Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stickiness: Your Website Needs It

By Ben Delaney © 2007

How to get people to stay for a while when they visit your website

Let’s assume that you have optimized your website so all the search engines find it, and you’ve started a pay-per-click ad campaign to help bring more visitors to your site. Now, the question is, how do we direct people to what they are looking for, and what we think they will find useful. We are asking for more of our visitor’s time, and getting people to give up that most precious commodity is not easy. In the web-management business, the trait of people staying a while is called “stickiness.” Your website needs to be sticky.

Log files: the marketer’s friend

Almost all web hosting services provide detailed logs of events related to your website. Log files tell you how many visitors have come to your site, which pages they have looked at, what browser they use, and much more. Data may be organized by time, requestor, directory, file type, or any number of other parameters. Some of this data are more important that others. Here is a list of items, along with brief descriptions of them, that you may find in your web server log:
  • Browser used: Did your visitor use Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Mozilla, or some other browser?
  • Entry page: The page in your website that your visitor saw first.
  • Exit Page: The page from which the visitor left your site.
  • Failures: The files that were requested that could not be served. (These are “404” errors.)
  • Hit count: The raw number of files served over some period of time.
  • Number of pages viewed: the number of .html or other viewable files presented.
  • File type analysis: A listing of files types and the number of times they were served. Types include: .html (web pages), .gif, .png and .jpg (images), .cgi (forms), .pdf (Acrobat), .mov (QuickTime movie), and several other types, depending on the types of files you offer.
  • File requests: This is a list of each file served to visitors. This is a key item – showing you exactly what people are seeing when they visit your site.
  • Hit count: The raw number of files served over some period of time.
  • Referrers list: The previous site you visitor viewed.
  • Source IP: The IP address of the visitor’s computer. Often this is incomplete, to preserve your visitors’ privacy.
  • Time on site: How long the visitor stayed on your site.
  • Visitor count: The number of individual visitors to your site.
The most important of these statistics, in my opinion, are file requests, visitor count, entry and exit pages, and referrer. Analysis of these data can tell you what the typical visit to your site looks like – which pages are looked at, what files are downloaded, and how long the visit lasted. These stats make it possible to tell if the things you think are important are those that your visitors look at. These stats can also tell you if a press release increased visits to your site, and by how much. These are the minimal, bottom line numbers you need to determine if your website, and particular sections and pages in it, are doing the job you expect. The other data in your web logs gives your further insight, and can be very useful as you analyze your website performance over time.

Analysis of your web logs tells you how sticky your site is – that is, how long visitors stay and how many pages they look at. That obviously raises the next question: How do we make our site stickier?

I believe that there are two key to website stickiness: good content and good navigation.

Good content is pretty obvious. Interesting articles, enticing headlines, offer of contests or games, intriguing possibilities – these are the types of content that make people want to read more. If your website bores you, it will bore others. Make it interesting, and be sure that it is relevant and unique.

A good technique to keep your website interesting is to have frequently changing content, especially on the home page. This can be as simple as a slide show, perhaps pictures of volunteers on a project, or your staff at work. Also good is a up-to-date list of news items, a calendar of events, and ad-like sections that promote your programs. What you use will depend on your organization, but changing content encourages people to check your site frequently, and increases the chance that they will find something interesting and stay awhile.

Another good way to keep people on your site is to include user involvement techniques, collectively known as Web 2.0. there is a lot of hot air being blown about on Web 2.0, but essentially it means that there are interactive features that encourage visitor participation. Such features include:

