Getting people to your website is an ongoing challenge for most affiliate marketers. What can be even more challenging is getting them to spend time there.
It's all about increasing the level at which your visitors engage with your site, and that's what this “The Power of Interactive Websites” series is all about.
We're going to look at ways in which you can make your site more interactive and a place where your visitors are going to want to hang out!
In the first post of this series, we looked at static sites versus blogs, and some of the reasons why static sites may be living on borrowed time. Hopefully, if you didn't have one before – you've now got yourself a blog!
In this second post, we'll go into some of the things you include on your site to create a higher level of interactivity with your visitors. These things are often referred to as “engagement devices” or ways to make a site “sticky”.
In the next post, we'll also be going into how using video can create results for you in this area.
It's important to realize that creating engagement devices is not just about being nice to the people who visit your site – it's about bottom line business results.
One of the best ways to judge where things are heading with interactivity on sites is to look at the future advertising planned by big name advertisers.
Take a look at some eye-opening results that were recently released in a Forrester Research report, and see where they're placing their bets.
There are interesting implications.
Projected spending in interactive marketing 2009-2014
One of the most likely takeouts from this research is that over all, normal advertising budgets will decline. Ad dollars are moving away from things like marketing on television towards marketing on the internet.
You can see the things where advertisers are increasing marketing spend are, in fact, those marketing activities that have a high degree of interaction with their audience. And that's key to the direction things are taking.
Given the recent results we've just seen in terms of future marketing spend, this focus on the more interactive marketing avenues is something to consider.
Let's look for a moment at the reasons why engagement is such an important part of the sales process.
Research studies in offline retail situations have shown that the longer you can get someone to stay in a shop, the more likely they are to buy. Hand them a cup of coffee in a china cup (so they can't walk out with it), and statistically they're more likely to buy. And if you can get them to get tactile with your products, for example, try something on, try out a demo, the more likely it is you will achieve an actual sale.
Even though they are different media, there are direct correlations to such buying behaviours in an online setting.
As with our offline example of someone in a shop, the longer someone stays on your site, the more likely they are to do something on it. This means they're more likely to ask a question, subscribe to your newsletter, or email you a question.
And the longer someone is on your site and engages with it by doing such things, the more likely they are to purchase as well. This is why it's not just a question of making your site a more interesting site to hang out for your visitors. It also makes smart business sense!
One of the best ways to draw visitors to your site, and actually get to keep them there, is to give them a powerful reason to come and explore your site.
Engagement devices are the things that you put on your pages in addition to the rest of your content that help this process.
While some of these things you do in terms of engagement devices can also make great “link bait”, this is a bonus rather than your end goal. What you're aiming to do here is start an interaction with your visitors and enhance the time they spend on your site. Anything else is a bonus!
Increasing engagement and interactivity is all about making your site a more interesting place to hang out. Another term for this is “site stickiness”.
A sense of community also helps bring people back to your site.
So, given that getting people more involved with your site is a requirement for where things are heading, what can you do with this information?
Assuming you don't want your site to go the way of the dinosaurs, how do you really get your site visitors to want to spend a bit more time on your site?
Let's look at some ideas on how you can make your site stickier, entertain your visitors, and help your search engine optimization!
Install Online Help
If you have a customer service person, or are happy to take enquiries at the time you're online, a professional chat feature can be a great thing to have. This can help people engage with your site, getting personal help to find what they're after through a real “live” person.
Make sure if you do go this way that you use it wisely! Don't leap on people the moment someone arrives at your site – it will scare some people away completely. Have an icon that your visitors can “click to chat” with customer service.
Even if they don't happen to buy at that particular time, this is still a powerful way to collect a name, email address or phone number before people leave your site. It's info you wouldn't otherwise have, and can use down the track.
LivePerson is one example of customer service chat software suitable for a small or medium sized business.
Create a FAQ or Knowledge Base
This can take the form of a forum if you've got the traffic for it. Or you can create a section of your site where visitors can submit their questions, and read previous questions and answers about your product or site.
This can be a powerful mechanism for pre-selling a prospect.
1) They cover off their unspoken buying objections by seeing the answers to questions that have been asked by people with similar concerns before buying.
2) They can reassure themselves about the product by learning from others' experiences of it.
3) Your site receives third party credibility through them being able check out how you follow through with customer service.
Have A News Column
A news column can help make your site more interactive.
Add this to the home page of your site with latest headlines. It can also be added to other web pages as well. You can update it regularly, and add fresh news that can grab the attention of your visitors.
