The Accidental Website Visitor

If you manage website content, then this advice from Gerry McGovern from his April 3rd blog post is well worth considering …

It’s very important that you don’t attract the wrong type of person to your website.

I dealt with a specialist government health website some years ago. Its objective was to help medical researchers find research grants. It had a customer satisfaction survey on its website and was getting very poor ratings.

The reason for this was it was attracting the wrong type of visitor. Lots of people were out on the Web checking up health issues and a small percentage were ending up on this website. However, this small percentage still represented far greater numbers than the core target audience of medical researchers.

These accidental visitors got frustrated with the website because it didn’t have the information they were looking for. Some of these irate people were filling out the customer satisfaction survey and seriously skewing the results.

The website was in a Catch 22 situation. For years, it had trumpeted traffic figures to senior management. (The customer satisfaction survey was a recent development.) The first step in solving the problem was convincing management that volume was not a good metric. Volume is a deeply negative metric for web success. No other metric encourages worst practice more than measuring success based on number of visitors.

To stop attracting accidental visitors the web team stripped out general health phrases from their content and deleted a whole bunch of pages, keeping only the pages that were directly related to medical research grants. They de-search engine optimized. They used more technical, scientific terms which were perfectly understandable to their medical research audience. Over time their traffic dropped by 80 percent, while their customer satisfaction rose dramatically.

They had a smaller website and that allowed them to better manage it and have more up to date, higher quality content. Medical researchers were much happier. Those looking for general health information were much happier because they weren’t ending up on the wrong website.

Over the years, I have noticed that 50 percent (and sometimes much more) of the people coming to a typical website were accidental visitors. Telling that to a typical web team results in stares of disbelief or faces whose blood rapidly drains from them. Because so many web teams are enthusiastic members of The Cult of Volume.

The Cult of Volume is everywhere. Last week I was with an organization that has lots of content writers. For their annual review they print out all the webpages they’ve written over the year and package it into a nice, neat binder. The fatter the binder the more impressed their manager is. Isn’t that surreal?

My colleagues at Netlife Research in Norway recently reduced a Telenor (major Scandinavian telecom company) website from 4,000 pages to 500. Among other positive developments, there was a 40 percent reduction in emails to customer support.

We manage what we can easily measure. It’s easy to measure volume. But just because it’s easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to measure. When we manage what’s easy to measure, rather than what is right to measure, we’re not really managing at all.

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Jeff Ribeira

Very interesting and timely advice. Thanks for sharing Sam! Just goes to show how important it is to know your target audience.

Bernie Lubran

Excellent story that supports the notion that websites should be designed with the ultimate goal of meeting or exceeding the customers’ expectations.