There’s a problem with how we write online.
And by ‘we’, I don’t mean just Crew, but pretty much anyone who writes to connect with their customers.
This problem boils down to two things: vanity and fear of exclusion.
Vanity, because, well, we like numbers. Big numbers. Growth in viewers, readers, subscribers, and customers is good for business and good for our egos.
Fear of exclusion, because the only way to get those numbers is to make sure you’re appealing to a broad group of people.
But there’s a fundamental law in business we’re forgetting:
“If you sell to everyone, you actually sell to no one.”
In this month’s writing dispatch, I want to explore how letting go of these fears can help us write the right content for the people that matter.
But first, because I’m vain, let’s look at last month’s metrics for the Crew blog:
Page views: 245,818 (-12.87% in February)
Unique page views: 227,128 (-12.51% in February)
Users: 92,774 (-9.76% in February)
Sessions: 107,683 (-10.5% in February)
Bounce rate: 2.64 (-4.25% in February)
Average time on page: 00:43
Pages per session: 2.28 (-2.65% in February)
Total time gained/lost with readers: 1108.13 hours (-18.5% in February)
New newsletter subscribers: 527
Top 5 posts:
- 5 weak words you should avoid (and what to use instead) (27,690)
Why I killed my standing desk (12,621)
Top post published in February:
You don’t need more time (5,914)
All in all, a good month, with a slight dip in traffic and readers mostly due to it being a shorter month and us getting less referrals. This is a good reminder to always be looking for new and interesting ways to distribute the content we have and give it new life.
Because the alternative is something like this:
That’s the traffic from our number one post in January, David School’s The truth about idea stealing.
After racking up a decent 7,500 reads, the traffic to this post dropped 500% last month.
Compare that to a post like this one on why you shouldn’t work set hours and you’ll see a different story:
Or, our consistently popular 5 weak words you should avoid which just hit a quarter million reads since it was published in August of 2014.
Yes, there will always be outliers. And yes, some things will just get picked up or rank well for key search terms. But here’s the problem:
Our big hitters, while informative and full of value, aren’t necessarily targeted to the Crew audience.
Over the past year, we’ve averaged 55% of our total traffic from organic search.
That 5 weak words post that continues to do so well traffic-wise? It gets almost 90% of its traffic from Google. While the 40-hour work week post hits around 80%.
While we’d like to think that people are choosing to come to our blog and read what we write, the majority just stumble in, look around and leave. In Google Analytics, that stumbling pattern is called Behavior Flow.
How did this person find you? What did they do once they found you? Not only does this info give us some good insight into how people are interacting with our site, but also gives some clues as to how we can improve it.
For example, last month, we have 107,000 sessions, with 104,000 drop-offs, meaning that only 3,500 or so people stuck around to visit more than one page on our blog.
And those that stuck around for a 2nd post? 2,100 of them left. Leaving us with a mere 1,400 people going to a third.
Now, I could blame this on the fact that we don’t have things like navigation or categories (yet!), but it also relies heavily on context.
When people come to your site, however they get there, do they know who you are? Do you even tell them?
Do you have a plan for converting those who don’t even know what you do and how you might be able to help them?
Do we need to go wide or go deep?
So if our best bet at garnering big traffic is to pull in big crowds and hope they stick around, we should be going wide right? Writing to appeal to the largest group possible.
But is catch-all content really where we want to be headed?
The problem, as I see it at least, is that this leads to an issue with writing online that rarely gets brought up: It’s getting harder and harder to write good copy. And not for lack of trying on our part as writers and marketers.
Instead, we’ve become almost Pavlovian—obsessing over optimization so we can pander to the lowest common denominator. We base our content on how well it converts. We want new users. Growth.
We focus so much of our attention on writing to people at the top of the funnel, where the scanners and passive readers live—those people who are more likely to sign up after reading once (but also less likely to actually do something).
