I’m a big idea kind of person.
I like stories over scenes. Plot over dialogue. Idea over execution.
Big ideas are the easy part. They come barreling into your head like a freight train full of potential. You can almost see the finished product before you’ve even started.
It’s when you start digging into the details where the process slows down and things get harder.
Last month in the writing dispatch we looked at some of the big ideas—things like long-term plans for our content and defining metrics that reflect the values we want Crew to embody. Now, against my better judgment, I’m going to push those to the side and dig into the details—the small, more convoluted things that are so important when trying to understand your audience.
Let’s start off with some of the key metrics from last month as a starting point.
Page views: 116,813 (-17.5% from October)
Unique page views: 107,987 (-16.3% from October)
Bounce rate: 2.7% (+0.20% from October)
Average time on page: 36 seconds (-3 seconds from October)
Newsletter subscriber growth rate: +7.5% from October
Top 5 stories last month:
Why I killed my standing desk (9,907)
5 weak words to avoid (9,825)
Getting out of your comfort zone (6,261)
We published 11 articles on the Crew blog this past month and tried to maintain a schedule of posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with Tuesday and Thursday set aside for special projects or Backstage posts, Saturday for our How to Build an Online Business course, and Sundays for the Weekly Reads.
Consistency seems to be paying off and the average amount of reads on each story has increased around 30% from just a few months ago. That being said, we’re hitting about the same amount of page views this month as last. This is something I’ll have to look into with more detail if the numbers are similar for December.
The weekly drop off
Last month we regularly saw a spike in traffic on Mondays and Tuesdays and a drop off towards the end of the week (Saturdays are our worst day), which is pretty much in line with what most people will tell you about reader behavior. We’re more likely to be interested in new things at the beginning of the week and less likely to want to strain ourselves with reading blog posts when we’re burned out on a Friday.
One thing I’ve got to ask is should this effect the way we publish?
Right now it’s hard to tell whether this pattern has to do with the content itself, or if it has to do with more general reading patterns. It’s too soon to draw conclusions but this is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on over the coming months.
Missing that runaway story
It’s pretty clear when comparing this month’s numbers to last month’s that our drop in page views came from not having a runaway story. If you take Mikael’s How side projects saved our startup article out of the equation (it hit 33k views last month alone!) the page views from October and November are almost on par. Good, but not great.
It’s hard to know what’s going to resonate with people. But drilling down into the top stories over the past few months has been pretty illuminating.
Take our top story this month: Why I killed my standing desk.
This piece was written back in March and has racked up almost 90k views since then. That’s 10% of our overall blog traffic in the last 9 months. It was also one of our top 5 stories in March, April, August, Sept, and October.
Or, 5 weak words to avoid by Andrea Ayers. This was published at the beginning of August and has been viewed 25k times since, accounting for almost 6% of all of our traffic in that time.
The surprising reason we have a 40-hour work week (And why we should re-think it) was published at the end of January and has picked up 45k views—4.7% of total traffic in that period. It was also in the top 5 in February, March, May, June, July, August, September, and October—that’s every month except for April!
Some of these stories are in our Best of list, which might be a good reason why they consistently get views. I’m going to experiment with switching up the articles in here to see if it has any effect.
But what else could be causing these articles to do so well and to stay relevant month after month?
Standing desks aren’t a fad that is going away, so tackling an ongoing issue is sure to attract maintained attention. Another factor could have been due to the fact that we took the opposite argument to most articles, which are more likely to talk about the benefits of standing versus sitting.
Communication skills are consistently ranked as some of the most important by employers so looking at real world, actionable tips is sure to attract some interest.
And, as we’ve seen in the past, our readers love weird science and articles that answer interesting questions they might not have thought of otherwise.
So, with this in mind, we can break down our top three topics/themes to
1. Experience – If I’ve learned anything from trying to choose a restaurant to eat at with my girlfriend it’s that we place value and trust in other people’s experiences. This is most likely why articles that do the legwork for you seem to do well.
