People visit our sites for a reason. They have a need they wish to fill. After having searched Google, discovered your site on StumbleUpon, followed a link from a source they trust or typed in the link they saw on your business card, they've come to your site in the hopes that you can fill their needs. This is true whether you are peddling products, services or information. For example, your visitors may need to:
- Buy a glow-in-the-dark dog collar with built in GPS so they don't misplace Fido at night.
- Pick the right graduate school so they can research light-emitting polymers that will help them develop new green technologies.
- Decide which restaurant to visit next Tuesday.
- Find a skin cream that will soothe itchy winter skin.
- Choose a good book for their nephew's 3rd birthday present.
- Learn something new about Web marketing strategies.
If your site can serve that need, then you need to make this clear right away. As soon as they see your home page, or some interior page they've landed upon, they should know if you provide what they seek. If your site isn't meant for them, they can move on. If your site appears to offer what they seek, they will stay a bit longer to find out if your offering is the one most appropriate to their specific needs.
Give readers the tools they need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Now that your visitor has decided to explore your site, you need to give him or her the information needed to make a decision. Doing this is merely a matter of offering content that accurately conveys the features and benefits of your product or service. This will allow your readers to judge the quality of what you offer, and determine if that offer will serve their specific need.
How much information your reader requires depends on your offering. If a visitor is picking a graduate school, he or she will want to know about the faculty, the facilities, fellow students, courses offered etc. This is a big decision that requires making a well-informed choice. If your visitor has a hankering for Italian food, then your restaurant menu, location, hours and some photos (of both food and the restaurant) will probably suffice.
Imagine yourself in the role of your visitor. Let's say you're looking for information about Web marketing. If you are reading this sentence then you've already made a decision. You've decided to read this entry and you've stuck around past the first few paragraphs. If you'd been looking for information on developing Web sites with AJAX you'd have already left.
People talk about Web content in terms of stickiness—methods they can use to keep visitors on the site or encourage them to return in the future. But that's not an end goal. It's merely a tactic used in the hopes that long or repeated visits will encourage readers to buy, or otherwise consume, our stuff. If we provide content that let's visitors make an informed decision, then we've done our job. We've established trust and given them the tools they need to choose wisely. If they like our program, skin cream, menu, Web advice they'll buy/eat/read it now and come back for more later.
By giving visitors the information they seek, we serve both their goals and ours, while forging customer relationships that can last well into the future.