When I decided to take a weekend and focus on my blog I realized one big thing:
Most blogs are crappy products. And most of my favorite bloggers (the ones that espouse taking design, marketing, testing, and iteration have largely blown off the designs of their blogs To be clear, I think the quality of the blog is almost entirely measured by the quality of the content and not the theme. But blog success is a function of content quality and the ability to turn readers into people who retweet, comment, subscribe, or follow.
Success (whether it’s a blog or a product) is looks a lot like this:
Quality of Product * Success of Marketing * Conversion of visitors = Success
Certainly, outstanding bloggers (or outstanding products) can win on just quality of product. Some of my favorite bloggers (let’s single out Paul Graham (though I think he’d call himself an essayist), Dave McClure, Andrew Chen, and Eric Reis) have blog formulas that look like this:
(great writing = 10) * (great word of mouth marketing = 7) * (no clear call to action, no testing = 1) = 70 (pretty darn successful at expanding their influence)
(Note: McClure might get a -1 for too many font colors! )
My hats off to all of ‘em. They are better (and more prolific) writers than I. But we all know that a little A/B testing can go a long way. We’ve seen that a quick/dirty redesign of an already effective looking page can pump conversion by more than 20%. Hell, we’ve seen that a few iterations of Twitter language (leading to “you should follow me on Twitter”) can boost clickthru by 173%. Could a weekend’s (largely outsource-able) work double a visitor’s chance to become a follower/subscriber, comment, or even read a second post? If you’re starting point is a stock blog theme, I think so.
Here’s what I think you should do on a blog to maximize the 3rd part of the forumula above (and, to a lesser degree, the second part):
- Toss in some social proof. Assume people don’t know who you are and make it clear who you are and why you are important. You’re establishing credibility– why should anyone read what you have to say? Take a look at VentureHacks if you don’t know what I mean. Well played, sirs.
- Figure out what you want your visitors to do. Clearly, you want them to read your posts, but scribble out a stack-ranked list of the actions you want your readers to do and make sure your design supports that. If there’s crap on your blog that doesn’t support that (badges, widgets, etc) pull ‘em. Here’s my list:
- Retweet! No way a blog is ever going to have a viral loop, but if a reader likes what they’re reading and wants to spread the word, that’s huge– so encourage it! 1 subscriber is 1 subscriber. A retweet means hundreds or thousands of potential new visitors/subscribers. If my conversion rate on other activities is meaningful, this is my post important user behavior.
- Follow me on Twitter. This was a hard call to prioritize over RSS subsription, but I think a lot of people are turning to Twitter to replace their RSS readers. Feels like the right trend. Also, clickthrus on my posts on Twitter results in pageviews– it’s trackable. RSS isn’t.
- Subscribe via RSS. Makes it an almost certainly that they’ll at least see my headlines henceforth
- Subscribe via email. I dropped this to fourth because I don’t think most of my readership rolls that way, but it’s still a fine way to get content.
- Comment. Other than the “game of blogging” (i.e. maximizing reach, influence, audience), the discussion is the big part of why I blog. Bonus points, discussion makes a post feel lived-in and heaps on some more social proof. I’ve ceded the UX of commenting to Disqus, who thankfully does a badass job of encouraging conversation. Further, a comment gives me a chance to talk to the commenter (I almost always try to reply– take a look at Neil Patel if you want an example of a fabulous blog post. He always replies).
- Read a second post. In this world, I think getting someone to read a whole FIRST post is a great achievement. If people want to read more, I want to help them do that. But, heck– if they like my stuff, subscription/following on Twitter seems much preferred for both parties as a primary call to action.
Now maybe you could argue that a blog shouldn’t be treated this way. Maybe we’re all blogging to express our feelings, hone our writing skills, and be part of the conversation. That’s fine if that’s true. But look at the degree to which blogging has been instrumental in the careers of folks like the ones I’ve mentioned (as well as Fred Wilson, who says much of his deal flow is because of his blog) and it’s pretty hard to argue against trying to make your blog an effective funnel. Hell, at least spend a few hours and pluck the low-hanging fruit.
At the end of the day, every web site is a funnel and most blogs are pretty damn leaky. Take a weekend and plug some holes.