How to Grow a Highly Engaged Audience for your Website

It’s that time of year again - the time of year when most online marketers are heavily evaluating the success of their campaigns and strategies in 2012 and creating plans for 2013. Consequently there’s plenty of ways to slice and dice what happened on your site – What did your mobile visitors do? Did the new YouTube campaign bring in the anticipated ROI? Is our Twitter handle having an impact?

While I was looking for inspiration for my blog post and reviewing the analyses I had completed over the last few months, something big jumped out at me. For one of my clients return visitors spent an additional minute and a half on the site, bounced at a rate 17% lower than new and viewed twice as much content! It was at this point I realized that return visitors are the golden ticket to growing a highly engaged audience for your website – so how do you do it?

Evaluate the content your return visitors are viewing, and simply make more of it. Below are a few things that have worked for my clients this year:

  1. Contests - Everyone wants their 15 seconds of fame, including your visitors. Have a photo or video contest, and then have your visitors vote on what they like best. It will not only help to create a sense of community, but your visitors will also keep coming back to check on who’s winning.
  2. Tools – Among mobile visitors, tools that helped locate products, stores, or other types of useful information were highly popular. Think about ways to add value to your site by creating functionality that can be used quickly and on the go.
  3. Videos – Video campaigns can be really hit or miss, mostly because you really have to understand your customers. However, for the sites that nailed the content, visitors come back to watch videos and even check for new ones.
  4. Product Ratings -  Visitors were highly interested in learning about new products as they came out, especially from other customers. Consider giving your customers a chance to rate and review your products.
  5. Games – On all sites that had games, visitors were bookmarking them and returning to play them. With the proper calls to action, visitors were even expanding their visits and viewing other site pages.

Additionally a few surprising things that didn’t work:

  1. Blog posts – These can be really hit or miss, if you have a dedicated online community that’s great! Though my experience has been that someone has a question and your blog post has the answer, once he finds that answer your inquisitive friend leaves the site. This isn’t to say it’s not possible to grow return visitors through a blog, just that in my experience the most successful blog content lives on a site who’s only job is to be a blog, and not also sell products.
  2. Social Media – It’s possible that if you direct your social visitors to interesting content they’ll return on their own but by in large my experience has been they’ll view that single piece of content and bounce – quickly. However I think this is due more to the nature of social media visitors being content junkies, trying to quickly absorb large quantities of content.

Sidenote: the observations above are from my own experiences, by all means try and prove me wrong!

Now that we’ve looked at content which brings visitors back, there are two remaining points crucial to effectively converting new visitors into return visitors.

  1. Direct your visitors to great content. You may be directing paid search to your homepage, and that page may have a call to action to your new content, but what if they don’t find it? One client had a content slider on their homepage, and it had a 6% click-through rate to the content. To make it worse, 70% of their paid search visitors were directed to the homepage. Sadly, hardly anyone was finding it, and consequently, they were not converting into return visitors.
  2. Lean on your content to sell yourself. While it’s great to have something interesting on your site and build brand awareness, don’t forget how important it is for your visitors to view what you sell. I found several examples of sites where content had high return rates, and visitors wouldn’t go beyond that single piece of content to the rest of the site. Encourage your visitors to view your cool new content, but don’t forget to remind them of what you do

If you haven’t tried this before, I recommend creating new and return visitors segments and then analyzing your site content – most tools have them preconfigured. It’s possible that you will not see as big of a difference between these two segments as some of my clients did. However don’t despair, start thinking outside of the box for some new content ideas and then test them! Know that with the right types of content it is possible turn new visitors into return visitors and, ideally into a long term, highly engaged audience.

Now that I’ve shared a few things that worked for my clients, what worked for you in 2012?



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