Anthropologists in the USA have just published the results of a year-long study performed on behalf of the Associated Press and which has some pretty important findings for all web site owners. The study’s results were announced today at the annual World Editor’s Forum in Sweden.

The research is a substantial and complex piece of work and needs to be taken notice of. Even though it is primarily focused on the world of online publishing for newspapers, the results tell us some interesting things.

For instance, email is a principal way in which we consume news. That’s right – email. News alerts and emails from friends telling us of important and relevant news stories are valued by people.

Furthermore, we like knowing about the news; we use news as a form of “currency”, allowing us to share information with our growing online networks. Being seen as a source of news provides people with authority and credibility. Hence keeping up-to-date and mentioning the news stories to our friends and colleagues is a personal morale booster.

The study also showed that people want more depth to the information they receive. Indeed, the research found several people who click on links they think will give them extra details on something, only to find it is roughly the same information or a re-write of the original. People appear to be looking for more on a story, but are often frustrated not to find it.

There are several lessons for the news industry in this study, however, for any web site there is something of value. For instance, can your information be used as “social currency”? Is there something you provide that is “shareable”? If you provide really useful material, your readers will want to share it with their networks. If you can achieve that and provide your readers with more social currency you are likely to retain more regular readers of your web site. In other words, merely providing a standard brochure style web site fails to provide any form of currency your readers can use.

Another finding from the study which could be of use to any web site is the fact that people want more in-depth information, rather than the summary of your material. That means providing lots more content. As ever, this study is further evidence that web sites with lots of in-depth material are the ones that will win.

So, what does it all mean for your web site? It means you certainly need to be blogging and provide original material that can be used as social currency. You need also to be able to deliver your blog by email and allow people to email your blog to their friends. Furthermore, you need to provide in-depth information for your blog postings – people want the extra details it seems. Skimping on the detail may save you time, but it doesn’t match what people want – so you’ll lose out.

What it all comes down to is this: if you make your web site interesting, people will want to share what you say with their friends and contacts. And if they get the depth of information from you they are really after, your web site will succeed. Make it interesting and make it long seems a good maxim for a successful web site.

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