The other day I was visiting with a colleague who was bidding on a project for a Fortune 500 company here in the U.S.A.
The Company wanted my colleague to commit to bringing X amount of users to a particular website for a given amount of money. The hope, apparently, was that when users found this community site they would join and eagerly spread the word when the company launched a new product within a year or so. My colleague mentioned some competitors for the project that can guarantee a certain number of hits and even registrations for some astronomical amount of money.
I don’t get it.
Hits and traffic numbers are NOT directly related with a successful site. A successful site is designed to achieve a particular strategic objective, so success should be measured by the number of conversions to that objective. Or in other words, the number of visitors that do what you want them to do on your site – whether it’s filing out a request for info form, joining the community, staying and reading, or buying something.
So back to the company that my colleague is working with – the objective of the site is to develop a community to create brand loyalists that will help spread the word for a product launch in a year or so. With that objective, the performance indicator should not be how many people land on the site, or even join the community, but how many want to stay on the site and how many would recommend it to others. Essentially, what this company may discover is that even if they get twice the number of visitors and members they are shooting for, they may not achieve their objective of creating brand fans.
What does this have to do with Gilligan’s Island? No matter how many people seemed to find their way to Gilligan’s Island, not one of them stayed, and none of them ever sent anyone back to the island. If they don’t like your island, they will leave.
Essentially this is what happens when someone finds your site but doesn’t find it relevant. Sure they might come, read an article or blog post, maybe even join the community, but if they don’t like it on your island – they leave, never to return and never to recommend the site to anyone else.
Google’s entire objective is to optimize the search experience of the user and therefore indexes the internet based on what previous users and linking sites have told it about the relevancy of a web site in order to produce only the top recommended, most relevant sites in a search query. Traffic alone does not indicate relevancy and will not, by itself, garner a coveted top spot in organic Google searches. If a community, or site, has thousands of members but the users don’t consider it to be a relevant, recommendable source ( based on how they use the site and links from other blogs, communities, and other sites) then Google will mirror that and not recommend it to subsequent users.
Furthermore, flies don’t like fly strips – they just get stuck there. Just because people have come to your site and spent a few minutes creating a profile does not mean they love you. To create a community of any value you need to go further than simply setting up a place for people to land. Communities, particularly brand communities, do not consist of the 80% of people that use your product or service everyday – instead it’s the diehards, the evangelists – the people that would recommend you. If you give them the tools and a reason they will do that automatically.