How To "Onboard" Your Audience
Whether or not you are familiar with the concept of "onboarding," you are likely practicing at least some of its strategies in your online business. Onboarding is a useful concept that has migrated from human resources to games creation. Applied in a conscious and intentional way to the creation of publisher websites, it can be extremely helpful in clarifying and achieving site goals.
In the context of human resources, onboarding refers to the ways in which new employees are socialized to a particular business environment. It might include offering new employees instructional videos, lectures, opportunities to partner with experienced employees, or even a gamified environment with goals and rewards.
The concept of onboarding migrated to gaming as a series of tactics used to engage a newcomer in a videogame. The newbies are entering the same environment the experienced players inhabit, and it is important to quickly socialize them to the game, in order not to lose them as a result of confusion or frustration. In the context of gaming, onboarding will frequently include tutorials, character, or avatar creation, basic puzzles to develop new skills, or practice fights.
Onboarding consists of organizing the steps that audience members may be given to take a specific direction and arrive at a desired set of goals. Its purpose is to create familiarity with a new environment, and to show the newcomer the path that may be followed to achieve success. When done well, onboarding will build motivation, connection, a better match between the host organization and the new participant, and a higher rate of achievement of mutual goals.
The concept of onboarding is not yet widely applied to publishing or, for that matter, many websites, but the challenges that onboarding addresses are ones that every publisher faces. Publishers understand that it is vital to welcome, engage, and convert visitors; however, the dismal statistics of average time spent on page or site show how difficult those goals may be to achieve. This is where onboarding can be useful.
Content sites, while among the richest online, are also among the most challenging to structure in a way that establishes, articulates, and leads to the achievement of conversion goals. When your site visitors arrive, what is the most effective way to welcome and support them, and to turn them into loyal audience members? Should visitors be directed to new content, popular stories, opportunities to subscribe, or the store? What opportunities will be offered for each of the appropriate actions, and what hierarchy of offerings will be created to help visitors prioritize their actions?
Ideally, the direction for organizing the offerings to the audience should begin with the way in which visitors arrive at the site. If they arrive, for example, via an ad or a keyword offering fitness advice, they should be linked through to a page offering that advice through content, products, or other site offerings. By creating separate landing pages for various arrival paths, onboarding can be accomplished in different ways, with different end goals in mind.
Onboarding requires that a publisher act as mentor or guide to the audience members that arrive at the site. To do so, the site must focus on the visitor, rather than the product. It must offer benefits, rather than simply features.
Creating an effective onboarding sequence requires clarity on the part of the publisher as to what constitutes a conversion activity. Put another way, it requires that publishers are clear about what actions they want their audience members to take. Is it leaving a name and email address? Reading a top story? Purchasing a product? Which action provides the greatest short term benefit? Which the greatest long term benefit? And how will the onboarding sequence chosen affect the longevity of the relationship between the publisher and audience members?
Effective onboarding includes:
1) A welcome to visitors -- implicit or explicit -- confirming that they have arrived in the right place. If, for example, visitors arrive via a path that promises information on how to get fit in 30 days, what they see when they arrive should confirm that they will get their questions answered
2) A roadmap making clear to site visitors the actions they can take to achieve their goals. An example would be a content hierarchy, called out by means of headlines and sub-heads.
3) Support or reward for the action taken. Examples include great content on the relevant topic, a gamified set of steps for site participation or membership, or even a set of testimonials.
4) A clear call to action.
5) A response to the audience members who answer that call, in the form of a confirmation, thank you, or next step that can be taken.
These steps of onboarding can be supported through a gamification sequence. They can also be accomplished in the absence of one. But regardless of how the onboarding is done, or what the end goals of the process may be, it is a concept that should not be neglected ever. Each possible page that a visitor might land on should take the time and make the effort to welcome the visitors aboard, to guide them where it makes sense to go, and to stick with them till they have created their own journey of exploration and discovery.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.