It might seem a bit daft, but I wonder, do you ever ask questions on your website? The reason it might sound a silly thing to ask is because most people visit websites for answers to their problems – not more questions…! After all, for instance, don’t you want to be told how to get more web traffic – not asked “do you want more web traffic”?
The problem is, being told what we should be doing rather goes against the grain, doesn’t it? In fact, we put up defences when people say things like “in order to get more website visitors, do this..!”
That’s an instruction and we don’t like them; we prefer to be free to do things our way. That’s why blog posts like “7 Ways to Get More Traffic” or “How to get to the top of Google” tend to do well. They are not instructions and we can clearly pick and choose the bits that we are interested in. We don’t have to do all 7 ways, we can choose the three we prefer, for example.
Of course, human beings do follow instructions – we are quite an obedient lot. But it is about context; we do follow instructions in the right situation. For instance, if you are in a store and it says “queue here” that’s what you do…! But if you are online and my website says “several people are already looking at this page – you are next, queue here” what would you do? That’s right, you’d disappear straight away to an alternative website because the notion of queueing does not exist online, so we won’t follow any instructions related to it.
However, human beings love questions. You do, don’t you? Here’s why: questions are conversational, they imply that you are talking directly with the blog author or the website owner, rather than being told what to do by some anonymous web page. Secondly, questions by their very nature make you think. You start to engage several cognitive resources to help you think of an answer to the question being asked. As a result, questions can engage much more deeply than a simple statement.
Interestingly, this notion has just been tested in the warning labels on cigarettes. Researchers at the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands discovered that when warnings on cigarette packets were translated into questions, instead of statements like “smoking causes cancer”, then people became much more aware of the risks. In other words, it seems that by simply putting questions on packets, instead of pictures or statements, that smokers became more thoughtful about the risks of smoking. And that’s because they were more engaged. Say “Smoking Kills” and a smoker might thing, “yeah, I know that”. But “How many days will each cigarette in this pack take away from your life?” becomes much more engaging because it makes people think more deeply.
The study is merely an indication that questions engage our brains. That means if you are a blogger or if you are producing website content of any kind, questions could be very useful in page headings, headlines, subheadings and so on.
After all, you do want to engage your readers as much as possible don’t you?
So what questions will you be asking your readers now?
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+