Users Aren’t Happy in Captivity

I was reading The Wall Street Journal the other day and came across an interesting article on “stickiness” by Thomas Weber. Immediately, I saw in print what I’ve been thinking for years: It’s not how long you can keep a user on your site, it’s how well (or easily or pleasantly or enjoyably) you allow a user to perform a desired task.

Weber makes the point succinctly when he writes, “Sticky was stupid.” He explains that the industry’s push for stickiness has been in direct opposition to users’ needs. Stickiness, he writes, “tempts people to view a business through the lens of steering customers to do something rather than giving them what they want.” Which is exactly right.

The long-held notion of stickiness is that the longer any given user stays on your site, the better. This longer stay helps in collecting ad dollars, boosting sales, and upping the number of tasks performed on the site. As Weber mentions, sites such as eBay, which succeeded because millions of users spent countless hours bidding and buying, helped perpetuate the notion that the length of the stay was related to the value of the business. Community became a battle cry as sites searched for ways to increase page views and time spent.

The reality is that just like in the real world, stickiness means success only to media-type content sites. The more news items read, the more videos viewed, the more minutes spent, the more ad revenue collected, and the more ad spend commanded. All very well and good.

If your site isn’t content-focused, stickiness can actually be a bad thing. Think about it: If I have a specific task that I would like to complete in 5 minutes and 10 pages and I do it in 4 minutes and 7 pages, I am happy. If it takes me 8 minutes and 15 pages, I am not happy and am probably looking for somewhere else to go the next time I need to complete that task. Most users visit your site for some reason. Your objective would be to make that visit as successful as possible. Stickiness for the sake of stickiness should not be a goal.

Investors and analysts still may be into sites that are sticky, but I think they’ll eventually figure it out. Stickiness is not a measure of success. My advice is to ignore them and focus on users and on what they need. Make this your mantra: If you build it well, they will come… for no longer than they have to and then leave happy.

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