RSS Feeder Reader is a quick and free way you can provide headlines on your site. There's no programming required, or installation.
Have A Newsletter
The idea of a newsletter is to build and maintain a mailing list for long-term success.
Research studies estimate that it costs your business at least five times more to get a new customer than it does to sell to an existing customer. That's why it makes sense to keep in contact with those you have already sold a product to.
And statistically, most website visitors do not buy on their first visit to a site. Why?
- They don't have the money to purchase at that time.
- They're too busy.
- They're not yet comfortable enough with your business to put money on the table.
- They're still in research mode.
This means that it's vital to capture an email address. You want to make sure you receive an eventual sale if possible. By communicating respectfully and providing quality information through your newsletter, you can build credibility, trust, and brand awareness with your prospects.
Make sure you offer a feature on your site where a user can choose to be informed about your latest products – or affiliate products – and services. This feature can be a simple tick box that comes up after subscribing to your newsletter, and helps build your mailing list.
Have A Search Engine Tool On Your Site
A search tool enables your users to search for relevant information on your site by entering specific keywords.
If you make things easy for your users in this department, they're more likely to try finding the information they're looking for on your site before they head off to someone else's.
The search result is shown with a link to each relevant page. Your reader can then click a link to directly go to the relevant section of your site.
You can see how we do it here at Associate Programs:
Associate Programs' search engine tool.
See how dominantly the search box is displayed? You want to make sure your readers are aware of your search facility BEFORE they start looking around for information. Don't hide it away in some corner!
If they can't find it when they need it, they're likely to leave. We display this right where people can see it on every page of the site.
Choose Something Entertaining To Appeal To Your Target Audience
Online games appeal to a wide age group of people – those who play online games are not necessarily just from younger generations. These can be developed specifically for your site.
This means you can focus them around the product or service which you are promoting as an affiliate. Alternatively, you might be able to get a popular game customized to your liking. Just make sure there are no copyright issues!
Create as detailed brief as you can on how you see the game working, any particular features and the look and feel you want things to have. You can then post it as a project to somewhere like Rentacoder.
Leave the budget open to make sure get a range of bids. Once you have these, you can then chat with those developers who are within your budget and seem have the skills to do what you're after.
This sort of customized project can help attract a targeted audience to your site. If you can brand it as your own, that's even better for marketing purposes.
If you're aiming at a young target audience, an interactive game or puzzle on your site designed for the particular age group you want to appeal to can be a good idea.
Offering a tempting prize at the end of the game can get users even more interested.
An example of an innovative game recently was an online Easter egg hunt done by Woolworths in the UK. Customers were invited to find all six hidden virtual Easter eggs to have a chance to win a family home entertainment system. (An excellent example of capitalizing on seasonal interests!)
While you might not want to spring for such a prize, there's no doubt that games add interactivity to your web site and keep their users longer.
Here's another example of something that's proved popular. It's a Webby Award-winning game about an artist struggling with his craft. You get to choose whether you're the oppressive Animator, or the rebellious Animation. If you've ever felt like you've been doing battle with your computer, you'll relate well to this.
You can even program in small adverts to come up in the middle of a game, perhaps while a player is waiting to go to another level and therefore unlikely to leave your site at that exact minute.
Including branding messages and additional advertising content as an unobtrusive part of such a game can also boost your marketing efforts.
What about if you're looking at an older age bracket?
If creating a game is not quite your thing, and you want to appeal to older prospects, there are a number of different ways you can go.
Here's something that Source Energy Radio uses as clever engagement device that gets people returning to the site regularly:
Source Energy Radio's web visitor engagement device
You could also have a mortgage calculator gadget that helps prospects work out what impacts interest rates have on paying off a mortgage. Or one that works out compound interest, or calculates your body mass index based on age and height.
As affiliates, most of us have customers all over the world. Sometimes a customer is going to want to check the price of products in their own currency. Why take the risk of losing them off your site? You can keep them there and increase your site stickiness with a currency calculator.
Here's a site to get more of your ideas flowing on how you could use this engagement device for your niche – CalculateForFree.com. It's got everything from calorie counters and weight loss, through to lifetime savings and poker odds.
Have A Competition
Like games, competitions can also boost your numbers of returning visitors after a while.
A regular or ongoing competition not only offers entertainment to your readers. The lure of a prize means you are also likely to see people coming back to your site regularly to compete. You can make the most of your competitions by making sure all of your readers are sent regular updates on where things are at with this, and encouraging them to be a part of it.
