When I’m assessing the success of a web site these days, one thing I increasingly look for is how well a site drives me – the web site visitor – to take some action. I look to see how effectively the web site actually moves me to do something beyond just reading its web pages. I think this is a critical factor for a successful site — and something that many web sites still do not do well.
The problem I see often is that the owners/creators of many web sites have not decided what they want their web visitors to do because of their web site. Too many think that a web site is successful (simply) if it has a nice presentation of their “about us” information and a library of reports and documents.
But so what? How does this help the web site host organization be more successful? Many web site owners have not taken the next step to decide what they want people to do because of their web site information, what action they want people to take which will help further the impact and the success of the organization.
Now, for some types of web sites, this question of what you want the web visitor to do is pretty obvious. For example, an e-commerce web site owner wants visitors to place an order for its products; an issue-advocacy web site owner wants visitors to learn about their issue and support their cause with donations or by signing a petition.
The question of what action a web site should drive people to take is harder for a government agency, a research organization, a foundation, an issue-education group, or other non-profit organizations. I think there are some good answers, however, to the question of what kinds of actions these sites can steering people to take, what kind of online activity will help the success of the organizations.
Here are some thoughts on some of the range actions that an organization can enable/encourage web site visitors to take which will benefit both the visitor and the success of the organization.
E-commerce – Beyond the Purchase
E-commerce sites exist to entice customers to buy products – but the best ones now also provide a lot of activities/actions for web visitors – in addition to purchasing services – in order to get them engaged and coming back to the site. These provide a lot of value to the web visitor and the web site owner. For example:
- Customer reviews: people enjoy sharing their views of products they like (or detest) and other people get a lot of value from seeing what other customers have said about products. These reviews provide a lot of value for customers (good information), and the web site owner (attractive and free content!) See example of customer reviews on Amazon.com.
- Trip research and planning: tools such as trip planers work well to get a web site visitor invested in using a site, and then using the site to purchase services such as trip resevations. See an expample of a “Tripfolio” I created and which the travel site enables me to share via Twitter or Facebook.
Think Tanks / Issue-focused Foundations
Think tanks are organizations who seek to create new solutions to policy problems and influence others – in research and public policy – to adopt their approaches. Issue-focused foundations often try to influence progress in a sector by funding and facilitating innovatiove new work in a sector. The impact of both types of organizations is only as strong as their ability to get people to take up and use their ideas. Here are some examples of using the web to get people to take actions which help enable “uptake” and adoption:
- Pew Internet and American Life Project: this project does innovative and unique research, and also aggressively tries to get its work used by others. For example, Pew Internet provides the data sets which underlie its work available so other researchers can take and use their data for other research. Many research organizations try to hold their data tightly under their control, but I think the approach of Pew Internet is a good way to expand their impact – by influencing the research work of others.
- Skoll Foundation: the Foundation supports innovative people working to solve social problems, or social entrepreueurs. The Foundation launched an online community (“Social Edge”)to be a focal point for social entrepreneurs and others working with them to connect and share ideas. This is a far different approach from just conducting research and posting papers, or even funding social entrepreneurs – instead seeking to build and cultivate the audience interested in the work of the organization, with many opportunities for people to share their own ideas and opinions.
- Center for Global Development “Microfinance Open Book Blog” is David Roodman’s work to write a book with ongoing and open public commenting. The comments from the public, while not large in number, provide an interesting perspective on Roodman’s work and give him ongoing feedback.
Organizations which focus on educating the public are increasingly moving beyond just posting reports online and finding ways to engage people on their issues. For example, Cancer Research UK is focused on finding “better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat” cancer. Another organization focused on public education about a health issue is the March of Dimes. Some of what both organizations do to engage people in taking some action:
- Questions and answers about cancer.
- Starting a fundraising effort for cancer research with your family and friends
- Sharing information about Cancer Research UK on your Facebook profile.
- Blogging by families with a child affected by birth defects, to share their personal challenges and joys with others.
Many government agency web sites are focused on publishing information, with some agencies also increasingly shifting to provide “e-government” services, or ways for citizens to complete transactions online. I also think that many agencies can be more successful by enlisting people to take action to engage with the government online. For example:
- Engaging with decision makers: the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, does more than just share information and his opinions on his web site and blog, he invites people to ask him questions in live online chats he has run (for example, on Climate issues). The action this can inspire web visitors to take is to ask a question – to get personally engaged. And the benefit for the Prime Minister is increased web traffic and genuine questions from his constituents.
- E-Consultation on proposed legislation: Governments in a number of countries are using the web to invite public input on proposed policies or legislation. This allows web visitors to take an action – to submit their views for the public record – and has the benefit for the sponsoring agency of expanding awareness of their work and collecting input from a wider audience that they could have pre-internet. For example, see this solicitation of public input on proposed changes to the “Smoking Act” by the Government of Singapore.
Again – I think that web sites need to be built with a clear focus on what you want people to do as a result of your site, what action or effort you want them to take – which will help your organization be more successful.
Paraphrasing web strategist Josh Klein, the key challenge in running an effective web site is
(H)ow to get people to visit your website, take some desirable action or actions, and build an ongoing relationship with you.
Further resources on this topic:
What is Web Strategy and Why Should You Care? Josh Klein
Web Strategy: How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website
By Jeremiah Owyang
The Activation Point “Welcome to the Activation Point™, where you will find best practices for planning for persuasion, tailored to the unique needs of social change organizations.”
F1 Six Steps to a Successful Online Strategy, by Forum One
Flickr Photo above used under Creative Commons license.