Quit Daydreaming and Focus on Your Website

That one big idea—the one that will bring the masses to your website overnight and lead to more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga sees is not worth waiting for.

I’m all for brainstorming and trying big new  ideas, but if you really want to improve your pageviews and build community online you should place your focus on the series of small steps that will get you there.

To quote Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I encourage you to recognize that often that “big idea” is the cumulative effect of a bunch of little ideas.

When I was a managing editor at TMG, we partnered with one of our clients, the National Hemophilia Foundation, to present a case study of NHF’s successful magazine website, hemaware.org. At the annual meeting of Association Media and Publishing, we described several ways in which member associations could improve their web traffic and expand their audience. Here are a few highlights:

1. Create a custom 404 page.

Every site has errors, and even if you think you don’t, other sites will have dead links to your website or people will type in your URL wrong, resulting in unintended 404 errors. Instead of sending visitors to a generic “This page cannot be found” screen, be creative and offer avenues to find the information they were looking for. Add a search box and links to your site map, current issue and homepage to your error page.

After doing this with hemaware.org, the bounce rate decreased by 66%.

2. Recruit bloggers from Twitter and Facebook.

Keep your eyes and ears open to those who are already active participants in your social media community. If they are already blogging, they’ll bring a built-in audience to your site. And user-generated content is a great solution for small staffs with few resources. Hemaware.org’s bloggers own some of the most consistently viewed pages on the site.

3. Surface archived content to give it a “second wind.”

The average tweet lifespan is two hours, and Facebook posts often disappear after one day. Plus, your site is always gaining new visitors. Think of ways you can highlight existing content in new ways. On hemaware.org, we promoted a “traveling with medication” article before major travel times, such as Thanksgiving and summer vacation. The article always saw a spike in traffic during those times.

Also consider how your content can connect to the news of the day. When the Texas Rangers made it to the World Series in 2010, we promoted an existing hemaware.org article about Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, placing it back on our homepage and tweeting it throughout the Series.

4. Include a contextual link high in each story.

Search engines love new content and view the first link in an article as one of the most important. Our aim with hemaware.org was to include in the first or second sentence of every article a link to another hemaware.org article.

This also increases the opportunity for readers to view more than one page on your site. After this goal was implemented, pages per visit  increased by 8%.

For more tips, see our presentation: Building Community Online

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