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Beyond the traffic: 3 ways to engage an online audience
The “Field of Dreams” principle generally doesn’t apply to web traffic. You can’t just build a website and expect that people will come. It can take some heavy lifting to draw visitors.
But there’s a problem here, too: Focusing on traffic and clicks doesn’t always mean more sales. Instead of thinking about visitors in terms of stats, start thinking about them as your audience.
Imagine your website is a town on a busy interstate. Building a fast-food restaurant at the exit ramp will bring lots of traffic and visits, but it won’t do anything to boost the town’s economy. Drivers are isolated in their own cars, not knowing anything about anybody else in the bottleneck. These drivers might easily cruise by whatever is important on your website, and providing the content equivalent of junk food will result in meaningless traffic. Getting them to focus on your site — instead of pushing through to their intended destination — becomes an impossible creative challenge.
But if you build an audience, your website is your drivers’ intended destination. They’re connecting with like-minded people and a shared purpose. They want to park their cars and become part of the movement; they gain something from sharing in the applause, laughter, and emotions of their peers. Your audience members trust this community — and you as their host — to lead them. Together, you can create compelling content to entertain one another; after all, people love to share if you give them the opportunity.
Why content matters
When building a loyal fan base of readers who spend time on your website and come back for more, your focus shifts from quantity to quality.
This paradigm shift means paying greater attention to the content that attracts this audience. You measure how long those visitors stay on your site. You want to know whether they come back to see what’s new. It’s about creating a “sticky” site, where people click beyond that first page and stay engaged for a longer period.
Content is the critical component of nearly every company’s marketing strategy. You need to create or curate content that not only captures your visitors’ divided attention, but also resonates with them. And those good content experiences can help develop deeper relationships with your readers.
Ask yourself whether your content truly engages your audience. Are you offering them something of value? Does it take them deeper into your site? Is it something they’re willing to share?
When you understand the purpose of your content, creating it becomes much easier. The same can be said for capturing your audience’s attention. Your visitors are more receptive to what you have to offer because it aligns with what they’re looking for.
The audience content built
You won’t build an audience simply by passively publishing content. Instead, you’re creating a community and engaging its members in a conversation. Here are some tips to turn your distracted drivers into audience members who value your brand’s curated experience:
Host interactive discussions
People naturally enjoy hearing from their peers — either to confirm or dispel the position your site’s content reflects. There’s a reason so much of radio has moved to the talk format. Any time your audience members can participate, it creates a social cascade of word of mouth about their experiences and involvement.
Consider replacing your comments section with an internet forum where you and your audience can interact. If you’re hosting a webinar, schedule time to take questions from viewers. Think of creative ways to encourage a conversation between your company and your customers.
Involve the audience in content creation
Make an event of the creation process, and invite visitors to participate. For example, if you’re doing an interview, do it live. This gives your audience members the opportunity to participate and possibly shape the interview with their questions and interactions.
There’s no better way to engage than in person. A live interview is the next best thing. (In fact, Facebook found that people will watch a live video more than three times longer than a recorded one). You also have the opportunity to track the opinions, praise, and concerns of your audience — not to mention encourage some word-of-mouth marketing in the process.
Give a behind-the-scenes peek
Share stories of what it takes to create and shape your content. Then, ask what your audience thinks of the editorial choices. You could use clickbait metrics to determine what your audience wants to read, but that won’t always reveal your customers’ opinions, concerns, and passions.
Hearing directly from members of your audience might provide a clue about their deeper, more idiosyncratic views. And it allows you to distinguish your content from the more obvious formulas your competitors are using.
Like fast food, a tweak here and there can increase your web traffic, but what you’re really looking for is an engaged audience of loyal customers. Is it being shared with others? Content for the sake of content is no way to engage — or increase sales. Interactivity builds a lasting community, not just temporary traffic.