Sometimes working at a startup can feel a bit like a magic show.
The goal is to pull a rabbit out of a hat, not show people how you did it.
But that’s not how we play at Crew.
Which is great.
Personally, I’ve learned so much from the experiments and writing of other people online and sharing our own tests with the community is something I’ve always believed in.
In that spirit, today I want to run through a simple experiment that doubled our average monthly subscribers and took no code, no dev time, and no more than an hour of work.
But first, let’s look at last month’s metrics for the Crew blog:
Page views: 329,380 (+18.82% from April)
Unique page views: 299,738 (+16.89% from April)
Users: 123,564 (+17.59% from April)
Sessions: 143,966 (+17.95% from April)
Bounce rate: 2.29 (-6.13% from April)
Average time on page: 00:41
Pages per session: 2.29
Total time gained/lost with readers: 1639.61 hours
New newsletter subscribers: 725
Top 5 posts:
- 5 weak words you should avoid (and what to use instead) (25,101)
Why we hire noobs (22,798)
Top post published in May:
Why we hire noobs (22,798)
Our numbers have been steadily growing over the past few months thanks to a few small wins and fixing some technical issues that were killing search traffic.
This is something we’re focusing more on and last month we started working with Sean Smith (who’s written for our blog in the past) and his team of SEO wizards at SimpleTiger to help make the blog more visible to search engines and hopefully attract more of the kinds of people we want coming to Crew.
Do it all. Do it yourself.
Being able to hire contractors like we did with SimpleTiger is great, but it also isn’t always a possibility.
Resources can be scarce when you’re growing a company and it’s an especially hard ask to take designers and developers away from working on your core product.
So much so that you sometimes have to resort to threats to get yourself taken seriously.
Jokes aside, this makes sense. As much as our marketing efforts are all about building trust, raising awareness, and providing value, none of that matters if the product itself isn’t knocking it out of the park.
So designers and developers, do your thing.
I mean, creativity comes from constraints, right?
Small win #1: The power of the written word
Which brings us to our experiment this month.
As I’ve said in the past, one of my main metrics for whether or not we’re doing the right things with the blog is newsletter subscribers.
My inbox is a sacred place and I’m ruthless with unsubscribing from anything that doesn’t peak my interest at least 85% of the time.
I’d like to think our readers are the same and so if you let us in, I don’t want to let you down.
But for the past few months our subscriber rate has been pretty stagnant despite a steady increase in traffic. I wanted to experiment with more sign-up options, but we didn’t have any dev resources to help implement anything, and no design resources to make sure it was up to the Crew golden standard.
But there’s more than one way to do things with quality. We believe in authenticity over beauty. Of telling a good story instead of trying to spit shine a pair of loafers you found on the side of the street.
So, if we couldn’t make our sign ups look amazing, we could at least make them authentic and fun.
Our experiment came down to one thing: Ask people to sign up for the newsletter.
We started with our top 10 posts from the previous month, adding in a custom-written CTA near the beginning and at the end of each one.
For Angus’ Why we hire noobs post, that looked something like this:
While on Medium, for Mikael’s Why you don’t need design like Apple post, it looked like this:
Our subscribers in May from the blog were double the 6-month average and are on track to be triple this month. While on Medium, we drove more traffic to Crew.co through a single post than through most of our marketing efforts.
And the effort?
Maybe an hour of editing posts and writing a couple sentences.
Now that’s some sweet, sweet ROI.
Small win #2: Treat your content like a product launch
That wasn’t our only experiment last month though.
Over the past few years we’ve honed our launch skills for new side projects and releases at Crew.
And here’s just some of the results we’ve seen:
- 50,000+ avg. day 1 visitors for every project on this page: crew.co/labs
- 20k+ subscribers in a day (launchthisyear.com)
- Raised $106k and featured by Kickstarter
Every time we launch a new project, we get a rush of traffic to Crew as well as a slew of project submissions. But this takes a lot of effort on our part, not only for the launch, but in making the product itself. We needed a way to scale this rush of traffic without relying on resources that were needed elsewhere.
So last month we decided to experiment with treating our content the same way we treat a side project.
This meant a full launch on relevant content silos like Designer News, Hacker News, and Reddit, syndicating to our Medium publication, and going full bore on social. All in all, maybe a few hours of writing and promoting, but the results were staggering.
Here’s a look at the traffic to Angus’ Why we hire noobs post on the day it launched (that blip on May 6th), vs the day we did our launch push (that great pyramid of Giza on the 9th).
While not as extreme of an example, on Backstage, here’s Luke’s What does Unsplash cost post a few days after we pushed it to Designer News compared to once the post had died down and gone back to ‘normal’ views:
It’s hard to deny the impact a little extra effort can make when promoting a post.
And why shouldn’t we be doing this? With the effort it takes to research and write a quality post, we should give it every chance of blowing up. To consistently have successes like this week after week would be huge not only for our traffic and subscribers, but for general awareness of Crew. And that’s what we’re after.
Small win #3: Using the resources we already have
As the other examples showed, last month was all about focusing on efficiency—on getting the most out of the time and effort we’re putting into each project.
So after looking into our data, we were surprised to see that despite having 1/12th of the traffic that our main blog does, Backstage—where we share all of our behind-the-scenes of building Crew and Unsplash—brings in more projects to Crew.
In fact, 10% of all projects that were approved in Crew last month came from this lowly blog.
So why not take advantage of this fact?
Well, just like asking the designers and developers on the core product to take time away to help, asking a teammate to write a quality, substantial post is also asking them to take significant time away from their day-to-day tasks.
Time is of the essence for everyone, and the last thing I want is to be known as that guy bugging you and taking you away from your real work.
So last month I tried something different.
The experiment? Treat Crew like my journalistic beat and get all investigative on my own team.
So far the results have been decent. I spoke with Marlee from our Happiness team about how they re-designed how they communicate. And Janice from our Community team about the problems of running a two-sided marketplace and keeping our network of freelancers happy.
Good content. But not the instantly quantifiable win that I would’ve liked.
Unlike the other small wins this month, I wouldn’t call this one a home run. Maybe more of a sacrifice fly (the time commitment on my part was more than I was hoping).
Still, if the amount of projects coming in from Backstage scales with the content we put out, this should be a long-term win.
When resources are scarce and growth is expected, small wins like these can feel huge.
What it all comes down to is getting the most out of the time you put in.
Efficiency. Productivity. Whatever you want to call it. If you take the time to create great content (like we do), and the results aren’t coming in, ask why?
For us, it was as easy as seeing a few small problems (not enough clear CTAs, not enough promotion, too big of an ask for teammates) and finding the easiest ways to fix them.
Want to chat blogs, writing, or marketing? Get in touch on Twitter and let me know what you’re thinking.
Lead image by Davide Ragusa on Unsplash