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Readers vs Visitors – Whose Needs are You Meeting?

Readers-VisitorsThe following post on meeting the needs of Readers and Visitors is a guest post by Lorelle VanFossen of Lorelle on WordPress.

Smashing Magazine asks Who Is Your Visitor?, using some new research into the preferences and characteristics of the average visitor to your blog and website.

However, since you’d like to comfort most of your web users, you need to know their habits and the profile of your average visitor — to adapt the design and layout to your users’ needs.

…Nothing is more valuable than the statistics you’ve collected with an analytics tool installed on your web-site; however particularly in the beginning of a new project it’s nice to have some good idea of what kind of configuration your visitors will probably use.

In this post we’d like to present the results from recent studies of browser market share, used OS and preferred screen resolution worldwide. Please notice that this data is only an approximation; we’ve used a number of different sources to get the average numbers we present below. Besides, statistics always depends on the readership and the topic of your project.

Their conclusion: An average web user browses with Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows XP with the screen resolution 1024×768.

They go onto offer more facts and figures to help you determine what the “average” visitor to your blog uses to access your blog and more information on their location and browsing tools, but there is a lot of information left out of the equation.

Who Are Your Average Visitors and Readers?

There is a difference between a visitor and reader. Do you know the difference?

A visitor arrives, usually via a search result or from another blog featuring a link to your blog. They may arrive with a preconceived idea, most typically: Is this the place to find the information I want and need?. If not, they are gone. They don’t care how pretty your site is, how much information you have jammed into your blog, or the subjects you cover. If you don’t have what they need, they are gone. Often in seconds. Yet, they left their statistics behind when they arrived and left.

A reader returns. They return because you offer them something of substance. You give them what they want – repeatedly. You give them value. They like visiting. They like reading what you write. They like how your mind works. They enjoy telling others about what you have to offer, bringing more visitors, which will hopefully turn into readers. A visitor-turns-reader becomes a reader. So what are their characteristics?

A reader stays longer on your blog. They use the various links and navigational aids to dig deeper into your content. They know your blog is the source for their specific needs. Many won’t even access your blog directly, but through feed readers, keeping up with your content on a daily or weekly basis.

Do these studies include feed reader statistics in their analysis? That might change some of the numbers.

A reader stays longer on your blog because you continue to serve them a meal they enjoy. Visiting your site becomes a habit. Still, there are the statistics. How do you serve those who become readers, since they are your most important audience, while culling the stats from anyone and everyone who visits your blog for 2 or less seconds?

You Can’t Please Everyone

The old adage applies to your blog: you can’t please everyone.

Living for many years in the Middle East, I had a huge majority of my readership audience living and working within that area. While I still had a huge English-reading segment of my audience from the United States and the UK, the stats for the country were highest in the one I lived in and wrote about.

While my stats said much the same as the “average” information found in the Smashing Magazine report, the reality on the ground was that most of “my readers” were using 800×600 screens with low resolution on Hebrew-enabled Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows ME, even though this was from 1999-2005. A few I personally met, telling me they were computer whizbangs, had monochromatic monitor (shades of the dark ages of computers!), not color. Dial-up Internet was the only choice, though cable Internet did finally arrive in 2003, it was still slow and intermittent for a couple of years. Few jumped on the Windows XP bandwagon as it was very costly, and the bottom dropped out of the economy. What they had worked. Why change it. It’s too much trouble and might not bring improvement.

If I’d jumped on the “average” description based upon millions of web users around the world, I would have ignored my readers.

They couldn’t handle wide screen designs. They couldn’t deal with massive images, Flash, and other “modern” technologies that took ages to process and download. It took time, years in fact, before newer and more affordable computer technologies were embraced by the population that read my blog. They can handle it now, but not at the time others were jumping off the 800×600 ship into wide screens and high speed bandwidth web designs.

My family history blog services an average reader of 60 years old with not the keenest eye-sight. They aren’t looking for fancy graphics. They can’t stand Flash, bells, whistles, or busy web designs. They want words. They want text. They want content. They want easy-to-read text. They want the meat and potatoes of information.