  • Blogs: A blog is simply an area where people can freely discuss whatever is on their minds. I strongly recommend that this be moderated to avoid liable profanity, and spam. I strongly DO NOT recommend censorship of any comments simply because you disagree with them, or they conflict with what your organization thinks about an item. Free speech keeps blogs going, and people will quickly stop bothering to comment if you censor their remarks. Possibly worse – they make a big deal of your redactation, and spread nasty remarks and rumors elsewhere on the web.
  • Video uploads and sharing: This is a simple feature that encourages your visitors to get heavily involved in your organization. Again, be sure to look at uploaded content before it goes live to avoid embarrassment.
  • Podcasts: these are audio files that are easy to download for offline listening on an iPod or similar device. Same rules apply – be careful about what you allow to go live, but encourage free commentary.
  • Photo sharing: This can be a great way to have people document your event, and otherwise share good times.
Also important is good website design. I always recommend that you work with a good web designer, either on staff or on contract. Web designers know the ins and outs of making things look good on computer screens, which is a somewhat different science that print design. Here are a few key design factors to keep in mind:
  • Use a different font for headlines and text and make them big enough to read easily.
  • Keep your site design narrow enough to fit on a standard screen and moderate resolution. Not everyone is using the hottest new screens, so design for the lowest common denominator.
  • And finally, be sure to test your design on Macs and PCs and in Internet Explorer, Safari, Mozilla, and Opera – the most used browsers.
Good navigation enables your visitor to find and go to the information she is looking for as easily as possible. Here again, a good web designer can make a great contribution by providing navigation that is easy to use, works well, and looks good. While there is no simple manual for good navigation, there are a few rules of thumb:
  • Build your main navigation so that visitors can see where they are going. Drop-down menus or similar tricks make if possible to see what each section of your website contains before going there. This makes navigation through your site much quicker and easier, and helps to keep your visitors from getting frustrated and leaving.
  • Keep your site shallow and broad. If you diagram your site like an org chart, you want to see many second level (below the home page) choices, and you don’t want to go beyond three or four levels deep. Keeping the site shallow means it takes fewer clicks to get to information, and that makes for a more satisfying experience for the visitor.
  • Have a feedback mechanism that shows when a button is pushed. You can change the button color, or use sound, for example.
  • Make your navigation big enough for boomers to read.
  • Have a search box. Often your visitors will not know exactly where to find what they want. A good search function helps them get what they’re looking for with minimal effort.
  • Have an easy to find site map. And be sure your site map is detailed enough to be truly useful.
Once your site has good content and good navigation, and you have optimized it for search engines, it’s stickiness should increase. And the longer each visitor stays, the more opportunity you have to tell your story, and solicit donations. So go to it. Get sticky!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making Search Engines Work For You

The ABC's of SEM

By Ben Delaney © 2007

We all use search engines to find stuff on the world wide web. Search for restaurants, search for clothes, search for old boyfriends, search for a place to get parts for that 1957 Lionel steam locomotive. You can search for recipes, songs, even nonprofits that deserve your support.

According to Search Engine Watch, (

In March of 2006, there were more than 200 million searches done every day. Undoubtedly, these numbers have been greatly exceeded by now.

Per Day (Millions)
Per Month (Millions)

As nonprofit marketers, questions we need to ask include: how do we get good ranking in search engines, and how do we ensure that our site shows up when someone searches for a related topic?

We talked about search engine optimization (SEO) in the last chapter. SEO techniques ensure that our site is properly seen and indexed by the search engine programs that wander around the web and look for changes. (These programs are called crawlers or spiders.) SEO helps us ensure that our site shows up in searches where our stakeholders are likely to find it. The next step is to find ways that we can use the search engines as marketing tools, to improve event attendance, increase donations, add new members, get more attention, or sell products.

In addition to SEO, there are two legitimate ways to be included in search engine results: Paid Inclusion and Paid Advertising, also known as Pay Per Click (PPC).

Paid Inclusion

Paid inclusion is simple. It means you pay the search engine to accelerate its indexing of your website. Currently, Yahoo is the major engine offering this service, charging $299 a year for a business listing. But get this: Yahoo doesn't guarantee anything and keeps the deposit regardless. Here's the verbiage from their FAQ on the subject (
"Payment is for expedited review only and does not guarantee inclusion in the directory, site placement, or site commentary. It only guarantees that Yahoo! will respond to your suggestion within seven business days, by either adding or denying the site."

In addition to Yahoo's paid inclusion system, there are many internet entrepreneurs offering a variety of submission services, with varying promises and prices ranging from nothing to several hundred, or even thousands, of dollars. As I mentioned in the SEO chapter, I use these services sparingly, and refuse to pay large amounts for their sometimes dubious services.

Another way to get on to search engine result pages is banner advertising. I'm going to talk about advertising in general later, but keep in mind that paying for an ad on a results page can give you very high page rank, at a price. Only a few general engines accept banner ads, but many special interest sites are happy to have them.

