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Increasing Website Participation – How We Doubled Participation in 12 Days

After reading all these schemes for how to drive traffic to my website, I sometimes find that I'm just completely drained at the end of the day. "Link this", "copy that", "create buzz here" they say. I copied, I linked, I even buzzed. Still, users went about about their business as usual and only partially engaged in my website. My website – No, no, my beautiful hand-crafted website. Every thing I thought should have been there, was there. Being a good engineer, I was even smart enough to hire out the design. Solid back end? Check. Good performance? Check. Rave reviews over the design? Check. Users who are fully engaged and actively participating? Well … that is where we enter a bit of a gray area.

I do not like gray areas and I especially do not like spending time on a business only to find that my visitors are not fully engaged. This is a problem seen by a lot of websites on the Internet. Sure, you have some sites that just never bothered to design, or those that can not get anything to work, but I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about sites that are based on good ideas, well designed, and have solid content – but they just are not being utilized the way they should be. This is the enigma I faced and here's what I did.

The website is an online movie catalog. Users were cataloging their personal DVD collections and adding movies, but that was about it. A lot of users had complained that there was no way to rate movies, so I thought I'd put something together and give them that ability. It was a pretty slick little JavaScript snippet that filled in 5 stars based on a review scale from 0 to 100. It looked cool, it worked well, but after 4 months we had barely over 300 ratings. We had more than 300 users (!) In that time, let alone the thousands of movies they had collected. There needed to be a better way to engage.

The fix was actually quite simple. Users had to go to a movie in order to rate it. When they were viewing their own collections, or collections of other users they were usually there for a reason. It was not to rate movies. All we did was to add the movie rating system into the process where a user adds a movie. Now every time a user adds a movie to their collection (a movie which they have clearly seen, by the way), we ask them to please rate the movie. What happened? We had over 300 movie ratings in just 12 days and the numbers are still climbing!

I read articles like this all the time, and I immediately think, "Yeah, great. This is a problem that a lot of website owners experience, however, and I've actually seen a lot of creative solutions. For example, I recently wrote a guest blog post on a WordPress blog. Within hours it had tons of comments – more than I would have expected for the amount of traffic the blog received (respectable, but not awful either). No DVDs involved, just blog posts. So, how did they engage their users?

Something they call "do-follow links". Most blogs use "relnofollow" which causes comments to be worthless to Google and hence worthless to spammers. It also makes them loose a lot of value to other blog owners and business owners who would like to promote their own business while posting on a blog they find useful. By adding "do-follow" links, the blog owner has created an active community of readers which actively engages in the blog discussions. Simple to change, but it goes a long way toward creating a community.

After all, we're all trying to create a community. It may be a community of readers or a community of clients or customers, but we're all trying to build something that engages with people in some fashion. While you continue to build your outside marketing, think about the community that is forming within your own website. Design ways to make it easier for them to engage, or more beneficial for them to do so. It takes a while to reverse our thinking about how useful or informative a site is and to really think about our visitors. Start thinking about it from a visitor's perspective and see what you can do to add value to their visit or how you can make their experience smoother. In the end, you'll end up with a solid community that will gladly help you to achieve your own goals.

Source by Brian Geisel

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