Thinking About Site Loyalty, SEO

Jordan Sandford - May 21, 2008

People may think, “If I build it, they will come.” Why then the need for SEO?

Other people may think, “Once they found my site, my job is done.” Consider that if they see your site in the search engine results page, but don’t click on it, the job is not finished. If they actually visit your site, your job could be considered half done.

After that, the next important thing to consider is visitor loyalty. As with appearing on search engine results pages and with gaining visitors, loyalty can be measured, and measuring is a must if you’re serious about your online presence.

But how can you actually improve loyalty? Before I discuss that, let me first say that loyalty must be a high priority for your site’s long term success. If you’re looking for a book retailer and if you type “books” (without quotes) in Google, currently will be the first paid result. There will also be plenty of other sites vying for your click, however (both paid and organic results): “borders” is in the “Related search” line at the top and Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Powell’s are organic results on the first page. Simply put, Google tells us that this search has over 1.5 billion results. That’s a lot of competition!

It’s clear from this Google results page that Amazon firmly believes in SEO and SEM, but it’s also notable that they highly value loyalty. I’ve seen colleagues go directly to and search for a name of a CD album they were talking to me about. They wanted me to hear a song by the artist. So, they knew that had that CD-sample feature by previous experience and thus it didn’t take more than five seconds for my colleague to run the search, navigate in the search results page, and use the CD-sample feature. (This ease of use can also be due to great usability design.)

Of course, you can increase site loyalty by offline means including better brand recognition. To increase site loyalty using an online method, try usability studies. It was once thought that the best way to do this is by using focus groups. If you’ve never conducted usability studies, let me suggest user testing with just one or two well-selected people. Chances are, it will cheaper than a group, take less time to manage, and possibly more comfortable for the person being tested. However, I suggest keeping the study formal in an attempt to ensure your data is accurate.

The real benefit to a one or two person usability study is a deeper understanding of how your site or parts of your site answers the user’s problems. Let me explain. Internet users are seeking solutions to problems they have, whether the problem is finding a replacement cell phone for their friend by next Monday, finding a group of people whose input about trade show venues can be trusted, or finding the most effective charity organization to donate funds for the Far Eastern natural disaster relief. Having to study the interaction between the user and the site for the one test user and responding to their interaction with further questions about how aspects of your site’s design helped solved their problems will be much easier compared to the difficulty of creating questions that could apply to the entire group of test users. Aspects of your site that you might focus on could include information design, usability (including content targeting/amount), visitor involvement, and customer service.

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