Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Should People Visit Your Website?

Your platform is essentially the people who willingly listen to you. I’ve said before that platform is your capacity to influence people.

We must earn the right to influence people.
The reason you are able to influence people is because they have given you the right to influence them. Most people have sense enough not to give that right away too freely. We must earn the right to influence people. This is just as true with an online platform as it is with any other social platform. Subconsciously, every visitor has asked the question Why should I visit this site?

It Answers a Question

If a user finds a site through a search engine, he is probably looking for the answer to a very specific question. If the site appears in the search results and the title and summary statement imply that the site will answer the question, the user clicks the link. But a platform this does not make. Even if the user finds the exact answer he was looking for, there is no guarantee that he will ever return. The best chance for that is if the site addresses a general type of question that interests that user. He may return, knowing that the site will be a reliable source for other information on a subject he enjoys.

This can be particularly difficult for aspiring novelists. An author with an established fan base can provide more information about characters and back-story than what the pages of a book will allow. Maybe there is an interesting lesser character in the book that the readers might enjoy knowing more about. Putting this information on a website will address those questions, but when the author is unpublished or not well known, people are unlikely to searching for this information, no matter how interesting it might be.

It Sells the Dream

Authors congregate around literary agent blogs. As I write this Rachelle Gardner has 831 followers. Nathan Bransford has 1664. Chip MacGregor doesn’t have the same gadget on his site, but based on the number of people leaving comments, I would say he has similar traffic to Rachelle. I’ve seen other agents showing similar numbers. Most of the people following these sites are authors. I haven’t polled them, but based on comments, I think it is a pretty safe bet that most of the authors visiting these sites are hoping it will help them overcome the hurdles of reaching publication. We don’t usually see even well known authors getting anywhere near that traffic.

As authors, we can’t sell the dream of publication as well as literary agents and publishers. Nor should we, if there is a dream we should be selling, it should be the dream of our readers. With non-fiction, that can be doable. With fiction, it is much more difficult.

It Provides Community

People visit websites because they provide a community of likeminded people. People need community. We like to come together and share our experiences. When a user finds a site where other people are discussing a topic that interests him, he may return many times, to read the comments of others and participate himself.

To some degree, I think this may be an area where authors can make some gains. offers the capability for product discussions, but it seems like an author’s website would be a better place for readers to discuss the book. People who bought the book through may return to write a review, but to include the most people in a discussion of the book, it seems like the author’s website would be more open for people who buy the book from various sources. If the author happens to see someone discussing the book elsewhere, the author could even contact the person and ask if he will also raise the discussion on the author’s website, giving that person and others a reason to visit the website.

Unfortunately, with unpublished and low sales authors, it may not be so easy to get the discussion started. I can’t imagine many people wanting to visit an aspiring author’s website to discuss topics related to a book that doesn't yet exist.

It Provides a Useful Tool

Many of the sites people visit again and again are sites like or I personally use and all the time. I also visit my bank’s website, several times a month, to check my balance and pay my bills. These sites all have something in common. They are tools that allow the user to do something or find information.

If you are creative and have programming skills, you can create tools on your site. If it is useful, people will return and use them, helping you with your traffic figures. But you will have to think up your own, rather than use someone else’s. So far, I haven’t found many tools of particular interest to fiction readers. Non-fiction is much easier to find tools that aid the reader in accomplishing his goal.

The Myth of Great Posts

Notice that I haven’t said that people visit a site because of great posts. There is a theory in the blogging community that if you create great content then your blog will receive more traffic. It does have some basis in fact and I can personally attest to the fact that some of my better posts and articles tend to be the ones people are reading and linking to, but I’ve also seen people show an interest in posts and articles that aren't as well thought out (I mean for me). And I’ve seen blogs that are somewhat popular, but I can’t figure out why anyone would read them. So, while we should strive to create great content, I think it is largely a myth that great content alone can push a blog to success, if for no other reason than what is great content for me may not be great content for you. If you can create okay content and incorporate it with some of the things mentioned above, you are likely to get more traffic than great content alone will provide.