The secrets that web amateurs sometimes learn faster than pros
My wife recently began a blog to support her run across The Gambia this summer. She is doing this to raise money for the Nova Scotia Gambia Association (more on her amazing journey here). I recommended she use WordPress, but other than that (and a few tips at the bottom of this post), she developed it on her own.
I’ve been watching her online project develop with interest. She’s improving her strategy at a very rapid pace, in part because she doesn’t come with the baggage that we pros do. Here is an overview of the most interesting things I’ve seen her pick up.
1. Measure, test then measure again
WordPress (frustratingly) does not allow for Google Analytics integration, unless you choose to host the site yourself. Erin secured a custom domain, but wisely stuck with WordPress as her host (see Google Matters below). However, WordPress does have some nice, very easy to understand analytics in their Site Stats section. It lets you know what tags (more on that below) are driving your traffic, who is linking to you and where (Facebook, Twitter, Twitter app, direct, and Google etc) they are coming from. It is indispensable and actually a lot of fun to watch. Erin checks it daily and alters what she does based on the results.
2. More contributors means better content
Erin has wisely enlisted a lot of support for her run across The Gambia. Ashley Sharpe and Lauren Dunn help contribute to her writing. She is also constantly having people take photos, so that she has plenty of media to post (more on that in a bit). Fresh content is the key to driving people to a website and keeping them there. Search Engines love fresh content and so do readers. Relying on one person to do this means that if they get busy or go on vacation – new content stops appearing. Perhaps most importantly, multiple contributors means more eyes to spot errors and tweak the tone of an article before it goes live.
3. Usability is key
Erin was reviewing her site stats and noted that people rarely clicked on items in one of her menus (her doing so was the inspiration for this post). There were two causes: the menu wasn’t in an accessible place and it was a Drop Down menu. At first blush, Drop Down menus have a lot going for them – they allow you to include many items in a small space. However they are flawed:
1. Drop down menus don’t allow a person to see what is in them. Even if a link in a menu is interesting and labelled well, it can’t catch someone’s eye unless they click on the menu to learn more. Only a fraction of people do this, so right off the bat you are making things harder for your visitors.
2. Drop down menus are hard to use on touch screen devices (including iPhones and iPads). On touch screens, it is very difficult to click on a menu item, have it open and then click on the appropriate item within (try it). Given that mobile devices now outnumber computers, this isn’t a small problem.
3. Drop Down menus are difficult for older people to use (and others with slower reflexes). These menus only appear for a few seconds. For those that are older (North America’s aging population is gravitating to the net in record numbers), these can be really frustrating to use.
Long story short, you need to navigate your site from the point of view of someone who hasn’t visited it before and isn’t as familiar with the Internet as you. Better yet, find someone who has never been on your site before and then watch what they do. Also consider using cheap heat-mapping services like Crazy Egg (more on them here). I’d also recommend checking out Jakob Nielsen’s work on Web Usability here.
4. Media means more and better traffic
Erin spends a lot of time taking photos and getting others to take photos of her. She is adding new pictures to her blog all the time and tries to always have a new one attached to each post. Not only does this make her site attractive, but it also means that she gets to tag each picture she posts (see Tagging = Traffic below).
5. You need to support your site with a community
Erin (despite having not used it before), started a Twitter account and began to use it to drive traffic to her site. As an aside, she and I both find that Facebook drives more traffic than Twitter to our sites. Not only do these social media tools give her a chance to interact with other runners (the running community is huge and supportive), they also drive traffic to her blog every time she adds a new post. More importantly, people share her posts like crazy, vastly expanding her reach (more contributors help with this as well).
A few tips Erin picked up from me
To be fair, Erin has had a leg up on a lot of people starting out. She has a go-to person each time she has a question about where to put a new item or what service (bit.ly, Tweetdeck, Flickr etc) to use. Here are the top four tips that we’ve discussed and agree have probably helped her most:
1. WordPress is the best platform for people experimenting with starting a blog.
Not only is it very easy to set up, but once you have it running (based on Erin’s experience), its enjoyable to use. You can tweak it constantly by dragging and dropping elements around, it has loads of built-in functionality (like Twitter integration) and it has awesome Google juice.
2. bit.ly is critical.
You need to create a bit.ly (or another link shortening service) account and push all your links through it. It will take 5 minutes and means you have a better idea on where your traffic is coming from. Additionally, creating custom links (in bit.ly you can rename a link that is bit.ly/xxxxxx to bit.ly/erinisnuts) will dramatically increase Click Through Rates.
3. Tagging = traffic
Every CMS allows tagging. Content, media, links – everything needs to be tagged. Search Engines only understand text. They cannot understand images, video or any other media; they only see what you have tagged media with. Moreover, they don’t understand context (at least for the time being). So if links and content aren’t tagged, they don’t mean much. Tagging is a Content Manager’s way of telling Google what is most important about what was posted. When an item is tagged, the Content Manager is saying “I understand there are many words here – these are the ones that matter most”. Then when people search for those terms, they are more likely to appear in Google’s results.
4. Google Matters….a lot
Throughout this post I talked about Search Engines and Google repeatedly (and interchangeably). Yes, Bing has grabbed some market share, yes there are other cool tools out there like Duck, Duck, Go (more on them here) and yes, not everyone finds a site via Google. However, most people (pros and amateurs alike) are busy and can only allocate a small amount of time to Search Engine Optimization. That being the case, a smart Content Manager needs to focus on Google. The good news is that (based on tests I’ve run for terms like Interac + iTunes and Teksavvy + Netflix in my own blog), Google loves WordPress sites. It is clear that Google crawls them often and gives terms that are tagged a lot of credibility. That varies by CMS of course, but it is evident that tagging terms has a powerful effect.
Erin’s Blog gets more traffic than mine (of course, I chalk this up partly to there being more Runners than UI/m-commerce/e-commerce nerds out there).
Have some tips and tricks? Be sure to leave a comment.