Over the course of the past decade, whenever people find out I run my writing business online, they muse about having a website, too.
But, having a website isn’t enough. The website is useful only if you grow your business on it. A website is like a garden in which your business grows, and like any garden, it needs fertilizer.
Here are five ways to fertilize your website:
1. Understand your visitors and their actions
If you’ve planned carefully, you know who your visitors should be. With any luck, those actually are your visitors. Google Analytics will help give you a snapshot of your visitors. For instance, if you are a carpet installer in Albuquerque, you’ll know right away that you have a problem if half your traffic is coming from India.
If you tag links on social media, you’ll be able to see which platforms and which types of messages are most effective in pulling in traffic. For instance, let’s suppose you tag all your recipe-related social posts with "?id=recipe" and all your daily specials posts with "?id=specials," you can compare which are more effective in attracting visitors to your website.
Heat maps also help you understand what your visitors are doing once they get to your website. Heat maps show where on a page people are clicking the most. If, for instance, you find a lot of people clicking on a text link half-way down your home page, that tells you the link is a good draw. Maybe you should move it up to the top to really take advantage of it.
If people keep clicking on an image that isn’t hyperlinked, that tells you that it should be hyperlinked, probably to a sales or lead capture page related to the subject of the image.
Crazy Egg offers a heat map service. So does SumoMe.
2. Engage your visitors
Once you know who your visitors are, you can better engage with them. The best way to engage people is through user-generated content (USG). USG comes in many forms.
Encourage people to comment on your blog posts. The participants will love them, but so will wallflower lurkers.
Invite people to send in testimonials or videos of your product being used. This helps show potential customers that others are using your product, that it is being appreciated, and that they could also become a satisfied customer.
Ask customers to share their stories. I recall seeing a wedding blog that was completely populated by customer stories and pictures.
Don't forget also to be there for them when they have a question. Make it easy for visitors to ask and make sure to answer quickly. There are tools to help, including instant chat while your customer is right on the product page.
People are more likely to buy from a business that engages with visitors than with a static website — an online pamphlet. These are much like testimonials, only subtler.
3. Make visitors your ambassadors
Once you identify your visitors and engage them, make them your ambassadors.
The most obvious way to do this is to send them forth on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to tell the world about you. Make sure also that they follow you on social media channels, so as to keep up to date on your latest news.
Both share and follow buttons should feature prominently on every page. Even if people share your About page, it’s good exposure for you. I actually promote my bio page in social media.
Many websites also install a widget to show their latest tweets or Facebook posts. If those posts look interesting, they will pull people off your website to engage with you. If those posts are effective, they’ll bring people back. I’ve never been a fan of this tactic, but I assume it works for some businesses.
4. Welcome new visitors
Your ambassadors are tweeting your blog posts and sharing your latest product innovations on Facebook. Now what?
Make sure your website is a cinch for first-timers to use. Make it easy for them to get answers to their questions. Yes, FAQs are somewhat passé, but making shipping info and payment info easy to find is critical.
Make it easy for newcomers to trust you. You might want to put some testimonials on each page, and maybe even some up front on your home page, so that new visitors feel like they are in good company from the moment they land on your website. That has been my strategy.
Make it easy for them to contact you, too. So many leads come from my contact page, even though it has the same form in the same position as all my other pages. People still seek out the contact page to fill it in. Even spammers do!
5. Wash, rinse, repeat
This process doesn’t end. It’s a loop. You’ve welcomed new visitors to your website, but now it’s time to find out who they are and what they are doing there.
The more active your website is, the more new visitors you’ll be welcoming. It’s important to understand how your visitors might be changing over time, so as to adapt to them.
For instance, some websites are seeing an almost wholesale shift to mobile. Others are seeing very little movement. If you are seeing very little shift to mobile, while others in your niche are seeing a lot, that signals a problem. If you are seeing a big shift to mobile, you’ll need to see how that affects your visitors’ actions and even who they are.
Like any garden, your website needs fertilization. You can make good things grow from your site if you take the time to understand your visitors and engage with them, then get them to help bring in new visitors.