I published this post in 2011, during a period of transition as I was closing down old versions of my courses, some of which I would later recreate brand new versions. I leave this article published so you can see what I was thinking doing back then, although clearly my strategy has since changed again. — Yaro
Let’s Move The Furniture Around
Over the years the design of this blog has changed many times. The purpose of facelifts is to increase usability, modernize the layout to keep up with design standards, integrate new features as they become popular (think Facebook like and Twitter tweet buttons, and before them, Digg and StumbleUpon buttons), speed up load times and improve SEO performance – and most importantly – adapt to changing overall strategy.
Plus, it’s fun to update designs, it’s like moving around the furniture in your house, everything feels new again.
The challenge with blog design is meeting the needs of multiple goals. When I started blogging I was all about the RSS feed, assuming that was the most important metric. Then my email list became the most critical element, but I also wanted to make sure the content was read, that sponsors advertising is seen, that articles are easily shared through social media, etc etc.
At one stage my monetization strategy was the traditional blogging and publishing model, focusing on increasing unique visitors and pageviews so I could make money from advertising that included banners and Google AdSense. Adsense failed for me, but sponsors who paid a monthly fee for banners worked well, and has for seven years straight.
I learned that email marketing converted better than blogging, although my email list was fueled by my blog, so the relationship is symbiotic. I needed the blog for subscribers (the front end) and the list to drive traffic to specific offers on demand.
All of these goals and income methods compete for attention on your blog. Figuring out what you want to focus on comes down to your strategy, which then dictates what your blog design should look like.
Are you about email opt-ins and conversion rates, or banner ad impressions and click-throughs, or all of these goals?
What Am I Thinking?
Some of my goals with the new design for this blog were to –
- Simplify the layout to better highlight the content
- Reduce how much is on the page to decrease load time, improve SEO performance, and highlight what matters most
- Increase email subscriptions without decreasing reader engagement
- Highlight the wealth of value hidden inside the archives
It’s difficult to do everything at once, and the list above isn’t comprehensive, I have other goals as well.
At the end of the day we are all dealing with a finite variable – the reader’s attention span – so there is only so much you can present to them. The more you ask, the less you will achieve of each outcome.
Again, overall strategy dictates a lot of these decisions, and everything is a work in progress. All you can do is figure out what you want, how you can get there and get busy testing to prove your assumptions. Watch your metrics and your bank balance to help determine what is working and what isn’t.
First Impressions Count
I spotted a trend recently that I am surprised has taken so long to surface. Bloggers have begun to realize that they don’t have a very good “entry page” for new people to first learn about their blog.
Step into the mind of a new visitor to your blog for a second… Think about the questions in their head, their lack of a framework about you or your website and you will begin to see how important what kind of first impression your blog makes is. You need to manage their expectations and over deliver value in one very short-lived first impression.
Unfortunately for so many blogs, the first impression they make is whatever blog post is at the top of their blog on any given day. If you have good content, that’s not such a bad thing. However it is very unlikely one blog post is an accurate representation of what your blog truly offers, and many first time readers will leave without discovering your value – or more importantly, subscribing.
One of the secrets I’ve kept hidden away for a long time (although if you think about it it’s not that hidden or tricky), is why my free report, the Blog Profits Blueprint, is so important and successful.
While other bloggers who write about blogging have produce a ton more content then I have over the years, most of them failed to capture their readers on to an email list. They also failed to create good entry content or a way to introduce new readers to what they offer. They usually left it up to their About page to describe what their blog offers.
My Blueprint has been the best first impression I could make. It’s comprehensive, it’s a one-stop solution from A to Z, it over delivers, it collects my best ideas in one place and best of all, to get it, people must subscribe to my list, so I can keep in contact. It’s also been great for word of mouth and thus viral traffic, bringing new people to my blog every day.
The Blueprint also aligned with my strategy and main monetization method. I sold a course on how to make money with blogs, so offering a free report on the exact same thing is a great way to bring in my target audience. This is one of the reasons why I’ve been able to sell several hundred thousand dollars of my Blog Mastermind course over the years.
Of course that all changed recently. I shut down Blog Mastermind. All my other courses are closed too (as I type this), and my blog strategy has changed as well. This is a bit risky as I have a working model that makes good money, but transition is important, and I’m personally ready for a change. I enjoy experimenting, I’m an entrepreneur after all.
How You Can Make A Good First Impression With Your Blog
I don’t know what your specific goals are, but I do know all blogs need a tool that gives a good first impression.
This blog exists more than 10 years, so naturally there is a lot of content in the archives, plenty of which I could use to create a good “first impression” page.
Your blog may not be old enough that you have a wealth of content in your archives, but that doesn’t mean you can’t highlight your best work so far.
I recommend you do this using a “Start Here” page of some kind. Even just listing your top 10 articles so far, is a good beginning point.
It’s important that your entry page does the following –
- Focuses on the core main problem people come to your site to solve (what your niche is)
- It’s as close to an A to Z guide as possible, a one-stop-solution
- It collects people on to your email newsletter
- You clearly highlight and label the page within your site’s navigation and any other prominent places like the sidebar or above the first article headline
If you have a free report, or video series, or something similarly comprehensive, your entry point may be that resource, in which case make sure every page of your blog presents that offer. This especially makes sense if you sell a product related to the resource, as you can use your email list to run people through a gauntlet (series of autoresponder emails) to pre-sell your product.
Ideally, do everything. Have an entry page that stands alone, and offer a free report and newsletter. This can take a while to build up, so take your time with it.
Presently my blog offers my two leading free reports, an email newsletter and the guide, but it has taken several years to create all these resources.
Use Fresh Eyes
I’ll leave you with one important piece of advice.
As soon as you start blogging on a regular basis with the intention of using your blog for business objectives you immediately begin to distance yourself from the most important group of people – your readers.
As someone studying how to blog and how to make money online you begin to see the “meta” behind everything and lose the frame of what it is like to just “be a reader“. This is natural of course, but unfortunately you also lose perspective on what your readers actually want.
It helps if you think back to a time before you knew what you know now and consider what you were thinking about, what your motivations were and how you looked at information online. I suggest you also seek input from others, review successful blogs and of course, ask your readers directly for feedback.
Knowing what kind of first impression to make is just as important as setting up the resources to do it, so don’t assume anything.