Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The First Click Conundrum

It's probably to our credit as a species that we are programmed to be so deeply conservative. I don't mean, of course, that we're all conservative in the sense of 'bugger the poor, we hate tax, we all want to live in Hampshire and look like horses'. I mean a small 'c' conservative that's even smaller 'c' than this kind of conservative usually suggests. What I'm saying is that we're generally cautious about new things and we tend to be firmly established in our habits.

For example, getting people to click for the first time on a link to a new website is harder work than you'd probably imagine. One of my old blogs has been visible in Google's search engines for years but it can often go months without a single hit. Now that I'm trying to get people to visit The Digital Nib to try The Gag Machine, I'm facing the cold hard truth that I live on the fringes of the internet where people rarely travel. This project is probably doomed before it's even begun.

As depressing as it is, one of the golden rules I've discovered after years of working on different web-based projects is that people rarely change their browsing habits. Once a person shops at Amazon, they'll probably do all of their shopping at Amazon and it takes a great deal to make them shop elsewhere. Once they are using one internet browser, it's hard to make them switch to something else. It takes a monumental cock-up on the service provider's behalf to make people break their faith with them. I used Explorer for years until it became bloated, so I moved to Netscape, which itself started to crash too much so I moved to Mozilla Firefox until that too started to install dozens of plugins I neither wanted or needed. That's when I moved to Chrome.

There is a kind of inertia built into everything. I've spoken before about how Sky TV rely on you never questioning the value of their service. People just keep you throwing money their way simply because it's easier than cancelling. Yet many businesses are run that way. They can take your loyalty for granted so long as they provide a minimum service. For example, consider your local window cleaner. If he's anything like my local window cleaner, he doesn't actually clean windows. Yet people pay him a couple of quid every week to vaguely wave a brush on the end of a long pole over their double glazing. Their windows are no cleaner than those of us who clean our own windows twice a year yet they are funding the window cleaner's annual holiday to Lake Como.

In a way, this natural resistance to change suggests that people are more likely to keep reading a piece of prose than they are likely to click away in the middle of it. That is a good thing since it suggests that we are not naturally programmed to flit around. People stay with what they are already familiar. This might well be something locked into our genes. At a higher level, it's why we have family and relationships and cherish that thing we call 'home'. Yet I'm not entirely sure if part of this isn't a more recent addition to our collective firmware.

I caught an episode of Top Gear last night in which Ed Sheeran drove their reasonably prices car. I know nothing about Ed Sheeran except he is popular, has some astonishingly ugly tattoos, and he sang quite a good song over the closing credits of The Hobbit. On Top Gear, he proved himself a decent sort, which is itself a rare thing these days. However, what it also highlighted was how his current popularity (girls screaming as soon as he  walks into a room) contrasts with their previous indifference to him. Just a few years ago he was sleeping on Tube trains in London and performing gigs to empty halls. I find it astonishing how a man can be beating women off with a stick when previously they wouldn't have given him money to buy himself a hot drink.

Yet why is that? Is it just that mysterious thing called 'celebrity'? Is it another example of our natural conservatism or have we become programmed with consumerism to such a degree that we are either consumers or non-consumers? Is it either all or nothing? Do we treat everything (and everybody) like we treat out butter or our soup? Did people switch their allegiance to Ed Sheeran by moving their loyalty from James Blunt? These questions fascinate me now that I'm actually trying to get people to click on a link for the very first time.

The simple fact is: day 1 of my new life as a reluctant 'web marketer' and I have no bloody idea what I'm doing. Programming this was much much easier.

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