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Are You Ignoring the Cries of Your Website?

January 7, 2009

While traveling by plane to Florida to visit my grandmother for the holidays, we were sitting next to a couple with 2 small children, probably around 2 and 3 years of age. We expect a lot of children during holiday travel, and typically it's not that big of a deal. With this family, however, it was a different matter.


From almost the moment the kids got on the plane, until we landed, they cried and screamed that they were "all done" and wanted to go home. Okay, so kids cry. As a mom of 3, I certainly understand that. What I don't understand was why the parents were basically ignoring their children's cries. Rather than attempting to discuss the situation with them, they basically put on their headphones and ignored them for the entire flight. In fact, it's really no wonder that the kids were crying since they didn't seem to have anything to do or play with. Meanwhile the rest of the plane had to endure the extremely annoying sounds of these selfish parents' kids, which just got worse and worse.

When my children were younger, we flew with them and never had a problem with them crying and disturbing others on the plane. This was in part because we explained to them before we left home exactly what we were doing and what the situation would be. They may not have been able to fully talk, but that doesn't mean they couldn't understand what's acceptable and what's not. Let's face it, most kids really do want to be good. To make sure that my kids didn't get bored (which is typically the reason kids cry on planes), I spent weeks before our trip purchasing lots of small toys, games and books that were easy to travel with, and I wouldn't let them even know I had them until we got on the plane and they first started getting bored. This worked well in keeping them happy and fairly quiet so that they didn't disturb others.

In other words, we came prepared.

So what's this got to do with your website?

It relates in 2 ways. First, just as you need to prepare for a long trip with your child, you need to prepare your website before simply slapping it up on your server if you want it to behave as you would like it to. And second, just as ignoring a crying child doesn't make it stop crying (and typically just makes it cry louder), ignoring the cries of your website can be just as catastrophic.

Preparing Your Website So That It Behaves the Way You Want It To

Just as I used to prepare my kids for their plane flights, you can prepare your website to behave nicely for the people who visit it, as well as for the search engines that index it. This means you have to research the words that people looking for your products or services would use to find what you offer. It also means that you have to build it in a logical manner so that people will be able to find exactly what they need once they arrive. If you don't think about these things and prepare in advance, chances are your website is gonna cry--and cry a lot! After all, your website's reason for existing is to showcase and sell your stuff.

While it's easy to hear children crying on a plane, the cries of your website are not always noticed. In fact, you have to do some detective work to even know it's crying. Thankfully, web analytics tools are a big help in revealing problems with your website.

Here are a couple of warning signs that your website may be an unhappy camper, and what you can do about it:

Warning sign 1: Your site is getting search engine traffic, but the visitors are coming in via keyword searches that have nothing to do with what you are actually offering. Everyone has this happen to a certain extent, but if you receive more irrelevant traffic than relevant, your site is definitely crying!

What to look for: Fire up your analytics program and view all the keyword phrases that have brought visitors to your site. While all sites will show some irrelevant keyword phrases that bring traffic, the bulk of your search engine traffic should be coming via words that relate to what you do. Check which pages are bringing the most irrelevant traffic. In many cases, you'll learn that you're using unrelated and unfocused words on those pages.

The fix:
Perform keyword research specifically for the pages that bring irrelevant traffic and rewrite the copy and Title tags to focus on the good phrases, while removing some of the extraneous words if possible. While irrelevant traffic is not a big deal when you're not paying for every visitor, it makes sense to minimize the irrelevant traffic in favor of that which is targeted to what you're actually offering.

Warning sign 2: Your website is receiving targeted traffic, but they leave as soon as they get there.

What to look for: Look at the "bounce rate" for the important pages of your site. If it's really high, there's a good chance that people don't feel that they're at the right website when they get there. This makes your website sad because it wants people to look around at other areas and ideally to take some action.

Review the look and feel, as well as the information that you provide on the high-bouncing pages and determine why they may not be meeting the visitors' needs. Do they look too amateurish, ugly or unprofessional? If so, that could be your answer. With online fraud a major concern, the overall look of a website is a determining factor in whether a visitor believes the site is trustworthy or not. Many people won't purchase from any site that looks like someone's nephew designed it in 1997.

If your site's look is professional and clean, perhaps it's a usability nightmare. Is it all Flash, which some of your visitors may not be able to view or simply don't like? Is it difficult to navigate to other pages of the site?

The fix:
Redesign your website to have a look that's at least comparable to those of your competitors, and do some usability testing so you can see where visitors may be getting tripped up or simply leaving without giving your site a chance.

It's important to note that a high bounce rate on just a few pages of your site is generally nothing to be concerned with. People may be finding exactly what they want when they land on that page and then leave satisfied. Still, it never hurts to try to entice them to take additional action!

There are many more signs that your website is not very happy with you. My hope is that you will start noticing what's not working and do something about it before it gets out of hand!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Carlos del Rio said:
I like your analogy and the concrete advice for dealing with problems.
 Conor said:
Hey Jill,

Great post! I have experienced both the crying children on flights (with nonchalant parents) and crying websites, and both can be extremely frustrating, especially when simple changes can make vast differences.

You didn't mention split testing your main landing pages, which is always a good way of finding out how your visitors interact with your website. The Site Overlay feature in Google Analytics can help with this. We have used Crazyegg in the past for Heatmaps of visitor actions.

I am bringing large headphones on my next flight :)

 Alysson said:
Well written and great analogy. The number of websites that are poorly conceived and even more poorly designed as it relates to the user experience is staggering. Often people feel as though slapping just anything up there is preferable to not having a site at all, but nothing could be further from the truth. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Delay is preferable to error."
 Keri Morgret said:
In both cases, I don't think the average observer realizes the preparation that goes into making things go smoothly. You see children on the plane that are quiet, and think the parents are lucky -- you don't see the time that went into making sure the flight went easy for the family (and the rest of the plane). When you visit a site that is well-designed, you don't think about the time that went into making it easy to use, and you don't realize that you need to spend the same amount of time preparing your site.
 Jill said:
Absolutely, Keri. That sums up both situations perfectly!