I have a terrible habit of convincing myself I’ve completed a task just by thinking about it. Sometimes it’s innocent enough, like thinking about not forgetting my keys before I leave the house and then locking myself out. Other times, it’s more serious.
These writing dispatches have been an amazing opportunity for me to regularly reflect on what I’m doing and how the Crew blog has progressed, but have I been acting on my own advice?
It’s all well and good to talk about accountability on a short-term scale, but when you finally take the opportunity to look at data on a larger scale and draw conclusions from it that’s when you’ll see whether or not you’ve really been accountable to yourself.
So what better time than the New Year to look back on my own time at Crew (and the months before that) and see how accountable I’ve been on my plans for the blog.
Before we get into that, however, let’s take a look at December’s key metrics.
Page views: 137,777 (+17.95% from November)
Unique page views: 127,024 (+17.63% from November)
Bounce rate: 2.72% (+0.02% from November)
Average time on page: 35 seconds (-1 second from November)
Newsletter subscriber growth rate: -29% from November
Top 5 stories:
Why I killed my standing desk (9,554 views)
5 weak words to avoid and what to use instead (8,472 views)
How side projects saved our startup (5,334 views)
Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Again we’ve got some of our older posts performing well and reaching the top positions. I’ve spoken about the power of Evergreen content before and seeing each month’s top stories just reaffirms the importance of these posts.
Recently someone asked me what I thought made a great blog post—one that will be shared and survive the usual content lifecycle. For me, it comes down to a simple equation: personal experience/anecdotes + Wow-I-never-thought-about-that research + easily actionable takeaways = shares, love, and longevity.
Moving into 2015 I’m going to become more and more strict with myself and our fantastic contributors to make sure we’re consistently nailing this combination (resolution #1!).
So, how’d we do in 2014?
Overall, 2014 was a pretty good year. It definitely had its ups and downs, and we experimented a bit with the types of content we post and the frequency while trying to find our niche in a crowded market.
This month I decided to step back and take a look at how we’ve been doing over a longer time frame. I’m going to go a little heavy on the stats, but it will all be worth it. I promise.
Here’s a look at our page views starting from March (when we hired out first full-time writer, started the writing dispatches, and focused more on the blog) to the end of the year:
Looking just at this graph it seems a bit all over the place. After an initial spike in traffic in March and April, we dropped quite suddenly and then slowly built back up.
However, here’s the chart if we take out the runaway success of Mikael’s Why I killed my standing desk post from March:
Looks a little different, doesn’t it?
In fact, if you take away the other huge success of How side projects saved our startup, which was posted in October, the blog growth becomes even more of a steady line.
What does this tell us? (Besides the fact that I need to bug Mikael about writing on the blog more)
First off, that we’ve been steadily growing over the past 10 months, and second, that Evergreen articles not only have staying power, but promote overall increases across the entire blog. They give you 10X the results with the same content.
As I said before, moving into 2015, we’re going to be a bit more strict on ourselves to ensure that we’re always putting out the best possible content. Ain’t nobody got time for filler articles.
Re-focusing on social
Another fact I found interesting while going through our previous writing dispatches was how back in April social was the biggest draw to the blog, bringing in 45% of our traffic.
Over the next few months that number steadily decreased, and looking at our acquisition stats from December tells a totally different story:
These days we’re getting most of our traffic through organic search, which isn’t the most sustainable way to grow the blog. Leaving it up to search just brings in too many variables and I’d feel better if a good portion of our traffic was coming through social media, referrals, e-mail campaigns, and other mediums that we are in control of.
Looking forward, I’m going to start experimenting with some alternative ways to control the traffic that we’re receiving and find better ways to connect with our community and attract them to the blog (resolution #2!).
If you build it, they might come; but if you tell them about it, there’s a better chance of filling the seats.
Finding the perfect posting frequency
Anyone in the business of publishing online worries about content shock—when the cost of creating content outweighs the return—and we’re no different.
We’ve been experimenting with publishing different amounts of articles throughout the year but haven’t really drilled down to see what works and what doesn’t.
