This is why your website is not engaging

I am subscribed to Anna Hoffman's Traffic Generation Cafe. It was a blog recommended by a colleague of mine a few months back. He said it had good page rank with the search engines and that it would be a good idea to comment and get a link back to your site.

Allow me to share with you first, as to what "engaging" means for me.

When you read a good book, you do not write comments, or talk about what you are reading. You simply read, and you are lost to everything else in the world. You isolate yourself from the world in order to concentrate on what you are reading.

In the true sense of the word, that book is "engaging". Ms Hoffman's website is not.

Website critique
A few posts back, she asked a conversion expert to critique her site. The conversion expert made a few recommendations, and according to Miss Hoffman, she has made improvements on her site.

I am writing this critique, not to make fun of Ms Hoffman's work, but to offer suggestions on how she can improve her site.

Ms Hoffman must have done something good back when she was getting started to have such a big following. When I first saw her blog, I was not that impressed. I know a number of low page rank blogs that has more meat on it.

Let's take a look as to why I think the site is distracting itself from its readers.

above the fold
Click on image to enlarge

First 5 seconds...
This is what you get when you first land on her site. The header is way too big. It takes up a lot of space. Experts will justify that for branding purposes, but from the reader's perspective, it's not what they were looking for.

What the readers came here for, takes up less than 20% of the space. Everything else is not related to what the reader is looking for. This site reads like a TV show where they show a commercial every two minutes.

Your reading habits
Naturally, your vision will gravitate towards the upper left side of the page first, scan to the right, then back again to the left--it's a reading habit we have developed from years of schooling.

You will notice that your eyes tend to gravitate towards the left sidebar where she has a lot of things happening at the same time.

You don't want them in scan mode
Take a look at the post title. The font is in bold, but somehow loses its prominence because of the images scattered all around it. If you were reading her blog, I will bet that your brain will automatically shift to scan-mode.

In Scan-mode, your eyes zoom out to scan for phrases and keywords, left to right, then down. If your awareness doesn't find what it was looking for, it scans downward. Since there's not much to find "above the fold," you will either hit Page Down, or click out of the website.

Let's assume you hit page down. This is what you will find.

view on second page down
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Too much selling
More noise on the left sidebar. This time, she uses red bold text to grab your focus on something else that she has to offer. She is in sell mode. As the reader, you are on her site to look for something you want. And whatever it is she is selling, you don't want.

It's like being in a department store and the salesclerk keeps pestering you to buy something they want to sell.

Again, with all the distractions happening, your brain never leaves scan mode. When you are talking to someone on scan mode, you fail to connect with them.

That's strike two. Page down please.

view on first page down
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You'd be lucky if your reader hits page down a second time. Each time the reader scrolls down your page, you have another five seconds to convince them to stay longer on your site. Use this opportunity wisely. Give them something of value.

If you fail at this, they start itching to click on something. If you failed to make a connection, they are going to click away from your site.

What's the take-away message today?

It is more important to make a connection with your reader. Get rid of all the distractions--email opt in, advertising, social plugins... Do not sell. Offer value, and they will love you for it. They might even share your ideas with their social network.