Set Them Free

Scott Karp wrote an interesting piece about online journalism. In it he makes a good point about what is often referred to as “stickiness” or how much you do to keep people on your site. Stickiness is important to site owners for a number of reasons, the biggest is often so that visitors will see lots of ads or buy lots of widgets. Mr. Karp makes the point that it is okay to direct people to another site. His example of site that is brilliant at making people go away is Google and yet you never hear Google criticized for not being sticky. People leave Google over and over and come right back. Being good at sending people away has earned them billions.

My Mom can’t work a TV remote control very well, she is really not far beyond Senator Ted “A Series of Tubes” Stevens when it comes to technological sophistication. However, she can work the back button on the browser. She has no problem coming back again and again to web sites that she likes, mostly conservative political blogs, after they link off to other sites. They don’t need to open the link in a pop up window so she doesn’t leave their site. They don’t need to avoid linking to anything outside of their domain to keep her around.

Bloggers “get” the Web. They get that if your site is interesting and valuable that people can leave freely and they will keep coming back. Stickiness in the sense of preventing people from leaving is a mistake, it just leads to resentment and futile efforts that degrade the user experience. It’s better to link often to relevant sites that will complement the information on your site. People will appreciate it and keep coming back to you as a resource for useful knowledge. They will appreciate the openness and honesty. No site, no matter how large, can contain all that is useful or interesting on the Web and pretending you can is folly. Far better to be good at what you do and retain some focus, when something related comes along just link to it without fear of losing people.

There is an old adage – “If you love someone, set them free, if they come back to you they are yours, if they don’t then they never truly were”. Holding on too tightly just builds resentment – like those companies that won’t stop calling when you cancel an account (I’m looking at you TruGreen), but letting go builds trust, respect, and if you’re lucky, love.

Kevin Hall
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