Do you want more people to visit your site and consume the content for longer? Stop distracting them and making them click away from your main goal. Simplicity is not only beautiful and elegant but it is also effective. It helps you tweak and perfect the user experience. It leads to decluttering of your site, makes it faster to load and more focused on your targets.
Most of us think about our sites constantly. How can we make it more engaging? What do we do to get people talking about us? How do we stand out? If you work professionally, the questions are endless and can often drive us mad. Should we do this? Should we do that? Oh, somebody did something and got a ton of traffic off that, maybe we need to do the same? Sometimes, it just pays to revisit the basics. Have a long, hard look at your site to see if the foundation is right, instead of chasing the latest social media craze. Following are the simple methods you can use optimize and fine-tune your site to make it more strategically effective.
Becoming a strategic content marketer
In the early days I focused on creating great content and attracting visitors. I published insightful posts three times a week. I promoted them in social media and forums. I was excited by each new comment and spent a lot of time checking my Google Analytics. All this helped me grow my reach but there was no big picture and strategic plan behind my efforts. It was only when I started to think strategically that I saw the real growth and benefits of running a site. These days I spend most of my time optimizing and tuning the existing site and content.
What does it mean to be thinking strategically? It means that I identified my site’s purpose and started working smart with a plan and a goal in mind. I simplified the look and feel, focused the navigation, front page, sidebars, and the way I categorize content towards achieving my goals. I stopped creating content that didn’t get me closer to my targets and started creating purposeful content.
- How do you find the purpose of your site? Think about who you are, what you want to achieve with your site and why you want to do it. What does your target audience need and want to know? Imagine you only have few seconds to tell a potential visitor why they should visit your site. What makes your site unique and worth visiting?
- Purpose leads to the tagline and it is one of the hardest element to get right. You have to tell your audience what do you, how you are different and what is in it for them. Not an easy feat. Unlike you title (which is ideally your domain name as well), you can tinker with your tagline until you are truly happy with the result. Doing this also brings a uniformity of message to your site – an overall coherence. Publish nothing that deviates from your main message. Nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb. The more targeted and focused your message is, the more appealing it becomes.
- How do you identify goals and the primary call-to-action? This one is easy.What do you want your visitors to do after browsing your content? Is your main goal to drive people to a mailing list? Is it to get people to buy a product?
How to build a strategically effective site
First time visitors take less than a few seconds to decide if your site is worth exploring. You have to get their attention and get it fast. One way of doing this is to make it easy on the eyes and clutter free and make it easy for your readers to find stuff that interests them. With an effective site the purpose will become clear and immediately evident to your first-time visitors. Your call-to-action will stand out. Your best converting content will be the essential focus and will not get lost in the archives. Knowing the main goal makes it easier to identify essential and non-essential site elements. Removing elements that don’t contribute towards your goals will help your visitors orient themselves and will have a surprising impact on your conversion rate. Review the following elements in order to build an effective site:
- It’s not all about the home page. Remember that at least 50% of your new visitors come directly to your posts, so prettying up your front page is useless if your post doesn’t invite them to find it in the first place. Bloggers tend to focus on their home page too much, but don’t realize that every URL is a potential starting point to a visitor. This is especially thanks to the spread in social media and traffic from search engines which tend to drive people deeper into your site. Your home page should be optimize but don’t neglect the rest of your site.
- Start with the minimum viable product. Don’t spend too much time on the planning stages. Get your site and your product out live. Refrain from adding what is not necessary in the first place. “Keep it simple, stupid” is the rule to follow. It is the real world data from real people that check out your site that will lead you towards making bigger and better decisions in future.
- Ignore and remove inessentials. Eliminate elements that don’t matter to make room for those that do. Remove buttons, widgets, ads, pop-ups and other distractions. Just because every other site has them, it doesn’t mean that you need to have them too. Think about what purpose these elements have? You don’t need features that nobody has asked for and that nobody is using.
- Focus on quality and not on quantity. General rule is to always remember that less is more. If it helps you publish better content do stop having a strict content calendar and schedule. Change your thinking to focus on maintaining high quality in everything that you do. Implement checklists of things to do before posting in order to keep the quality standards high.
- Make your posts purposeful. Think about the purpose and about what are you trying to achieve with the new post before publishing. Purposeful content helps you reach your goals. Some of the posts I have created since I started being more strategic are designed to get the visitors to take a certain action i.e. “follow” on Twitter, sign-up to the mailing list or check out the affiliate product recommended.