Paid Advertising (PPC)

Paid, or Pay Per Click, advertising is chosen to appear on a page because it is relevant to the search being conducted. For example, If I search for "hunting boots" I may see ads for a hunting lodge, a shoe store, an outdoor supply company, a boot manufacturer, and a rifle. You get the picture. The ads are often sold in a type of auction. I'm most familiar with Google's AdSense program, so that's what I'll use for examples.

A major concern in search engine advertising is where on the page your message appears. Page ranking refers to how high on the page your message or website appears. Obviously, being listed first on a search result is best. Being the first ad on the page is also good. Keep in mind that you want your message to appear on the screen of the searcher, no matter what screen resolution (which controls how much information is displayed at once). I call this "above the fold," a phrase which was stolen from the newspaper industry. What's above the fold on your newspaper's front page is what you see first - that's where the lead stories are. You always want your message above the fold. You can't buy placement in the search results on the major engines, so instead, you buy advertising.

When you buy ads to run on Google, after establishing an account and a budget, you create an ad or a series of ads. These are text ads of three short lines. It doesn't cost any more to run many ads, so this is an excellent place to test messages and offers (remembering the ideas from the testing chapter). Ads can be grouped into campaigns, and turned on and off. There are too many options to cover here, but the system is very flexible. For each ad you offer a bid, the most money you will pay each time someone clicks on this ad, and thereby visits your website. Bids start as low as a nickel per click.

If your competitor bids more than you did, his ad will run higher on the page. The key is bidding enough to stay above the fold.

Attached to each ad is a string of keywords. These are the triggers that are used to associate your ad with search results. These will come to match the keywords used on your website. I find that by using Google's keyword optimization tools, and testing many different ads and keyword combinations, I can develop a set of keywords that I use on both the website and in PPC advertising.

What I really like about PPC advertising is that it is almost as testable as direct response. All of the major players provide extensive reporting capabilities, so that you can tell who responded to each ad variation, when, and at what cost, as well as many other variables. Because you pay only for ads that elicit a response, and because the report systems provide so much useful information, testing PPC ads is extremely effective. And, as a bonus, seeing which ads evoked the best response provides feedback to your entire organization, because it tells you what people were looking for when they found you. That is valuable information.

A few other ways to get into search engine results

The discussion above is about getting your name on the first page of a general search. And, really, that's the very best place to be. But search engines are multi-splendored beasts, and offer many other opportunities for you to get your name and your message in front of people.

I frequently use search engines to find out what people look like, to get directions and see a neighborhood, to find merchants and services, and to get the news. Many of your constituents do too. And each of those specialized searches offer you another opportunity to get your message out.

I don't want to take too much space here to talk about secondary SEM opportunities, because I think their appropriateness to your message will be obvious . Here are a few additional paths to search engine pages:
  • Blogs & Social Sites: Comments from or about you on these sites is often indexed.
  • Business description map placements: Many engines will put a description of your business on a map.
  • News: Press releases are almost always indexed when submitted through press ires services.
  • Pictures: The pictures on your site can be indexed, as can photo sharing sites.
  • Product catalogs: Many search engine companies also provide shopping information, including catalogs.
  • Secondary engines: Many professional organizations and common interest groups run specialized search engines. As a bonus, these are often free.
  • Video and Podcasts: Video and podcasts on your site can be indexed.

When your site is SEO'ed and SEM'ed, and you have people visiting it in droves, the next challenge demands your attention. The next chapter will talk about stickiness, the art and science of getting visitors to stay a while at your site.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Websites 101: Making Your Website Findable

By Ben Delaney © 2007

We all know that our website is important. But do we know how to make it really work for us?

I’ve got a website (two actually). You’ve got a website. Everybody ‘cept Granny has a website. But have you ever asked, why?

There are a lot of good reasons to have an organizational website. It has become a requirement of a serious business, replacing the once-ubiquitous yellow pages ad with a colorful, ever-changing multimedia extravaganza. That’s the website bottom line: We exist.

But there are many more reasons to have a website, and a good website can be a tremendous booster for your organizations. I’ll cover the basics quickly, then talk about a few advanced techniques that can really improve the ROI on your website. There are two main issues relating to a successful website: getting people to it, and keeping them there. In this article, I’m talking about how to get people to your website. In a later one, I’ll talk about keeping them there, what is called the “stickiness” of the site.

