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In-Depth Reading Time: 5 minutes

Common assumptions about websites


As a knowledge management project, our main mission is helping people to find and share high-quality information. One of the ways we do this is by building and managing websites, and we also help others as they build and manage their own website. Many family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs and projects use websites on a daily basis to share evidence, connect people with information, and promote their work. A common assumption I’ve observed working with programs and projects is the assumption that once a website is built, people will come—or put another way, that once you build it, you’re done.

But building a website doesn’t guarantee that people will use it. In fact, our research shows that people who regularly consult a list of trusted websites are reluctant to add a new one to their list. If you want people to visit your website, you need to bring them there, and this blog post shares some easy and low-cost strategies to do that.

“A common assumption is that once a website is built, people will come—or put another way, that once you build it, you’re done.”

The evolution of online behaviors and why they matter

Two years ago, Knowledge SUCCESS published two reports about how people working in family planning and reproductive health find and share information relevant to their work. Overwhelmingly, in nearly every job role, people reported turning first to the Internet to find the information they need. But the ways in which people find and engage with websites has changed over the years.

Before search engines existed, it was common for people to go directly to a website and use that website’s navigation menus or internal site search to find what they were looking for. While on a webpage, they might click on a link that would take them to another website. Many websites had a “web ring,” “links page,” or “blog roll”—a list of recommended websites that they linked to. Being included on a reputable site’s links page was a primary source of traffic for many websites.

Website traffic refers to the volume of users visiting a website.

People use the Internet very differently now. The vast majority of people go first to Google (or another search engine) when they’re looking for information – and this is true in any part of the world. They type in a search term, click on a search result, get what they need from that webpage, and return to Google for their next search. Rarely do website visitors use a website’s own menus to find and explore additional pages.

What’s more, the speed of Internet publishing has changed. Because people turn to search engines to find what they’re looking for, a website is competing with thousands if not millions of other webpages whose content may match their search term. New content relevant to a user’s search is added to the Internet not on a daily or hourly basis, but by the minute and even seconds.

Why is it important to understand how the Internet has changed and what current online behaviors look like? Because you can account for these changes in your outreach and engagement strategies.

How to bring people to your website

The first and most important thing you can do to bring people to your website is something you’ll have already done while building it: define the audience. Think about the specific interests, geographic locations, and job roles of the people you’re trying to reach. This helps you focus your promotional efforts. For example, if your website is for social and behavior change (SBC) professionals, you know that you’ll have more success if you promote it in places like Springboard and the CORE Group’s SBC working group email list.

Next, set aside time and funds to promote the website and update its content on a regular basis. The amount of time and funds needed will depend on the type of website you manage, but at a minimum, we recommend at least an hour a week of dedicated promotion and closer to 2-3 hours a week if your website is publishing new content (like blog posts) on a regular basis. This step is especially important for donor-funded projects, who often need to plan ahead in order to have dedicated time and funds included in an approved work plan.

Once you have the time and funds reserved, there are several relatively easy and low-cost things you can do that will help ensure your website is visited and used.

Make people aware that your website exists

Announce your website launch to social media, popular forums and list servs. The IBP Network Global list serv, HIFA, and Springboard are great options for reaching people working in FP/RH. You can also include the new website URL in your email signature, either as a link or by embedding a clickable image. (Amref Health Africa uses the embedded image strategy really well to promote new resources and upcoming events.) Some organizations, like the Interagency Gender Working Group, accept suggestions for their email newsletters. [Editor’s note: To submit a post to the IGWG Gender Updates newsletter, email igwg @ prb.org with the title of your website, your organization, and a 2-3 sentence summary.]

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of updating content on your website so that it ranks higher on a search engine results page (SERP), and (in theory) you receive more traffic. Remember earlier in this post, when I mentioned that the vast majority of people find websites through Google? If you want people to find your website, optimizing your website content for search engines needs to be part of your strategy. This may sound daunting but it can be made really easy with the installation of a plugin that will walk you through what you need to do. We use Yoast SEO, which costs less than $100 / year.

Screenshot of Yoast SEO's analysis of a blog post
Screenshot of YoastSEO analysis for a Knowledge SUCCESS blog post

Give people a reminder (and a reason) to come back.

Someone may visit your website when it launches and then forget it exists several weeks later, when they’re looking for a resource. Even if someone is aware your website exists, they may not remember to go back and check for new content. That’s because our brains are overloaded with information and it takes a long time to build new patterns of behavior. Many people benefit from prompts that remind them.

Just posting a new blog post doesn’t mean anyone will find it, but if you already have a social media presence or email list, you can tell your followers and subscribers about the new post, and that can draw people in– as well as making the post easier to share. We do this every Monday when we email our subscribers with new blog posts that have been published the previous week. Reminding people to come back to the website – and giving them a good reason to do so – not only brings in more visits, but over time, results in greater likelihood that people will recall your website when they go to search online for resources.

Bring purpose and focus to your activities by developing an engagement strategy.

Last year, we launched FP insight, a new website for people working in FP/RH to find, share, and save resources related to their work. We developed an engagement strategy to guide our plans after the launch. Based on four marketing stages, the strategy covered how to make people aware of the website (“attract” them), provide them with a great experience once they visited (“engage” them), and give them reasons to keep coming back (“delight” them).

Figure 1. Overview of FP insight Marketing Stages/User Journey

Based on the concept of a marketing funnel

Marketing Stages Description How it relates to FP insight
Awareness People are looking for answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, and insight They don’t know about FP insight
Consideration People are doing heavy research on whether or not your product or service is a good fit for them They know about FP insight. They’re deciding whether to sign up.
Decision or "purchase" People are figuring out exactly what it would take to become a customer. They’ve just signed up. Now they’re deciding, should they actually use the platform and dedicate time to learning it?

(0-3 months of FP insight membership)
Customer People have signed up for your product. They’ve been signed up. They’re actively engaging. How do we nurture that and turn them into FP insight champions?

(6-12 months of FP insight membership)

Christelle Ngoumen gave a great talk earlier this year about the intersection of website design and behavioral science, in which she noted that people, when using websites, are on a journey trying to get from point A to point B. This could be a journey from who they are (point A) to who they would like to become (point B) or one getting from where they are (point A) to where they would like to be (point B). There are going to be things in the way that prevent people from getting from point A to point B. Successful website engagement strategies try to understand people’s types of barriers and their goals, and enable them to get from point A to point B. For example, FP insight’s engagement strategy helps people move from feeling overwhelmed with information and resources (point A) to feeling like that information is organized and curated for their needs (point B).

Conclusion

In short: Building a website is only the beginning of knowledge exchange. To ensure that knowledge is successfully found (and used) takes advance planning, ongoing commitment to content updates and SEO, and conscious and selective content marketing and promotion.

A vector graphic of people building a website
Anne Kott

Team Lead, Communications and Content, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Anne Kott, MSPH, is the team lead responsible for communications and content on Knowledge SUCCESS. In her role, she oversees technical, programmatic, and administrative aspects of large-scale knowledge management (KM) and communications programs. Previously, she served as communications director for the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project, communications lead for Family Planning Voices, and started her career as a strategic communications consultant for Fortune 500 companies. She earned her MSPH in health communication and health education from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and bachelor's of arts in Anthropology from Bucknell University.

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