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Communicate with Visitors

I have had this article in the possibles stack for a couple of months which is very unusual. We have been worrying about gaining visitors and getting them to listen to atleast one of our samples but it is clear that we need to work on our communication with our visitors - to engage them and encourage them to consider a purchase or two.
Here is a rather thoughtful piece on this topic:

This article might be a bit different than you've come to
expect from a webmaster-related article. The reason is that, in
my opinion, it is a facet of the internet many people don't
really think about. And that is communication. But, by
communication I mean more than just talking or writing. Read
on...

What is Communication?

Communication is defined simply as the transferring of an idea
or concept from one point to another with full duplication on
the receiving side. This last component is one often forgotten.
So, a full one-way communication would be Fred has an idea about
a widget. He propels that idea across space to Ted. Ted receives
the communication, understands it, and has full duplication on
his end of the exact concept Fred was thinking about that
widget. Now, a full two-way communication would be the above
process, but with the addendum that Ted thereby acknowledge
Fred for his communication, sending the acknowledgement across
space to Fred, at which point Fred receives the acknowledgement
and fully duplicates and understands the acknowledgement. Fred
would then thank Ted for this acknowledgement.

So, what we have here is an interchange of ideas with full
understanding on both sides, as well as the full understanding
on both sides that their communication(s) is/are being
received.

Why Do I Bring This Up?

Good question. The above communication formula applies to
everything. Interpersonal relations, business, family, etc.
However, we are in the business of websites. A website, by its
very nature, is a communication medium. If your site does not
properly observe this communication formula, you may be
spinning your wheels posting and emailing your
visitors/customers and they might still not really be receiving
your communication. And, again, I emphasize that receipt. When
you email a customer, I am not referring to whether that email
arrives in their inbox. No, I am referring to whether that
person fully duplicated your communication and got the exact
point you were trying to make.

Have you ever written an article which, to you, makes sense,
but others seem to not be able to grasp? Have you written sales
copy that generated little to no sales? Have you dealt with a
client which, no matter how hard you try, just doesn't seem to
"get it"? If anything like this is out, then your communication
formula is out. For one reason or the other, they are not
getting the same understanding you are.

How Does This Apply?

It's far easier to observe proper communication in person than
over the internet. First, when the person is right in front of
you, you get immediate feedback as to whether they are
understanding you. On the internet, if someone doesn't
understand your writing, they will just leave and you'll never
know. In fact, on the internet, if the communication is out in
any way, you'll probably just lose the visitor. And the nature
of the medium is that you won't know.

But, how can you do your part to enforce a proper communication
formula on your website? Let's look at that:

1. Definitions of Words. Words are part and parcel of the
language. But, if someone does not understand the words you are
using, the language will not communicate to them. In fact, as
human nature has it, when a person is reading something they
don't understand, they will first forget they read it, second
they will individuate from it. Ultimately, they will just leave
and not come back. So, it is in your interest to use words that
your visitors will understand. Do not use big, fancy words just
for the sake of looking learned. It doesn't work. Also, if your
site discusses topics which are technical in nature, do your
best to describe things in an easy-to-follow way. Lastly, it is
my opinion that every site which is an instructional type of
site should include a glossary. Maintain a glossary of commonly
misunderstood terms and, in your content, hyperlink those words
to the definition. You could even use ALT tags or DIV layers to
make the definition pop up when you hover over the word. However
you choose to employ it, making sure your writing communicates
to your reader is in your interest. And this starts with using
words they understand.

2. Acknowledge Your Visitors. As discussed above,
acknowledgement is half of the communication cycle. So, when
your visitors send you an email, acknowledge it. If you do not,
your visitor will think you are ignoring them and they may
become upset. I don't intend to make your visitor seem like a
child there, but it is true. Visitors who are in good
communication with a website are more likely to remember that
website. Their like for the site will increase and they will
have a higher level of agreement with the people behind it.
That is good for you. On the other hand, if you ignore them and
do not reply to their messages, then the communication really
doesn't exist. Therefore, they will write you off. So, organize
your site's email lines so that emails are replied to. At the
least, set up an auto responder to let them know their message
was received. Ideally, though, you will send them an actual
reply.

