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
Minimalism
Self-Discipline
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.

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37 Responses to Continual Improvement

  1. Jean says:

    I don’t want the podcasts to end. I think the most sucessful ones were the first 2 podcasts, since they were about dating and that’s still a more or less significant crowd of this website. But that tropical MBA podcast and the languages one it’s not the kind of thing one expect’s to find here. Don’t get me wrong: There was awesome content in those podcasts. But this is not the number one site i’ll get into to find info about languages or buisiness. To be honest, i didn’t even went past the first 10 minutes on the languages podcasts, because unlike you i don’t have a location free lifestyle so i don’t like languages very much. I’m sure some people enjoyed that podcast but i would say it’s not the majority(?) (you’re the one with the data about the websites demography so i’m mainly speculating)

    Emotional wonds. Vulnerability. Ways to cope with your feelings. Isn’t that the biggest message/essence of this website? (Even tho this is a very versatile website). I would like to hear about that directly from your voice (no homo fetish with your voice, brah, just a sense of proximity with the crowd that that experience would give). You’re a brilliant psychologist, Mark, and you have as much knowledge on the subject as someone who has a major on it. I assume most people feel this way too.

    Please, consider it :)

    • Mark Manson says:

      Yeah, I think topics like languages or starting businesses abroad are fine, but they need to be tied into the central theme of the site. That’s hard to do in an interview format.

    • dan says:

      I agree that the podcasts shouldn’t end. It’s not surprising that an audience built on your writing would pole that way so early in a new show. At minimum, it’s a great thing that I just listened to you talk for 30 minutes on an airplane last night, just another way to get to know you, your brand, and what you are up to. I agree it shouldn’t be a focus, but please don’t be scared to switch on that mic when you’ve got a thought or interesting person in the room!

      • AntonioD says:

        I hope you aren’t giving up on podcasts just because at first you didn’t succed. Truth is that there is room for improvement and there’s a lot of trial and error involved.  If you don’t find value in them, that is fine, I believe you have yet to find your (podcast) voice and style.I did think one interviewer nailed it, and you ven mentioned as being one of your fav interviews. He wrote a fairly lenghty post of what you had learned and kept on recaping and highliting what you weresaying of value. You could start by studying his practises.
        And I could think of some kickass guests that could offer real value to your readers (getting them to agree to an interview or keeping them in track would be a challenge, though :) )

  2. Brian says:

    I was never I big fan of the podcasts. I could never listen to them for that long. I love your writing and read all your articles from start to finish but it is hard to keep my attention listening to people banter over a podcast. I liked the videos though. Something that might improve your articles may be to incorporate personal experiences into your articles about emotions and vulnerability etc. With that said, this is hands down my favorite website, and its good to know that you are always looking to improve the quality of the site without sacrificing the integrity.

  3. DAVE says:

    Very interesting analysis here. As more of a beginner blogger, you are definitely somebody I look to as an example. Your content is what drew me back more than any advertisement could have. Your site offers readers an experience, not just simple advice. You cut right through the bull shit and that resonates with people.

    In terms of the podcasts, I think you have a lot of value to offer with them. I know you’re familiar with the success that the guys from the lifestyle business podcast have had with their podcasts. I think that if you worked on improving your delivery a bit, your podcasts could be very successful as well.

  4. Alvar says:

    I’m happy to see Seth quoted. It’s another of my long time favs :)

    Are you going to send every post to the ML? I already get the feed, I may have to unsubscribe my email.

  5. Andy says:

    Personally, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts from various websites while getting other stuff done. My experience was that really good audio content is rare. Too many podcasts are either shoot-the-breeze chit chats or glorified sales pitches for info products.

    Since podcasts require you to listen through them and pay conscious attention all the time they better be chock-full of unique, valuable and actionable information.

    So one podcast must provide the value of five good articles or more. Not saying you’re not doing this – you’re podcasts are good – but maybe this is why people were not too excited about them.

