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5 Steps to Keep Traffic on Your Website

Most articles about audience development and search engine optimization will offer advice on how to find, attract, or drive traffic to a website, but how many talk about how to hang onto that new traffic? Not many that I’ve found, and I’ve been looking.

So here are some things I’ve learned over the course of my career in web marketing. Yes, retaining new traffic means first finding and enticing it, but once you’ve got it, the metrics to watch are bounces, time on site and exit rates. These metrics are rough indicators about the quality of the site’s content and if the site satisfies the needs that motivated the new “traffic” to visit in the first place. Driving high volumes of new traffic to a site is good, but not useful unless that “traffic” can be converted into an “audience.” Every site is different so the task of turning anonymous traffic into a “known” audience means defining a primary goal up front. If the site is engaged in ecommerce, the primary goal is generally checked-out shopping carts. If the site supports a musician, the goal might be persuading an anonymous visitor to subscribe to an email fan newsletter. And so on and so forth -- the point is every site has a different model. A news site wants to maximize pages viewed per session to increase the number of ad impressions it sells, and to encourage readers to keep reading. A B2B marketing site supporting a SaaS subscription for large enterprises wants leads which means persuading anonymous traffic to part with a phone number or email address. I am going to use our Developer Center site here at Acquia as my example throughout this blog: dev.acquia.com. I recently did this exercise on that site, and I’m starting to do it on acquia.com now too.

Step 1. Define your primary goal
In order to measure retention, start with a clear goal, and set benchmarks to measure the achievement of that goal accordingly. Dev.acquia.com’s primary goal is to build trust, loyalty, and awareness with our developer audience. We do this by providing daily content for developers by developers on topics they care about. Developers are allergic to lead generation, so gating content such as our product documentation or other technical papers simply won’t work. Our goal is to educate them, explain how our platform works, and eventually persuade them to try our products using our free service, Acquia Cloud Free.

Step 2. Map out user paths
We have defined our primary goal as building awareness with developers, but what do we want them to do on our website once they arrive? There are two kinds of “paths” to a site’s goal: the one you want the traffic to follow and the one they actually take. The latter is kind of like the concept in architecture of “desire paths” and the legend of a new college that didn’t pave the paths across it’s the major courtyards until the second year after the students had worn their own dirt paths across the grass. A good path analysis will reveal the dead ends and navigational “box canyons” on a site, and will also help jump start a discussion about user personas (for another post and another time). A big focus for our developer site is the blog where most new content is published by Acquia’s own developers and engineering team, as well as contributed posts from our partners’ devs. If a user lands on our homepage they can navigate directly into a blog post from the menu option, or they can navigate to our “learn” section where they can filter by topic and then click into the appropriate blog post. By analyzing our web metrics we found that once our users got to our blog, either by navigating to it from the home page or landing directly on that page via a Google search, they bounced away because we didn’t provide them anywhere else to go. A developer would get to the bottom of our blog page and there they could either comment or leave. The obvious solution for us was to give them some additional reading options on related topics that they might be interested in.

Another path we defined was signing up for a webinar, since we host a lot of developer-specific live webinars that we would like our users to register for. When they land on the homepage they can click directly into the featured webinar, or navigate to our upcoming webinars listing page, and then click into a specific webinar. Once on that webinar’s page they can read the description and click on a sign-up button. That sign-up button then takes them to acquia.com and the registration form for that webinar. We originally forced this jump from the dev site to the “main” site because all our forms live there and we didn’t want to place forms on dev.acquia.com. Yet when defining these paths we discovered that wasn’t helpful to the user, it was alarming and a bad user experience to get pushed from one site to another involuntarily.

Step 3. Identify the gaps
Taking my two examples above -- setting a blog path and a webinar path -- let’s identify the gaps.

Blog:
What do we want them to do after they read a particular blog post?

  • Read another?
  • Leave a comment?
  • Sign up for the blog’s feed?
  • Subscribe to our developer newsletter?

blog on dev.acquia.com

We don’t want to leave our readers hanging, and we have plenty of great content on many different topics, yet we were leaving our readers hanging by not sharing that content in context with them while they were actively consuming our content. By answering the question: “What do we want our users to do after they read a blog?” we have identified a gap and we can plan ways to solve for this.

Webinar:

  • Will users come back to dev.acquia.com if we take them away to acquia.com?
  • Why are we actually taking them away from our site? For our convenience or theirs?

We were doing ourselves a huge disservice by forcing our users to sign up on a different site. It was jarring for them to get whisked away from the site they were on and probably frustrated them. No, they wouldn’t come back to the original site to keep browsing. Instead they would just abandon ship and leave. We needed to make this user-flow easier, and by fixing that we’d keep quality traffic on our site and put the user first.
old webinar page

Step 4. Personalize against your gaps
We know our gaps, how do we fix them? For our blog we chose a few solutions. We listed out our tags at the bottom of our posts. All our content is tagged by topic, persona, and skill level so by listing those characteristics out at the bottom of our post with links to our main listing pages (pages that list out all related items), we could offer the users additional content aligned to the piece they were reading. We also wanted to provide a personalized sidebar next to the main article listing related content. This content is using personalized recommendations offered up by our Acquia Lift personalization product which recommends additional content to a user as they navigate the site based on tagged topics or other attributes we define.
blog with links

We decided we would move the webinar registration form off of acquia.com and place it directly on the dev.acquia.com site. This way we don’t redirect our users and were able to keep them in the flow and familiar design of the dev site. [Image of updated page] We’ve seen this phenomenon in some of our ecommerce customers at Acquia -- where brand sites were managed and produced by a marketing team, and the online store by an ecommerce team on a different platform. Forcing customers to switch from a brand experience to a store and back again causes things to break and even with the most seamless design standards, customers noticed and abandoned before they completed a purchase or explored more content. If you would like to learn more about content and commerce, check out this blog series.

Step 5. Track and Analyze
In the first step we set the goal and the benchmarks to measure progress towards achieving it. The final step is to track that progress against those original benchmarks in order to see if improvements are working and our traffic is converting into a true audience. Patience is the word because it takes some time after implementing changes before the results can be detected. The changes I described have been running for about a month. I choose to track time on site, bounce rate, and exit rate as my key metrics to measure the issues outlined above in the second, third, and fourth steps. I could also look at returning visitors and pages per session but I will start by focusing on the time on page, bounce rate, and exit numbers. The initial results I’m seeing are:

  • Time on site has increased by a little more than 30 seconds.
  • Bounce rate is defined at the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. Since adding personalized content, our bounce rate has decreased by almost .5% which isn’t a lot yet but is a little better, and I’ll keep watching this metrics. If it doesn’t continue to decrease I’ll take a deeper look. Bounce rates vary per website so watch yours to get an idea of normal, in my opinion anything higher than 80% is high but if your site usually has a 30% bounce rate, then something around 60% could be high. (know your metrics)
  • Exit rate is defined as the last page a user visits before ending their session, and our exit rate has decreased by 1%. This also doesn’t seem like much, but those are visitors that are now staying on our site when before they were leaving.

Tools I’m using:

We have a ways to go before my team and I will be able to report any significant improvements, but we just started where we were and are committed to continually improving and building one step at a time. This isn’t a one-and-done type of plan. A good site manager needs to keep a close eye on their content and metrics and always be thinking of ways to improve the user’s experience.

So how have you found ways to keep traffic on your site? I’m always looking for new ways to make the experience better for my users. Please share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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