Web Traffic Strategies Part 2: Build Affinity

Web traffic strategies is an ongoing series where I focus on one strategy at a time for building significant traffic to your web property, no matter what niche it may be in.  This series is written for those who already understand basic tactics and are committed to taking their site or blog to the next level.

To gain serious traffic,  people need to have affinity for your web property.  Affinity is an element that supercedes all else.  Without it you’ll never get organic links, PR, or shares and your only remaining strategy will be push which produces arithmetic returns.  This strategy has nothing to do with bringing people to your site once, this is important for getting them to share it with a friend, subscribe and become a fan/return visitor.

Affinity through design
The absolute first thing that processes through someone’s mind as they’re viewing your web property is design.  Design communicates the personality of the business or people behind your site immediately, before any of the content itself registers.  It is a low-road, reptilian brain connection, but perhaps even more important than the cerebral connection made with content because it happens first.  People make snap judgments based on design, they can’t help it – it is involuntary.

Design impacts us on a subconscious level, and people develop an immediate affection for design which is reinforced through the content, or a distaste for the design, and then an attempt at redemption is possible through the content itself (people can and do hate designs of sites but love content).

Your design does not have to appeal to everyone, who it should appeal to is to the niche you’re targeting.  For example, if you’re a gardening company, having a clean, organized layout with lush colors makes sense, and those who find you will develop affinity for your company immediately based on that design.  If you’re a law firm, you need something more reserved and professional – people want serious lawyers and their website should reflect that.  You should satisfy and appeal to what someone is looking for in order for affinity to be built.  You can break expectation if you’re daring, and in certain cases this makes sense – but do so carefully and with purpose.

Design really matters for traffic because website owners, bloggers and social media power users like to send their audience to places they view as attractive and properly reinforce the content on the page.  I’m not saying that you can’t get links and traffic with a design that’s a turn-off yet the content is still fantastic, but there’s nothing wrong with getting more links, traffic and attention because your site design vibes with users.

Affinity through content
By creating content that aligns with known personality archetypes of readers in a niche, you’re naturally going to build affinity with readers because people want to share content that supports their worldview.  It is ingrained in us and is natural to share ideas we agree with – people have been doing it long before the web existed.  If you’re passionate about your niche, this is easy to do by following one simple step:  write for yourself.

I’ll give a personal example of how effective this strategy is.  Years ago I used to be a music columnist for a popular nightlife .com, and the things that would get the most views (and my editor would ask me to write more of) were my personal rants on the music industry.  The reason these were so popular is because I was writing them essentially for myself.  At the same time, I knew there was a huge group of people also upset about the same issues and I was writing what I knew I’d want to read in their shoes.  I was speaking on their behalf and giving a group of people a voice, but at the same time writing for myself as I too was a member of that group.

This does not mean you can’t be unique and outside the box – but careful not to go too far into left field or you may miss the mark of a meatier audience.  If you think that is happening to you, consider creating more general content once in awhile to draw in the larger audiences and expose them to your deeper stuff – there’s nothing wrong with that.  They may dig it and stick around for more.

Affinity through connecting with a like-minded community
This is basic psychology, but people want to go where they will find others just like themselves.  This happens naturally over time as you build subscribers, but you need to align yourself with a community of like-minded sites from the beginning.  Differentiate like crazy, but be sure you’re still in a niche somewhat so you can at least position yourself within the community.  Hugh MacLeod is a great example of someone who has done this in the marketing blog niche – he’s totally differentiated himself from others, but he’s still close enough to get strong traffic and attention from the community.

This can be done by things as simple as linking out to other sites, getting featured on other’s blog rolls and related posts sections, doing interviews, being friends with others in social sites, and working to position yourself as a player in the community to the point you are hyper-connected to those with trust.  It’s an unspoken affinity but things like seeing certain businesses or bloggers on everyone’s blog roll or bookmarked links sections ensures that you will eventually want to see what they are all about.

Other thoughts on affinity

  • You can’t buy affinity through advertising because it is a product of pure affection – just like you cannot pay someone to love you.
  • Highly trafficked websites that get where they are without any advertising are products of pure affinity because people share them like crazy, naturally.
  • Affinity does not exist without aversion – and the more personality your site has, the greater amounts of both you’ll generate.
  • Decision by committee can strip away affinity for web products and content ideas if the committee produces boring results – there’s just too much other choice for dull to stand a chance.
  • When someone has affinity for something it means they have an emotional response and concurrently forge a connection – there must be something to create that connection.

I know this may seem simplistic, but looking around, it is clear building affinity is an element lacking from the web strategy of so many blogs and businesses it needs to be restated, if only as a reminder.  Find ways to create high degrees of affinity with target site visitors and strong traffic will become a natural by-product.

Previous posts in this series:
Web Traffic Strategies Part 1:  Focus While Others Play

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