Anyone that follows this blog regularly will know there’s a wee bit of a running joke at how often the site design changes.

What started out as a semi-regular update (say, once or twice a year) to keep the look fresh, and the content front and centre, has become almost as regular an occasion as Facebook platform updates messing up everyone’s privacy settings.

Now, while I’m really happy with the current design and the way everything flows, there’s a reason behind the recent design changes, tweaks, and community feedback – simply, data informs our decisions and user experience.

Yes, gut instinct comes into play too, but when it comes to content and how that’s displayed and acted upon, for me data analysis, community feedback and AB testing is key. Here’s why.

The Data of Trends

The world is ever-changing. What we found popular and best practices 10 years ago is nothing like the best practices and popular trends of today. Heck you could halve that timescale at least, and find we move in a constantly-changing cycle of new trends, methodologies and preferences.

This is particularly true when it comes to content.

While there are several areas where the consumption of content has changed in recent years – curation, syndication, and accessibility, for example – perhaps the biggest game changer is how advanced mobile browsing has become. For example, in a study from June this year of U.S. consumer habits:

  • 76% access social networks, with 46% using a mobile browser versus an app;
  • 68% access news sites, with 63% using a mobile browser versus an app;
  • 56% watch video, with 58% preferring to use a mobile browser versus an app;
  • 41% read/access blogs, with a whopping 75% using a mobile browser versus an app.

Make no mistake, mobile is fast becoming the default browsing option for many of the platforms where we create and share content today. If we’re not ready for that, we’ll lose visitors, readers, subscribers and customers.

Web access preferences

From my own analytics, mobile visitors now make up 27% of my audience. If my site wasn’t set up to accommodate these folks, that’s a big potential loss in traffic just waiting to happen.

From that angle, and from the continued advances in the way people consume content on the web, the move to responsive design was key.

The Data of Analytics

I’m a data geek. It’s what got me into marketing to begin with, and it’s what drives me today. By understanding the data we have access to, we can make informed decisions on pretty much everything around us.

When it comes to content, that’s a given – or should be. It’s the one single biggest piece of advice I recommend whenever people are talking about blogging, whether they’re new bloggers-to-be, or existing ones: always be tracking and watching your analytics.

Analytics are key for several reasons:

  • They offer knowledge into how your content is being received and where it’s lacking;
  • They offer information about your visitors and their behaviour on your blog (entry point, pages visited, actions taken, exit points);
  • They offer actionable insights into improving your audience reach, interaction and participation (comments, shares, subscribers, downloads);
  • They offer opportunities to new audiences, based on external discussions (trackbacks, bookmarks, referrals).

Simply put, without analytics, you’re essentially producing content in the dark, whether that be blogging, video production, podcasting, or similar. And if you’re doing that, you’re wasting good resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

From my own analytics of the first half of this year, the following became clear:

  • While traffic was good, people weren’t staying on site long enough;
  • The entry page was usually the same as the exit one, so people weren’t exploring;
  • My bounce rate (how long people stay on site) was horrendous.

DB JanJun13

Digging deeper into my analytics, especially around the stats highlighted here as concern areas – Pages Visited, Duration of Visit and Bounce Rate – a few things became clear.

  • The incentive to check out other pages wasn’t prominent enough;
  • Certain “drivers of traffic” were doing anything but (more on that shortly);
  • The content wasn’t conducive to long stays and participation.

Clearly things had to change. So they did.

  • I changed to a design that had a sticky navigation menu, where the Page tabs would follow you all the way down the post. This increased additional page clicks;
  • I stopped using Triberr, the content curation / blogger platform;
  • I deliberately changed to longer form content, as opposed to the standard 300-600 word approach.

The results? While it’s just one month’s analysis, they’re encouraging (click to expand).

Dashboard Danny Brown

As you can see, the three key metrics I wanted to improve have done so:

  • Pages per Visit rose from 1.40 to 2.23;
  • Average visit duration rose from 1.09 to 1.37;
  • Bounce rate dropped from 81.45% to 35.68%.

Now, it’s early days, but the signs are good. If I keep tracking where visitors hover their mouse/keypad, and what actions encourage them to stay on-site, I can optimize even further and improve these stats even more.

The Triberr thing? I applaud the guys over there for what they’re trying to do for bloggers, but I’ve been finding – both myself, and with other bloggers I talk to – that Triberr is referring less traffic, and simply adding to social proof.  The number of tweets may be up, but the desired action – traffic to the blog – isn’t.

Indeed, Triberr placed at a lowly #73 for traffic sources, and accounted for a mere 9 visits in the last 30 days.

Triberr Google Analytics

Then again, looking a little bit deeper into one of the larger Tribes I was part of, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that the level of traffic provided by Triberr was so low.

Triberr inactivity

As you can see, the activity within the group is very low, and it almost appears that people have left, or forgotten about the group, or simply don’t share anymore.

Looking at my own Google Analytics, visits from Triberr had a high bounce rate and low site duration time, so by removing that option, it added to the positive impact on these stats.

However, this is my own experience, and I’m sure Triberr woks well for some folks.

The Data of Community

For any content creator, but especially bloggers, the community around the content is hugely important to the success of the blog. Without a community, there’s pretty much nothing there except a part of the web that’s for an audience of one.

From regular readers to occasional commenters, and discussions elsewhere via Twitter discussions, Google+ threads, Facebook wall comments, etc., a community not only helps promote content, but improve its creation as well as its presentation.

This was evident from the excellent feedback and suggestions I received when I implemented my new design last week. After finishing, I dropped an update on my social networks, asking for thoughts, feedback and suggestions – and got great advice.

    • On Google+, marketer and blogger Ana Hoffman mentioned the font size of the headlines looked great on mobile, but looked too big via desktop browsing. After analyzing, I agreed, and dropped the pixel size down a few points. And Ana was right!

 

  • On Twitter and by email, social strategist Mila Araujo really delivered, with some great advice on dropping the Archives tab for a Topics one (to improve access to content), as well as advising of some areas that weren’t showing up on mobile. This information helped immensely, as did the suggestions to offer a separate tab for each of my books, particularly useful for mobile browsing.

By asking for, and acting upon, the fresh eyes of my community and their suggestions to improve the user experience, I was tapping into a rich source of data that helped improve the presentation of the content here, which should (hopefully) build upon the improvements on how it’s consumed.

Data is Everything and Everything is Data

Like I said at the start of this post, I don’t discount gut instinct at all when it come to making decisions. Some of the best experiences in my life happened because I acted on gut instinct over logical reasoning.

But for content, or for anything that has some form of marketing slant, for me data is everything.

By utilizing the data I had access to – archival analytics, visitor behaviour, trends in browsing, etc – I could immediately see where changes needed to be made. By accessing the experience within the community around this blog, I had even more data points from which to make choices to.

For me, this is invaluable, and can only help us grow, improve, and continue to make the user experience more enjoyable. Which, at the end of the day, is what really matters, no?

image: Marketing Charts

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