Like the front page of a newspaper, your website needs to include the Five W’s – or links to them. If you ever took a journalism class, you recall that the five W’s are:

  • Who: Who we are, “Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa”
  • What: What we do, “We assure the purity of rooster bloodlines by maintaining records. We also produce events that enable the rooster breeding community to meet, do business, and socialize.”
  • Why: The reason we exist, “Rooster breeders have long needed a voice, and a standards board.”
  • When: Not always appropriate, but this could mean, “Since 1841”, or “We protect rooster breeders 24 hours a day.” Your call.
  • Where: Where are you located and where do you work, “Contact us at this address, email, or phone number,” or, “We serve rooster breeders in the Tulsa River Valley area.”

Hitting each of the five W’s on your home page will enable visitors to know immediately where they are and why. Then they will need to know how to find the information they came for, using what is called the Site Navigation. Another key element, your site navigation includes:

  • The buttons and links that take visitors to various items and pages. These should be easy to read, and ideally should provide audio or visual feedback when used.
  • A menu that is obvious, and takes people where they want to go as quickly as possible. Don’t get too cute with the menu. Especially as the population of over-40’s increases, you need a menu that is easy to find and not challenging to use.
  • The site navigation is based on a logical and shallow hierarchy of information and pages, so that it is quickly apparent how to find things. Try to make your site organization shallow – more wide than deep. By that, I mean that you don’t want to build a site that forces a user to click after click after click after click to find what she wants. Many rich sites are only three or four clicks deep. To build a shallow site, make your second levels large and scalable. For example, you may have only two programs now, but your programs page could have room for ten.
  • Have a site search function. Google offers a free site search widget, as do several other companies. You can customize the look and limit search to your site, or the entire internet. Having a search function makes it really easy for visitors to find a name, date, place, or other bit of information that could take hours to find any other way. Having a search box is just being a good neighbor.
  • Finally, site navigations should always include a site map, detailed to at least the second level of your site. I believe that a site map should provide a primary navigation for visitors who want to go directly to a bit of information. A site map to the third level will cover a lot of pages, and enable quick navigation.

Back to “Why”

Once you build a website with all of the five W’s and good navigation, your basic internet version of the yellow pages ad, you may have looked at it and thought, “We still have infinite room. How do we fill it?” This is when the “Why?” question must be faced.

Ideally, you addressed “why” before you started. But it is better to have your internet shingle hung out than not to exist in cyberspace. Let’s talk about “why” now.

By “why”, I mean, what do you want your website to do for the organization? We have the basic function: we exist. Now you can use your website to fulfill a number of missions of different sorts. Here are a some of the most frequently seen:

  • Most organizations have a lot of information they are trying to get out to people – their sites have a library function.
  • We all have seen online shopping sites. Many organizations sell books and other merchandise using an online store.
  • Nonprofits typically rely on donations. Those organizations have a donation processing system.
  • If an organization produces events, or provides classes, it would benefit from an online registrations system.
  • And by the way, you’ll need a calendar of those events. Integration with common downloadable and online calendars is a nice calendar bonus.
  • People flock to nonprofits for the communities that form around them. Make it easy for your community to meet and talk by including Web 2.0 features like a video upload section, blogs, text message delivery, podcasts, and other items your community will find useful.
  • People have questions and suggestions. To give them quick answers, you provide a FAQ, a page of Frequently Asked Questions, and their answers. To help visitors find people, add a complete list of staff and provide email links and/or phone numbers. Also provide a contact/feedback form that makes it easy for visitors to get in touch with you.
  • Most importantly, most organizations have a program of activities in which visitor can participate. A detailed explanation of what your program comprises, including when and where it occurs, who it is best suited for, what it costs and why people should attend. (There’s those five W’s again.)

What should the home page of our website include? What should it look like? Those are among the most asked questions whenever I help people work on their websites. Everybody has an idea, everybody wants to put the most important programs front and center. What makes this a real conundrum is that there is seldom an easy answer to this question.

