I have lately been reading Steve Krug's book on usability - Dont make me think. In one of the pages, he makes the claim - "Most of the times, people on the web dont want to be engaged."
This made me think real hard for a moment. Considering the manner in which websites are built today, isint engagement the buzzword? Does'nt everyone want to increase user engagement on their websites?
Then why would we take Steve's advice and not create engaging websites? Why would a usability specialist say something like that? Has his book outlived the time for which it was written?
Surprisingly, the answer to the last question is a big 'NO'. You may ask why? Because, the fundamentals never change. NEVER.
This puts us in a dilemma. It seems like we need to create websites for our users - who apparently dont want to be engaged, yet we need to ensure that they are engaged with our website/product.
To resolve our dilemma, lets try to see Steve's argument in a new light.
What do we mean by engagement?
As a website owner, engagement is very critical to the success of your website. You want your visitors to spend time on your site instead of someone else's. But what you truly want to do is this - you want people to come back to your website and refer your website to others. Because there is where the real gold mine lies - returning visitors and word of mouth marketing.
However, making a page more 'engaging' is actually counter productive to your mission (if the above stated mission is actually your mission). The key lies in the realization that you are not the one who is going to use your website (unless of course, your company has a policy of dogfooding, which in my opinion is a brlliant idea). Your users are going to love or hate your site depending upon how much time they will have to spend trying to accomplish what they came for. We live in a world of apps and websites where it only takes a snap second to type in a different keyword in a search engine and find the next best tool. Attention spans are short. And error tolerance is low(as it has always been, and is unlikely to change).
If you want to create returning users for your website, you need to keep them on your website for only as much time as is needed to get 'their' task done.
Take that last line with a pinch of salt.
Understanding this concept is very important for creating value for yourself in the eyes of your users. If you think this is bullshit, take the example of the most successful internet business as of this writing. There's only one name that comes to mind - Google. And what does it do? Does it make you stay on its webpage? Or does it help you accomplish your goal. Do you go back to its home page to engage and play with it. Or do you go back to it time and again because you know it will not waste your precious time (unless you are one of those people who drools over search result pages).
One might argue that the strategy is a perfect fit for a website like Google. But think about it again. Who are your users? Aren't they they same ones that came after clicking through search results? If you are lucky, they might have even read that you have the most relevant information that they can find on their topic of interest. There is however one key question that you must ask yourself - 'WHY' are your users on your website. What are they trying to accomplish?Are they here for leisure? Are they here to do something so that they can spend time with their family after they are done? Are they here to get some information that they can use for their own work? Are they here to solve a problem that need to be fixed or they might risk losing something? (Its like the age of Renaissance all over again, but this time its happening on the web).
Most of the times, you will find that your users are really on your website to 'get something done'. As a product owner or a user experience designer, your role is to make that process as smooth sailing as possible. In user experience design studies, we often hear discussions about 'sensing intent' and understanding user 'activities'. In layman therms, an activity is what the user wants to accomplish. And you need to create tasks that would enable the user complete that activity in the most efficient way possible. (Have you seen the 1 click checkout option from Amazon?)
Yes you have sponsors. Yes you have special offers that you just need to show your users. There's nobody stopping you from showing them. But show it at the right time. Show those sponsor messages where it matters - to them. Why? Because if it matters to them at a given point in the task-flow, then that is the point in the task-flow that should matter the most to you as well, since that is where you create value for both - your users and your sponsors.
By creating an efficient system to help your users get things done, you will gain their confidence and trust. And not only that, your user will begin to recommend your website/product to others.
Therefore, no matter what your website does, and who are you users, learn what they want, and then create the best way for them to achieve their goals and you will a loyal and returning audience. And that is how you create user engagement through user disengagement.