Reviews are so 2010. They were THE must have for your website a couple of years ago and still are incredibly vital, but now your online visitor demands more…much much more.
We’re certainly not denying the importance of reviews – in fact, reviews and ratings are excellent for your website and if you don’t have them already, you really should implement them quickly. Reviews drive traffic and can increase conversions and we’ve written many well received articles about this including…
However, next year – you need to go beyond reviews and begin thinking more broadly about what your online visitors want to see.
– How can you inspire them more?
– How can you breed loyalty when they visit your website?
– How can you encourage more repeat visits and be THE place they get their trusted information from?
There can be so much more user generated content on your website than just reviews and ratings and if you explore each stage of the buying cycle on your website, you will see you can engage with your customers and gather social media at each point.
So, before reviews and ratings which are mainly used to drive the purchase/transaction phase, there is the dream/research phase of the buying cycle.
This is where visitors to your site are undecided on what to buy or even who to buy from. They need inspiration and advice.
YOU can inspire them on YOUR website and if you do this right, you can access wider audiences at earlier stages of the decision making process.
Why write this article now? Well because the travel industry is about to enter it’s most intensive phase of research for the entire year and you need to know how you can maximize this in future.
One way of doing this is implementing Discussions and Forums on your website and today these have become some of the most popular ways of engaging and interacting with new audiences on your website.
The Benefits of Having Discussions & Forums on your Website
Let’s cut to the chase. What are the benefits and drawbacks of having discussions and forums on your website;
- Increased sales – Discussions and forums play an important role when your customers are at the very first stage of the customer buying cycle on your website; the research /dream stage. Capturing them at this stage makes it easier to channel them to your products and services and then drive sales as they browse your website more in more detail.
- Multimedia content– Discussions and forums lend themselves to photos and videos more than reviews do. Photos and videos are much more engaging than just text and numbers and when looking to INSPIRE people to book with you, there isn’t a much better way than with engaging photos and videos of destinations and your excellent products and experiences. Photos and videos also help increase browsing time on your site so whilst people are researching online, they will spend more time on your site than competitor sites.
- Organic Traffic – One of the key advantages of including a forum and discussion feature on your own website is that it will generate brand new content which drives brand new organic search engine traffic.
- Social Media Traffic –Your discussion/forum should be shared with Facebook and other social media channels. This will drive social networkers back to your website from these channels. Discussions and Forums are often a much better way of introducing your brand to brand new social media audiences than a product review.
- Increased repeat visits – A forum or discussion area on your website gives new online visitors, clients and potential customers a reason to return to your site and they should be notified when there are new postings against discussions or forums they ware following.
- Market research – Being in direct contact with your customers and potential customers allows you to be better informed about their needs, wants, questions and general interests. What questions are being asked -can you ask questions of your own? Your forums and discussions area can become a great research tool for your business.
- Community building – Forums are ideal to provide your online visitors with a base around which to build a community loyal to your brand. You’re not trying to replicate Facebook – but you are creating more engagement and reinforcing YOUR brand rather than anyone elses.
- Interacting with your customers and prospects – A discussion forum is a fairly informal place but you can share announcements about your business, answer questions about your products and services, and generally talk about features and benefits of doing business with you – because after all, it should be information that those interacting with your forum will be interested in.
- Content – how can you encourage conversation?
One of the questions we get asked most is how can I make sure this application is used or that I gather content from my online visitors? Here are a few tips;
1) Make it simple for them to contribute to your site
2) Let them know about this new feature in your emails and other customer communications
3) Proactively gather content from them – emailing them to start a discussion or ask a question on your site
4) Incentivize them. You don’t have to give them a car but perhaps you can give a small prize to the most engaged discussions on your website?
5) Navigation – add discussions and forums to relevant places on your website, such as destination pages or other information pages and allow them to start conversation around these areas. Don’t give them free reign to start chatting about anything in the world as it may not be relevant to your business.
- Moderation – Whenever you open up a public forum or discussion board then you are going to have to think about moderation and inappropriate content. For the hundreds of solutions we have delivered we have found a very low percentage (less than 1%) of content is unfairly negative or inappropriate and most decent applications have spam filters, swear word monitors and more.?
What about negative comments? Click here to read an article we wrote recently specifically dealing with this but remember, we’re not looking at product reviews here – therefore, any negative content isn’t necessarily directed towards your products or services.
- Spam – Like the majority of things on the internet, a forum is an open target for any spammers because if your forum gets big then it could have some weight in Google (and other search engines). So it’s vital to consider how you will deal with this before it becomes a problem for you. Again, most decent discussions and forums applications have the ability to block certain users and have spam filters.
- Kick starting your forum – It can be difficult at first to attract visitors to your forum. An empty forum basically has no hope of attracting people that participate. People need to see content and be able to explore topics. Creating all this content can be a lot of work and time. As mentioned above, incentivize the best discussions, communicate with your existing user database to begin the conversations and you should also get your staff involved to drive the conversations.
Establishing a discussion forum can take some initial time and effort but once people start contributing to the discussion, you’ll quickly start to see the benefits that discussions and forums can bring to your business with the time and effort needed to maintain becoming less and less as your traffic and profits go up.
Our next article will focus on Tips and Hints – this comes in at the post purchase stage of the buying cycle on your website when visitors have already purchased your products and want more advice on how to use it / the experiences they are about to have. This can help drive ancillary sales.