I serve them a simple and clean layout, focusing on the content set in a good-sized and easily resizable font. Nothing flashing and blinking at them. Colors muted. The categories are spelled out specifically, search term specific and leading them to content they want and need. And they are happy.

Pleasing Your Readers Comes First

No matter what the statistics, pleasing your readers come first. But do you know anything about the characteristics of your readers?

Dig through your blog stats, similar to what was done on Smashing Magazine. Gather the information together and find your “averages”.

Look at how many incoming and outgoing visitor stats you have and compare that to the average amount of time they spent on your site. From that, you can get a feel for approximately what percentage of visitors are readers. You can’t tell how much of your average stats apply to readers compared to visitors, as they are all mixed together, unless you have advanced statistical analysis of your blog’s traffic, giving you data on individual visits. If you do, concentrate on those who spent more than two minutes on your blog.

Then look at your blog’s subject and content. What does your content describe about the type of visitor that comes to your blog?

  • Is it only locals as you serve up a local cuisine of content? Or is it everyone and anyone from around the world?
  • What is their main interest?
  • Is the interest high tech or low tech?
  • What keywords bring them from search engines to your blog and what does that tell you about them and their interests?
  • What keywords and search terms do they use to search once they arrive on your blog? What information about them can you cull from that?
  • What can you assume about people interested in that subject? Their age, lifestyle, habits, etc.?

Add this in with the “average” information from your blog stats and you may start to see patterns.

Then look at your blog and ask yourself: Am I meeting my readers’ needs?

You might be meeting your visitors’ needs and not your readers’. Which one is more important to you? And to your blog?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Status 203 says:

    I found your suggestion to concentrate on the stats left by those who spent more than two minutes on the site confusing given that you started by saying that the definition of readers was that they returned. Is this simply a simplification i.e. not all 2min+ visitors will be readers but most will?

    If somebody entered the site on this page, read it thoroughly, could easily take more than two minutes, especially once there are plenty of comments, but, having found what they wanted, never came back would you classify them as a reader or a visitor?

  2. I only want to say that if you are not focused on your visitors’ needs first, then it will be difficult to get new readers or subscribers. Specially if your site is enough new.

  3. Sue says:

    Great distinction between visitors and readers, Lorelle. And very insightful.

    The trick is to convert those visitors into readers, so you do have to take them into consideration. But good design is good design, no matter what. Dark colored text on a dark background won’t keep a reader around. Nor will bright colors, flashing blinking text and graphics or huge photos.

    What that means is to have the best, most readable design you can find and you will be pleasing both your readers AND your visitors, who may very well become future readers.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Check the title: “Whose needs are Your Meeting?”

  5. Dave says:

    Nice article Lorelle. I particularly liked your point about the average age of your reader (60, with poor eyesight), and tailoring the design to meet their requirements.

    All too often, we concentrate on the presentation, and not the content, when its the content that really matters.

  6. I’m 30, but, I often find websites hard to read! I feel like a grumpy old person, but, I wish people would make websites a bit simpler to read sometimes.

  7. Truden says:

    I would say that one becomes a reader after the RSS subscription, but I wouldn’t say that I’m reader of all the weblgos in my feed reader.

    I think that:
    a reader reads more than 30% of the publications
    a fan reads ALL (or most of) the publications
    a community member reads most of the publications and contributes with publications and comments

  8. Great Post. Readers definetly do come first, if you don’t please them first your stats will really plummet. That is because most visitors will never come back to your site unless it atracts readers. If it atracts readers it will still get some visitors who will look around and are more likely to stay.

  9. Robert says:

    I’m a strong believer in gradual development. For the design of my blog, I start off simple and make small changes as I go along, if something doesn’t work it is trivial to undo.

    Likewise my writing style, start off simple and let it develop over time. Eventually you will hit your target audeince’s sweet spot.

    I’m of the opinion that you can’t make judgements about your audience, the only way to give them what they want and to keep them coming back for more it lots of trial and error.

