Nurturing Relationships With Your Website Visitors: How To Keep Customers Coming Back

┐by: Mary Anne Donovan

I had a really wild experience the other day. I was on my bank's Internet site, wildly trying to ascertain whether an important money wire had been deposited into my account. It hadn't. I thought perhaps it could be somewhere in the system, so I wanted a warm body to either calm my fears, or establish what my priority was going to be on that day.

One of my biggest frustrations with websites is trying to find contact information when I need it, and of course, even for those sites that have it, there are few standards for where it might be located. These are the instances where I feel alienated, drifting in an impersonal cyber world that for all I know may be populated with nothing but cyborgs. Many web sites have lost sales because they made themselves impossible to deal with except through their Internet shopping carts.

Anyway, back to the bank. Lo and behold, there on the page was a chunk of information where I had several choices to actually deal with a human being. One was to send an email, one was to engage in instant messaging, and the third was to click on a button to speak with someone on the phone. I opted to click and my phone immediately began ringing. Now this was service! I picked it up, and although a received a recording, it was just a few seconds later when a REAL person got on the line. Unfortunately, the competent and human representative on the other end determined that my wire was no where in the system, but at least now I had a game plan for what I needed to do that day as opposed to wallowing in ignorance.

This is called relationship, and it is the challenge for today's Internet. How do you personalize an otherwise vast universe where by its very nature people are relegated to alienation and anonymity?

The first, though seemingly obvious thing you need to do is make it an objective for your site - a priority objective. Once you do that, you can consider and employ specific strategies such as:

1. Identify and describe, as closely as you possibly can, your target customer or visitor. And unless you are a Kodak or Motorola, don't pretend to be all things to all people. The Internet is about customization - the days of the Industrial Revolution where one size fits all due to manufacturing economies of scale are gone!

2. Content that communicates. Once you have figured out who your target audience is and what content would be valuable to them, fill your web site with lots of it. And make sure to keep your content dynamic - if a document is out of date, your customer may be lost! This is the easiest way to keep an ongoing dialog with visitors.

3. Make yourself accessible. Your photo should also be on your site, as well as your contact information, including email, telephone, and address. Put this contact information in an obvious place - a page labeled ┐Contact Us┐, for example. The best contact information is a physical location - because brick and mortar gives people an important link to reality.

4. Appoint an editorial staff. Advertise for and then appoint a group of individuals with industry credibility to serve as regular contributors to your web site content. Have a weekly, rotating column. Encourage users to write in response to your columnists/editors. Ah, and one very important thing - publish their photos and if they agree, their email addresses. If they don't want to give out their personal email, then give them one on your server.

5. How about a weekly puzzle? I had great luck with a puzzle I used to run in a biweekly e-zine. Visitors loved it and kept coming back for more. Craft the puzzle around your business or industry. For example, come up with a 9-letter word with just one of each letter that has something to do with your industry, and then make it into a sudoku.

6. Start up an advice column. Become the Dear Abby of your industry. Provide readers with relevant, substantive advice and increase traffic while cementing relationships.

7. Offer online seminars and training programs. Though these programs do not need to be synchronous, consider chunking up the material so you can provide personalized feedback at intervals along the way.

8. Build a message board or forum to allow customers, visitors, and other businesses to communicate with one another. Make sure you also play an active role in these communications to further cement these relationships.

The key to successful search engine relationship marketing is to keep a dialog going with your site visitors. Give them valuable content, let them have access to you, and encourage them to participate in your site. Not all of these suggestions will work for every site - know your customers and pick what works for them. When you have succeeded in building a relationship, they will keep coming back to your oasis in the cyber desert.

About The Author

Mary Anne Donovan is both a scholar and a practitioner, a balance

that "gives me the best of both worlds: the theory behind digital

communications and the hands-on experience to know what really works

and what doesn't." She is in her tenth year as a professor of

technical writing and business communications while at the same time

serves as Vice President and Director of U.S. Operations for SEO

Literacy Consultants, Inc., a search engine optimization consulting

and training company. Mary Anne has worked with computers since they

first came out of the closet and into more general application,

starting with computerized quality control systems for Kodak

photographic and printing processes and now with the fine points of

SEO theory and application.

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