Helping Creative People Create

How My Loss of 210,678 Potential Subscribers Is Your Gain

losing potential subscribers

Bob Dylan: “LifeDev, it is a faaaiiiling.”

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” ~ Will Rogers

A few months ago, I made an unsettling discovery. (And by “unsettling” I mean nearly needing a fresh pair of trousers.) My previous site design on LifeDev was incompatible with Internet Explorer 6 and 7.

Big deal, right? I mean, I had assumed that most anyone who knew anything about the Internet was using Firefox, Chrome, or Safari. Sure, there were probably a few people who visited LifeDev that used IE, but the rest were like me, right?

Wrong.

I started digging in to the data, and I realized that for the four years the previous theme was on this site, I had turned away 210,678 unique visitors.

It was at this point that I started dry heaving. Over 210,000 people visited my site, never to return again.

ie6 and ie7 were incompatible on LifeDev for 4 years!

Most web visitors are fickle, staying only a few seconds on a page before bouncing to the next one. You can bet that hardly any of those 210,000+ visitors stayed longer than a nanosecond before flitting off to the next site.

But the much deeper issue is that I wasn’t tuned in to where my people were coming from. I wasn’t smart enough to think about who my visitors were.

You gotta know who your people are, and how they find you

This is what spurned me to create the new theme that you’re seeing today. And yes… you better believe it’s compatible with IE 7. (IE 6 usage has dwindled considerably since 2007, so I tell the handful of remaining IE 6 users to upgrade or switch to Firefox. I guarantee most of the Web is lookin’ wonky for nearly all sites in IE 6.)

It works like this: the people that come to your site are supporting you. When they click on a link to your site, it’s like they’re giving you a ridiculously quick test drive. They arrive at your site, they scan the page, noticing how the colors line up and how everything feels. They’ll know instantly if something doesn’t work.

Don’t make it hard for them! Don’t show them the door before they even get a chance to read what you’re all about. (I curl up in the fetal position and start sucking my thumb every time I think about what how many of those 210,000+ people might have subscribed to the site.)

Sigh.

So how do you learn from my mistake and kick massive amounts of visitors to the curb?

1. Check Your Site

Obviously, you should make sure that your site’s theme is compatible with almost all browsers. (Nearly all stat programs like Google Analytics should tell you what browsers your audience uses.) You can see how your site looks on a bajillion different browsers and operating systems with the handy (and free) Browsershots.

2. Know Your Visitors

Knowing your audience is absolutely pivotal. Things like

Etc., etc., etc. Without this data, you’re just shooting blindly in the dark. You don’t know what your visitors need until you know who they are.

Another way to help visitors is to know where they come from. When we can figure out how people come to our sites, we have a pretty good idea of what the visitor will want to do. For example, visitors who come from Google and other search engines are much more likely to click on ads than other visitors. Visitors from social sites like Twitter are the exact opposite, and most likely won’t click on ads.

You can learn all sorts of stuff and improve your site just by the knowledge of where your visitors come from. The goal of my latest venture centers just around that: to help others improve site interaction (sales, newsletter subscriptions, commenting, etc.) with the knowledge of where a visitor has been.

Knowing your audience is a very powerful thing. It allows you to resonate with the biggest chunk of your people, just by knowing who makes up most of the visits to your site.

3. Don’t Assume People Will Tell You When Something’s Wrong

What’s most unsettling about all the people that came to my broken site is only one of of them told me something was broken. That’s a whopping 0.00000476% of the visitors. The saying “no news is good news” does NOT apply to a website.

Odds are nobody is going to complain when something is wrong, they’re just going to leave. People are busy, and taking the time to a) find your contact information and b) send you a message is mostly out of the question. This means that you’ll need to….

4. Ask the Right Questions

You’re going to have to ask your readers if there’s anything you can improve. Your regular readers might not even tell you if something is wrong, in an attempt to not hurt your feelings. You’ve got to really probe and ask if anything could be improved.

This could be done with a simple survey, or just a quick post to ask your readers if there’s anything that you could improve on. Site design, types of articles, delivery methods, etc. This information is gold if used correctly.

(I haven’t done this recently for LifeDev as I didn’t want the new design to dominate the discussion. But I’ll be sending out a quick survey very soon.)

Conclusion

So there you go. Learn all you can about your visitors, and ask them if anything is wrong. It sounds simple, but the results can be amazing. Just don’t blindly believe that everything is great because you haven’t heard any complaints.

Photo by kellan

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  • http://chrisguillebeau.com Chris Guillebeau

    Nice job, dude. The new LifeDev looks GREAT — and this is a great lesson as well.

    • http://lifedev.net glen

      Thanks so much Chris! I’ll be honest: a ton of inspiration for the new layout was from the AoNC site. I can’t get enough of @reese and her designs for the Guillebeau empire :)

  • http://www.peopleskillsdecoded.com Eduard @ People Skills Decoded

    Ha! I had the exact same problem with a blog theme but it only lasted a couple of weeks. Fortunately for me, a more ‘primitive’ friend of mine who was using IE told me we can’t see the posts on my blog, so I discovered about the theme problem. Oh well: we live, we learn…

    • http://lifedev.net glen

      Heh, it can happen to anyone, my friend.

      Yeah, I’m trying to really not dwell on the past and get over the fact that I do some seriously bonehead things ;)

  • eva

    So, what do you think of bloggers who do not allow full RSS feeds? Myself, and probably many other readers here, subscribe to LifeDev through our feed reader of choice in order to simplify our web experience. There are some visitors who will not continue to read without a full RSS feed (myself included, hi! I like the blog but haven’t even seen the new theme), but some bloggers won’t allow feeds because it cuts down on advertising revenue.

    What’s your take?

    • http://lifedev.net glen

      Hey Eva,

      Well, my opinion is that me losing you as a subscriber is much more costly than the extra pageviews that partial feeds can generate.

      Just my take though ;)

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog!

  • Jean Azzopardi

    It’s your site, you should be responsible for checking out how it looks in Explorer 6 and 7, not depend on your readers to alert you to it.

    That said, I do like the theme.

    • http://lifedev.net glen

      Heh, I wasn’t trying to imply that it was their responsibility. I was just showing that if someone can’t view a site because it’s broken, many won’t go to the trouble to contact the owner.

      I fully take the responsibility for not testing my own site though. That was pretty boneheaded ;)

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  • http://www.mybeautifulcocoon.blogspot.com Tasha

    …very helpful post!!! Thanks.

  • http://happinesshunters.com Petteri

    Thanks for the useful case-study example.

    I’m still in the beginning phase but what would be more beneficial than to learn from others’ mistakes. Great site by the way. I’ll cover one of the 120678 subscribers by subscribing.

    • http://lifedev.net glen

      @Petteri: Whoo! Thanks Petteri! :)