Last month we packed our bags, jumped in the station wagon, and moved our domain from pickcrew.com over to crew.co.
The change has already had a few great benefits, but it hasn’t been all smiles and high fives.
There was one not so teeny tiny downside that came with the switch: it completely murdered our organic search traffic.
While we eventually sorted out the issue, this month I want to look at some of the lessons I learned after losing more than half of my monthly readers.
But first, let’s take a look at those painful metrics…
Page views: 137,648 (-52% from June)
Unique page views: 125,925 (-52.4% from June)
Users: 44,978 (-58% from June)
Sessions: 57,542 vs. 125,954 (-54.3% from June)
Bounce rate: 3.58% vs. 6.27% (-2.69% from June)
Average time on page: 50 vs. 55 seconds (-5 seconds)
Pages per session: 2.39 vs. 2.28 (+0.11 from June)
Total time gained/lost with readers: 624.7 (-61.9% from June)
New newsletter subscribers: 398
Hacker News (894)
Top 5 posts:
How side projects saved our startup (10,906)
Why I killed my standing desk (7,799)
Wow, that hurts.
Normally here I’d look at things such as the fact that we didn’t have a post that was picked up by a larger site (like How side projects saved our startup was last month), but to be honest that wouldn’t even be close to painting the bigger picture of what happened in July.
As I mentioned before, last month we made the switch from blog.pickcrew.com over to our new home at blog.crew.co.
The new domain is great! It’s clean, it’s clear, it actually uses our company’s name. But switching domains, especially after a solid year and a half of blogging and building credibility (and link juice), isn’t as easy a task as we imagined.
“A web change can tank a single traffic source. It could be a bad redirect or it could be your #1 referral source suddenly shutting down.”
We’re still not 100% sure what caused the issue with our switch as we made a few changes simultaneously, but Angus does a great job of summing up the issues of migrating domains and what we think happened.
To give you an idea of the level of impact, here’s a look at the first two weeks of July versus the same period a month prior:
A 75% drop in organic search traffic. A 20% drop in direct traffic. Even a slight dip in social traffic. The power of search and visibility became painfully clear when it wasn’t working in our favour.
Luckily, our amazing dev team was able to reverse the issue and we’re slowly getting back to normal. So while we might not be facing any real long-term issues, what can we learn from this momentary drop in traffic?
1. Search is powerful, but it can be an enemy as much as an ally
We’re lucky that many of our posts have a certain level of longevity to them. We rank well in search for a number of terms and as a result, we normally get more than 50% of our traffic from search alone.
Which is great. Until it’s not. As I saw this month, this can change in a heartbeat and relying on search ranking for traffic is a dangerous game. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue to try to rank well for terms and to write posts that people are searching for, but rather that we should respect the fact that search rankings are fickle.
2. Building a loyal core audience is more important than numbers
As Angus explained, relying on a single source of traffic is an unsustainable model. Search algorithms change all of the time and all we need is for something to update and cause irreversible damage to our traffic.
It’s more important to build a core audience around your products and content and engage with them through the mediums that you control (like email).
3. Diversifying your distribution is key
I’ve mentioned in multiple dispatches how relying too heavily on organic search traffic isn’t sustainable, but this last month was the first time I really saw that come into play.
I’m on a warpath now to diversify our distribution channels and build out our own communities. Here’s my game plan:
- Step up on syndication: Right now we have a great relationships with the fine people at The Next Web, Business Insider, and LifeHacker to get some of our content reposted for their audience. To be honest, we don’t see a huge return on those posts (not many people click through to the Crew blog), but it is good for our clout and to raise awareness of Crew. I’m going to continue to aggressively go after other syndication partners who I think would be a great fit for our content to continue to raise awareness.
- Get active on the communities that matter: Because of the varied tasks I take on every single day it can be hard to find time to actively engage with communities that might get more out of our content—Places like Reddit and Quora and even LinkedIn. Finding ways to easily push our content out into these channels without having to be constantly active is going to be a big thing for me in the near future.
- Get serious about social: Watching our organic search traffic disappear really showed me how important social traffic is and how we should be trying to provide more value on those channels as well. We already seem to be doing decently on Twitter, but again, the return on the time investment there isn’t huge. Our best Twitter posts result in 30-50 clicks, while the average is closer to 10. We’ll be looking to refine our process on social moving forward to try to get those clicks up.
4. But value trumps everything
What do people share? Things that make them look smart/funny/interesting.
Every piece of content we build needs to be valuable and inspiration. We need to inform and be interesting. Above all we need to make sure that our taste level and expectations remain high across the board. Consistency is key, but consistently producing awesome content is the only way to really bring people in.
We’ve gotten great responses from some of our bigger content projects, such as Coffee & Power and Slack vs. HipChat, and finding ways to integrate these and new tools into our content strategy is very important.
5. Our core audience is still growing
July was our first full month of experimenting with a new sign-up option in our navigation bar, and given that it was our slowest month for traffic in ages, I was surprised to see that it was actually one of our best for newsletter sign-ups.
A while back, the team at Buffer ran an experiment to test different email sign-up options. They found that the more chances to sign up, the more people chose to.
Here’s their complex breakdown of why it works:
Nearly half of our newsletter sign-ups this month came from the new fixed header that we added to the site. And that’s from a feature that isn’t a very hard sell or clear call to action (no pop-ups here!)
6. I need to get over my fear of SEO
I don’t know much about SEO, but I feel like it’s an area where I should be focusing a bit of time on at least understanding. This month showed me how powerful search can be, and I need to at least have a basic understanding of how our site is being seen by the likes of Google and other search engines.
7. Getting wrapped up in the numbers is a recipe for disaster
This month made me recognize that I’d drank the Kool-Aid from the cult of page views.
Over the past few months I’ve found myself equating the success of the blog directly to changes I’ve made, but that isn’t always the case. Being republished in large, active communities is as much of a driver of our growth as anything else.
Ultimately, what will drive this blog forward is good editorial vision, a commitment to consistently providing value to our audience of independent makers and entrepreneurs, and a crew of great contributors (hey guys!).
Focusing more on the process of creating valuable and (lets be honest) readable content, is more important than the numbers that come out of it. If you connect with your audience, place their values at the highest peak of importance, and constantly strive to serve them, you’re bound to see growth and success.
This month was the first opportunity I’ve had in a long time to really step back and look at what we’re doing here and how we’re doing it.
I’ve been so caught up in some of the other side projects and content projects at Crew that I almost lost sight of what’s most important to me: nurturing the community around the blog. This was a kick in the ass to remind me to always put their value in front of my own self-serving needs and to refocus on how we can build the greatest things possible for everyone out there.