Web designers, content specialists like me and marketing folks spend lots of time trying to map out the user journey: the paths taken by the public through a website and the ways in which they use it. The aim is to make this journey as simple as possible, and to try to shepherd the user towards the desired result: a purchase decision, for example.
But whilst death and taxes are predictable, the behaviour of the public most certainly isn't. They resolutely take all sorts of odd paths through a site, and behave in interesting and unpredictable ways.
I bring this up, because this week an interesting example of this occurred with one of our podcasts.
My colleague Simon Graham of MWA Design handles the site design which sits behind the very popular Beermat Radio podcasts which we produce. He recently made some alterations to the site; which has resulted in an increase in podcast downloads of some 18%. Now, this is of course good news- I'm very pleased we have increased our listenership. But an uplift of such a great degree due to a site design change suggests something very odd: namely that lots of our site visitors are not subscribing to the podcasts (which would then automatically download), but rather are religiously visiting the site and deciding for themselves whether they would like to download the latest edition.
This goes contrary to the popular wisdom that most users will subscribe and decide later whether they want to listen. Clearly our audience is discerning and selective.
This has taught us a lot- and emphasises the fact that the supporting content around a podcast (the landing pages, promotional pages etc.) are nothing short of essential to get right. We'll be making more progressive tweaks to the site, as every good web venture does; but the lesson is there: always look at the statistics because your users have the power to constantly surprise.