There are crowded websites, like Craig’s List and that have every inch covered with text or pictures. Those are portals: like an airport, once you enter the gate, you have many destination options. Other sites make more use of white space, and direct your eyes to a few, very important words or images. Google’s site is an extreme example of this.

There is no good rule for deciding how much goes on your home page except say what you need to say, and nothing more. The design should never detract from your message and should keep your community and constituencies in mind. If you work with a lot of over-40 people, keep the type size fairly large.

On being seen

So you’ve had a beautiful website built, everyone agrees that it is a work of art, and easy to use. Now, how do you get people to see it?

I have been surprised several times by people who launch their first website and then, a week alter, ask me why they are not getting many visitors. Well, it goes like this. When a website is first published, it can take several weeks for the search engines to find it. It can then take days more before the site is listed in search results. And unless you have a very prominent site, it will be way down in those results. So, the likelihood of a new site being found immediately by lots of people is very low.

But all is not lost. There are several techniques to improve search engine ranking (how near the top you are) and to use search engines to draw visitors to your site. The first is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and the second, Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Both are key to successful internet marketing. I’ll talk about SEO in this chapter, and address SEM in a later edition.

SEO is intended to make it easy for the search engines to find your site and recognize its content. There are several factors that can make or break your site in regard to search engines:
  • Don’t get too flashy. Flash is a technology that allows a great amount of freedom for web designers. It makes really nice, fancy transitions, like fading pictures with sound effects, and it display animations and video. But Flash has a big drawback. The content of a Flash animation cannot be read by search engines. Sites that rely heavily on Flash must go to extraordinary lengths to be indexed properly for search. If you use Flash go easy. And be sure to use the other tools I talk about here.
  • Use meta tags: Meta tags are information your web pages include that helps them be displayed properly and found and indexed for searching. There are three key meta tags every site should use. They are:
    • Title: The title appears on the top of the browser window when your pages are displayed. It should say something meaningful. “Welcome to our home page” is NOT meaningful. A good title will describe the page contents very briefly, and include your organization name. A good title might be, “Why Roosters Are Important – Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa,” or “Meet the Board of Directors -- Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa.”
    • Description: This meta tag contains just what it says, a brief description of your site. This will appear when people bookmark your website, and is used by search engines to help categorize your site. Take some time to write a good, short description, and then add it to every page of your site. If you like, each page can have a unique description.
    • Keywords: Keywords are the simple words and phrases that describe your site. Think of how you would search for your site on Google or Yahoo. Those words should be your keywords. While some search engines are moving away from a reliance on keywords, some still use them. I like to have a basic set of keywords that are used on every page, along with a group for each page that focuses on that page’s content.

  • Remember those five W’s. You recall the five W’s we talked about earlier. Be sure that each of them is on your home page. They don’t have to be large or prominent – you might have your contact information in a very small font at the bottom of the page. But search engines read your pages, and build their indices based on what they read. It is absolutely essential that you home page contain enough information that the search engine knows what it is reading, and what it means. And by the way, your visitors will find your site more easily, and when they get there, they will find it more useful.
  • Have a machine readable site map. A somewhat recent development, a machine-readable site map is an XML file placed in the root directory as your website. Now that sounds a bit technical, and it is. But your webmaster will understand how to build and where to put your XML site map. Search engines use these site maps to understand the structure and content of your website. They will help ensure that your site is cataloged correctly, and result in better search results. Use them.
  • Use a submission service: Submission services automate the process of telling search engines about your website. I like them when things have changed dramatically, and when I launch a new site. I also use them every year or so to help keep my listings fresh. I have never spent more than $50 for a submission service, and don’t recommend that you do either. These services send your site information to about a dozen search engines. So, while Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL have about 90% of the search market, a submission services will get you them, plus another 7-8%. It’s not worth a lot, but it is worth something.
  • Exchange links: Look for the sites of organizations that are similar, but not competitive with yours. See if they offer a resource page with external links. If they do, offer to trade links with them. You show theirs and they show yours. It makes your site look stronger to search engines when more external sites point to your pages. And it will help you and your sister organizations do better by providing a richer user experience.

That’s it for Search Engine Optimization. Using these techniques I have increased website traffic dramatically,. You can do the same. In a later chapter, I’ll talk about Search Engine Marketing, the flip side of adding value to your website, and website stickiness, the science of keeping people on your site longer.