When it comes to running a blog, the more information you can get about your readers, the better.
Going in blindly and without a plan pretty much ensures that you’ll keep spinning around in a whirlpool of mediocrity.
As much as we don’t write for page views at Crew, I like to have a baseline for measuring which efforts are actually worth the time.
This month, I’m going to show you a few small changes we’ve made to help measure how our readers interact with the blog.
But first off, let’s run through last month’s metrics:
Page views: 229,987 (+12.05% from April)
Unique page views: 213,192 (+12.2% from April)
Users: 82,349 (+13.6% from April)
Sessions: 98,114 (+12.87% from April)
Bounce rate: 2.76% (-0.29% from April)
Average time on page: 38 seconds (same)
Pages per session: 2.34 (-0.02 from April)
Total time gained/lost with readers: 869.24 (+13.6% from April)
New newsletter subscribers: 426
Top 5 posts:
Why I killed my standing desk (18,360)
The psychology of simple (16,167)
Our number of users was back up this month most likely thanks to the success of The Psychology of Simple, which was shared heavily on social media as well as picked up by The Next Web.
We also saw a nice jump in social sharing, especially on Twitter. We’ve been making a conscious effort to be more active on Twitter and it’s nice to see that paying off.
Just how much value does our newsletter bring?
Every week I spend a good chunk of time putting together a number of different newsletters. Along with two blog posts and a weekly roundup, we send campaigns for Backstage posts, Crew Stories, lessons from our How to Build a Business course, as well as numerous other ones.
More and more these days I keep asking myself one question:
Is the time I’m spending now giving me more time in the future?
The key to productivity and growth is to focus on tasks that will open up your time in the future. It’s finding work with value and significance that will help you grow overall not just contribute to the day-to-day noise.
Looking at our newsletters through that lens I realized I needed more information to see if the time I spend every day is building up to something.
Mailchimp (how we send out our e-mail campaigns) does a great job at showing open and click-through rates, but those have remained quite steady (we average around 27% opens and 4% clicks on individual posts and more for our weekly roundup).
But Google Analytics gives you the ability to see exactly where those clicks are going. It just takes a little work.
Setting up link tracking in Google Analytics
The first step is to set up a specific link that will tell Google Analytics where the visitor came from.
This is easy enough using Google’s URL builder.
Simply add in your Website URL, Campaign Source, Campaign Medium, and Campaign name, and voila! A link you can use that will automatically send those specific parameters to Google Analytics whenever it’s clicked.
For a Crew blog story here’s what I’ll use:
- Website URL: The URL of the blog post
- Campaign Source: Newsletter
- Campaign Medium: Email
- Campaign Name: The title of the blog post (shortened if it’s too long, but still easily recognizable)
Now, when you go into Google Analytics > Acquisition > All traffic > Channels > Email, you’ll be able to see which e-mail campaigns are most successful as well as all sorts of interesting information about your newsletter readers.
For me, the most important information is how different segments of my audience act differently once they’re on the site.
Do they stick around and read more posts or bounce right away?
Do they read most of the post or skim?
On average, readers who come to the site from a newsletter link have a bounce rate of 0.77% (-72.15% from the overall average).
They stick around to view 2.82 pages per visit (+20% from the overall average).
And spend an average 1:40 on the site (almost double the overall average).
These numbers shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s all about context, and signing up for our newsletter means you most likely understand who Crew is, what we do, and the type of writing you’ll receive.
But does this mean that a newsletter subscriber is more valuable than someone coming in through search or referral? You bet.
Right now we receive a significant amount of traffic through organic search, but seeing the numbers from newsletter traffic just validates what I’ve thought for a long time: context and trust breeds quality readers.
It’s why email is our preferred method of talking to our audience, and why we’ll continue to find different ways to attract new subscribers.
Another important way to measure how people are interacting with your content is to check out how and where they’re sharing it.
Recently we added the ability to track when a blog post is shared from our blog and where on the page it’s shared from (there are buttons on the top and bottom of each article).
We’ve just started tracking these numbers so I don’t want to go too deep on them quite yet, but one of the most interesting trends I’ve been seeing is that readers are more likely to share using the buttons at the bottom of a post, compared to the ones at the top.
This could be due to a couple of factors:
The share buttons are more obvious and recognizable at the bottom.
People are more likely to share a post that they’ve read through.
So you don’t have to scroll up, here’s what our sharing functionality on the top of a post looks like:
Beautiful. Isn’t it?
The only problem is it’s almost too aesthetically pleasing. There’s no Twitter or Facebook blue. You have to click to get to the actual sharing buttons. And when it comes to getting people to do things online you need to make it as easy as possible.
Now here’s a look at the buttons on the bottom of the page:
Ahh, there’s that old Twitter and Facebook blue. There’s even that chirpy little guy hanging out.
One thing I learned while researching an article on simple design is that we’re all attracted to what are called prototypical elements.
In the most basic terms, this just means we like what we know. When we expect to see something on a website in a specific place with a specific style (like sharing buttons at the top or down the lefthand side of a post) we feel good when they’re there and disconnected and unsure when they aren’t.
This is where we run into a serious issue of designing for marketing and conversions versus designing for aesthetics.
Most blogs and publications have a number of prototypical elements that we’ve tried to stay away from with Crew.
We don’t want to have obvious share buttons with counters as we feel it takes away from the reading experience. Similarly, we don’t have blaring ‘Sign up’ calls to action. They just don’t feel ‘right’ for the Crew brand.
But looking at the numbers on social sharing already I’m starting to question some of those decisions.
Here’s a look at a post on 99u (one of my favourite sites):
See that bar down the side? Looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it? You’ve probably seen something like it on hundreds of other sites. Yet 99u took a bit of a different approach.
It may not have the typical colors that represent each social site but 99u’s design does use a number of prototypical elements.
Placement: The vertical sharing ‘bar’ is common across a number of blogs and sites and most of us have come to expect something of its sort in that position.
Logos: Instead of being obvious and using each social network’s color, the design team at 99u used just the logos, which allowed them to blend prototypical elements with their own aesthetic.
There’s one more important thing to consider with 99u’s design: Social validation.
Here’s the idea behind social validation as explained by psychologist Dr. Susan Weinschenk, author of How To Get People To Do Stuff:
“When we are uncertain about what to do we will look to other people to guide us. And we do this automatically and unconsciously.”
Are you unsure whether or not you want to share the above article? Well, 1000’s of other people have already. So go for it!
It’s the same theory as to why we’re so influenced by user reviews. If we don’t want to make a decision based on our own limited knowledge, we look to those who seemingly know more. And we do it automatically and unconsciously.
Now, the last thing I want to become is another conversion rate optimization talking head, but there is something to be learned here.
It’s clear that we love familiarity and that we act unconsciously and automatically when we have social proof, but how can we utilize those truths to build something that both helps us grow quickly and fits our aesthetic?
These are questions that can only be solved by testing and iterating and tracking.
But it’s important to remember that there’s no point in making changes if you don’t have a clear and easy way to track the impact of those changes, and an idea of what your baseline numbers are.
Like anything worth building, it takes time and effort to build a blog into something worth reading. High-quality, interesting, and engaging content should always be the focal point, but part of that is understanding who your readers are and how they interact with your blog.
As a writer and editor, I always find it a delicate balance when working with analytics. So much of writing is about feeling and trusting your gut, but having hard numbers to back up those feelings makes planning for the future that much easier.