Monday, January 09, 2006
web content competition: SEs
You as a blogger publish content to the web.
You as a blogger are:
* critical reviewer
* blogosphere interactor (meaning: you have to spend time with your colleagues, other bloggers, posting comments on their blog to say "hello", and to contribute to conversations beyond what's happening at your own blog).
* blog consultant (every time you explain what a blog is to clueless friends and business people, you act as a blog consultant)
Now, you do all these things, and more, to dream up, create, assemble content for the web via your spot on it, your blog.
And you also do some of these things to protect, defend, and publicize your content, your blog or web site.
Who is your biggest competitor in content?
Jakob Nielsen, leading usability specialist and a very large influence on my thought, says Search Engines are your main content competitor.
His point, I think, is this: you want your readers, visitors, customers to *not* linger for a long time at your site or blog, but to *return frequently*.
Blogs especially are all about fast everything. Fast thinking. Fast typing. Fast reaction to reader comments. Fast surfing of other blogs and fast posting of relevant, enriching comments at other blogs.
Design your blog for fast information access, fast functionality, or fast entertainment offerings.
Nielsen says "stickiness", getting users to spend more time during each visit, is outdated thinking.
He says the new, emerging trend is what I call "returnity": the qualities residing in your blog that entices readers to keep coming back.
Practical value, with accurate or intelligent substance, good writing, and unexpected surprises: how to keep 'em coming back again and again. Plus, kind and considerate interaction with readers via email and comments.
From his latest Alertbox, (which you really must get smart and subscribe to today):
"Search Engines as Leeches on the Web"
...[due to the content competition with search engine portals] you must foster customer loyalty so that users go straight to your site instead of clicking through from search ads [in the search engine results lists].
I predict that liberation from search engines will be one of the biggest strategic issues for websites in the coming years.
The question is:
How can websites devote more of their budgets to keeping customers, rather than simply advertising for new visitors?
Here are some ideas, ranging from the proven (newsletters) to the speculative (mobile services):
* Email newsletters. Getting people to sign up for regular newsletters remains the ultimate way to maintain a relationship. As usability studies show, a newsletter has much more of an emotional impact on people than a brief visit to a website.
* Request marketing. Have users tell you want they want, and then alert them when you have it.
* Discussion groups and other community features. Find ways to recognize particularly active members and thus further connect them to your site. Such recognition might be as simple as placing gold stars on their profiles or might include more substantial loyal-user benefits.
* Affiliate programs. These are alliances with other sites that promote your services to their users in return for a referral fee if their users do business with you. The program works best if the referring site can honestly recommend the destination site to its own target audience. So, even though you have to pay them a cut, the cost isn't boundless the way it is on search engines because you're not competing with all other sites in the world for the right to be listed. If you're the best match for the referring site's audience, they'll want you -- rather than simply whoever offers the highest fee -- because your conversion rate will be better. (In an earlier column, I offer an example in which sales differed drastically depending on which affiliate partner a site chose to link to.)
* Newsfeeds. RSS might work, but I don't know yet as we're not starting our user research into RSS until next week. (We'll present findings about RSS usability at our upcoming conference.)
* Stick your URL onto any physical product you sell in the hope that customers will see it when they need supplies or a replacement.
* A hardware component that's hardwired to connect to your site's service. Without the iPod, the iTunes music store wouldn't be nearly as successful.
* Mobile features. Search engines' back-and-forth interaction style is clumsier on mobile devices. Conversely, mobile provides added value for services that know their users and understand sufficient context to give them exactly what they need, when they need it -- perhaps without their having to ask. Thus, users are more likely to actually subscribe to mobile services than to seek them out every time they feel the need. Being an icon on somebody's BlackBerry gives you top-of-mind presence and significantly increases the likelihood that that they'll visit your website when they want to do business. (You might even get paid for the mobile service -- but even without payment, it's worth it in search-liberation points.)
In the dot-com bubble days, it was fashionable to discuss website stickiness. Now, stickiness must be reconceptualized for the real world rather than the bubble. It's not a goal to make users spend hours on your site. Let them go about their business.
The real goal is to make users come back, and to have them come directly to your site instead of clicking on expensive ads. The ideas above are just a few ways to encourage repeat business.
Further in-depth studies of user behaviors and customer needs should reveal many new ways of keeping users loyal.
Follow the link to go to Use It dot com and read the beginning of Nielsen's new article on why Search Engines, with paid sponsored results, can be "leeches" of web content.
This also shames me into remembering how I still need to fix my blog's more horrible problem: worthless archive categories.
See, when one of my blog readers, to use myself as an example, has a question about blogs, blogging, blogosphere, etc., I'd like it if they visited my blog first, to see what I might have written about the topic.
I like to think that what I've written on any blogological or web usability topic is practical, true, authoritative, referenced to reputable sources, complete, easy to understand, and even a bit funny now and then.
But how can they see what Vaspers the Grate wrote on CEO blogs, unless I have an archive category entitled CEO Blogs or maybe Business Blogging? Oh sure, they can type in "CEO blogs" in my blog's search engine, and probably come up with most of what I've written. Let's hope. I'll check this search term later.
Site search engines need to be greatly improved. After intuitive navigation, site search should probably be the next major avenue for a user to find specific content, including comments they themselves have posted on your blog, within your blog.
A fantastic way to keep readers coming back is to enable them to Subscribe to Replies to Your Comment, whenever a reader posts a comment to your blog. Chances are, if the post topic is hot, or the reader posted a good comment, there will be subsequent, further comments posted, thus an email alert will arrive the reader's inbox. Then the reader can follow the link provided, to see what others, including hopefully the blog author, replied to his comment, or to the topic in general.
Jakob Nielsen is the author I turned to when I first got on the web and was both delighted and confused with the web sites I visited. The first web dysfunctionalities I stumbled upon were sites that disabled the Back button on your browser ("mouse traps", "orphan pages", or "hall of mirrors" I think we call them). Where you are trapped on a web page, cannot even return to a previous page in the web site, nor the home page, nor is there any exit to anywhere available.
Other early web usability problems I noticed were design confusion, poor site navigation, valueless site maps, lack of welcome/user orientation to site, static/impersonal feel, broken forms, frequent lack of bios, credentials, affiliations--bordering on anonymous, or "fly-by-night" appearance, dense paragraphs, lack of hypertext links to verify source material quoted (still extremely common, especially, ironically, on "business" web sites), and corporate fluff "we-oriented" braggadocio super-hype wastelands.
Nielsen's book, "Designing Web Usability", and "Homepage Usability", are two of my guiding lights in most matters in this field.
Remember: subscribe to his Alertbox updates, so you can know more about smart web usability principles and user observation testing insights. Not "random opinion and arbitrary rules" as some anti-usability web designers whine, but observed characteristics of computer users interacting with actual web sites.
[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate
Posted by steven edward streight at 1/09/2006 10:03:00 AM