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Skeptical visitors to your website

July 16th, 2009 by mdmcginnis

The search for information scent doesn’t end when a visitor clicks on the search result and lands on your website. Next, visitors look for answers to two questions: Do I really want to be on this site? If so, which part of this site can help me the most? They’ve come, but they need to be convinced to stay.

In her article “Top Three Basics Many Websites Miss,” Shannon Kavanaugh stresses the importance of including “a clear tag line or company description that summarizes the website or your organization’s purpose” on your home page. That reassures your visitor, “Yes, I’m in the right place. This site is for people like me.” This is no time for vagueness. Is your site designed for students, staff, faculty, researchers, businesses, consumers, or someone else? A page may be useless, boring or even frightening to one group because it successfully targets another group. Be so precise in your tag line/description that visitors know instantly if they are on the wrong site.

But a tag line or description is simply an initial promise of what your site is about. You have to keep reassuring your visitors that you can deliver on that promise. Kavanaugh points out that your website needs to contain the kind of information that people usually expect to see on this type of site. A professor’s home page is supposed to link to his or her department or college, or visitors will wonder if what institution stands behind it, if any. Don’t count on other sites linking to your registration page if nobody can actually register on it – if it simply links to the real form elsewhere. Visitors may wander away if your page lacks contact information (the number one reason people visit websites) or locations or dates or descriptions or whatever they expected to see. Search engine spiders may not be geniuses, but they’re learning how to look for these same things. Pleasing human visitors pleases them.

The hunt for information scent continues beyond the landing page and throughout your site. Clear, descriptive link names are the gateways to your other pages: they are what tell visitors which links are worth clicking on. Truly, a link is an advertisement for the page it links to, for better or worse. If someone is looking for research results, they want to see and follow links such as “Papers” or “Reports” or “Research Conclusions” rather than “More” or “About” or “Departments”.

Don’t be troubled that your visitors are skeptical a few seconds when they arrive for. They don’t yet know how good your site is for them. It’s your job, of course, to prove that.

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