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October 21, 2008
Afraid of outbound links? Don't be.
Just how sticky need you be?
"The site looks great. But could you take out the links? I'm afraid people will follow them before they apply to our program/sign up for our event/read the installation instructions/etc." I don't hear this as often as I once did, but it still comes up often enough that it's worth addressing. So today I'll try to dispel some myths about Web stickiness and outbound links.
Will they stay or will they go?
They will go. You know that, because you will go. Whether I bore you halfway through this article or you go on to read several more entries, at some point you will leave this blog. I could offer you videos of the cutest dancing penguins or a fool-proof Web marketing technique and you would leave. I could even tell you the meaning of life (42). You would still leave.
But that's alright. My goal isn't to keep you here forever—trapped with my musings on Web development. My goal is to share ideas and best practices with you, and learn more from the feedback you provide, so that we can all strive to make the most useful Web sites possible. Your goal may be to recruit students to your program or sell more towels, but either way the same principles apply.
What is a sticky Web site?
According to myth, a sticky Web site is one that compels visitors to stay on the site for a long time. The content and features of the site are so enticing that users will stay there wandering about for hours. This is why many Web marketers fret over the percentage of visitors who bounce out of the site and the amount of time spent on it by those who stay. But time is relative. I think a Web site is sufficiently sticky if the goals of the site owner and its visitors are achieved. If the visitor has a positive experience, follows your call-to-action and comes back to visit in the future, then the site is sufficiently sticky.
For example, if I need to order a copy of Don't Panic, I can skibble over to Amazon.com, place the order and be done in less than a minute. I'm happy and Amazon is happy; after all they know I'll be back.
This blog, while vastly different from Amazon, has similar requirements when it comes to stickiness. Perhaps you'll spend a few minutes reading the one article that answers your question. Perhaps you'll linger over the Planning Your Web site Tutorial. Either way, if I've provided something worth reading, then we've both reached our goal. If I'm lucky you'll also subscribe to the RSS feed and Stumble this page so that you and others come back for future visits.
Where will they go when they leave?
On the one hand, that depends on their plans for the day. If they're feeling peckish and adventurous they may want to run out for lunch at Milliways. But if they have time to keep surfing the Web, where they go is partially up to you.
If you've been writing a blog entry about Web site stickiness and outbound links, perhaps you've piqued their interest enough that they want to learn more. In that case you can provide links at the bottom of the page that will give them more information. If you choose these links carefully, you can:
- keep them thinking about the subject
- lead them to content that adds depth or breadth to what you have already covered
- reinforce the idea that your site is a resource—to which users should return—for quality information and site referrals
- influence the pages they visit, ensuring they see pages you trust—as opposed to pages that may be your competition
- link to sites that may return the favor by linking back to you in the future
- enhance search engine optimization (SEO)
I'm not providing information, I'm trying to sell anti-depressants to paranoid androids, where should I link?
Whether your Web site is meant to sell widgets, promote an event or disseminate knowledge, your outbound link strategy should be to provide helpful information to your visitors. If you're selling pharmaceuticals to robots, you could link to:
- studies showing the efficacy of your product
- reviews of your product by satisfied customers
- social media networks and discussion groups geared towards or run by paranoid androids
By providing such resources you can build goodwill towards your brand and help users make a purchasing decision. The same can be applied for events. If it is a lecture, provide a brief biography of the speaker and include a link to his/her own Web site, links to videos of past presentations and other pages that will demonstrate what a compelling speaker he/she is.
In the end, if you take as much care with your links as you do with your other content, your readers should come back for more.
Learn more about outbound links and stickiness
- Debating the Value of Outbound Links (for SEO)
- Linking out: Often it's just applying common sense
- The Role of Outbound Links
- 10 ways to make your Web site 'sticky'
- 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Web site Sticky
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