    Suggestion #1: Record your best content as podcasts that people can download for use at the gym, travel, commute etc. Think mini audio books.

    Suggestion #2: Hire a VA professional copy editor to check all your articles for typos and stuff. Real pros in that field do an amazing job and then you can focus even more on the writing.

    • Mark Manson says:

      I was thinking about making the longer articles and guides downloadable PDF’s and Kindle files (Life guides, new masculinity, etc.). I may record myself reading them as well. Thanks.

  6. Liam says:

    You are definitely spot on with the “writing IS your marketing” thing.

    Chase Amante (who you link to, and how I found him!) and his cowriters are extremely knowledgeable people and it shows in their articles, that regularly blow my mind and shed light on some of the things I’ve seen and been through that they cover.

    It’s one of the reasons I bought their book. And yours. But when I get the emails or the constant “buy my stuff” or “sign up here” from Chase’s articles, for example, it actually gives me a little bit of an internal knee jerk reaction to withdraw, not buy in.

    Your writing and expertise are what convinced me to buy your stuff, not any kind of landing page, pop up ads, or too many hidden links in your articles.

  7. Leo Q says:

    Something I forgot to put as a suggestion in the survey: some articles can be just for entertainment value. Yes, it’s important to drive a message home and to help guys be better men, but sometimes just reading the old standard story of “how I picked up that girl” is entertaining (or whatever… your story about the gay guy in the flight from Italy to Brazil was awesome!). And inspirational.

    Of course, I’m not saying do the PUA-style “I did this alpha-male thing and said X line and did Y and this girl was a HB 9″ or whatever. But not every article has to be this brand-new revelation. Sometimes we just need to relax and read something cool.

    IMO

    • Halo Effect says:

      I don’t disagree with your main point, but the gay guy on the flight from Italy story DID drive a message home, and an interesting one at that. :)

  8. Jock says:

    Mark get post the design options as analog post and get readers to vote

  9. bubblegum says:

    I hope you write with quality when you are inspired to as opposed to writing with ‘quality’ because you know that’s what sells. I also agree with what Leo said that there should still be other areas of content. Even though I’d like to ease areas of my life, I also just like reading stories too.

  10. Cameron says:

    If your going to hire a professional to check your writing, save your money and just get me to do it.

    I would do it for free for the privilege of seeing the articles before the masses, and also have an eye for detail that is rare.

    I have proofread a fairly major community guy’s new ebook and also do it fairly regularly for my friend Robbie Kramer (whom you used to work with I believe).

    Mail me! :-)

  11. Chris says:

    Very intelligent changes. Looking forward to reading.

    You’ve had some streaks where you spit fire for a few weeks then you fall into a grove where you’re trying too hard, you don’t think it can be so simple so you must have to do some craziness to capitalize on the traffic you get from doing what you love. I think you’re to the point where you can just stick to doing what you love and stop worrying about it!

    That’s where you shine and that’s what you have to be doing for your site to succeed. Not only is it for the good of the site, but for your own pleasure and enjoyment.

    In the end, metrics and statistics are great; but what do YOU want for the site? You wouldn’t paint a picture because you think people will like it, you let it come out of you as it is KNOWING that people will like it or it will at least have the impact it is meant to have, how could it be any different?

    Cheers to your success, broheem.

  12. Alex says:

    Another thought:
    In your survey, you asked about article length. I responded that this was not a binary answer–some articles need more length, some need less. This makes me think of Nate Silver’s work with NYT. He writes shorter articles regularly but is also contracted to write longer pieces monthly for the magazine / Sunday NYT.

    Could you keep your regular posting frequency of short articles but then add a monthly “deep dive” similar to say “A New Masculinity”? That might also provide a monthly way to “refresh” your audience… again just spitballing.

