“Try a little tenderness”

These words from the great voice of Otis Redding describe perfectly what a relationship should be between a website and its owner. Websites should be coddled, loved and spoiled. Remember that websites work for you 24/7, they represent you and everything your company stands for 100% of the time, so they need to be maintained.

But without any site traffic, the love you give your site won’t be apparent to anyone but yourself. Maybe you get some traffic on occasion, but it trickles off. So what can you do to your site to keep visitors interested and give others a reason to view it as well?

Get out the fly paper because we’re going to make your site sticky.

1) Updates – There is a certain degree of freshness expected within your website. Obviously as technology advances, there are new gadgets and things you can add, like cool flash movies or RSS feeds, but updates are particularly important for news material within the site. Keep press releases and articles timely and store old material in an archive. Weeding though old material to find new news is not so appealing for your visitors, so make it easy. News establishes your credibility and big news peaks reader interest.

2) Landing pages – Should be beautiful. Just like finding that perfect home, landing pages should make you want to stay. Putting sound on the landing page is probably not a good idea unless your site pertains to something music related. Also, crazy images, like those currently being played in the United Kingdom for the 2012 Olympics that caused epileptic seizures, are also not a good idea. Be creative but don’t over do it. Simple is always best.

3) Easy navigability – Don’t bury goodies deep within your site. If there is a product or service you’re especially proud of, put it on the landing page or put it in a place where people are likely to find it. For example, if your site sells stuffed animals and princess outfits, you’re not going to advertise the latest model of “Tickle Me Elmo” under a heading like “tiara,” that makes no sense. If you can figure out the call to action for your site (i.e. what are you directing visitors to do) and implement it though ease of navigability, visitors and conversions will follow.

4) KISS – The essential four words, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t overload visitors with jargon they don’t understand, tools they don’t know how to use and products you don’t really sell. Tell them like it is and limit your call to action to one basic goal. Content should read smoothly and pages should be clean. As soon as someone visits a site overloaded with flashy ads, they’re out. KISS is probably the best rule of thumb as far as retention is concerned.

5) Establish a Niche – These days, websites are as common as phone numbers and you’re probably not the only one selling a certain product or service. You’re competing with tens, hundreds maybe even thousands of others. Differentiate yourself from the pack by establishing an angle through your site. What do you do better than all the others selling the same thing? How is your service superior? Use your site to sell but don’t overdo it. Intermix the selling points with interesting case studies showcasing your strengths. This will keep a visitors attention for a while.

6) FREE – The magic word, the one thing we always look for but never fall for. Lots of companies are re-implementing free, not by offering iPods or other material items on their sites, but offering some part of their services for free in exchange for your time. Where I work, we offer free website consultations, but if you’re creative enough to come up with something to offer visitors with no strings attached, it will give you time to introduce your company and build their confidence in your product. If you impress them, they may spread the word about your company and you’ll gain even more traction to your site.

7) Say YES to publications – This is probably the best way to keep visitors aware of your site. If you have a newsletter or blog that you’re constantly sending out or adding posts to, add an opt-in list to your site and have people sign up. They can receive free updates about your business or the industry and because they signed up for it on their own accord, they obviously have some interest in what you do. Getting this type of information from a visitor is invaluable and allows you to constantly remind them, “hey, we’re still here and oh we have this new product you might like.”

8 ) Downloadable whitepapers and brochures – I read conflicting evidence regarding downloadable company materials. Some people agree that having downloadable material is a benefit; others think it should be displayed somewhere within the site on its own page for visitors to click on and browse through. As far as site stickiness, I’d suggest keeping company materials on a webpage, in non-downloadable format. That way it keeps visitors on your site and if they need more information, they have to come back and retrieve it, reinforcing the need for the site. On the other hand, if they’re really desperate to have a hard copy they can always copy and paste the material into a word processor.

9) Develop loyalty – Communities and user generated content are really big these days. If you have a blog and allow readers to comment and share their opinions with you about certain topics, a community base may develop. When visitors to a website actually interact with the site’s owners, it creates a bond of loyalty and trust that will ensure their return. So, if you allow comments, be sure to write back but carefully monitor and moderate sessions.

Hopefully that list was comprehensive enough but if there are other important sticky tips I forgot to add, be sure to leave a comment. Just remember, if you put these rules to work, they will work for you.