The internet is a terrible place filled with too much content for anyone to read. Right?
Somedays it feels this way.
I get burned out and start browsing aimlessly hoping to find something inspiring, or some article that will fire off a synapse in my brain telling me ‘hey, this is a great article, but you can do better!’
Those are good days. Inspiring days.
We all have limited time to search for good, interesting writing, and unfortunately, what rises to the top isn’t always cream.
That’s where your distribution plan comes into play.
The internet’s no Field of Dreams. Your personal phantasmal Shoeless Joe Jackson won’t appear just because you put in the time to write.
This month I want to talk about how we’ve been working on spreading the word about the Crew blog, what’s working, and (most importantly) what’s not.
First up, let’s look at those metrics:
Page views: 152,382 (-11.12% from August)
Unique page views: 138,080 (-11.43% from August)
Users: 82,568 (+24.18% from August)
Sessions: 100,613 (+25.4% from August)
Bounce rate: 63.22% (+206.12% from August)
Average time on page: 1:54 (+58 seconds)
Pages per session: 1.51 (-29.04% from August)
Total time gained/lost with readers: 2,614.6 hours (+60.4% from August)
New newsletter subscribers: 435 (+32.9% from August)
Web Designer News (1,483)
Top 5 posts:
Why I killed my standing desk (7,017)
Again, things are starting to look better. And seeing 2 new posts in our Top 5 makes me a very happy man. However, I can’t help but not have 100% faith in Google Analytics…
Why? Well, things like this to start with:
Oh, and then there’s this:
Clearly, we’ve still got a few things to sort out in our tracking and until then it will be hard for me to see what sort of results I’m getting from publishing experiments.
I’ve passed this over to our Dev team, but if anyone has insight into what’s going on, please let me know!
Taking a step back and understanding the ‘why’ of blogging
At Crew, we’re huge advocates of side projects and the value they can bring to our users (and ultimately, to us as well).
There value all comes down to the fact that there’s a clear ‘why’ behind each project we take on.
For Unsplash it was to help provide the design community with free-to-use, high-resolution photos (and hopefully entice a few of them to bring their work to Crew).
For How Much to Make an App, it was to give people who were new to app development a ballpark figure of what their idea might cost to make (and introduce them to the community of devs and designers who could make it for them in Crew).
For Coffee & Power, it was to create a list of coffee shops with that unicorn combination of great coffee, fast wi-fi, and plentiful power plugs (while also connecting us to more and more people in the freelance community).
Each project not only brought value to us through helping our business, but provided real, usable value to our potential customers.
These aren’t sneaky bait-and-switch tactics, they’re just good old fashioned ‘here’s something you might like, if you do, we think you’ll like what we do as well’.
As Crew CEO Mikael likes to say:
“When you create value first, people pay attention.”
But when it comes to writing, there isn’t always as much planning and process involved. The content kings tell us that we need consistency above all and that staying on schedule is more important than hitting it 100% right, 100% of the time.
When we dropped our publishing schedule from 3 posts a week to 2, I actually saw an increase in traffic, engagement, and sharing.
My experiment was hardly scientific (as the sole person responsible for the blog it just came down to a matter of time), but the fine people at Moz recently undertook a more structured publishing volume experiment and found that compared to both a standard week (of publishing every day) and a double-cadence week (publishing twice a day), a period of only publishing 3x a week resulted in almost no change to email subscribers and minimal drops in sessions and users.
As Moz audience development strategist Trevor Klein summed up:
“With some basic data clearly showing us that a day without a blog post isn’t the calamity we feared it may be, we’ve decided it’s time to raise the bar.
When a post that’s scheduled to be published on our blog just isn’t quite where we think it ought to be, we’ll no longer rush it through the editing process simply because of an artificial deadline. When a post falls through (that’s just the life of an editorial calendar), we’ll no longer scramble to find an option that’s ‘good enough’ to fill the spot. If we don’t have a great replacement, we’ll simply take the day off.”
A great piece of writing—one with a clear ‘why’ behind it—can bring in 10X the traffic and users in the long run. In fact, as Trevor found looking at some of the best performing Moz blog posts, they can actually bring in 60–100X more traffic. Plus, because you’ve put the time into developing a piece with a purpose, you know there’s a better chance of bringing in the right people.
Our distribution plan (and why it isn’t working)
But putting in the time and effort to craft one of these 10x writing pieces is lost if you don’t have a way of getting it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
While you can sit back and wait for your loyal readers to share, not having a good distribution plan in place means that you’re not giving your content the head start it needs to become something with long-term value.
You need to have a repeatable process in place that gets launched as soon as you hit publish (or even before).
Here’s a look at our standard blog post distribution plan at Crew:
Our distribution plan has largely been built around utilizing the connections we already have (like syndication partners and friends/influencers with big audiences) and promoting our posts through social media.
And for the most part it’s worked out quite well.
The problem is that this ‘plan’ has largely been tacked on after a post is published.
We’ve fallen into a ‘we’ve published. Now what?’ mentality that is cutting our posts off at the knees.
The reason side projects have become such an integral part of our marketing plan is because there is always a process for launching them and we’re never stuck asking ‘what happens next?’ We know who the tool is for and where we’re going to promote it before we even start building.
We know the target market, we know the communities to push it to, we even know how much time and effort went into creating it and what we should expect in return.
With a blog post, this isn’t always the case and that’s where our distribution plan falls short.
Not in the actual process of telling people, but in strategy and planning.
You can’t put lipstick on a pig
Successful distribution only happens when you have something worth reading.
Like our side projects, each blog post should serve a bigger purpose of providing value to our readers. There’s so much competition for writing online that if you don’t create something with interesting and real insights that people can actually use, you’re going to get lost in the mix.
It’s this combination of strategy, planning, and writing that will bring you the most return on your writing. Baking your distribution plan in at the conceptual stage ensures that you know who your piece is aimed for and what value you’re providing to that specific audience.
One of my favorite ways of doing this (and one I admittedly slack on too often) is going through bestselling writer and web designer Paul Jarvis’s content marketing checklist:
(Paul’s become such an inspiration that at this point I should probably just get a WWPJD tattoo).
Step 1. It all begins with purpose. Before you even write, ask:
- Who are you writing for?
- What will they get out of your post?
- What’s the main point of your story? Is there more than one?
Step 2. Once you know the direction you’re going in, start researching your points while always thinking:
- What makes your points/your voice valid?
- What is the reaction a leader in your field would have while reading your post?
Step 3. Once you’re ready to go, give your post (and your business) the best chance of getting shared/promoted:
- Come up with 5-10 headlines you can use for the post (or A/B test the top 2)
- Define a concrete next goal for your readers to take (sign up, share, etc…)
As Paul says, ‘content marketing’ is really just “the intersection of where the writing you do serves the audience and you, the creator, equally.”
It’s really not so bad when you put it like that.
With all of these questions answered, you’ve got a post that you know will resonate with your audience as well as a clear idea of where you can promote it, giving your distribution plan a much better chance of success rather than just trying to fit a round post into a square plan.
Distribution can’t be an afterthought.
And unfortunately I’ve learned that all too well over the past few months. It has to be something that you build into your writing from the start, with specific metrics to track whether it’s working or not.
As a writer it can sometimes feel dirty to think about my craft in this way, but in the end, as long as I feel good about my writing, and that I’m actually providing something of value to people, then why not try to get it out there to as many people as possible?
This is all a learning process, so if you have any tips or just want to chat, feel free to give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.