December 22, 2009

Stickiness or “Spikiness”? Rethinking Repeat Visitors

When I talk to clients, they want me to accomplish three things: get visitors to their website, get them to keep coming back, and make some money off of them. I’m starting to suspect that bringing users back is the source of the biggest mistakes I make in online marketing.

A “sticky” site is one that keeps users clicking, and convinces them to come back often. I used to try to build sticky sites. Now, I build “spiky” sites—sites that convert someone into a customer, get them signed up for email newsletters, or convince them to go away.

There’s a long roster of sticky features websites can include: user accounts, a karma or points system for measuring interaction, social media integration, daily content updates, interactive content, etc. This stuff is all good for keeping people using a website, but it’s also a good way to keep them active as visitors but not as customers.

Even then, think about the number of websites you visit on a given day. I read somewhere that the average web user visits something like eight sites every day. If you’re not getting users to come back daily, they’re going to be likely to forget about you—but if you do want them coming back every day, your goal is to make the site as compelling as Youtube, as social as Facebook, as useful as Google Maps or Google Reader, or to define an entirely new online category.

Making a sticky site is hard. Your site’s content has to be as wonderful as possible, and then you have to somehow funnel your users through the online checkout process, too!

I’ve found it much easier to make a “spiky” site. I don’t aim for daily visits. I don’t care how often a user comes back. What I care about is this: can I get their attention when they’re ready to buy, and ensure that everything they do on the site takes them a step closer to making the buying decision?

A spiky site has landing pages that rank well for the names of the products it sells—an email newsletter that pings past visitors to let them know about new deals—links from industry authorities (who are talking about how good the product is, not how fun the site is)—and absolutely no content of interest to someone who isn’t either a) buying something, or b) bringing in people who will buy something.

Ecommerce sites can be spiky. Any business-to-business site had better be spiky. Social media sites probably shouldn’t be, especially if they’re designed for frequent user interaction (but if they’re a way for users to do something off the site, like Meetup or Yelp, they should rely on email marketing and SEO, as both Meetup and Yelp do).

Spikiness clarified what stickiness is trying to get at. Spikiness means maximizing the value of each visit, instead of cranking up pageviews by making each page too polite to ask for what it wants and send the reader on his way. Spikiness cures misplaced ambition, and leaves you with a site built for a purpose, not a site built for its own sake.

You should subscribe to my feed or follow me on Twitter.

I’m currently the Co-Founder and CEO of a startup providing equity research and M&A due diligence to investors analyzing online businesses.

  • http://www.d2moto.com/c-662-windscreens.aspx Motorcycle Windscreen

    Even I think that spiky sites are much better than sticky, what is the use if the visitors are increasing to your site but not ready to buy the products, it’s of no use. So better to have less visitors which are ready to buy something.