Yesterday, I shared some of the raw data from the recent survey of Post Masculine readers along with what they perceive to be their biggest problem areas, both for themselves and men in general. Today we’re going to tackle what readers think of the site and what we could be doing better.
Question: “What could the site be doing better?”
Almost 200 responses to this question in total, and I parsed out about 130 specific, actionable suggestions. Most of those suggestions were the same dozen or so repeated in different forms. Listed below are the most common suggestions, listed in order from most suggested to least:
- Update more often
- Better design / site navigation
- More media / video blogs / podcasts
- Higher quality content / better writers / better writing
- More posts written by Mark
- Branding problems
- Your marketing sucks
- More forum support, creating a bigger sense of community
- Regular Update Schedule, i.e., every M/W/F
Aside from the survey comments, there’s a recent thread on the forum where many regular and long-time readers discussed the direction of the site and what could improve. From these two sources, along with analyzing site metrics from the past six months and talking to some trusted friends, I’ve zeroed in on three primary issues the site confronts at the moment:
1. Clarifying the Brand/Vision. What is the overall purpose of the site? What’s the long-term vision? How can we move toward that vision?
2. Content. Who writes what and how often do they write it? Should I have writers? How many? How narrow are the topics?
3. Site Design and Navigation. The current design is making it harder to market, harder to retain readers and harder to create a sense of community.
Issue #1: Purpose and Vision
Here’s the most succinct way I can put it: since last summer, readership has grown by 50%; yet commenting is down, forum activity is down, sales are down, and general enthusiasm seems to have flatlined. This is despite producing more content than ever before.
It’s clear that I have a branding problem and this realization sparked both the survey and the forum discussion. If there are more people here, but less activity, that can only mean one thing: people are feeling less attached and invested in the site. And that’s a big problem.
The brand and message at Practical Pick Up was pretty simple, and (I think) pretty unique and special: stop getting distracted by all of the unimportant nonsense, and focus on getting your own emotional baggage and self esteem handled, communicate honestly and clearly and fearlessly. That message was effective and my readership tripled over the course of eight months.
When we switched over to Post Masculine, there was a general sense of, “OK, we’re not just concerned about women anymore,” but it wasn’t exactly clear what we WERE concerned with. Then came a bunch of articles from various writers that sometimes tangentially related to the old vision of the site and women, and often had nothing to do with it at all. One reader submitted the following comment:
“Although I think that the new site is quite good, there’s sometimes a lack of connection between the articles. I’ve got the impression that in Mark’s book and in the older articles there is a common thread. The themes are more linked with each other. Now and with more writers, it seems that there’s not such a strong connection.”
Over the past couple months, I slowly felt the site descend into exactly what I DIDN’T want it to ever become: an AskMen.com knock-off with better writing. I think I naively believed that if the writing was good enough, then I could branch out into other categories without harming the brand. When the reality is I have to find a way to differentiate myself beyond simply “longer and smarter” articles.
I take responsibility for this. The new writers are smart and able guys. But I failed to clearly define a vision for them to follow, and I was probably too liberal on the subject matter I let onto the site. Frankly, I didn’t really know what I was doing.
As a number of readers said, stick to your strengths. There are a million sites out there on fitness and getting rich. What can I bring to those subjects that nobody else can or has?
And I’ll make it completely clear here: I’m never going back to just writing about pick up. I’m over it. And not only am I over it, but as the survey results from yesterday showed, the problems that men experience in their dating lives run deeper than simply women. They apply to multiple areas.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, as pretty much everything else about the business proceeds from the vision and brand.
This is the conclusion I came to: What set me apart with Practical Pick Up was that I was addressing picking up and dating women in an emotionally aware, mature, and empowering manner. Something novel not just in that industry, but for men in general. I’d like to apply those same concepts of emotional awareness and masculine empowerment to life in general, not just women. Zooming out to a macro perspective, the biggest problem with men today is that they’re still confined to a dying gender role, a gender role which looks down upon emotional expression and setting strong and respectful boundaries in their lives.
So yes, the content of the site may be about living abroad, or starting a business, or vying for a raise, or approaching a hottie in a bar, but they should all be looked through the lens of men using their emotional awareness to empower themselves and take control of their lives. That’s the thread that sets me apart. And that’s the thread that should tie them together.
