Running Your Website Isn’t Like Building a “Field of Dreams”

There’s one quote from the classic Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams that everybody knows…

If you build it, he will come.

(I misremembered it as “they will come” – but according to Google, so do a lot of you, too.)

It’s an unforgettable quote that drives Costner’s character Ray Kinsella to build out a baseball diamond in his farm, leading the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other members of the Chicago Black Sox to play a game on his field.

He built it. They came. End of story (sort of).

You’ve got a business – or a cause – or an idea. You want to build a website, or you already have one. Maybe you didn’t hear a voice in the cornfields telling you to build it, but you’re working hard to build something that has meaning.

You’ve done everything you need to do to succeed – picked out the right name, commissioned an amazing website design, and written a lot of content to drive traffic to your site and achieve your site’s goals.

But you’re not getting any traffic. You’ve built it, but no one is coming.

What’s the problem? You did everything you were supposed to, right?

You’ve got one problem – or, depending on how you look at it, millions of them. Your website is one of the hundreds of millions of active websites on the Internet – so you’ve got a lot of competition. (According to the February 2013 Web Server Survey by Netcraft, which has been doing the survey since 1995, there are about 630 million active websites online.)

It doesn’t matter that 99% of these sites have nothing to do with you — they are all competition for your users’ attention and time online. Not to mention everything else a user can do on their computer, tablet or phone.

Did you hear about the new e-commerce site that launched today? What about the new political blog? No, you probably didn’t … and you know why?

Because nobody told you about them.

Think like a user. You didn’t avoid these sites today out of ill will toward the owners, or because you weren’t interested – you just didn’t know about them. So when it comes to your own website, why would you expect people to come to it if you didn’t tell them to?

Here’s the creed you need to live by if you want to succeed online:

If you build it, you have to tell them to come.

You have to tell your potential customers/audience what you have to offer. You have to get in their face and let them know how you can serve a need they have.

This doesn’t mean you should spam them, or you should annoyingly pester them until they decide that they’ve had enough of you. This means that if you have something of value that is appropriate for them, you need to let them know about it – because if you don’t, they will never come.

If someone signs up to be on your email list, it’s OK to email them. If someone follows you on Twitter or Likes your page on Facebook, it’s perfectly acceptable to share information you think will be of benefit to them.

People worry about email fatigue, but why do you think Amazon.com sends out so many emails to their customers? It’s certainly not because they want to annoy them. It’s because it works.

“Remember that product you were looking at? Well, it just went on sale. We also have these other products that go great with it, too.”

Simple. Valuable. Effective.

You can’t expect people to come to you if you don’t tell them to.

How many websites will you visit today? A lot fewer than sites you didn’t visit. But you might have visited different ones had you been given a reason – or a reminder – to.

Don’t be afraid to share your value proposition with your audience. The people who aren’t interested won’t come, but the ones who are will — and they’re the people you want.

If you build it, you have to tell them to come.

Jason Unger
About Jason Unger
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that builds brands and helps companies grow. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Jason has done it all, from website strategy, design, development, troubleshooting, maintenance, content and marketing.