Writing Sample

How to Transform Page Views Into Reader Loyalty

The page view and the clickthrough rate have long been heralded in the online media world as the most important metrics.

But mounting evidence is proving that page views and clicks are no longer an adequate measure of website success. Instead, what happens between the clicks is becoming increasingly important, and is causing the media world to adapt. It’s not just the page view advertisers and publishers want anymore: it’s your time and attention. They want loyal readers who will return to the site again and again.

Surprisingly, the concept of reader loyalty isn’t new. In 1997, the Nielsen Norman Group, an Internet usability consulting firm, published an article titled Loyalty on the Web that asserted websites “gain zero value from people who visit one or two pages.” The value of loyal users became evident in a study by Binary Compass Enterprises, which found that new users at a merchant site spent an average of $127 per purchase, while repeat users spent an average of $251, almost twice as much.

Nielsen Norman presciently predicted that 2010-2020 would be the “Loyalty Decade,” whereby increasing the loyalty rate would be the best way to achieve website business metrics.

What defines a “loyal” reader? Chartbeat, a web analytics company, defines it as someone who visits a website at least five times a month.

Let’s now examine three ways marketers and brand publishers can turn first-time visitors and page views into loyal readers.

Increase Direct Traffic

The source of where website visitors come from greatly determines their loyalty. A study from the Pew Research Group found that users who arrived directly to a site (i.e. by typing the URL or clicking a bookmark) spent about three times as long as those who came from Facebook or a search engine.

This is important because the length of time users spend on a website is correlated with how loyal they are. In a study on Vulture.com, Chartbeat found that new visitors who spent less than a minute on the first page had a 1 in 20 chance of returning, but those who spent at least three minutes had a 1 in 10 chance of returning.

They also discovered that users who landed on longer articles were much more likely to return, as did those who spent more time reading whatever page they landed on.

Thus, it’s critical for websites to figure out how to get traffic from social or search referrals to also come directly.

Here are a few ways websites can look to increase direct traffic:

  • Branding: Visitors should immediately recognize what service the website provides. We know Google is search, the Wall Street Journal is financial news, and ESPN is sports. The website must make it clear the type of unique content users can expect, and be the go-to in that niche.
  • Engagement: Engaged users are likely to return to the website. Converting visitors into email subscribers through a “lead magnet” is a tried-and-tested method of increasing user engagement. Websites can offer exclusive content and freebies as an incentive to attract more sign-ups and bookmarks.
  • Customer Service: Developing strong customer service can lead to repeat business. Studies have shown that on-time delivery was the key to customer loyalty for e-commerce sites, with 96 percent of shoppers who received their order on time saying they were “likely” or “very likely” to shop again at the site.

Understand User Psychology

As we’ve discovered, the more time users spend on a website, the more likely they are to return. None of this possible, of course, without top-notch content. In today’s Internet age of information overload, there will always be a flight to quality.

The problem is, valuable content by itself is not enough. To paraphrase Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, your content may be a vitamin, but in order to persuade people to consume it, it needs to be a gummy vitamin. In this case, the gummy is a story.

After an A/B test of two landing pages, one with a story and one without, the following images depict the results:

The content and value proposition of the two pages were exactly the same, but readers who landed on the story page spent almost 4 minutes longer than those who didn’t, and were far more engaged.

Marketers and publishers who understand the inner psychology of their audience can create a loyal following. In turn, these followers will bring others into the tribe.

Redesign & Optimize Site Layout

Our brains can only process so much information at once. Websites need to make it easy for users to find what they want by eliminating excess images, ads, and irrelevant pages.

Findings from a survey by Burst Media show that one third of online adults will immediately leave a website if they perceive it to be cluttered with ads, and more than 75% of those who remain will pay less attention to them. A clean website design will lead to more loyal readers, who may also behave in more valuable ways.

The design of a landing page can have significant effects on return rates of visitors. The graph below shows that visitors who first viewed the Vulture homepage were substantially more likely to return than those who first viewed an article (notice the different heights of the top banner).

Loyalty is further enhanced if the site becomes more valuable to the user at each visit. With the rise of “Big Data” and digital advertising technologies, it is now possible to have websites adapt to users’ needs and preferences over time. If, after several visits, the website consistently delivers value to the user, that user will be reluctant to move to another site that fails to offer the same customized service.

Closing Thoughts

The online media world is constantly adapting, and the eventual shift from a page view-based metric to a loyalty-metric will prove to be a significant move for advertisers, publishers, and users. Websites that focus on improving direct traffic, engaging users by understanding their needs, and optimizing their designs will be better prepared to convert visitors into loyal readers. Of course, every website is different, and this is where data will no doubt play an invaluable role.