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?
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.
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.)
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
- Visiting frequencies
- Bounce rates
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.)
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