Sometimes I think after five years of blogging I should know what I’m doing by now. But at no point along the way has it ever felt like I wasn’t beating my head against a wall. These past six months are no exception.
The recent reader survey as well as many of the experiences gleaned from the internships this summer have led me to some major conclusions about the site and how to improve the experience for everyone.
1. Demographics and new readers. The readership has expanded, we know that, but not just in size but also in demographics. Back in February, about 80% of the site’s readership was 29 or younger. Now that number is closer to 65%. Female readership has also jumped from 3% to 12%. Judging from emails I get, there are more married men (and women) as well as gay/lesbians reading the site now.
None of this is necessarily “good” or “bad”, it simply means that the site is finding a broader base to appeal to and that this site is no longer a site for horny-and-single-20-something guys like it used to be. Some of you may think this is a bad thing (more on that below), but widening the appeal of the site was a conscious goal of mine and will continue to be.
2. Favorite articles. In total, 1570 people answered the survey. 713 people submitted their favorite article(s). Most submitted more than one. The results were both surprising and valuable for me. I see the usage stats — i.e., pageviews for each article, time on page, shares, bounce rates, etc. — but I’ve never pinged the readers for a qualitative rating of which articles they actually enjoy reading the most.
The top 10 favorite articles are listed below in order:
Shut Up and Kiss Her
A New Masculinity
Power in Vulnerability
10 Things Americans Don’t Know About America
A Dust Over India
The Guide to Happiness
This is Water
The Guide to Overcome Fear (Courage)
Only 28% of people say they enjoy the podcasts. I had a hunch that they weren’t the most popular part of the site, that’s about as popular as a glass-and-shit salad. I have one more podcast queued up (it’s already been recorded and edited and everything), but after that their appearances will be sparse and/or non-existent.
3. The writing IS the marketing. Big conclusion. I began to suspect it earlier in the year and the internship really drove it home. The survey data just backed up what had already been clear. People come to the site and buy stuff because of the writing, not because of the email promos, not because of the free reports, not because of the marketing gimmicks or super cool videos. In fact, some of that stuff seems to be detracting from people’s reading experience.
When I started to turn pro at blogging, I devoured a lot of marketing information. In a ironic twist, not dissimilar from my PUA experience, through that education, I was indoctrinated by “gurus” that there were 100 things I HAD to be doing to have a successful blog and holy crap, I wasn’t doing half of them!
It turns out most of those 100 things, even when they’re done well, even when they’re focused on for weeks or months, have a far lower ROI than me simply writing another kick-ass article. In a cruel irony, I’ve spent much of the last year or so frustrated that all of this “marketing stuff” was distracting me from what I really wanted to do: write. But in actuality, it turns out that the writing is the best marketing. It’s been my best tool this year and it’s what I do best. And the survey responses were near-unanimous: more writing, less pitching.
But this wasn’t subjective, the numbers backed it up as well: almost nobody buys anything from me until they’ve been reading the site for at least a month. Over 70% of people who have been reading for over a year have bought something. Conclusion: I need to be scaling for readership and engagement, not revenue.
4. Design: Usability, Readability. So with that in mind, the site is going to get another makeover… yes, I realize this is four site redesigns in a little more than a year, but when you’re doing it wrong, you keep doing it until you get it right.
The current design looks nice and has a certain flexibility for marketing. But I’ve noticed the past few months that the site metrics (time on page, average pageviews per visitor, bounce rate, etc.) have been markedly lower with this design than the last design I used in March and April.
The reason came out in the survey. At least 200 of you mentioned that the archives of the site are woefully unorganized and the search function is more or less unusable. The design has also accumulated a fair amount of clutter in the sidebar and at the end of posts. The comment threads are unorganized and hard to follow. Again, the design’s marketing capabilities are pretty solid (only 10% of readers were unaware of the products, an all-time best, and of those over 60% of those were first-time visitors), but the readability and usability of the site has taken a dive. Given the new goals and the new focus, this is unacceptable. So there will be a site redesign which will hopefully be ready by next week.
As part of the redesign, the marketing will be scaled back. The primary concern of the site is engagement. Seth Godin once said he doesn’t scale his business for revenue but for trust. I’ll be following down that path. And I actually have a hunch that due to the nature of the site and of the writing, this will actually help sales.
As part of this scale-back, I’m going to stop offering the PDF reports to the email list. I’m going to post them on the site as extended posts (similar to the Life Guides). I will also begin emailing each article to the email list as they’re posted. The difference between the email list and the blog will become far less. Instead of a marketing tool, I’ll use it as more of a way to keep in touch and keep readers engaged with the content.
5. Posting Practices. The overarching goal of these changes, along with hiring one of the interns, is to free up 80% of my time for writing. I am going to be a bit more conscientious about my posting. As a few noticed, some of my posts are written up the day-of and they are riddled with little typos or lazy sentences here and there. One thing that was clear from the survey is that by and large, the articles I spend a lot of time on end up becoming the favorites and being shared a lot.
So the the goal will be higher quality and more consistent quantity. 39% of readers said they’d love it if I posted more. Only 1% said they’d like me to post less. Only 5% asked for the posts to be shorter. Over 85% said they read the articles from beginning to end in one sitting. These are all excellent metrics for a writer in the day and age of 200ms attention spans. I’m going to play with posting more often. The idea is to post as often as possible without harming the quality of writing.
6. Topics are unlikely to change much. First off, I’d like to say that there was a deluge of travel/business posts the past couple months because of the launch of Escape Plan. That will not continue.
With that said, when it comes to what people would like the articles to be about, I got no less than 100 responses saying one of the following:
“Go back to writing about dating. That’s what most of your visitors want to read.”
“Please stop with the dating articles. They’re embarrassing.”
“Write more about starting a business and financial success.”
“Can you stop with the business/travel articles? People don’t care about those.”
“I’d like to see more posts about relationships, both intimate and personal.”
“Stop with all of the fluff and get back to picking up girls and getting laid.”
Luckily, there was a question which asked which articles people DIDN’T want to read. And the good news is that each of the available answers (Self Improvement, Dating, Travel, Personal Stories, and Life Purpose) had less than 10% of people saying they were NOT interested in reading about them. In fact, most of them only had about 5% of people uninterested in them.
So the panoply of topics will persist. But I do promise to present a more cohesive vision for how these topics all mingle and interrelate. Because, yes, being financially independent and focused on your life purpose absolutely affects how attractive you are as well as the quality of your sex/emotional life, and that in turn affects your emotional health and happiness, which then affects your personal and familial relationships. These things are all connected and represent a greater expression (or crisis) of the general masculinity malaise today. But anyway, more on that later.
7. Another week. As I mentioned, the site redesign is already underway. It’ll likely be another week before things go up and posting resumes and then accelerates. Thanks for your patience. And if you have any other ideas or criticisms, please feel free to comment. I continue to take everyone’s feedback into account. And hopefully after this one I can beat my head against the wall a little less.