  13. Meedo says:

    HI Mark,

    You are driving a business. Where does your revenue come from ? Dating advice ? Travel advice? Career advice ? My personal take on your business is that you are a sincere person who want to help people and earn money from it. That is great. We don’t look at you as a pick up artist . I have never paid for a program witha pickup artist. I paid you because i wanted to develop myself as a person and as you say .. relationships will be a product of that . You have a Unique chance , a true unique chance to become something that doesn’t exist any where… to become a certified psychologist. It may take you years . But there is no hurry . How many psychologists do you know who used to be pick up artist and turned into attractive authentic men who are good with women ?

    Probably you are tempted to move on … many pick up artist .. after a while feel they should move on.. but in reality .. your work has huge effect on people. To get men to find themselves and thus their woman IS a huge thing .

    Now i am reading models.. i like it , a lot. I read your articles here.. like them a lot too . I also listen to your connection programme. My advice to you is to keep doing your core business.. self development for men with the main goal of having healthy relationships.. have other topics .. like career and travel going… but don’t distract yourself… … as i said again… you could be a psychologist , put those initials and add credibility and fame…

  14. Cameron says:

    Hey Mark,

    One other thing that I had to mention relates to the podcasts. I remember early on I raised a concern with you that I would rather listen to podclasses with text to read at the same time (because I am a very visual person) and a couple of other guys agreed with me.

    You never took any steps to make this happen at all or even responded to the request (as far as I know) now not to sound like a whiney little bitch but that made me feel pretty annoyed at you and I decided not to listen to any of your classes after that (petty I know).

    Even if you decide not to make any more effort with the podclasses theres a general theme here, people will only give you value to the extent that they feel they are being given value and a large part of that feeling of value comes from liking you (I’m sure you’ve read about this principle before as its fairly legion in psychology books).

    Sometimes the sense I get from you is that you feel like you know better than your customers sometimes and its important for you to get that, you don’t.

    • Zac says:

      I think getting the podcasts transcribed would be adding some extremely valuable content to this site. People missed out by not being able to read that stuff.

  15. Jason says:

    The videos were awesome! I hope we see more of those.

  16. Dan says:

    In my opinion it is not the content of your podcasts how they are structured. Your average reader comes to your blog and probably spends 10-15 minutes max by reading an article or 2, feels enlightened and comes back in a couple of days. The format of a blog allows the average reader find the answer he/she is looking for with immediate gratification and little investment. On the other hand, an hour long podcast is a major time investment for a lot of people and the listener of the podcast isn’t assured that the information he/she is seeking will be discussed during the course of the podcast.

    Perhaps the answer is shortening the podcasts by having niche topics. E.g. Instead of having a long podcast on “Dating Advice” ( almost an hour if I remember correctly) you can have a podcast specifically on meeting women at night clubs that would be 10-15 minutes. Just my 2 cents.

    That being said, the content on both the blog and postcast are solid and continue to serve as an inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  17. Kevin says:

    It takes a serious level of authenticity to go so in-depth about your business. It’s good to see somebody whose continually evolving and adapting as time goes on. Continually improving is all apart of self-development and working towards your passion and purpose. Looking forward to the new site design. Keep it up man.

  18. Congratulations on your continued success, Mark. For me, one sign of continued (or impending) success is a drive to constantly improve. You have that so don’t ever lose it!

    One idea that I put in my survey is that for the relationship/dating topic articles, you could do some writing about how you go about deciding who gets a place in your inner circle and who doesn’t. Many (myself included) will be interested in how you decide if a woman is worth a medium or long term investment or if she’s just a fling, but I think people who visit your site for the other articles will still be interested in learning how to improve their ‘social selection’, if you will. Anyways keep up the good work!

  19. Elliott says:

    When do you plan to start posting articles again? I’m dying over here man.

  20. Josue says:

    Hi Mark
    Since the first time i bumped into your blog/site (as many, during a “desperate measure to recover my girlfriend”) i found your site enlightening in terms of self development, dating AND social interaction (as i like to call it) and then in terms of traveling, widening one’s perspectives, recovering before attempting to find a suitable relation and so on. And as i see it, this is the main focus of the site.