  10. Wayne Liew says:

    Many people look at stats and only look at where did the traffic comes from and what is the trend, sometimes what are the keywords that really bring the traffic. Not many will look at exactly what system that the readers are using.

    Types of visitors that come in need proper attention since we want to make them stay or make them comeback.

  11. Max Powers says:

    I recently added a statistics program for my 3 month old site and was amazed at the information it provided. Everything you mentioned and more is included in the reports.

    Now by following your advice and analyzing the information, it will be easy to answer all the questions I’ve always wondered about, enabling me to make the needed changes. Thanks for the help and information.

  12. Jason Green says:

    I agree.

    Pleasing your readers definitely comes first. The success of a blog is often defined by its stickyness – by that I mean how many people who visit will stick to the site and keep coming back.

    Those people that visit regularly are also the most passionate about your site’s topic – they will likely post about your articles on other websites, social bookmarking sites, forums – comment on your articles and be most responsive to your ads.

    In essence they help maintain your site, make it grow and give it long term value.

    Jason
    http://www.sitesalary.com

  13. MaxBro says:

    One huge reason to write with your Readers in mind is because they can become the gatekeepers to your further success. They’ll be the ones who Stumble, Digg, Reddit and bookmark your work, helping you to reach a larger audience and potential new readers.

    Great post Lorelle.

  14. Andy says:

    So true, sometimes we end up focusing on the stats, rather than on developing quality content. Blogging, espically if you are trying to monetize your site, is like a popularity contest – getting the most readers/visitors.

    Who generates more income for you though? Readers who subsribe to your feed, but never actually go to your site….or vistiors who come to your site via a search or referral? I have found I get more “clicks” from visitors than my regular readers on a standardized basis (ie I compared 100 reader clicks vs 100 visitor clicks in a 3 month window).

  15. Although I have less readers than visitors, but I agree that pleasing my readers comes first.
    One step that I took is to educate visitors to become readers by writing an article about RSS feeds, I will continue educating visitors to become readers through other technologies as well.
    However, writing the RSS article came from readers that wanted to know what it is. So again, I agree to the fact that pleasing readers comes first.

  16. RobG says:

    Good article but here are the questions as a newbe…
    What is the best tool to use (analyzes) your traffic?

    I use Google analytics and awstats which both give different views Google says I get 5 -6% return visitors but awstats says that 35 -37% are from Bookmarks… is that good or bad?

    I have solid growth…what should I be looking for in my stats?

  17. Sue says:

    RobG, I think that awstats just estimates the bookmarks. I’d trust the google analytics, which is logging the IPs of your visitors/readers to know how many are returning. And those coming in direct from the google analysis are those who most likely have bookmarked you.
    I’m just wondering how best to leverage a surge of visitors into regular readers.

  18. Evan Hadkins says:

    I guess this advice will be useful when I have lots of traffic to my site.

  19. * Miss Universe says:

    One good tactic is to TEST your Website or blog on Webmaster forums to get feedback.

    Inform them ahead of time who it is designed for – and usually the Admins will engage their friends to give feedback in order to get a well rounded perspective

  20. 30 Day Man says:

    Yeah it’s always a hard when you see a good RSS feed and reach; but know that access to your mainstream ad’s are reduced.

  21. WOW !!!!!!!!!

    Great article, what else could you suspect from Lorelle

  22. sven says:

    There is definatly a difference, you should not try to please one of the two and rather do what you feel is right, then everything should work out for both sides. The most important part is the content and when the content is good, or even outstanding you should be able to convert a few visitors to regular readers, while you still offer your regular readers what they are looking for.

  23. Brad V. says:

    Because my blog is still under a year old (but will be hitting that one year mark in December) I still get more visitors than readers. However, one of the pleasures of blogging is seeing visitors turn into regular readers. But it’s a long process that takes a lot patience.

    Great post!

  24. Dan Schawbel says:

    You want to convert viewers to readership.

  25. DigMyPage says:

    In the “how to make money blogs”, The type I reader are like your visitors. They will quickly scan the article to find if there are any money making tips available.