Joanna Wiebe over at Copy Hackers likens this to Donald Trump’s rhetoric (and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what does!), bringing up one of Trump’s tweets after Obama’s final State of the Union address:
And while this might just be classic Trump, Wiebe says it might also just be a calculated way to hit the most people with his comments. His position in the nomination race is one of attracting people who feel his pain (of how ‘ungreat’ America is at the moment… or something), so his comments are targeted at the huge group of people who are aware of that pain, but don’t necessarily know any answer for it.
Wiebe even put together this great little graphic to express what she means:
Now, do you want your copy to be Trump or Sanders (or Clinton, or pretty much anyone else)?
Do you go wide or go deep?
Unfortunately, as I’ll explain, we need both. As much as it pains me to say it, we all need a little Trump in our lives.
So where is this all going?
It all connects to what I’d like to call the context vs. catch-all conversion conundrum. (How’s that for some alliteration!)
Organic traffic, while great for numbers, doesn’t guarantee any context about who you are and what you do.
Copy that caters to scanners, skimmers, and top of funnel’ers will get you eyeballs, but won’t keep the people who are more likely to convert, become customers, or tell all their friends and co-workers about your brand, sticking around.
Now, last month I talked about diversifying what we’re doing with content in a broad sense, likening it to the difference between window and destination shoppers. But what I’ve realized over the past month is that we need to look one step deeper and make that same differentiation not just in the types of content we make, but in the type of audience we’re targeting.
Looking back on it, the last few months have really been leading up to this.
First, understanding customer profiles—’who’ we’re targeting and naturally attracting.
Then, looking at how we can attract those people through different mediums.
Now, the final step is breaking this info down even further, breaking up our content to appeal to our customers not just based on their profile, but on their levels of knowledge and awareness about Crew and the new freelance and project economy.
Going deep like this means taking a step back and understanding each point your readers might be at.
Unaware –> Pain aware –> Solution aware –> Product aware –> Most aware
Each spot along this spectrum has its own needs and there’s no such thing as catch-all content that will appeal to everyone. Seriously, there just isn’t. You’re either being Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, there’s no such thing as a Tranders or a Srump.
But it can be hard to feel like you’re alienating a huge part of your audience. When you drill down deep and say, this is only for these people, you’re choosing to not only actively neglect a big portion of your audience, but there’s no guarantee that the smaller portion you’re targeting will actually engage with it.
You’re lowering your odds from the get-go.
That’s why it’s so easy to stay at the top of the funnel with the scanners, skimmers, and Trump enthusiasts.
Last November, the people at Buffer decided to pivot their number one marketing asset: the Buffer blog.
And as Kevan Lee explained:
“Whenever you alter something that’s proven to work, you run the risk of creating something that doesn’t work, something that people won’t like.”
(Just think about New Coke. Seriously, what were they thinking?)
To find their new focus and tell if it’s hitting the right chord with their readers, Kevan and co. look for intriguing metrics they can track.
In their eyes, the best content brings either High Traffic and Low Conversion, or Low Traffic and High Conversion. In both cases, you know that you’re hitting the right people.
If your top funnel content is low converting, that’s OK. You don’t need everyone hanging around.
And if your low traffic content—your writing for the 1000 true fans who are Most Aware—is converting high, well then hell yeah you’ve got it figured out. You’ve attracted the right people and given them the right pitch. Now sit back and watch the cash come rolling in.
But the only way to tell if you’re doing this properly is to go out there and experiment. Which is where we’re at. That crucial moment before a hill where we shift gears and hope we make it up.
The beginning of this year has been all about reflection and planning.
We spent the last year going wide—focusing on catch-all content and trying to build as much awareness for Crew as possible. And while that’s still a major value that we look for, we need to start going a bit deeper.
Over the next few months you might notice us changing the way we write, exploring new angles and topics that we think will resonate with our core audience a bit better. And while it might mean some lower vanity metrics, I might just have to learn to be okay with that.