Issue #2: Content and Writers
I’ll start from my personal observations on the new writers and then get into those of the survey and other feedback.
I like my writers. They’re all smart guys. They all have interesting things to say. And the content (for the most part) has ranged from decent to very good. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t post it.
With that said, in the coming months, I’d like the content to take another step up. I include myself in that statement as well. I think the quality of writing and content here should absolutely be one of the defining differentiators between this site and others. And to do that I think we need to kick up the quality another notch… or three.
This raises another problem: they all have lives and day jobs, and this isn’t their primary passion or primary gig. Therefore, their reliability has already been spotty at best. And this is even before asking them to regularly give me unique, 1,500+ word, well-written articles on the self-discovery and emotional implications of enter-major-life-event-here. Yes, I realize my standards are obscenely high. And although I will talk with each of them individually over the coming weeks about it, I will be surprised if any of them are going to be up to this task with out some sort of greater compensation. And that’s where I may have to end up, hiring 3-4 very talented, very dedicated writers aside from myself, and paying them well to churn out extremely high quality content on relevant topics. Simply because the kind of content I want for the site is not something many people are capable of, AND of the few people who are capable of it are unlikely to have the time or will to give it away for free.
But my personal opinions aside, you guys seemed to like them (somewhat):
- 56% say they enjoy reading the new writers. 9% don’t enjoy them. And 35% don’t care.
- 53% do want the site to have multiple writers. 29% just want me. 18% don’t care.
At first glance, these numbers relieved me. People are happy. But then I realized that if we were churning out top-of-the-line content with regularity, these numbers would be in the 80’s or 90’s. And that’s where I would like them to be.
The site metrics for individual articles (pageviews, time on page, bounce rate, etc.) have a similar story. With the exception of a couple fashion articles and Xander’s series on nightclubs, articles by the other writers perform at about 2/3 as well as the site’s mainstays.
Basically, I think everything adds up to this: the content the past few months has been good, but not great. The writers are good, but they could be better.
Part of this is not the fault of the writer’s though… For instance, less than half of readers reported being interested in reading about health or fitness. And as a number of them commented: there’s no shortage of good fitness advice on the internet, so why would people come here to get it?
And this comes full-circle back to the branding issue above. If we’re going to narrow the vision of the site (and we are), then that means any time a writer deviates from that vision or lays an egg for an article, then it hurts the overall brand. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Issue #3: Site Design and Navigation, Marketing
It appears the site is in need of a redesign. There were a LOT of comments, both in the survey and on the forum, saying they preferred the Practical Pick Up design, that it was far more reader-friendly, and that it made it easier for new visitors to discover older articles. I realize the navigation on the current site blows. And I think I made a mistake in pushing for more a magazine-like design instead of the old blog-like design. I suppose if I want great writing to be a cornerstone of my business, then I should have it front and center. The site metrics don’t like the new site as much either: fewer page views per visitor, less time on site, higher bounce rates compared with Practical Pick Up.
And yes, I know the marketing sucks. I know the sidebar email thing is ugly and annoying. I know I don’t do enough with Facebook and Twitter and my email list. I know the forum could be more integrated into the main site and supported more. And I know my products are buried deep within the site and not easy to find.
All of these things will change in a few months. As far as I’m concerned, Post Masculine is finishing up it’s “beta” phase right now. Primary goal number one these past few months was getting the new programs launched (which has taken much longer than I anticipated). Priority two was to set a foundation of content and really hone in on a clear vision and brand (that’s what we’re doing right now). Once those two things are taken care of is when I’ll address the marketing, and scale the shit out of this thing.
This has been a big learning experience for me the past six months. It’s also become abundantly clear that I’m in over my head in terms of workload and will need to hire full-time help soon.
As far as I’m concerned, here’s what needs to happen and will happen:
1. Launch rest of products over the next 4-6 weeks (fashion guide next week, conversations program in 2-3 weeks, attraction program in a month or so).
2. Hone in content on new brand and vision. I imagine this is going to involve me writing more often over the next few months, which I’m fine with.
3. Hire people. Site re-design and navigation upgrade. Scale marketing. Change the world. Get rich or die trying.
Please, leave comments and more feedback. Tell me if you think I’m completely headed off-course or if you think I’ve lost my mind. I do read everything you guys write and take it seriously. Thank you.