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Why Wikipedia’s appeal for money is in the wrong place

You’ll have noticed Jimmy Wales looking ruggedly handsome at the top of every Wikipedia page. But have you clicked? Probably not, because the promo is in the wrong place. Here’s why…

Web users are goal-driven. The big brains of web design have known this for a long time, and you only have to observe your own online behaviour to understand exactly what it means.

Let’s say a friend calls you up and says, “I’ve just been diagnosed with Mortimer’s disease.” She gives you a few details about her doctor’s visit, but the moment you’re off the phone you’re straight onto Google. Now, at this point, do you think you can be tempted to click some other medical-type links? Perhaps you are interested in brain aneurisms or dialysis? Of course not. Your goal is to find out what’s wrong with your friend.

The majority of web activity is like this. Your goal might be to book a plane ticket, buy a book, or find out why everyone is suddenly talking about astrobiology.

This is of course relevant to Wikipedia. If your search for ‘Mortimer’s disease’ has led you to Wikipedia, you might vaguely register the hot bearded guy at the top of the page, but only for a fraction of a second before you start reading the stuff that you really came for. And because your short-term memory is only able to hold onto stuff for about 20 seconds, the bearded fella will quite literally be out of your mind before you’ve read halfway down the page.

So what should Jimmy do to drum up some more donations? He should take advice from Jared Spool about how to use seducible moments.

Seducible moments? Say what?

Imagine an 18-year-old walking into the student union two minutes before the end of happy hour. Nothing can distract him from the beeline he is making to the bar. However, once he’s got a cold beer in his hand, he is ready to turn his back on the barman and face the crowd. That is the seducible moment – when the student is ready for distraction.

The seducible moment for Wikipedia is at the bottom of the page, when the user has achieved the goal she came for, and is looking for the next thing to do. They could use that space to make a much more targeted appeal to users: “Did you find this information useful? Donate to Wikipedia so that we can continue making great content for the world.” (This also uses the persuasion technique of reciprocation – ‘I’ve given you something for free, now are you going to give me something back?’)

So how about it Jimmy? Do some A/B testing with the alternative approach, and see which link gets you more donations. I know where I’m putting my money.

How can you apply this to your own site? Here are a few tips:

  • Use personas and scenarios to identify user goals on your site. Who are the users, and what is it they want to achieve when they get there? Once you’ve identified goals, you’ll be able to identify the seducible moments (usually just before or after the goals).

    Think about Amazon – they don’t show you any promos during the checkout process, but when you’ve reached your goal of checking out, they feature promos again. Promote your business goals only once you’ve helped users to achieve their goals.

  • You can’t just make your promos bigger – no matter how big, brash and animated you make a promo, if you’re showing it at the wrong moment, users will ignore it.
  • Don’t try to fit everything onto the homepage. Rather figure out where the seducible moments are for particular types of content. You’ll get a much better success rate if you cross-promote at the right times.


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    2. Marcel Wasserman

      December 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

      Great article Debré! I get it.

    3. Lianne Byrne

      December 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      On some levels I agree with what you’re saying about users goal driven behaviour, but not everyone is searching for something as serious as a disease and will be distracted by the “hot” Jimmy Wales or feel an affinity to the wikipedia cause and donate.

      It worked for them last year when they raised $430 000 in one day! http://www.fundraising.co.uk/news/2009/12/19/wikipedia-appeal-raises-430000-one-day

      And if we see it on wikipedia and ignore it, the message will get us on Twitter or Facebook eventually.

    4. Rob Dickens

      December 14, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      I totally agree. Some A/B testing wouldn’t go amiss. Unless, of course, this approach has actually been working for them and they are therefore achieving their goal :p

    5. Russ

      December 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      Don’t agree. I’ve witnessed many people that don’t read the whole Wiki entry. Like YouTube they drop off when they’ve read enough of have simply found the facts they came looking for in the first paragraphs. Also you got to take into account those Wiki pages that end with a long list of references. You reckon Jimi should put his appeal all the way underneath that?

    6. Gregory Kohs

      December 15, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      My concern is what the Wikimedia Foundation will do with the money.

      I wonder when the news media will figure out that the Wikimedia Foundation spends on program services only 41 cents of every dollar they scam from donors, which earns them ONE STAR (out of four!) from Charity Navigator in organizational efficiency. In fact, their KPMG audit discovered that it only takes about $2.5 million to keep the servers running, provide ample bandwidth, and staff a team of code developers to keep things running smoothly. Why, then, is the ask for $20 million?

      I also wonder why the news media never thought to cover the 2009 story of how the Wikimedia Foundation needed extra office space, and as if by magic, they hand-picked Jimmy Wales’ for-profit corporation to be their landlord, THEN obtained competitive bids, THEN asked Wales’ for-profit company to match the average of the competitive bids.

      I too wonder why the media don’t seem to care that the 2010 market research study of past Wikimedia Foundation donors was awarded to the former employer of the WMF staffer running the project, without any competitive bidding whatsoever. And when the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation was asked how much the project cost, the guy asking the question was banned from the online discussion.

    7. JOpedia

      December 22, 2010 at 5:05 am

      psh, same old critiques. on every article. Wikipedia’ great! get a new hobby! or better yet, a new account!

    8. JO

      December 22, 2010 at 5:08 am

      This article is highly theoretical, but unlike Wikipedia probably doesn’t work in practice. My first thought upon reading it was, ‘hmm… that’s probably why all of the big ad-buyers on HuffPost and Cnn.com ‘demand’ that their ad banners go a the ‘bottom’ of the page!” wait a second… they don’t demand that at all. I think I get your framework, but it seems misapplied here. The moment to get someone’s attention is right when they walk in the door, not when they’re leaving.

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