They're common laments heard on webmaster message boards; statements such as "My site isn't converting!" or "My members don't stick around!" – usually followed by pleas for the latest tips and tricks for improving their results in these areas. While being able to seek help from your peers is one of the main benefits of community interaction, the final outcome is in the webmaster's hands – and rather than being a place to end up, many webmasters would do well to start with their own hands when trying to address these issues.
What I mean by all of this is that many (if not most) webmasters seem to have the wrong attitude towards their sites. Given our familiarity with the adult Internet, it's easy to take an "Only an idiot would actually PAY for porn!" approach, and then seek out ways to "influence the idiots" into joining – and remaining members of – our sites.
These "methods" have included telling the surfer that access is "free" and that his credit card will only be used for age verification – at which point, of course, his card is charged $59.95/mo. recurring. Want to increase retention? Hide the "cancel" button – and be sure your site's billing info is listed under something truly too embarrassing to discuss with the bank...
Some readers may laugh, and say "No one would do that!" but I can assure you that folks have, and do, perform these and many other abuses on our customer base, making everyone's job harder.
So what's the solution to increasing conversions and retention? Stop thinking about what you want to give to surfers, and start thinking about what you as a surfer want. Instead of asking "How can I improve my site's conversions?" ask "Why are my site's visitors not becoming members?" – and then visit your site with "fresh" eyes, as a surfer would do on his first visit. Would YOU join your own site?
While some folks think that whether THEY would join, or remain a member of, their own site has nothing to do with it – it has EVERYTHING to do with it! Getting past the "I'm too smart to pay for porn, so it's only the idiots I'm thinking about, so what I would do is irrelevant!" mind set is the key to your success.
If YOU do not find your own offer compelling enough to accept, why on earth do you think someone else will? It's nothing to do with font size or color, whether your tour is censored or not, whether thumbs click to a larger pic or go straight to the join page – it's about "Does your site make the prospect not only eager enough to have your promised content, but confident enough to give you his billing and personally identifying information despite the many 'identity theft' reports on the news?"
When it comes to retention, don't even think about hiding the cancel button as a trick. Focus on "Does your site deliver exactly what the tour promised (and more)?" and "Would you be satisfied enough to pay for another month?"
Folks who disagree with this process and "fight it" are the ones who know how truly sucky their members areas are, how they do not deliver on what their tour promises, and rather than trying to provide honest value and a worthwhile product would rather resort to trickery and gimmicks to compensate for a lack of quality and a strong foundation.
The bottom line? Build a site that you would honestly enjoy, and would feel "good" about staying a member of. Once you have a worthwhile members area, then build a tour that tells surfers exactly what they'll get. It sounds simple – especially to those looking for a magic bullet or "improved conversions script" – but at the end of the day, satisfying yourself will end your conversion and retention problems.
Please yourself and profit! ~ Stephen