Monday, 20 April 2009

Eliciting Site Referrals

One of the best ways to increase the reach of your website is through word of mouth. Personal recommendations from existing visitors carry a lot of weight. To make this easier and more frequent, it can be a good idea to give your users a nudge in the right direction with a "Share this with a friend" call to action.

The simplest way for visitors to share great content is to copy and paste a link to a friend (via email or chat). To help this process work well it's a good idea to have readable URLs to encourage clicking. For example http://yoursite.com/item/17326/The_Meaning_Of_Life looks a lot more interesting than http://yoursite.com/item=17326

Another approach to sharing content is the "Send this to a friend" model where the visitor enters a friends email address and the hosting site send the email on behalf. Many web-savvy visitors will avoid this rather than reveal the email address of a friend. In my opinion it's an out dated model that should only be used for "locked" content or simliar special circumstances.

A more powerful way to be recommended is by plugging into social networks or news networks where the link exposure is much greater than one-to-one. An easy way to implement this is via the AddThis.com bookmarking and sharing service buttons. It's a free service that allows a certain amount of customisation and also features analytics of what is being shared. There's a nice introduction video on the tour page.



Bonus Tip
Don't rely on the <title> tag to get the right title shared. To get the title to be picked up properly by Facebook, and a handful of other sites, you'll need to add a Meta Title tag:
<meta name="title" content="Dolphins rampage through Venice" />.

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