If there’s one single lesson I could impart to all the folks who come to me for online, website, and business advice, it’s this:
You are not your customer.
They don’t think like you do. They don’t want what you want. They don’t believe what you believe. Their values are not your values. They don’t behave the way you do.
And they certainly don’t behave the way you want them to.
I’ve been doing this online thing for a while now, and I want to share with you the most common ways in which you’re probably wrong about what you think people are willing to do on your website. Then let’s list some specific approaches you can take to deal with it.
Six ways you’re wrong about your customers
I don’t care what you think you know about your audience; when it comes to the internet, you’re almost certainly wrong.
It took me forever to learn this for myself. Seriously.
As a result, I would make decisions based on what I wanted, or what I thought was good, rather than better understanding what they wanted and providing that instead. The results were underwhelming.
Even if it hurts deeply, to have a chance succeeding online you must put your ego and preconceptions aside and cater to what your market really wants. Not because it’s what you would want in their shoes, but because it’s what they really, truly, actually want.
Figuring out what they really, truly, want is the secret sauce we all struggle with.
If you start with “I would want…”, or even “I want…”, it’s no longer about your customer or your audience. You’ve made it all about you, not them.
You’ll build yourself a very nice online presence that no one will care about. In technical terms, we call this a failure, or, as is so often the case online, bankruptcy.
One of the best ways to avoid the most common website mistakes is to understand what your visitors don’t want.
1) People don’t want to read your stuff
They just don’t. As long, wonderful, insightful, and helpful as it might be, people don’t want to read it.
You don’t want to read this. You have better things to do with your time. I’m surprised you’re still here.
The biggest takeaway is that if you write just for yourself (i.e. you write what you want), no one will read it.
Now, it’s OK to write for yourself. I do it myself all the time. It’s a great way to organize thoughts, and can be exceptionally cathartic. Just don’t fool yourself: it’s for you, not your audience. They won’t care, and they certainly won’t read it.
Instead, write about what’s important to your audience. Not what you think is important, but what you know is actually, truly, important to them. Write concisely, get your point across, and move on.
2) People don’t scroll
They just don’t.
Newspapers have known this for hundreds of years: the vast majority of people look at the top half of the front page and move on.
This exact same behavior has been proven to exist online. People land on a page, see what’s there, and leave without scrolling at all. It doesn’t matter that the answer they were seeking exists just a couple of pages down, they won’t find it. They’ll have left.
Lengthy articles, like this one, go largely ignored because all the meat is “below the fold”. Like I said, I’m surprised you’re still here.
Takeaway: put the critical stuff up top and be concise and engaging.
3) People don’t click
“Click here” is a waste.
If you’ve managed to get someone to a page on your site, chances are it’ll be the only page they look at, no matter how much you promise is just a click away.
It’s so common there’s an industry term for it: bounce rate. That’s the percentage of people that come to a page on your site and leave your site completely without bothering to look at another. Common bounce rates are in the 90% range.
Nine out of ten people look at exactly one page — more correctly, part of one page — and leave.
Takeaway: give people what they’re looking for on that page. Don’t make them hunt, and don’t try to force feed them things they don’t want or care about.
4) People don’t read
If they do scroll down, they’re not reading, they’re skimming.
I can’t tell you the number of times people make comments on my articles that (I feel) are clearly addressed in the article they’re commenting on. Either they didn’t read it — skimming past it to get to the comment box — or I wasn’t as clear as I thought.
Takeaway: write for skimmers. Use bullet points, lists, and pictures. (There are studies that show many people ignore articles completely, and just read captions underneath pictures.)
5) Most people will use their phone
Ask Leo! is a website mostly about PCs and Windows. Currently, one-third of my visitors visit via their mobile device — technology the site doesn’t cover. On a site I recently worked on in the pet space, over half of its visitors read it on a mobile phone (not a tablet, a phone).
The most obvious implication is that your web presence must “look good” on mobile devices. That’s technology, and easily solved these days.
The less obvious implications are corollaries of previous points:
5.1) Phones are awful devices for reading
Expecting your audience to read lengthy content on a mobile device is setting yourself up for failure. Everything I said above about not wanting to read your stuff applies even more when they’re looking at it via a small screen in their hand.
Takeaway: be short and concise. Choose your topics wisely.
5.2) Phone visitors don’t scroll, they “flick”
The difference is subtle, but if you watch phone users, you’ll see they often don’t scroll through pages of content; they flick through it.
Think of it as hyper-speed scrolling where all you see is a blur. They’re looking for the bottom line. Everything inbetween is lost to them.
Takeaway: write for flicking: important stuff up top, “above the fold”. Focus on the bottom line.
6) Attention spans are much shorter than you think
You’re still here? You’re in a minority. Particularly in today’s busy, social media, news bite world, people lose interest in seconds.
Not only does this reinforce everything I’ve mentioned above, it makes even the best designed and written content that much less likely to be fully consumed.
Four things you can do about it
It’s time to act on this knowledge about your site visitors and what they won’t do. There’s a lot they will do, if — and only if — you put your audience above your ego and preconceptions.
1) Prioritize relentlessly
“Focusing on everything is focussing on nothing.” You don’t serve your customers by trying to be all things to all people and trying to provide everything to everyone all at once.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize — not what you want, but what they want.
And you have seconds — literally seconds — to deliver it and get their attention.
- Restaurant? Make your menu one click away.
- Retail? Put your hours and location right there on your home page.
- Customer service? Put the the contact information front and center.
- Educational? Make it clear where to start.
Pick the one thing your customers are coming to you for. One thing. Make sure it’s impossible to miss.
Only then can you move on to the next “one thing”, and the next, and the next.
2) Provide focus and clarity
Don’t make your customers wade through a lot of clutter to find what they need.
Don’t overload pages with things that make you feel good but get in the way of serving your site visitors.
Make what they’re looking for clear and easy to find.
3) Give them what they want
Years ago, I worked with a non-profit that had an important message they wanted everyone to hear. Their materials were chock full of information about their mission, their accomplishments, and how wonderful they were.
It was all a waste. They were pushing what they wanted people to hear, not what people were interested in. They led the horse to water, but it stood there paying it no mind whatsoever.
You will not succeed by trying to force someone to read your materials. You’ll only succeed by providing what people are looking for.
4) Use data, not feelings
There are a number of sources of hard data about your website visitors you can use to find out exactly what they really want.
Analytics. This is technology that tells you what pages on your site are the most popular, where your site visitors come from, what technology they use, and more. It’s what allowed me to determine, for example, that half of the visitors to that pet-oriented site above were using a phone.
Surveys. Ask your existing customers open-ended questions. Don’t “spin” the results with your own preconceptions or ideas, but analyze them for clear trends and information. It’s how I determined that my Ask Leo! audience was significantly more mature than I expected. As a result, I adjusted my topic choices and writing style to serve them better.
Questions. We all get questions. Use those questions and their trends and timeliness to find out what your audience is looking for. Resist the urge to “spin” or interpret what you see, but objectively analyze it to determine what people want. You may be surprised.
It’s more crowded than ever online. The good news is that by being aware of your customer’s priorities and being respectful of your customer’s time, you may be given one of the internet’s most valuable assets: your customer’s attention.
Do this by coming from a place of service to those customers, and you’ll be miles ahead of most of the online businesses you encounter.