    I agree that many articles aren’t that popular, but as a guide to become an integral person i find the other articles (travel, bussines, languajes) as a “chapter two” after fixing one’s flaws.
    The podcast… i think i mentioned before in other comment, could be either as a guide, an explanatory conversation or something alike, as the ones i’ve heard on HSW. I think as someone said before, maye after a while you can nail it.

    Again, it’s your site and you have a lot of feedback, so i believe the outcome will be good in terms of functionality. Congratulations on your work, it has been inspiring.

  21. Shae says:

    I’m new to your site, but so far, I love everything you’ve done with it! The posts, the pod casts, the organization… Extremely well done.

  22. David says:

    Re: Seth, I really can’t believe how successful he is. Because he’s a ‘guru’ he can say anything and everyone says ‘wow’. Don’t see what the fuss is about…

  23. David says:

    I’ve followed PM since the very start – since Entropy days, and I admit that I enjoy and get the most out of the articles concerning dating/communication with women, and identity. These – and the areas closest to it – are your best pieces, and where I think there is a real need out there for some solid, practical advice (way too many keyboard experts on this topic).

    I like travel and backpacking too, but because I’ve done it a lot myself, I get mostly entertainment from it, and some cultural insights too, but it doesn’t directly target a current need. This may change in a year or two, though, as I’d like to go to Brazil and Argentina.

    The articles on learning languages are interesting, but as I’m ok at it myself, I find it hard to get new insights from other bloggers. Benny at fi3m, for example, is someone who does well to promote certain ideas, but the ideas themselves are not new.

    Re: PODCASTS – I was really happy when you kicked these off. If you keep at it, just like blogging I’m sure you’ll find your niche. Just imagine if Seinfeld had been cancelled after the 5th episode – they kept on at it, and it turned into gold

    Look forward to seeing the site develop more, though hope you don’t change the theme… again

    David

  24. Alex says:

    I’m a long-time reader (PP days).

    I’ve listened to a few of the podcasts and “have plans” to listen to the rest of them. I think the podcasts (that I’ve listened to) are basically interviews. Have you thought about approaching them as “webinars” / workshops? I guess what I’m saying is instead of “let’s talk about XYZ” move to “let me teach you about X (smaller focus)”.

    I think that your writing is differentiated because you have thought and/or experienced something deeply and are then able to teach or guide your audience in that topic. So, could you focus the content of your podcasts even more so that they come across as more of a learning seminar? Perhaps this comes to close to giving something away for free, IDK.

    I also realize that I haven’t fleshed out this idea particularly well–just spitballing.

  25. Alex says:

    Rather than looking for votes, you’d do better conducting random experiments. Send a random fraction of your audience to 2-3 slightly different designs. Then see which site design performs best.

    Voting involves self-selection bias. More loyal readers are more likely to vote. However, your most loyal readers are the ones most likely to keep coming back regardless of site design. You want to improve the experience for the viewer on the margin of staying–hence experiment

  26. Kungfu Photo says:

    I enjoyed a lot all the podcasts ans especially the Tropical MBA and language hacking ones. (and didn’t enroll in the survey) I found both of them very inspiring. I live abroad and like to learn languages, I understand this may not be the case with most of the readers.

    The great thing about podcasts is that it provides another way to digest great content. For instance I’ve been watching the videos while exercising and listening (half-focused) while working;

    By the way, I really appreciate your transparency approach and I find your remarks about writing very mature.

  27. Andy says:

    Yes, that’s an excellent idea. I’d download them.

  28. Andy says:

    Well, if the list turned into an RSS replacement I’d be off it immediately as well.
    The list should provide exclusive content – and the occasional Best Of. Otherwise it’s a waste of time.

    As long as PM pumps out great content I don’t need mailings to remind me of an occasional visit.

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