    The type II readers will read articles so that they can put their links in the comments section, just like I am doing here :)

    A type III reader is looking for ideas to write articles for their own blogs, and possibly share link love in the anticipation of getting the same back in the future.

    A type IV reader find your particular article interesting and then move on to find interesting articles in other sites.

    A type V reader is a true fan of your blog who will read every thing no matter how mundane it is.

  26. I think we should write for both. Many times readers don’t give you profits if you are using PPC programme for your earning.

  27. Gisele B. says:

    I have been using my stats to change and improve the user experience for both visitors and users. I have to say that a number of changes have resulted in lowering the bounce back rate of my site by 20% … which I consider to be quite amazing.

    I’m in the same boat as BradV…my blog is under a year (6 mos in fact) and it does take time to convert visitors into readers and turn one time visitors in to regulars.

    That said, I’ve notice that the more content I add, the more this impacts these stats.

    Gisele
    http://www.mybeautymatch.com

  28. Lorelle says:

    Thanks for the great comments. I’ve been on the road, so let me play a little catch-up here.

    The people you want to go after are those who want your content. Those are the ones who may be back for more, if you keep giving them what they want.

    A few months ago, I was hunting for information on FireFox extensions and found a fantastic article about them, including great reviews and resources. I was thrilled to find such comprehensive information and looked forward to more. I added the blog to my feed and two months went by with me eagerly waiting for more on FireFox – and not a FireFox article was published.

    By the third month, without a single article of theirs catching my attention, I removed them from my feed. This blog lost a chance to turn me from a visitor to a reader because they didn’t meet my needs.

    Sure, you will serve the visitor, but why not serve the reader more, encouraging them to return for more of what they want, and make the experience of reading and “seeing” your blog an enjoyable one. In turn, the visitor is also better served.

    As for the notion that a visitor becomes a reader by after adding your blog to their feed, that presumes your readers know what feeds are. Most visiting and reading my family history blog have no idea what a feed is. I meet people constantly who are fairly web savvy who still don’t know what a feed is! They add your site to their favorites or bookmarks and return through there. It’s a habit. And many of these are fans of my blogs, and I talk about feeds to remind them how it works, but they still don’t “get it”.

    Again, meet their needs, don’t assume their needs.

    MaxBro made a very good point. The ones who return carry many added benefits, like submitting your site to site submission and bookmarking sites and services and blogging about you, often with praise since you keep giving them what they want.

    As for who makes you more money, analyzing the stats will help you determine what part of the action is on the ground that converts clicks to cents, and which ad campaigns are working better for you from which types of visitors. Just avoid the assumptions and dig for the reality.

    RobG: All tools are good to use as they often, as you say, provide conflicting or additional information. Use them all, not relying upon one.

    Sue: The “digg-effect” rarely turns visitors into readers. It increases them, but research, while anecdotal, concludes that your readership base rises by tiny increments over the long term unless your blog specializes in the information that created the digg-effect, becoming a resource and source, not just a one-off, attention-getting article. I’m being redundant here, but give them what they need and they come back and bring their friends.

    Evan Hadkins: You won’t get lots of traffic to your site unless you use this type of advice. :D

    Your content is your blog, and your visitors see only the content. Make sure it’s good. Make sure there is enough to keep them interested on the subject that brought them there in the first place, and the income and increase in readership will happen naturally.

    Just don’t totally trust your stats or trends. Really get to know what your average reader needs and give it to them.

  29. 66tx says:

    Great distinction between visitors and readers, Lorelle. And very insightful.

  30. Moira says:

    Great post, Darren. I’ve been posting a lot of holiday gift suggestions (playing to visitors and SEOs) for the last few weeks and my traffic started to drop off. My core readers weren’t interested and even I was getting bored with my blog.

    This made me get back to content first — combined with a little sales PR. A much better mix for me. Thanks, Moira

  31. Lorelle says:

    Moria: You bring up a very good point. When you disconnect from your readers, you disconnect from your blog.