Depending on what your competition is actually about, you may also be able to use winning entries as additional content for your site, as in this example:
Chances are the winners will be letting all their friends know about their success, which will help translate to extra traffic for you!
Have A Fun Quiz
Look at popular women's magazines, and you can see that fun quizes are regularly trotted out to readers, with personality quizzes being particularly popular.
Why? Because that's what helps sell magazines!
If we translate this same demand to our online audience, a fun quiz can be a really effective way to turn this interest in understanding what makes us tick into something that people will spend time on your site to complete, and possibly refer it to their friends and colleagues.
Have A Poll Or Survey
Opinion polls help create user interest and add interactivity to your web site. They're great as a survey tool. If you often report news in your niche, they can work extremely well.
To be successful with your opinion polls, make sure you update them regularly. It's also important to post the results of previous opinion polls for your readers to see.
The best part about this is that while polls and surveys work as a great way to involve your readers, you also get something extra valuable out of it. Because these literally engage with your audience, you can find out their opinion on a variety of subjects.
It's possibly the best way to find out from both prospects and customers everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask! You've got your finger on the pulse of being able to create both valuable data and feedback that lets you know just what your visitors are thinking and feeling about a whole range of things.
You can create customized surveys and polls for your website, blog and social network profiles at 99polls.
With this popular one, there's no software to install, there's a free and a $19.95 a month version to choose from if you want to kick things up a notch.
According to their website, over 80% of the Fortune 100 companies are currently using SurveyMonkey. If that's true – they must be doing something right in this department! We've used SurveyMonkey at Associate Programs and found it well designed and easy to use.
And if you're really in a hurry with a burning question, here's a free one-question poll you can create in just a few minutes:
People go online to find information. However, going through this only in words can get tiring. Images liven up your writing and improve a web user's experience. When used the right way, they can also become link bait.
You can use images in a variety of ways to do this.
A graph or a chart can help engage users and enhance your content. They can also help get your point across. Sometimes charts can be so useful enough that people want to hang them on their wall, so discreetly branding your work of genius is a good idea.
Another image you can use as an engagement device is a map. You can use this on your web site to give directions to your locations with Google Maps. The bonus here is that such maps show up in local search engines.
If you're blogging, screenshots are useful to help illustrate or demonstrate an example of what you're talking about. I use MWSnap3 to do my screen captures, which you can download free.
Using screenshots and photos also help break up lots of text, and can add humor, poignancy and other emotional content to your writing.
Here's a good tutorial on where to get photos to use…
Once you've got the ones you want, you can then re-size them to the size you need by using digital photo editing software, and there are some great ones around. The one I prefer to use is Paint.net, which you can download free. (It may already be on your computer.)
Use Syndicated Content
Using syndicated content is a popular way for website owners to offer fresh, up-to-date information for their readers, and takes hardly any effort.
You simply find places that are prepared to let you to publish their reports, articles, reports, or tips, etc. In return for this content, you include the author's info at the end of the article when you publish it.
Find a few good sources, and this can help beef up your newsletter for a long time.
Here are some free ideas to get you started:
For a daily self-empowering message to help cancel old thought patterns emailed to you each day:
For brain teasers, “On This Day In History” events, wine content, top software downloads and a whole lot more:
For 75 different self-updating news channels, including sports, environmental, travel and family/parenting, career and employment, pets, world news, health, religion, and science:
For a personal daily horoscope:
For a quote of the day:
To catch up with the latest entertainment news:
A friendly word of caution with this! Make sure that when you're looking for free web content, you check out sites like yours first, to find what they offer.
Not only will this help you work out what sort of stuff will suit your particular site. You'll also be making sure that you don't add the same content everyone in your niche is using.
It makes sense that the more original your site content can be, the more attractive the site will be.
Take this to the next level, and you can also get dynamically updating content. You may have seen this on sites that have news, stock information, weather, and sports scores.
When your visitors know they get new and updated information from your site, they're much more likely to keep returning.
All you need is a bit of code placed on one of your pages. The good news is that you don't even have to worry about updating these. The author automatically updates the info for you periodically.
Syndicate Your Articles
This is like the reverse of syndicating other people's content! Instead, you write articles about your niche, product, or an aspect of business for lots of exposure on other people's sites.
These other sites can use your article on websites, newsletters and other places which help spread the word about your business through viral marketing.
Make sure you include your website and/or contact information in a resource box. You must only allow others to publish your material, as long as they keep the resource box intact. If they won't do this, don't go there.
