What’s the point of spending all the time and energy driving traffic to your content if no one sticks around to subscribe, buy, learn, engage, comment, irritate, or just quietly judge. The bounce rate is your enemy (bounce rate it the number of visitors that bounce back straight away instead of visiting more pages on your site). The importance of making your content usable and as sticky as possible is a topic often overlooked in the desperate traffic race. If we devote even a fifth of the time we spend on marketing to make sure our site is engaging and interesting, we would get a much better return on our investment in the long run.
Internet is a user-driven medium where users feel that they have to move on and click on things. Users are engaged and want to go places and get things done. People want to feel that they are active when they are on the web. Modern life is hectic and people simply don’t have time to work too hard for their information. It is so easy to find new sites on Google which means that users spend less time visiting individual websites. To avoid this and to increase the time visitors spend on your site, you must create a better content experience. You must make your users stick to your site. Knowing how to present your content in a compelling and easy to digest way is a valuable skill. Following are the simple yet powerful guidelines and tips on how you can create an immersive content experience, make your communication more effective, drastically increase the stickiness of your site and lower the bounce rate.
Make your headline irresistible
Let’s start with the first thing first. You have to get someone to click on your link and visit your site in the first place. Your first touch point with a potential visitor is normally your article headline. This can be in search engine result pages, in emails or in social media news feeds. It is puzzling that more content creators don’t have this in mind when creating posts. Most of them think of the headline last and publish whatever comes to their mind first.
Don’t be like that. Spend time thinking of an appropriate headline for your article. Your headline determines if people will click on the post and check out the full post. A good rule I have is to try and create more than one headline for each article to force myself to think more and be more creative. Spend some time thinking of ideas and exploring different options before deciding on the final headline. Here are some more of my rules and formulas for headline writing to help you out. My favorite types of headlines are those that:
- Have numbers or top lists in them
- Are personalized with words like “You” or “Your”
- Directly address the need of the audience and problem they are solving
If your headline works and a person clicks on your link and enters your site the first 10 seconds are critical. Visitors are very skeptical as they have suffered a lot of bad content and poorly designed sites. Many bounce right away, most leave within few seconds. The probability of leaving is very high and the decision to stay or leave will be made in the first few seconds. In order to get the visitor to stay you need to establish credibility, start building trust and hook the visitor to your content.
Back button is your enemy – establish credibility, trust and hook the visitor
Each site has to compete with millions of other websites for the user’s attention. Users don’t know whether particular site is the one they need or whether some other page would be better so they are not willing to commit the investment of reading the page in the hope that it will be good. Instead of spending a lot of time on a single page, users move between many pages and try to pick the most tasty segments of each.
Establishing credibility and building trust are very important when the visitor hits your site. The browser back button is your enemy and you have to keep your first time visitors from clicking it. Your website must be trustworthy and it should be clear who is behind the post. Many web designs look pretty amateur, they are full of pop-ups, banner ads and other irritating distractions. By being professional you can put yourself ahead of the rest and start building trust with your first time visitors.
To make your site credible make it look, feel and sound professional. Have a great looking design, high-quality pictures inside the articles and a clear and descriptive navigation menu. Make sure your content reads well, has no typos and spelling mistakes. To establish your own authority within the field you should include your personal information, your image plus links and other examples of your skills and experience. Introduce yourself right off the bat with a welcoming message and smile. Whether you put this in the sidebar or in the navigation, does not matter, so long as you can ingrain your personality into the page from the moment they arrive. Your site is unique, but only because of YOU, so make sure your prospective subscribers see this as soon as possible.
Make your visitor feel at home. Call me old fashioned, but I like my navigation bar at the top with links to contact, about, services, etc. and I like the sidebar to contain the latest posts and archives, at the very least. You can do whatever you like AROUND these factors but just make sure you include them. People like familiarity.
Use social proof. You wouldn’t think to associate average site time with social proof but now that you’re thinking about it it makes perfect sense doesn’t it. If visitors see that your site is popular, frequented a lot, and/or is current and active then there is a greater chance they will stick around. If your current posts is crap then instead of leaving they will think, if all these people are here then there must be other good stuff around, so I’ll stay. Social proof in this instance is not restricted to the feed and Twitter follower numbers either, a lot of comments/ RT’s and general sharing works too.
Encourage users to return. Publish regular content, provide opportunity to subscribe, be active in social media. A key to making your content work for you is making sure your readers come back. At the end of each post ask for your readers to comment with their thoughts on your post, engage with them. Just do something that will make them feel involved with your writing.
You need to hook the visitor to make your content hold their attention for much longer after those first few seconds. Sites that are successful in making visitors linger for far longer have a clear value proposition. They tell visitors what is in store for them. So how do you communicate a value proposition? Start your content with a hook or with a conclusion in order to make him or her excited to explore the content deeper. Tell them what they are missing out on, what your content will help them with, surprise them and leave them with questions rather than answers. This helps get them hooked to explore more. Here is a list of effective hooks you can use in your content.