3. When needed, enforce acknowledgement. Sometimes, a visitor
will initiate a transaction of some variety and then abandon
it. For example, they may sign up for your mailing list but
fail to confirm their subscription. Well, the communication
formula is out. They never acknowledged the confirmation email.
Maybe it never arrived. Maybe they forgot. Regardless, you need
to repeat the question. Just as you would in real life if
somebody does not answer your question, you repeat until you
get an answer. In our example, you may send them a series of
reminders (enabled via cron) until they confirm their
subscription. After a few tries, you can write them off.

4. Design to Communicate. The design of your website needs to
lend itself to the message you are trying to communicate. Badly
designed, a site's design can impede the message. It would be
like trying to communicate to someone over the loud noise of a
jet engine. In this case, you may be talking fine, but you need
to handle the environment around you to make your communication
arrive. Stop the jet engine or go somewhere else where you can
get your message across. Online, your site is the medium. Your
content can be well-written and the words defined, but if the
site is a chore to use, then your site becomes the din that
will keep the message from arriving in the mind of the reader.
I will reserve design theories for another article, but pay
attention to things like (1) cross-browser compatibility, (2)
your main message being very apparent when the user arrives to
your homepage, (3) functional layout. On #2, do not overcrowd
the page with so much information that the user doesn't know
where to focus.

5. Allow Others to Communicate. Communication is the engine
which powers life. It is what makes the world go round. This is
the reason why interactive elements on a website make the site
more sticky and more trafficked. People love to communicate.
So, set up online forums, interactive quizzes, anything that
will invite feedback and participation on the part of your
visitor. Your site does not need to be a one-way flow from you
to them. In fact, a successful website will actively get the
return flow from them to the site.

6. Speak to Their Reality. This could take an article in and of
itself, but I will give it a brief mention here. Even observing
all of the above, you have the simple fact that everybody has a
certain way of looking at things. And everybody thinks their way
of looking at the world is right. In fact, they KNOW they are
right. If you are communicating to them assuming things that
are not part of their reality, then the communication will not
arrive to them. A person has to be receptive to your
communication. An example would be trying to explain the health
benefits of meat to a member of PETA. So, in any situation, you
need to find what the reality of your target audience is and
then tailor your communication to THAT reality in order for
your communication to really arrive. This is where inviting
visitor feedback comes into play. Keep a running record of
feedback to see what their reality is. Do surveys. Find out
what their experience is and speak to that. By doing this and
observing the proper communication formula, you WILL be the
authority for them in your field. Look at Oprah. She is very
wealthy, so much so that most other people cannot really
identify with that kind of wealth. But, Oprah is out there,
talking to everyone. And she positions herself in such a way
where people identify with her. She doesn't put up a front. She
is REAL to people. She speaks to their reality. And she is very
successful because of it.

Wrap It Up

I have touched on some things in this article which I can
easily expand upon at a later date. And I probably will. But,
this will get you started. Judge the communication to and from
your website and see how it measures up. Any successful website
cannot sit there on the internet as it's own little island. It
has to communicate and communicate in a big way. It has to
serve as that 6 lane highway with traffic going in both
directions. Make your site do this and you'll be on your way.



About The Author: David Risley is a web developer and founder
of PC Media, Inc. (http://www.pcmedianet.com). Specializes in
PHP/MySQL development, consulting and internet business
management. He is also the founder of PC Mechanic
(http://www.pcmech.com), a large website delivering
do-it-yourself computer information to thousands of users every
day.

Some feedback would really help so I am going to have a serious look at that - our experiment with Del.io.us dosen't seem to have produced any reaction so we clearly need another mechanism. Perhaps reviews, ratings or requests are angles of attack that we could develop effectively.

In the meantime we are working on the use of Dreamweaver templates to give us an easy to use facility to promote individual recordings and or composers of the week.

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