I’ve been thinking about stickiness quite a lot recently. I’m not referring to that strange discolored patch on my carpet – rather, the challenge for any website: once you’ve grabbed a visitor, how do you hang on to them and keep them coming back?
Let’s have a look at some different categories of site (heads-up – I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long post as I am basically brain-dumping!). Oh, before we begin – I’m not talking about getting the traffic in the first place, just helping to keep hold of it once
you get critical momentum. The first part (just as hard) is a whole different discussion 🙂
1. Originators: In this group I’d put news sites such as the BBC, CNN, ABC and so on, along with a few of what are normally first or second sources of new stories. That would include sites like Techcrunch, Engadget and Wired. Fairly obvious why people return to these sites: there is always fresh content, normally localised or available to a specific interest group. On most of these, you can add comments or your own stories too.
2. Aggregators: Not an original source of information, but a consolidated view from the web, normally ranked or voted on in terms of popularity. For example, Digg, Slashdot, Reddit and the late Netscape. Given the massive amounts of new data available on a daily basis on the web, these sites offer an easier way to stay current with minimal effort. I’d suggest that at times a larger amount of effort goes into the comments and discussions than it does reading the linked stories!
3. Constant Virals: Sites that are able to continually drive viral and word-of-mouth ‘check this out’ buzz. Youtube is probably the pre-eminent example along with a few of the ‘me-too’ video sharing sites. B3ta used to be there, as are a couple of the flash gaming sites. A constant source of new material, who can resist watching some idiot stick his face in a fire-ants nest! The discussion boards and comments also play a big part here
4. Friend Collectors: No longer the ‘new new thing’, but still growing like mad, online social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Thursday Club and the million other variations satisfy our need for self-promotion and gossip. Spend time investing in growing friends, filling out your profile, stalking ex-girlfriends, installing applications and updating your status and you’re hooked. Who doesn’t want to know that ‘Paul is feeling farty’?
Message boards, super-poking, wall-post and super-walls all add to the stickiness and most of these sites are very good at teasing you with update emails to prompt your return.
5. Contact Collectors: Largely similar to number 4, but I put in here some of the more ‘serious’ social networks aimed at business professionals. LinkedIn, Ecademy, Ryze, Plaxo .. again there are a multitude to choose from, although LinkedIn is probably the most popular, with its ‘Answers’ Q&A discussion forums proving particularly popular.
Often tied directly to ..
7. Service providers: Booking a flight? Need a hotel? Hiring a car? Theatre tickets? Online food shopping? Books, CDs, Cameras .. anything eCommerce? Once you’ve done your research online (see 6) or perhaps even at the same time on the same site (e.g. Amazon) come here to make your purchase. Keen pricing, quick delivery, customer service, positive reviews, large stock, longtail serviceability, word-of-mouth marketing, affiliate programs and white-labelling all help these sites along. Let’s put the eBays, Craig’s Lists and so on in here too.
8. One-hit wonders, weirdos and one-offs: Remember ‘badgers .. badgers’? The filipino elvis looking for love? Star-wars Kid the original? The drink-o-meter? All those crappy but addictive Flash games that took up way too much of your time? With traffic that comes in waves as the next news site story and email chain runs, you may not get a lot of stickiness, but the knock-on effect or chance to grab that traffic for other purposes can be vital (esp for a startup)
9. Blogs: We all know that a tiny fraction of blogs actually generate much traffic, or have a particularly loyal readership. Take one of the most popular though – Scott Adams (Mr Dilbert). With such a large fanbase, he is guaranteed a large readership every day and can kick-off a huge discussion with nothing but a simple question. Powerful stuff!
10. Yackfests: Last, but by no means lowest in priority or stickiness comes forums, chat rooms, discussion boards and the like. My wife is currently addicted to some Indonesian fashion forum, and I would bet that the combined eyeball time for discussion boards net wide would be .. well, it would be quite large 🙂 If you have an interest, any form of interest, you will find a group of like-minded people somewhere to discuss it with. From Google groups, usenet (sshh!), Yahoo to dedicated, home-run hobbyist sites if you get some momentum you have some serious stickiness!
So, what’s the conclusion? Well if you had to pick the common element with each, it has to be discussions and comments. That won’t be a surprise to anyone, and forms one of the key tenets of what has been called ‘web 2.0’. Truth is, the discussion based aspect of the ‘net has been a constant since almost day dot and is one thing that has consistently worked in grabbing people to take part.
One downside though of traditional discussion forums has always been that if you have one, and it’s successful, it tends to suck the traffic from every other part of your site (check out http://www.pprune.org for a good example – a site for professional pilots that gave up on trying to get anyone to do anything except use the forum – which is hugely popular).
There are a number of new players such as Tangler, trying to address this by trying to create not only an embedded discussion platform but one that enables you to bring together other aspects of your site too (profile, product info, interesting links, video and so on).
Imagine there’s a thread going on and you pull up an embedded interactive product, pricing information, select some experts and related media. Think Digg labs meets Amazon, meets Second Life, meets threaded discussion, meets Twitter subscribers, meets YouTube. How cool would that be?
Hmm, well, I did say I was just brain dumping 🙂