People who are interested in what you've written about can click on the link you've provided in your resource box to find out more, or contact you.
If you'd like to create RSS feeds from your own content, take a look at FeedForAll.
This will enable you to:
- create RSS feeds and podcasts
- edit RSS feeds and podcasts
- manage and publish RSS feeds
- create itunes compatible podcasts
If you sell books on your website, having excerpts of these can be an excellent way to increase interactivity on your site. You don't need to go to huge expense to do this.
These days, you can take advantage of “print on demand” (POD) publishers. This means you publish what you need to without a huge overhead. A POD publisher enable you publish your books, and print only the amount ordered at one time.
Once you decide to sell a book, you simply provide an opportunity to view or download a full chapter of your book.
If you provide this as a download, you'll also be able to capture this prospect's email address. Knowing the sort of subject matter that they've signalled their interest in means that you'll be able to effectively target their interests in the future with your communications
By offering a free download, you're giving your prospects the opportunity to “try before they buy” – just as they would be able to do if they were in a bookstore. It's the online equivalent of having a good browse.
This can also work if you are selling DVDs or audio material. You simply use your best “sound bite” as your excerpt teaser.
Lulu.com is a popular site for self-publishing that's worth a look. You can publish and sell print-on-demand books and ebooks, online music and images, custom calendars and books.
Create A Viral Marketing Piece Of Content
This is all about “Give and you shall receive!” By giving something away, and including your advertisement and contact information (such as your email, or a link to your website), you can increase your level of “reach” in your market.
In return for downloading your free product, you ask your visitors to pass your free product along to their friends, clients, prospects, website visitors and others as a freebie.
It's a speedy and effective way to maximize your marketing efforts at no extra cost other than the time it takes to create them. If you can create these out of existing materials that you've already created, there's hardly any extra effort on your part.
If you create something powerful enough, you'll also get people referring others spontaneously – simply because it has such an effective message. Your viral marketing piece might take the shape of humour, human interest, candour, or a number of other things that appeal to the human psyche.
One different way of creating a following can be to have your own web comic, or cartoon. This can both entertain and inform people.
For example, the message behind this animated cartoon was created to send a serious message in a fun way and has circled the world many times over:
This is a good example of creative piece of content that not only enhanced site visitors' experience, but also became an effective piece of link bait as well.
The idea is to create a good piece of content, and send it out to your user database by email. If it's interesting enough, you'll find it will often be forwarded by those who enjoyed it. This can help attract new users who might otherwise not have found your site.
Let's look at some other ways you can make viral marketing work for you…
Give Away Software
If your affiliate site promotes software, see if it's possible to offer a trial or basic version as a free download on your site.
Make sure that this free software includes product links to your site, and your other contact details here as well. Encourage those downloading it to share their link to your wonderful freebie with those they know, and their own visitors.
Give Away An Ebook
Encourage your visitors to download a free ebook offering information of interest in your niche. Include within its pages links to your affiliate site, a short but effective bio on you and your company, and your contact details. An advertisement for your product or site can also be included.
Make sure also those who download it to share copies of this with friends or family, as well as their own website visitors. To really maximize your opportunity with this, have a re-brandable ebook as a download, and offer to share a sales percentage of the sales with those who distribute it.
If you join the Ebook Developers Association (free) you can get the comprehensive Ebook Software Guide – also free. This outlines all features and advantages in the top ebook software in a direct comparison one against the other.
Give Away Website Templates
If you've got the skills, or decide to hire someone inexpensively to do it for you – you could think about designing your own website templates. Make sure you include your own marketing information as part of the design, and give these away as free downloads or a package. You also want to make sure that you continue to encourage those who download their freebie to pass the info along to others.
So there are some things you can get your teeth into!
You can use all these sorts of engagement devices to enhance the content of your web site for your visitors, whether it's something likeable that will give your users a bit of a smile, or a poll that shares a number of users' points of view.
Pick any “low-hanging fruit” first, and then work your way up to those things that take a bit more time and effort to get under way.
Don't forget to test all the new bits on your site in all the popular browsers, such as Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Safari etc, before your newly enhanced site goes live. You want to make sure that it can be viewed properly in each of them. Make sure you do a test on everything to make sure that it's all working the way it needs to.
Livening up both the look and the feel of your site through targeting things that will enhance your visitor experience can have big payoffs for you down the track.
If you have any favorite ways to create a more engaging site for your visitors, let us know – we'd love to hear them!
Look out next week for Part 3 of this series: “How To Use Online Video To Create A More Interactive Site.”