A while back, I remember speaking with Crew CEO Mikael about how companies grow.
I’m going to paraphrase what he said, but the idea goes like this:
“Most people are digging down and trying to optimize what they already have—trying to get that extra 3–4% increase. But the more time you spend doing that, the less time you spend stepping back and looking for the bigger opportunities. The ways that you can see 100% or 1000% increases overnight.”
Now, those moments of massive growth are the stuff of dreams for every blog owner, marketer, and entrepreneur.
It’s also the reason we place so much emphasis on building side projects at Crew.
While we know certain things will continue to bring in the great people who come to Crew, like our blog, Backstage, and other writing projects, building something new and different gives you the chance to bring in a whole other audience. To double or triple (or more) the awareness of who you are and the value you create.
After spending a good year and a bit running our blog, I’ve seen how fickle that audience can sometimes be. Yes, we have a consistent amount of people coming in monthly, but with the sheer amount of blog posts and writing being published on the web every single day it’s getting harder and harder to stand out. If you’ve a content-shock denier I don’t know what to tell you.
I personally get exhausted just trying to keep up with the few blogs and publications I respect and visit regularly. Let alone all of the other ones that I could (or should) be reading.
So what’s a writer to do?
While most of our side projects to date have been focused around tools—things like Unsplash, How Much to Make an App, and Moodboard, January saw the launch of one of our first major content side projects: the Makers Podcast series.
So, with that on my mind, this month I want to talk about how we’re growing by diversifying our content, how we see the future of content side projects, and how to tell if your content is catering to window shoppers or destination shoppers (and why you need both).
A lot to cover, but first, ze numbers!
Page views: 282,131 (+53.5% in January)
Unique page views: 259,605 (+55.05% in January)
Users: 102,810 (+57.2% in January)
Sessions: 120,320 (+54.77% in January)
Bounce rate: 2.53% 3.45% (-25.63% in January)
Average time on page: 00:46
Pages per session: 2.34 (-0.92% in January)
Total time gained/lost with readers: 1313.68 (+36.4% in January)
New newsletter subscribers: 527
Hacker News (1,967)
Top 5 posts:
- 5 weak words you should avoid (and what to use instead) (23,197)
Why I killed my standing desk (13,413)
Top post published in January:
The truth about idea stealing (7,467)
Despite being a slow month for posts, January was heavy on traffic, meaning we must be doing something right
Doing a bit of digging, we had some great referral traffic thanks to a few posts being promoted on Facebook, as well as some doing well on Medium, Lifehacker, and HackerNews. Across the board our numbers were looking good, especially traffic coming from social, which almost doubled month-on-month from 6.21% in December to 11.16% in January.
Also, the percentage of traffic from organic search was down this month, which I take as a good sign. The majority of our audience is still coming to us organically, which is something that is out of our control. One of my long-term goals is to increase traffic via email and other channels that we control (like social and some referrals).
When you rely on other people’s platforms, your content is never really yours.
Side project marketing: Content edition
As a writer, it can be hard to think outside of the written word. When I think of side projects, I think of courses or guides or books. But as someone whose job it is to try and bring as much trust and awareness to what we at Crew do, it’s important to look at other sources of bringing in attention.
And ‘attention’ is the key word here.
“Building something new and different gives you the chance to bring in a whole other audience.”
Do any research into reading times online and it’s a bleak place. Ain’t nobody got time to read. So how do you continue to create high levels of value if it’s not in long-form content?
Nobody has time for anything. So make your content easy as hell to engage with.
One of the most common complaints and, paradoxically, compliments about the Crew blog is the length and depth of our articles.
But we can’t help it. Writing like this is in our DNA. We take offence at the purely anecdote-based listicles slapped together in under an hour.
For us, the only chance we see of being able to stand out against a sea of content is the same way our business stands out against a sea of competitors: Compete on quality, not quantity.
But it’s easy to see how multiple 1500+ word essays a month can be daunting. And, looking at some of our most popular posts, it’s clear that sometimes length doesn’t matter.
Look at a writer like Seth Godin. The guy publishes pretty much daily (and has for years), and yet, this is still one of my all-time favourite blog posts of his:
Just like that. All of the value of a 1500+ word productivity essay distilled into one line. It’s like the Mitch Hedberg of productivity posts.
