Fifteen seconds. According to statistics, that's how long you will spend on this page.

I've read that piece of information so many times it almost makes me sick. I know for a fact that successful websites like mine will engage readers for far longer. I have the statistics to prove it.

The 15-second rule can be discouraging. In this article, I have provided seven of my most valuable tips to reverse that trend and turn your website into a place where people love to spend time.

1. Make your content smart (or just plain funny).

The reason people stay on some websites longer is because they are interested. How do you get them interested?

Beyond gimmicky headlines or shocking graphics, there is a deeper reason--a psychological one. People want to feel smart. They love to have their egos stroked, not through psychological manipulation but by simple communication techniques.

Here are a few:

  • Use clear and simple language but engage in deep topics.
  • Refer to the reader. The word you is appropriate in most writing styles.
  • Use humor.

If people feel as if they're being talked down to or devalued, they will not want to engage with your website or content.

2. Make it different.

There are around a billion websites on the internet today.

The chance that your content will be unique is one in a billion. Don't let that keep you from trying. Hundreds of millions of websites are complete trash--spammy, unindexable, gated, and downright awful.

You can create something that is distinct and superior. Rather than scraping content, ideas, styles, topics, and themes, like so many other websites, write something different.

In order to keep up with your niche, you must deal with current and relevant topics. That doesn't mean you need to treat these topics like everyone else in your niche.

When a website is different, it gets talked about. If you create a site with a distinct personality and feel, people will want to spend time on it.

3. Make it mobile-friendly.

Google has announced that it will be improving the ranking of mobile-friendly websites. This means, by consequence, that not-so-mobile-friendly pages will receive lower rankings.

In other words, if your website is not mobile-friendly, people won't see it and won't read it. It's just that simple.

Nearly half of all internet users access content via a mobile device. If they have to squint, scroll horizontally and vertically, or repeatedly pinch to zoom, then they won't spend time on your site.

Simple courtesy insists that your site be mobile-friendly. If not, you can bid adieu to your visitors.

4. Make it readable.

There are plenty of design techniques that will encourage people to dwell longer on your website.

In case you don't speak in terms of pixels, kerning, and negative space ratios, allow me to provide you with a brilliant rule of thumb: Make it readable.

A website needn't have panache, fancy headlines, hero images, or parallax scrolling. What a website needs is readability--simple, plain, clear, big, and bold.

As an example, The Drudge Report has a stuck-in-the-'90s design but racks up more than a million unique visits per day. Likewise, CNN uses large type and a plain font to help readers engage with the content.

Readability, not a Webby-winning design, is what's important.

5. Make it emotional.

People love to feel. It doesn't matter what the feeling is or what prompts the feeling. It's the feeling that is important.

In a groundbreaking study, University of Pennsylvania researchers asked the question "What makes online content viral?" Their answer--"physiological arousal." To put it more clearly, "Emotion shapes virality ... Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions are more viral."

In reporting on viral content, The New Yorker explained that "articles that evoked some emotion did better than those that evoked none."

The experts agree: "Content that evokes powerful emotions floats mercilessly to the top" (source).

6. Make it human.

I cringe when I read some B2B websites. The sheer jargon-stuffed gibberish is enough to make an adult cry. Have you ever read a website with the same eviscerating style?

Don't be that website. When blogging on any topic, it's unavoidable that you'll have to use some jargon. My articles frequently use terms like algorithm and initialisms like SEO. I'm not trying to be clever; I'm just communicating.

However, the way you use these terms and the overall style of your content can either be off-putting or engaging.

You don't need to sound like a scientific research paper. The trend of computer-generated research papers has reached new highs (or lows). You probably won't be able to determine which are real and which are fake.

If your topic is "Colour-Octet Contributions to J/psi Production via Fragmentation at HERA," then good luck with that. If, by contrast, you're dealing with a more popular subject, use these tips:

  • Refer to the reader as "you," and refer to yourself  as "me" or "I."
  • If you can, use a simple word, not one that is recherché (tongue-in-cheek).
  • Use short paragraphs.
  • Use short sentences.
  • Use pictures.
  • Tell a story.
  • Use a clear outline.
  • Be personal.

7. Know your readers.

This final point of advice is the most important.

Know your readers. Content that makes one group of people stay engaged will not have the same impact on a different group of readers.

Let me use a personal example. I'm not a mommy. Therefore, I'm not particularly engaged by mom blogs, even the most popular ones. But why are some mom blogs so successful? Because a mom knows her target audience. She knows their struggles, their joys, their frustrations, and their language.

The same holds true for any niche. If you want people to spend time on your website, you have to know your target audience. Once you do, you can publish drool-worthy content. Why? Because:

  • You know how to solve their problems.
  • You know how to press their buttons.
  • You know how to polarize them around a topic.
  • You know what their biggest joys are.
  • You know what their biggest struggles are.
  • You know how to create controversy.

Final Thoughts

When I find an engaging and readable website, I bookmark it, return to it, and spend time on it. Your audience will do the same.

Great content marketing efforts get great results. Follow these tips, and your content will receive the recognition it deserves.

How do you make your website appealing?

Published on: Apr 2, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.