Return Visitors – Getting Visitors to Come Back

Returning visitors usually account for the majority of the traffic to a successful well established website. These visitors are more valuable to you, because the more time they spend at your site the more likely they are to earn you money through your monetization strategies. An added benefit of return visitors is that they are easier to convert into paying customers, because they have established trust with your site.

Getting people to come back to your site is a similar challenge to getting people to stay there for long periods of time. Therefore, the strategies discussed in the previous chapter on Stickiness will also increase the likelihood of your visitors becoming returning visitors. This chapter will focus on another powerful strategy for attracting return visitors, namely subscriptions.

Subscriptions

If you are running a regularly updated site, it is a good idea to let visitors subscribe to those updates. This will increase your number of return visitors significantly. Whenever you release new content your subscribers will be informed, sending a percentage of them returning to your site. There are three main ways in which you can allow visitors to follow updates on your site: RSS feeds, email newsletters and social networks.

RSS Feeds

An RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed is a mechanism to distribute content from a site out to many readers. This allows visitors subscribed to the feed to get instant notification of updates. RSS feeds are not read directly. Instead, they are read through feed readers – such as Feedly for Firefox.

Most CMS, including WordPress, already have RSS feeds integrated for posts and comments. You simply need to add a link to your post feed in one or more prominent places on your site. Preferably, the link should use the standard RSS feed icon so people can find it easily.

RSS feed icon
RSS feed icon.

To make using the RSS feed simpler, you can add a subscribe link that takes the visitor directly to a feed reader, for example, using a Google Reader subscription button. If you are interested in keeping track of how many RSS subscribers you have, the feed can be linked through Google’s FeedBurner service.

FD Feedburner – This WP plug-in forwards all feed traffic transparently to Feedburner.

Be sure to make the content previews (snippets) in your RSS feed compelling to encourage more readers to click through and read the full entry. This will get you more return visitors than just using the default option of including the first couple of sentences in the post as the snippet.

RSS feeds have two additional usages. First, you can display feeds from other sites on your own. This ensures that your site is kept fresh with current content. However, if your site already has unique content, you can take advantage of the other usage. You can do the opposite and release content from your site as feeds that other sites may use. The benefit of this is that your feed includes embedded links back to your site which are under your control, providing you with a piece of their site’s traffic. The willingness of others to use such feeds as content for their sites will depend on how useful and relevant it is to them. You can promote your feed on RSS directories, such as Feedage.

Email Newsletters

Another way to keep your visitors informed and returning to your website is by publishing an email newsletter. Newsletters tend to attract more subscribers and traffic than RSS feeds, mainly because they are easier to use and feel more personal. How often you send out the email depends on how often you release new content. A weekly newsletter is usually the best choice. A daily email may be too much and a monthly too little.

Begin by creating a legitimate email list by asking your visitors to sign up for the service on your site. Once you have started gathering an email list you need email content to send out. There are two ways of creating this content – automatically or manually. The automatic way is to have your RSS feed sent out as a newsletter for you, using for example Feedburner’s email service. The other way is to put together the newsletter manually. This allows you to maximize its impact and usefulness, although it requires some time and effort. Be sure to include an unsubscribe option in your newsletter.

Alo Easymail – This WP plug-in allows you to compile and send out newsletters as well as to accept and manage subscriptions and unsubscriptions.

Social Networks

A third subscription method is to allow visitors to follow your site updates on social networks. You just need to include a link to your site’s profile page on, for example, Facebook or Twitter. A person already participating in the same social network may be more likely to subscribe using this option rather than using RSS feeds or newsletters.

Encouraging Subscribers

There are many ways of increasing the percentage of visitors that subscribe to your site. One way is of course to include multiple subscription alternatives – RSS, newsletters and social networks. Another is to make sure that signing up for a subscription is easy and contains as few steps as possible.

You want to make your subscription buttons prominent without being annoying. A good idea is to place one set of links above the fold in your menu or sidebar, and a second set below the content. You may even want to spell out the invitation somewhere to further increase the percentage of visitors that sign up. For example, a simple “Enjoyed this post? Get more like it by following us on Twitter” can be placed below the content. Another tip for encouraging visitors to subscribe is to offer an incentive for doing so, such as a free download of something with high perceived value.

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Timothy Ferriss - The 4-hour Workweek