post.

I’m not alone in this – lots of bloggers do it, because it works.

Keep ads to a minimum

I don’t know about you, but ads are a major pain point for me. I understand that site owners need them in order to drive revenue, and that for some webmasters, the prolificness of ad blocking software can be devastating.

I also understand that some ads can be incredibly intrusive.

I know I’m not alone in my animosity towards autoplaying video ads. I’ve even encountered websites where the entire screen becomes filled with an ad which (and this is my favorite part) is seemingly impossible to click away. That makes for all kinds of fun.

So, you know what I do when this happens? I get the hell off that site, and I make damn sure I don’t go back there again.

And I’m definitely not the only one.

A study by the American Marketing Association found that its “participants were far less willing to remain on a web page if it contained an annoying advertisement. Participants also did not remember the content very well on pages that contained annoying advertisements.”

The study went on to conclude that any additional revenue the ads brought in was quickly outweighed by the negative effects of the ads – e.g. the fact that visitors would leave without consuming content or converting.

If you want to ensure your visitors stick around, don’t drive them away from the moment they land on your site with ads that intrude on the user experience.

Ultimately, creating a website that people want to visit and stick around on isn’t about design (it certainly helps, but looks alone aren’t going to get you very far). Instead you need a website that’s easy to use, works fluidly across all devices, serves its purpose as well as or better than its competitors, and offers a fresh and exciting experience to users.

Basically: build an awesome website.

If you can nail all of that, everything else (namely: conversions) should follow naturally.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts, as well as any other tips and tricks you have for building a super-sticky site, in the comments below!

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