Walling your customers in is the same as walling them out

January 16, 2007

Posted in Web Industry.

Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.cluetrain.com

The web is all about hyperlinks. You know, the (often blue and underlined) thing you click on to go to another page? Companies want to use the web to make money. That’s understandable, but it brings a lot of old-fashioned notions of business and marketing. And one of those is that of the “sticky” website. Sticky refers to how long a visitor stays on your site or how often he returns. It’s a way of measuring the value of your site.

Some sites are really sticky – candystand.com visitors can spend hours playing video games, all the while being fed hundreds of advertisements. In an effort to create sticky sites, many companies adopt a policy of only linking within their own site. When they do link offsite, they give you warning messages that you’re leaving their site. Or they simply avoid it altogether.

This is what I would call “walling your customer in.” Customers get to your site and then find it difficult to leave through the natural, familiar act of clicking on a link. This creates the illusion of a sticky site, but in reality all it does is breed frustration and customer ill-will. Visitors want to escape. They click on their bookmarks. They type a new site in by hand. They close their browser and start over from the beginning.

You can’t force them to stay on your site.

So how do you create a sticky site?

Short answer? Provide value. And provide enough that it can’t be ingested in a single, brief visit. In fact, this is a great strategy for improved SEO, increased traffic, more conversions, better advertising revenue, and so on. You probably want to talk tactics, though. Ok, here are a few suggestions:

  • Community - people interact with each other anyway… when you facilitate this, visitors keep coming back
  • Offsite links – if you aren’t the absolute best authority (and even if you are) you should send them to other authorities. When people find what they want, they respect the site that sent them there.
  • Keep it Fresh – if you want them to come back you have to give them something different. They won’t come to re-read your content.

Linking to other sites, even your competitors’ sites, is how the web works. When you fight that, your customers will still leave – but then they won’t come back.

On a related note, the same goes for businesses of any type. Like buying digital music that won’t play on certain players or a printer that can’t take any old replacement cartridge, attempts to wall your customers in will do nothing but keep them out in the first place.


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