2. Advice/Tips and tricks – ‘Productivity’ and ‘Creativity’ are great topics, but sometimes you need to drill down to the nitty gritty. Easily actionable advice helps people actually make change happen right now rather than another article asking for sweeping change.
3. Interesting/weird science – This is the attention grabber. The ‘Why is that?’ article. When we find a topic that resonates with people (like why the 40 hour work week is the norm), these do amazingly well.
I don’t want to make a formula for our blog, but understanding what articles have the longest shelf life and consistently perform can help us really understand who our readers are and how we can provide value for them.
Finding the right syndication partners
There’s few things better than word of mouth referrals.
When you hear about something from someone else (especially someone you respect) you’re more likely to trust what they’re saying.
That’s why we’re so interested in working with new syndication partners. Not only does it put our writing in front of more people, but it also builds trust by showing that we’re part of the larger community.
So far we’re working regularly with The Next Web and Business Insider with some of our articles ending up on other sites such as Quartz and Lifehacker.
This is great, but what I’m most interested in is how people behave when they come to our blog from another site.
Looking at last month, readers coming from The Next Web stayed on average 1 minute 46 seconds (120% longer than the site average) and viewed 2.87 pages per visit (22.5% more than the average).
What’s even more impressive is the metrics from people coming from our Backstage.
People who started on Backstage stayed on the blog on average 225% longer (2 min 37 seconds) and visited 41% more pages than our site average.
Obviously, Backstage attracts people that care about the company (or else they probably wouldn’t be following the place where we post the inner workings of Crew) but these numbers also show how important it is to build that layer of trust.
Backstage is our chance to go open kimono and leave nothing to mystery.
If you come to the blog after seeing our insides you get a better idea of who we are and why we write what we do.
All of this made me think about a post Mikael published recently where he talks about lessons he learned while building Crew. In it he talks about building the ‘right’ team, not just whoever is ‘willing to lend a hand’.
I think of building our syndication network as the same thing. It might seem exciting to have your work published where you know it will be seen by thousands or millions of more people, but they have to be the right people.
The only way to know that is to work with people you trust and respect and who are aligned with your same core values.
Newsletters – design, length, and frequency
I received an e-mail last month from one of our Newsletter subscribers who told me he was regretfully going to unsubscribe from our list as the increased frequency of our articles was becoming too much for him. As he put it:
At 5 minutes (sometimes longer) to read each e-mail, it’s 35 minutes a week. Multiply it by 4 weeks…you get the idea.
Right now we’re sending out full articles as e-mail campaigns, which can definitely be a bit intimidating when sitting next to all of the other e-mails you need to get to.
We pride ourselves on providing interesting, well-researched articles, and they regularly end up running 1200-1500 words. I definitely understand that this can be a bit much, especially for those reading on mobile (which is a lot of you!).
This might also be why our Weekend Reads that go out each Sunday have considerably higher open and click rates than our regular newsletters.
Right now, switching your account settings to only receive a weekly run-down of our articles isn’t as obvious as it could be. In fact, it’s pretty hidden, way down at the bottom of the e-mail (beside the unsubscribe button).
This just makes it too easy to unsubscribe, especially if it’s just the volume of emails that is getting you down.
We want to offer a quick and easy way to switch your subscription to just our Weekend Reads.
One option I really like is from the Product Hunt e-mails:
We’ll be taking this all into consideration as we work on revamping our newsletters for the new year.
Speaking of which, right now I’m especially fond of Medium’s e-mails:
It’s simple, clean, and gives you enough information without being overbearing. This is something I want to achieve with our own newsletters going forward.
In my previous life as a magazine editor I had a very clear idea of who my readers were. With Crew, we’re constantly evolving and learning more and more everyday about the people who read our blog.
The devil’s in the details, but so is some serious insight into what we’re doing right, and what we’re doing wrong.
As much as I love the big ideas I’m understanding now that a project lives or dies in the nitty gritty.