I put the data into a graph so I could have a look and quickly see if our posting frequency was directly impacting our traffic:
It’s hard to draw any solid conclusions from these numbers. The months where we posted the most don’t equate to the most page views (especially if you take out the viral content that brought in half our traffic in March and April).
There are also just too many other variables to think about:
What other outside forces are impacting our traffic?
Does consistency matter? Now that we’re working to a strict publishing schedule, does that affect whether people return to the blog or not? Have we implicitly set expectations of when new posts will be up?
What about topics and writing style? Does what we publish mean more than when we publish it?
Right now we’re in a good place. We publish around 10-12 articles a month and I think we’ve hit a good balance between publishing regularly and not putting too much strain on our resources. I’m going to keep going at this rate to see if our growth continues without adding additional posts per month.
Crew blog 2015 resolutions
I’ve already made a few in this post, and although I hate resolutions they’re a good place to set goals that I can be accountable for over the next few months.
1. Launch new e-mail template
This is huge for me.
If you’ve kept up with these dispatches you’re probably sick of hearing us talk about putting out a new e-mail template. And you should be. I’m sick of talking about it (we first brought it up back in May!). We’re very close to having some new designs completed and we’ll finally be able to test them out in the coming weeks.
Besides creating a more aesthetically pleasing design, there are a few other things that we need to focus on when it comes to our newsletters:
A better on-boarding process (look at all the fancy new terms I’m learning!):
How can we make our subscribers feel better about joining up? What kind of awesome content can we provide them with that will make them not only be excited to receive our newsletters, but want to go out and tell their friends?
I’m working on drafting a series of welcome e-mails that will keep our subscribers engaged and also point them towards some of our best posts. I don’t want to be annoying, so we’ll be keeping the e-mails to a minimum, but I think it’s an important way to create a sense of community around Crew.
Creating a visual identity we love:
Because the newsletters have been more functional than anything, re-designing means maintaining our own brand and taking the time to create a visual identity that we love and that represents us. This will hopefully spread to our other newsletters and all of the awesome little campaigns we send out throughout the year (like Coffee & Power, How to Build a Business, and Small Biz Saturday).
2. Bring in new voices
I love the writers we work with, but with an expanded publishing schedule I’m on the lookout for new writers and voices to bring to the blog. I’m going to make a serious push to court some writers and influencers that we generally think are awesome and that we want to work with.
But because we’re not a massive brand publisher (yet!) it makes the courting process that much harder. I read an interesting article recently about how writers are more likely to work for sites they enjoy reading themselves (which makes total sense—you need to understand and love the site you’re writing for in order to make it work). While we’re getting there slowly, I’m going to ramp up efforts to get our content in front of more diverse eyes. This goes back to our syndication network I spoke about last month, but could also mean experimenting with some different paid (Outbrain, Taboola) and non-paid (Quora, Reddit) ways to distribute and promote our content and attract both readers and writers.
3. Diversify our content
What, am I crazy? I’ve already got the blog, Backstage, Medium, stories, and social media to handle, so why would I want to add more to my plate? It’s not a manner of adding, but diversifying. Think of it like creating a balanced meal. Right now we’re heavy on the protein, without the complementing veggies and sides.
And what are those? Side projects—interviews, graphics, standalone sites.
You can think of writing as the minimum viable product—a way to test if you have a great idea. Once it’s done and out there we can then iterate and execute. A big step for us will be finding new and interesting ways to repackage some of our best posts and hopefully get the attention of more people who don’t know about Crew.
And on that note…
4. Test, fail/succeed, repeat
If there’s one regret I have from the past few months it’s that I haven’t failed fast enough. I’m lucky enough to work in an incredibly supportive environment with amazing people. They make me want to do my best work possible to show my gratitude, but unfortunately I haven’t taken as many risks as I’ve wanted to. Now that I’m in a better place and have a firmer grasp over the Crew voice and audience it’s time to get a little loco and have some fun with what we’re doing.
So there it is, the facts from 2014 and my resolutions for 2015.
If you made it through the post and didn’t run away at the first sight of graphs and figures, thank you! If you have any comments, want to write for us, or just want to chat, I’m always around and I’d love to hear from you.