Digital Library > Defining and Serving a Market > Customer service"Stuck on You"

A 'sticky' Web site keeps customers clamoring for more.

Tacky is good — at least when it comes to Web sites. After all, if your Internet presence is "sticky," customers will return time and again.

It makes no difference how beautiful your site is or how many high-tech components it boasts if you can't get customers to click on the home page. And once is not enough. The secret to business growth and continued success lies in repeat customers.

The Web is the 21st-century storefront; however, too many companies clutter their Web sites with fancy graphics and clever navigational strategies in an attempt to dazzle visitors. It doesn't work. Pay attention to design elements and customers' needs.

The sticky relationship

This high-tech term has a low-tech definition: A sticky Web site is one that attracts visitors, commands their attention, compels them to spend more time on your site and entices them to return — it keeps them glued to the page.

If you sell banner advertisements on the site or move products that people don't need to see before buying, such as books or compact discs, the number of hits per day can be an important metric reflecting potential buyers.

But there are intangible nuances associated with stickiness that aren't so easily measured. A sticky relationship is a long-lasting connection with your visitors: a connection that leaves people with a positive impression of your company and brings them back the next time they shop for the products or services you offer.

For example, consumers aren't likely to visit your auto-sales site every day. Your objective isn't daily traffic from the same people; you just want them to head straight to your site whenever they are shopping for a vehicle. Though months or years may lapse between visits, the site is still considered sticky if people return when they have a need.

Terry Murphy, marketing director of Fios Inc., doesn't track daily hits to his company's Web site. The number of visitors to the site or the minutes they spend online don't concern him. But Murphy does care about the content folks find when they log on to the Fios site, and he relies on that to build a long-term connection with his target market.

Headquartered in Portland, Ore., Fios is a $10-million company that provides digital-discovery and risk-assessment services to law firms. To reach that market, the company posts Web content that's designed to aid attorneys, such as industry news articles, white papers and other free, industry-related materials. Site visitors can print that information and log off in seconds. In return, Fios hopes to develop credibility within its client base, as well as sticky relationships.

Murphy doesn't need statistical information to tell if the approach is working. His results come directly from the clients who have hired Fios after visiting the site. Many have commented on the quality of content and the ease of use. Murphy says those are the elements clients most want in a Web page.

So before you invest in a Web-site upgrade, consider what you want the site to accomplish and the best methods to achieve those objectives. If you only want to move products, then make it easy to get in, find items, pay and exit the site; a lot of online information only distracts shoppers.

10 tips toward stickiness

Sites that flash pornographic pictures and give away money tend to attract the greatest numbers of visitors. Search-engine home pages also draw a large percentage. But you don't have to create X-rated content or host cash promotions to get people clicking onto your Web site. Use these 10 tips to attract consumers to your company's home page:

  1. Make it easy to use. Simplicity is key. You might be dazzled by elaborate graphics or clever animation, but your clients aren't. Complicated graphics take minutes to download, which slows down the clients' quest for information. Also check out the navigation. If a visitor has to click multiple times to get to the page they are looking for, the process becomes cumbersome. The same is true if it takes time for people to find what they are looking for. Make the site clear, point them in the right direction and get them there fast.
  2. Provide great content. To woo repeat visitors, offer information that answers questions, solves a problem, satisfies a need or keeps them entertained. Break up articles with bullets or subheads for faster reading. Also offer print options, so visitors can print information and read it offline later.
  3. Be personable. Talk to real people. Whether you are targeting other business owners or consumers, don't get caught up in technical jargon or industry hype. Be direct, clear and honest. Most Web sites are lacking a human connection; those that provide it will keep people coming back.
  4. Personalize the site. Decades ago, you could sip a sarsaparilla and visit with the waitress at the drug-store counter while picking up your prescriptions. The world has changed dramatically, but people's need to connect with each other has not. The stickiest sites offer visitors a sense of community and personalized service. Give visitors a chance to personalize your site with important dates or reminders. Greet them by name when they log on, and mention special services or deals that may appeal to them. Repeated, friendly contact builds familiarity and long-term customers.
  5. Update material and information. To ensure that your content is relevant and fresh, change it frequently. Murphy works on the Fios page daily, and he updates the entire site about every nine months. Clients notice new headlines and graphics. They'll scout out new information, and the updates foster a dynamic relationship between the company and the user.
  6. Get people involved. When customers are allowed to express opinions, they're likely to check back to see what others thought. For example, Amazon.com customers have a chance to review books they've read, and other visitors can critique the views of those critics. Amazon also offers customers an opportunity to sell their used copies online. As participation increases, so does stickiness.
  7. Be an authority. People notice endorsements, read testimonials and tend to trust the views of authority figures. Let your site serve as the authority for your industry by including informative and interesting content. Expert advice goes a long way toward establishing trust and credibility. And don't be afraid to name-drop. If a heavyweight boxer can sell millions of cooking grills, other well-known figures who use your products or services can benefit your company too.
  8. Give a helping hand. Use search engines and simple site navigation to help people find what they are looking for. Make customer service information, phone numbers, addresses and other contact information easy to locate. If visitors get frustrated looking for a number to call, they're likely to give up. If you're selling a commodity, offer price comparisons of competing products to encourage people to stay on your site. Look for innovative ways to create a dialogue with your clients and meet their needs. Ask them what they want and respond to it.
  9. Offer freebies. Prizes, coupons and products are powerful psychological tools when it comes to influencing consumer behavior, and they can help draw a crowd on the Web. But look beyond the usual gimmicks and get creative. Perhaps you can provide free access to special pages, back issues, deals or consumer information when a client registers as a user of your site. Limited access piques visitor curiosity and provides a stronger site connection.
  10. Get rid of fluff. No one wants to read grandiose words or descriptions that, in reality, say nothing important. Keep the site easy to read and personable.

The qualities of an engaging person are similar to those of a sticky Web site: The site must be original, intelligent, helpful, friendly and an accurate reflection your company. Each page is a personification of your business. If customers have a good experience, your site will leave a lasting impression and create an enduring relationship that will boost your business.

Writer: Polly Campbell

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