I never make a design decision with my sites based on feelings. Everything I do follows what my blog analytics tell me to do.
Don’t get me wrong. I often covet cool design and/or functionality on other websites. But the truth is that I, like many other bloggers, have spent far too much time spinning my wheels chasing #allthefeels for my sites. I only end up frustrated because I’m not seeing the results I was hoping for. Like most of us, if I’m going to spend my time pouring myself into something, then I want to see the benefits coming from it.
Here’s another scenario. We usually ask a series of questions to help us understand what people envision for their site when we start a new project.
One of the questions we ask is, “Are there other websites you’ve seen that you particularly like for style and/or structure?” Many of the responses to that question point to one particular website (I won’t mention the writer’s name here).
The design of the site is attractive. Yet, it breaks many of the rules I would suggest for someone who is trying to get noticed. She can get away with that because she already is noticed. So trying to replicate her site is likely to leave many people not seeing the same results.
I’m not saying that we can’t model styles and designs we like. In fact, I still suggest looking for those samples to help with the design. But great site design needs to have a strategy and use techniques that will drive results. Here are a few areas where you should spend some time to ensure you’re building a site that works for you…
This is one of the most fundamental things that I see people struggle with on their blogs. They need to find the right focus. When people visit your website, it needs to be clear what you’re about. Here’s a simple test you can do right now. Show your site to someone who hasn’t seen it before, and ask them to tell you what they think it’s about. This can often be eye-opening for writers. It helps them see how their site may or may not send a certain message.
One step you should take is to ask yourself what you want your site to be about. If you have to explain to me in one word (or two, or three), what would it be? And that key idea should be the central focus of everything you do on the website. Your design, your content, other things you promote… everything should center around that main idea.
It can also helpful to run your main ideas through a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or Keyword Tool. This will help you to see how people are actually searching for those ideas. Often what we think people should be searching for does not match what they actually search for. Understanding how people search for the ideas you want to write about can guide you into building a strong foundation to help you get found.
Google Analytics 101
Yeah, I know. This part is always voted most likely to freak people out. I’ll admit, digging into website stats can get pretty crazy. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and there are a few basics that you’ll want to know. And statistics aren’t always about just how many “hits” you got on your site today. There is some valuable information in there that can help you improve what you’re doing.
Here’s a quick explanation of a few key analytics, and what they mean to you:
- Total Visitors (Users) – This represents the total number of actual people who visited your website over the specified period of time. Your goal should be to see this number increasing over time. If it’s not moving, then you’re not growing. This number isn’t as important from day to day, but you’ll want to track this over time. Extend the date range to display the past six months, and then toggle to view the numbers by month (rather than by day). If there’s not growth, then you may want to consider some changes. Think through your sharing strategy or your email opt-in strategy (which we’ll look at in a moment).
- Pageviews – This is the number of pages viewed, regardless of how many visitors. If I visit your site and look at three different pages/posts, then I count as one visitor/user and three page views. Comparing page views to dates that you published new posts can tell you a little about which posts are resonating with readers. If you change how you share your posts, then this could show you the impact of those changes.
- Pages per Session – This is an average of all how many pages views happen among all visitors. Continuing my example, if I visited three pages, and another visitor only visited one, then that’s four page views for two visitors, or 2.0 pages/session. For sites that have steps people need to go through, this number is important because it shows engagement. But for blogs, your main goal may be to get people to visit each blog post when you publish a new one. So a lower number isn’t bad. But if you have other things you’re wanting people to connect to, then watch this number to see the engagement level. And if it’s not happening, then take a look at how people should be taking that next step.
- Average Session Duration – This number shows you how long on average people hang around on your website. You don’t need a 10-minute average here to be successful. Most people read at a pace of around 250 words-per-minute. At that pace, it would take two minutes to read a 500-word blog post. If your average session duration is more like 30 seconds, then that’s an indicator that you’re not keeping their attention for long. You may have some people spending five minutes on the site, while others only spend 10 seconds and bounce. If this is the case, take a look at how you structure your blog posts. Are they engaging enough, especially in the beginning of the post? Try some different approaches with your writing to hook them better to see if you can impact the average session duration.
- Bounce Rate – This is another one that depends on your objectives. A “bounce” happens when someone visits one page and leaves. If your goal is to get someone to read a blog post, and they do, but then leave the site right away, then you accomplished your goal, right? So a high bounce rate may be okay, especially if your average session duration is where it needs to be. But a high bounce rate and a low session duration can mean that you have some work to do to make the site (and/or your blog posts) more sticky.
Email Subscriber Metrics
If you want to grow your audience, then you’ll want to grow your email subscriber list. Nothing is as effective as email when it comes to getting readers to return to your site when you publish new content. I may follow your stuff on Facebook, but if I’m not active on Facebook on a day you publish a new post, then I may miss it. If I’m subscribed to your list, then I’ll have the new post in my inbox waiting for me when I’m ready.
Here are a few metrics you should be looking at with your email subscribers:
- Opt-In Rate – A great tool for email subscription opt-in on your website will tell you what percentage of visits result in a subscription to your list. If this number is too low, then consider trying some things new to encourage people to subscribe. I encourage people to try different things for their opt-ins. I’ve seen people switch to a different offer only to see the rate drop to one-fifth of what it was before.
- Open Rate – This shows you what percentage of people opened the email. The biggest driver for the open rate is the subject line of the email. If you’re set up so that the subject line of the email is the title of the blog post, then you may want to try different title formats for your blog posts.
- Click Rate – This number shows you what percentage of people clicked on a link in the email. Again, this may not need to be a big number if you’re not driving people to something specific. If you’re delivering the full blog post (not just a summary), then opening the email counts as a page view, and a click may not be necessary.
A Final Thought
Having at least a baseline understanding of these blog analytics can help you build a strong strategy (and design) for your blog. Don’t build someone else’s website. That strategy can leave you frustrated. Build yours on a foundation that gets you results (and #allthefeels).
And when you’re measuring these numbers, don’t ask, “What should my ____ be?” Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare to yourself. Get a starting baseline for where you’re at with your numbers. Then figure out which are most important for you to improve. Then focus on improving the numbers in those areas.
P.S. This post was inspired by some of the conversations we’ve been having in our new e-course, 31 Days to #BlogAwesomeness.
— Fistbump Media (@FistbumpMedia) August 16, 2016