Would you call a site successful if you visited it and then left 30 seconds later?
I know I wouldn’t, neither would Google or any other search engine.
Two key SEO factors are the length of time a user stays on your site and whether they visit other parts of your site.
You don’t have to leave these factors up to chance though; in fact there are many ways to increase both of these.
There are two broad angles to this: content and interaction.
Both of these combine to become user engagement.
Here are 9 ways to improve your site to maximise your visitors’ engagement.
1. Provide Them with Easy Access
Having a clean and easy to use navigation system on your site is critical. This will enable your visitors to easily find the content they need.
Not only that but it could spark interest in other areas of your site, whether that’s further informational topics or your products and services.
If you are using WordPress, the custom menu system will allow you to structure a navigation menu precisely.
You can also use different widgets and plugins to add featured posts links or more menus to your sidebar or footer.
It’s important to think about your content and group it as best as possible. Being able to find the right content in the right area will help to reduce your bounce rate.
2. Keep Your Load Times Low
High speed internet is becoming a reality for more and more people across the world, making website load times come down. And that’s awesome right?
Well no, you see not everyone has high speed internet, whether because they can’t afford it, live in an area or country that doesn’t have it, or perhaps even because they are browsing your site from a mobile device.
Because of this it’s important to make sure that your site loads as fast as possible.
There are numerous ways you can achieve a faster site:
Optimize your images
WordPress does this a little bit when you upload an image, but I find using a service like Yahoo’s Smush.it on images before you upload them, greatly reduces the file size.
Therefore think carefully about the plugins you are using on your site. The fewer files that load, the better, so be ruthless and only keep what you absolutely must have.
Cache your pages
Caching is a method of turning a dynamically generated site into a static HTML site. Sound weird? Perhaps, but HTML sites load MUCH faster than sites that are using PHP.
Caching, when done right, can dramatically increase site load speed. When done wrong, it can actually have a negative effect on speed.
Most WordPress plugins such as WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache are usable out of the box, but if you are a tinkerer make sure you test things out on a different site than your money site first.
Upgrade your hosting
Most people starting out with online marketing and websites in general purchase the cheapest hosting possible. This is OK while you are cutting your teeth, but as soon as you start getting some traffic your visitors will notice the speed dragging to a halt.
Upgrading your hosting of course costs money, but you gain increased server memory and processor power in return which is a fair trade off in my opinion.
Plus most hosting offer tiered pricing on servers, so you can slowly increase it as you start earning more.
Use a CDN
A content delivery network is like having a copy of your website in every country in the world (sort of). Basically, it duplicates your site on various servers dotted about the world, and the visitor is served the website from the nearest server to them. This means that a visitor from Australia doesn’t have to go all around the world to reach your server in New York, instead, they may get your site from Sydney or Tokyo.
Max CDN is popular choice for a CDN.
Your site is judged by its cover. It’s not fair I know, but that’s the reality of it. If your websites theme or styles look crappy then it will turn away visitors.
Getting hold of a quality, professional looking theme nowadays is relatively cheap so a lot of websites look good, and visitors have come to expect that.
Beyond your site looking pretty, you need to pay attention to things that often go unnoticed, at least consciously.
Typography (your fonts) plays a key part in site design and user engagement. If font is illegible or causes eye strain, your visitors will simply leave.
Keep it clean and keep it simple. While no one wants to use Times New Roman or Georgia any more (I still think Georgia is cool) most decent themes come with Google Fonts built into them, meaning you have access to hundreds of high quality free fonts, most of which are legible.
Neutral background and plenty of white space also help.
3. Keeping Your Content Fresh
Are you a regular I’ve Tried That reader? If so, then this may go without saying, but keeping your content fresh and up to date will help keep users on the site for longer.
Not only that but it can help keep them coming back for more, day after day, week after week.
Keep it simple silly is a little mantra that is often bandied about but just as often ignored. There are numerous studies that show that too much choice affects people in a negative way. They simply don’t know what to choose so they end up choosing nothing.
By keeping your site clutter free, you can not only ease that subconscious anxiety but help to steer your visitors towards products or affiliate links.
5. Popups? Annoying, but effective.
I loathe popups, but I know that they are effective. They can also be really effective at turning first time visitors away from your site.
It’s a good idea to test your pop ups versus your bounce rate and sign up conversions. Sites that instantly put up a pop up before a visitor gets chance to even see the content may well be discouraging that visitor from staying.
Consider other options such as a toolbar style pop up at the top or bottom of the page.
If you absolutely must have a pop up, make sure you test it out on various mobile devices as well. There is nothing that will make me hit the back button faster than not being able to close a pop up on my phones browser.
6. Your Theme Should be Responsive
Talking of phones, making sure your site is device independent is vital as more and more people are browsing from something other than a computer.
While this may not seem applicable to user engagement, it comes back to your site being accessible to as many people as possible.
7. Onsite Social
Often people associate user engagement with an actual conversation! This is certainly a large part of it.
WordPress users obviously have the comments sections on posts where people can respond to the articles you write.
Sometimes though, people just don’t want to talk.
You can help improve this simply by asking a question at the end of your article.
As well as that there are plenty of services and plugins that can help with the user experience of commenting. Products such as Disqus, Jetpack and Facebook Comments can improve the looks of your comments (think emoticons), ease of following a discussion (threaded comments) and enable people to respond by logging into their favorite service (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) rather than your site.
8. Remove Barriers
One thing you need to think about is the number of steps it takes for someone to respond to your post. In a lot of ways it will depend on your audience, some are more tech savvy than others.
Think about it, if it takes you three steps to leave a comment, will you? I don’t unless it’s of vital importance.
People are inherently lazy, so reducing the barriers to commenting can greatly increase user participation.
9. Respond to Your Visitors
Lastly, you need to respond to your visitors’ comments, thoughts and questions. Without your response they will feel like they are talking to a brick wall and the likelihood of them commenting again is dramatically reduced.
This engagement from you will also help foster a community and a relationship with your reader.
How will you improve user engagement?
These 9 tips will help your site in many ways all as a result of trying to get users more engaged and involved in the discussions.
Let me know if you have any further ideas on how to improve user activity, or just say hi, in the comments section below!