How to build a website that keeps visitors hooked

A good website design and a strategy for attracting visitors takes you three-quarters of the way to success. The final step is getting people to try your offerings and to come back for more. The best way to do that is to treat each customer as unique. Fortunately, the web lends itself to the kind of personalization that’s relatively easy and inexpensive for even the smallest business.

With a little effort, you can address each site visitor’s needs effectively. Combined with offline strategic work—such as hitting customers every other week with a free newsletter or offering them a two-for-one special if they haven’t visited your site in two months—readily available ecommerce tools enable you to personalize as nothing else can.

The basis for customization is the cookie—a morsel of information that lets sites know where customers go. A cookie is a piece of data that’s sent to the browser along with an HTML page when someone visits a site. The browser saves the cookie to the visitor’s hard drive. When that customer revisits the site, the cookie goes back to the web server along with his new request, enabling your site to recognize the return visitor.

Here are some ideas for marketing programs you can create from an analysis of stored cookies and email:

  • Send a postcard to customers who haven’t bought anything online in three months, offering a $10 or $20 reward for shopping online.
  • Send an email with a new promotion a few weeks or months after a customer makes a purchase.
  • Offer a chance to win something, and make it easy for visitors who drop in at least once a week to enter the contest.

If personalization seems too complicated, you can still design your website to speak to different groups of people. Let’s say you’re a realtor wanting your site to meet several needs. Create a screen with button bars like these:

  • If you’re a buyer, click here.
  • If you’re thinking of listing your house for sale, click here.
  • If you’re a realtor from outside the area, click here.
  • If you want to join our team, click here.

This form of customization addresses the needs of different groups. You’ve made an effort to provide information tailored to each market segment. It doesn’t cost a million dollars, yet it increases your credibility and efficiency.

Getting visitors to stick around long enough to explore your site is just as important as tempting them to visit in the first place. Here are some tips on capturing your visitors’ attention.

  • Make connections. Hyperlink your email address. This means most visitors can simply click to open a blank message and send you a note.
  • Have fun. People who surf the internet are looking for fun. You don’t have to be wild and wacky (unless you want to). Just make sure you offer original content presented in an entertaining way.
  • Add value. Offering something useful that customers can do adds tremendous value to your site. For example, customers can track their own packages at the FedEx site or concoct a recipe for a new drink at the Stolichnaya vodka site. While it doesn’t have to be quite so elaborate, offering users the ability to download forms, play games or create something useful or fun will keep them coming back.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t build a site that’s more than three or four levels deep. Internet users love to surf, but they get bored when they have to sift through loads of information to find what they’re looking for.
  • Provide a map. Use icons and button bars to create clear navigational paths. A well-designed site should have a button at the bottom of each subpage that transports the visitor back to the site’s homepage.
  • Stage a contest. Nothing is more compelling than giving something away. Have the contestants fill out a registration form so you can find out who’s coming to your site.
  • Make payment a snap. If you’re setting up an online storefront, give customers an easy way to pay you. Consider including an online order form, toll-free ordering number, or a fax line.