This got me thinking: Just like a well-balanced stock portfolio, to beat the bank in the long run you need to diversify your content. Not everyone in your audience will relate to one style of writing, or even one medium. And while it’s important to know who you’re writing to and build a core audience, experimenting with different platforms can help you see an increase across all projects.
That’s why we’re starting to experiment with other forms like audio and video—mediums that don’t necessarily command your attention.
Unlike reading, audio especially presents an interesting opportunity to still provide value and entertainment to your audience, while not cutting them off from their day-to-day.
(Hell, I only really listen to podcasts while doing some menial task, like cleaning up or cooking or walking to my workspace.)
To stay relevant, you need to cater to your audience not only with what you provide, but how you provide it.
We’re still testing the waters with the format of Makers, but the response has been good so far. If you’re interested, take a listen on iTunes and leave us a review.
Is your content for destination or window shoppers?
Years ago, I worked at a music shop, selling guitars, keyboards, amps, you name it. It was a great job. At the time, I fit the stereotype perfectly. Sitting around noodling away while customers awkwardly tried to take down instruments. But still they came in, and still I sold instruments. A lot of instruments. A lot of expensive instruments.
We’d have these Sunday morning meetings where my boss, Shaun, would try to motivate this ratty crew and week after week, he’d say the same thing: “This is a destination store. People are coming here to buy. They know what they want and we need to just make sure nothing gets in the way of that.”
I think about that distinction quite a bit now. How certain items are destination items, while others can be found anywhere.
“To stay relevant, you need to cater to your audience not only with what you provide, but how you provide it.”
I think about how content, and writing in particular, fits into this same model.
Does your writing belong to you and you alone? Is your blog a destination blog? Or can it be found all over the place? Are you going after window shoppers or destination customers?
If you’re lucky, you’ve created a destination shop. You have a regular crowd that returns month after month and engages actively with your content on social media, sharing it without prompt. Most likely, however, you’re getting the bulk of your traffic from other sources.
It’s hard to make your blog landing page a destination. Most readers these days comes through the side door, from content silos like HackerNews, Designer News, and Reddit, platforms like Medium, social media, or traditional media publications like Lifehackers, The Next Web, Quartz, or Business Insider.
So again, diversity is key. And the type of content you’re creating can ensure that you’re hitting both groups.
For us, creating destination content means creating something exclusive and of high value. Something that a reader can’t get anywhere else. We’ve started this through courses and learning sites like Make This Year and the upcoming Freelance MBA.
While for window shoppers—the bulk of our audience—we’re focusing less on the store and more on the item. This means increased syndication and distribution to already established sites.
Think of it as selling your item in Walmart vs. your own boutique.
You might not love the store, but you’re going to get a hell of a lot more customers seeing it.
Our 3-pronged attack for attracting low-attention audience
So, if we’re breaking this all down into 3 ways that we can use side projects and techniques to grow the amount of eyes on our content and the people who know Crew, we can look at it like this:
- Experiment with new mediums that cater to your customer’s needs: This means non-written content like Podcasts, video courses, or audio interviews that bring value without the time and mental commitment of sitting down and reading. For us this is our Makers podcast (As well as a few other projects that I can’t lift the lid on yet!)
- Create exclusive ‘Destination Content’: This means content that is exclusive to you and your select audience—high-value things like courses. For us, this is in the form of Make This Year and Freelance MBA.
- Focus on getting as many eyes as possible on the work you’ve already done: This means syndication, cross-posting, and basically just beefing up the distribution on the work that you’re already doing for your audience on your own blog. For us, this is maintaining our syndication network, finding new partners, posting to content silos, and cross-posting to places like Medium and Reddit.
As we continue to grow and put more resources into content projects, we need to make sure that they’re actually bringing in a decent return on the time invested.
Side projects can be a big investment. They can mean development or design time that could be spent on your core business. But they’re also your best shot at seeing serious increases in growth.
We’re not exactly gamblers here at Crew, but once in a while you’ve just got to sit back and let it ride.
Want to chat about side projects, podcasts, or publishing? Give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead image by Yuriy Trubitsyn on Unsplash.