Rules for online content styling
Majority of people rarely read posts word by word. They scan and pick out individual words and sentences. They don’t like scrolling down the page either and rarely reach the end of the article (are you still with me?). Eye tracking studies have shown that only 20% of the time spent on site and 20% of total clicks happen below the page break. Some studies say that the longer the article is, the less time the visitor spends on it. You have to keep this attention deficit disorder in mind when creating your content. To help work with it you should employ scannable content using these styling rules:
- Use paragraphs. Readers are reluctant to tackle large blocks of text. Break blocks of text into paragraphs but do not write single sentences as a paragraph as too many short paragraphs in succession is distracting.
- An idea per paragraph. Concentrate on one point per paragraph. Readers skip over additional ideas in a paragraph if they are not attracted by the first few words.
- Use subheadings. Split your paragraphs with descriptive subheadings.
- Use highlighting. Highlight important parts and keywords with typeface variations and color to make them more eye-catching.
- Make lists. Format parts of your content into bulleted or numbered lists to make it easier to scan.
- Make it easy to find even more good stuff. Clicking links remains the most-used feature on a site. Including internal links within your posts helps get people stay longer and introduces them to your content archive. Link to your other posts within your new content, and link to relevant articles on your site, link to most recent articles, and to most popular articles from every post. Don’t be afraid to link away from your site as well. If you can link your readers to new useful information each time they read your content, they will return to find out where the best information is.
- Add multimedia. Integrate images, videos and other multimedia elements into your content.
- Use definite, specific and concrete language. Post writing has to be very clear, focused and tight to arouse and hold the attention of the readers.
- Revise, rewrite and learn to edit yourself. Omit needless words to make your writing concise. This is one of the main pieces of advice from the Elements Of Style. Simple is much harder than complex so do practice perfecting this.
- Add contextual callouts. Place specific and relevant links to key places of interest at the end of the post to offer a deeper or follow-up information on the topic.
- Start with the conclusion. Make the reader excited to read the whole post.
- Use images. Traditionally most articles online have been based on text only. Get away from the text only thinking. Aim to have visually appealing elements towards the top of your articles. Images catch the eye better than text in most situations and tell some stories more quickly. They get your visitor more involved and play a big part in holding the attention of your visitor for longer.
Now that you know these rules monitor your content performance and the bounce rate through your analytics to detect the dead end articles. There are bound to be certain articles that have high bounce rate. Use the advice above to make those articles more sticky.
Take a look at this video that I created to show you how I style and edit a post for a better user experience:
This is how your post may look like in the post editing section of WordPress after getting the scannable treatment:
The revival of long form writing online
Even though visitors don’t like reading much and scrolling too much, it is still possible to catch their attention by creating a different type of a post instead of the traditional text based content. The last few months has seen this trend change and have seen the revival of long form writing online. New trend in web content development is longer form articles that have 1,000+ words and that also contain multiple formats such as videos, charts and infographics alongside the text based content. Long form content journalism and in-depth storytelling online are making a comeback. While most articles are still short and quick to read, more and more sites are publishing long-form features of 2,000+ words, which include photos and videos and need a lot of time invested from the reader to go through it. These posts are very good at contextualizing a larger topic and cover it in depth. Some of the great examples of the long form, multiple format posts are:
- Michael Jordan has not left the building
- Snow Fall: The avalanche at Tunnel Creek
- Sean Parker: Agent of disruption
There seems to be a growing appetite from the web audience for these kind of features as proved by the popularity and social media spread of these. A recent statistical study on what makes online content go viral has found that long form articles are shared far more often than shorter articles. Word count of a post seems very closely related to the number of shares. Just look at the success of http://longreads.com/, http://longform.org/, and social media hashtags like #longreads and #longform.
One of the reasons for the success of long form articles is that they mostly are timeless pieces. They take a long time to research and write, so they are on topics that are less time sensitive. This makes the life time of an article much longer than your standard news piece making it particularly valuable in social media where it gets shorts a long time after it is published and also in search results where it continues ranking for a long time.
The revival of long form content doesn’t mean that short form content is dead and you should stop producing it. All this means is that bloggers have the choice to adapt and get more into this long form article trend. Long form articles are more immersive and allow you to cover your topic fully and in more details, while writing for the web style you most often only skim the surface of a topic. So do not be afraid to break one or more of those writing for the web rules from time to time. Going against the grain of online writing could differentiate your content from your competitors, it might give you the unique selling point and attract a following.
Do experiment with writing some more lengthier content, for example a 1,000+ word article if your articles never go over 500 words. Experiment with having several multimedia elements in the same post… give it some time, test and analyse the results, refine your content strategy for future posts and do it all over again. Blogging is all about experimentation. Doing the same stuff as you’ve always done will make you stand still eventually and your site will stop growing, so be open to new ideas and trends and just go for it.
Meat on the bone
I hope this post gives you a better idea of the importance of creating a more immersive content experience for your visitors. Keep this in mind when creating your next post and do work on presenting yourself and your content in a more attractive way in order to get more engaging visitors. Your content can be of the best quality but without an appealing presentation it will not do well. On the other hand you cannot just think of immersive content presentation only. You also need to make sure to add some substance to your content. Be an authority in your field by creating original, valuable, helpful and useful content to the members of your community. Teach people, inspire people and make their lives better. Be a resource. When put together with valuable content, immersive content presentation can make a powerful impact and will help skyrocket your site.