- Do a user experience walkthrough and rework the existing content. Go through your posts like a visitor would do. Review them, think about actions a visitor would need to take and pay attention to the ways you can improve them. Is there something that can be confusing to a visitor? Can you reduce the word count by saying things in fewer words? What about removing parts that are not necessary and that don’t add value? What about integrating it better with your product? Can an image, a graph or other visuals be used to get the point across faster?
- Clean code: Steve Jobs was famous for saying that even the small details and the things that a user cannot see matter in design. On your site this means the code. Visitors might not see the code but it is what makes your site run efficiently. Use a theme that is created with a clean and simple coding.
- Domain name: Too many sites use URL’s that are either yourname.blogspot.com or that don’t even match the actual name of the site. That gives off a messy and unfocused feeling from the start. Register your domain name – it’s not expensive and you’ll come off more professional and attractive.
- Header and branding: Stop frequently changing your header and branding. It’s what makes you stand out and be recognizable in the endless pool of bloggers. Make sure your header looks professional and showcases your personality and what your site is about (it’s completely possible to make a professional-looking header yourself). I always tell bloggers that even though they themselves see their branding several times a day and find that it has lost the freshness, for their visitors it is something new and fresh. No reason to change it too frequently.
- Continuous deployments: Your design shouldn’t be updated and changed too frequently either. It will confuse your loyal visitors. Instead your should continuously deploy smaller tweaks and improvements. Do not make it too fancy or too decorative and lose the focus. It’s not all only about the aesthetics though. It’s also about the experience of visiting your site and enjoying your content.
- Have you provided all the relevant info? This may include contact info, social media pages, about page, a page for advertisers, privacy/disclaimer. Figure out which of these are the must-haves for you and find a way to present them in an optimal way. The footer is usually a nice place for some of the links in order not to overcrowd the navigation.
- About me page. Read your About Me page again. When was the last time you updated it? Look at it from the point of view of your audience. Is it doing a good job of convincing them to stay and explore more. Answer three questions: Who you are, what you do for your audience and why should they care. Meaning; what makes you qualified to post about a certain topic? In a way, your About Me page isn’t about you at all, it is about them – your audience. Think about it.
- How can you put better spotlight on the best converting posts? Your key content should be organized to help the visitors discover it easier. Use “Sticky” option to put spotlight on the best converting posts towards top of your front page. Use pages to create static landing pages for the important content and put them in the navigation. Use sidebars to direct people to important pages and sections of your site.
- Are your topics easy to find and recognize? Use “Menu” feature to create a customized navigation menu and easily show what your site is all about – especially for new users and especially if you cover several topics. For instance, if you write about food and fashion your menu could consist of recipes, outfits, fashion advice and beauty. This will help lead more of your visitors to deeper explore your content.
- Do you actually need all those social media share and follow buttons? Do they actually get any clicks or do they just distract people? Use your analytics tool to analyze the data and act accordingly. If you really want buttons is there a way for you to present them in a nicer and simpler layout?
- What’s in your sidebar? Sidebars tend to be very cluttered with things like social media buttons, search buttons, archives, ads and even word clouds. Review your sidebar. Do you really need everything that’s in your sidebar? Do you have anything that could be placed in there? How can you make it more focused so it leads your visitor to discover your content deeper and access your key posts?
- Do you need a sidebar at all? If the sidebar doesn’t help you put more focus on your main goals is there a reason for it to be there and distract people in the first place? Most modern themes allow you to easily remove the sidebar from specific posts and pages so use this option strategically.
- Make it easy to find your content. If you want people to stick around, make it easy for them to find your content – but more importantly, make your content logical! If you have 657 categories and every post is listed in 346 of them, chances are no matter how easy you make the navigation, I’m going to get cranky with the apparent randomness of the posts that I will leave – never to return.
- Related posts and other suggested content. How effective are these in getting people to discover more of your site? Could something more focused be put in this prime spot at the end of articles?
- Are you placing the banner ads in the best converting areas? Have you tested out different placing? Are you aware which generate the biggest income for you? Do they generate income at all? How are the ads performing compared to other sources of revenue? Knowing this will help you decide if you do need ads at all.
- Create for the web. How do you structure your text? Is your site full of big chunks of text or are your posts organized? This is the evergreen piece of advice for creating online content. Present the content in immersive ways. Use bullet points, subheadings, white space and short paragraphs.
Measure the effect of the changes
After making changes keep an eye on your site data and analyze what difference the changes have made. Are these changes effective? Did they actually make a difference? How can you optimize and improve even more? Act on the data learnings.
Although your site will look simpler, it does take a lot of effort and refinement to reach such a state. Decluttering may take some time but it will get you closer to your goals. You will start seeing lower bounce rates and people actually spending longer time on your content. Most importantly your main goals will be achieving maximum effect through minimum means. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?