This week I want to talk about blog conversion, the art of making your visitors take action whether that means spending more time reading your content, buying one of your products or subscribing to your email list.
There is plenty of content out there on how to convert your readers to subscribers and buyers and, if you take your blogging seriously as an integral part of your marketing, you’ve probably read tens or even hundreds of posts about the topic.
Me? I went to Derek Halpern for advice on how to improve SocialMouths. Derek is the author of SocialTriggers, where he writes about using psychology to help increase traffic and turn your visitors into loyal subscribers and buyers. He’s also the head of marketing for the famous WordPress theme Thesis. I first met Derek through a series of videos where he reviews sites for popular guys like Chris Brogan and from that moment I have been consuming his content, specially the newsletter.
So I wrote this post to share those tips, some have been implemented into SocialMouths’ new design and others haven’t but I still want to share them with you. The good thing is that these tweaks are not huge and they’re not hard to implement on your blog but, the impact is definitely significant.
Let’s dive right into it…
1 – Strategic areas for Opt-in forms
We’re not discussing the importance of building a successful list but, as I said last week, email subscribers are THE counter a blogger should focus on. For that reason, it’s very important to display clear and prominent calls-to-action and sign-forms throughout your blog.
Here are the main sections Derek recommends for sign-up forms:
Feature Box – The box between the site’s header and your content. Made famous by Thesis, is probably the hottest area of your site. Right here on SocialMouths, which runs proudly on Thesis, the feature box opt-in form is responsible for roughly 40% of email conversions.
Here is a great example on Lewis Howes‘ site:
The top of the sidebar is probably the most obvious location for an opt-in form, specially on post pages. If you don’t have a Feature Box on your blog, it will most likely be your # 1 converter.
If you are running a Feature Box on your blog and you feel having an opt-in box also on your sidebar is too much, use it only for your posts and pages, where that Feature Box is not displayed.
The bottom of your blog post is key. A visitor that reads your entire piece of content is most likely ready to take action, that can be simply navigating to a different page or post on your site, share the post, write a comment or more importantly, sign up for email updates.
The following example is from Derek’s site Social Triggers
Basically the same criteria of the post box is applied here, the decision of staying on your site is made in a split second, people will either abandon or give you a few more seconds to engage them. But the people that scrolls all the way down on your site are more likely to take action.
I’ll give you 2 recommendations here, the first one is in case you are shopping around for a WordPress theme, Marketers Delight by Alex Mangini is a skin that runs over Thesis and it’s highly optimized for email list building, featuring several options you can activate right from your dashboard.
And the second one, also by Alex, are the signup forms made available for free download on the Thesis blog. These are already designed forms you can use use with Aweber or Mailchimp and they come with easy to follow instructions on how to apply your code.
2 – Sidebar
The sidebar is often used by bloggers to accumulate all kinds of widgets, turning this piece of important real estate into a deposit for clutter.
The sidebar is important because in most blogs, no matter where you navigate, is one of the elements that remains visible. Sit down in front of your blog with a cup of coffee and dedicate an afternoon to reconsider each one of the elements on your sidebar, the criteria is simple, what does each one of these widgets do to your business.
Some of the items Derek recommends you should eliminate from your sidebar:
- Badges – from rankings or associations you might belong to. You might consider if any of these badges really makes a difference as social proof, some people in the marketing industry for example, display the AdAge badge. I eliminated all of them and just recently added the Social Media Examiner Top 10 Blogs
- Social Network widgets – A blog is the hub of your online marketing, the final destination, you should not be sending the traffic back out. If you display the number of followers or fans and this number is not significant, it could damage rather than serving as social proof
- Your offer – whether that’s a newsletter signup form, a free whitepaper or your services, the offer should be clear
- Relevant Content – Some kind of navigation for your most relevant content
Most Popular Posts is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to configure the criteria for how you display those posts, for example by a period of time or if you want to consider number of comments or pageviews.
3 – Eliminate the sidebar
Consider eliminating the sidebar completely in specific pages, specially where the objective of the page is to convert, for example resource pages, subscribe pages or a page where you sell a product or offer your services.
There are 2 main reasons for this:
- There is nothing in your sidebar to support the conversion of the page
- It reduces the noise and helps your reader focus on what you’re offering
If you have the possibility to display a different sidebar on specific pages, you can use it to add an element that supports that conversion, for example a testimonial.
4 – Resource Pages
This is important, even though I have not yet applied it in this blog. The concept of resource pages is basically to direct your readers to the most relevant content on your site. The thought of people navigating your blog using categories, tags and even the search function is obsolete and it often results on the reader not finding that relevant content on your site.
WordPress makes it very easy to highlight your recent posts but not the old content due of its chronological format. And I bet you have some relevant content buried in your blog.
I invite you to search a term on your site and see if the results are relevant, or even better, if that is the content you want your readers to find, specially if your blog is fairly new and you don’t have tons of posts. The same thing happens with category pages, your content is organized in a chronological order rather than relevancy.
Resource pages are created as a regular page and they’re based on the most important topics on your blog, in other words, you’re replacing a category page for a page where you control its content. For example, if your blog is about business and one of your main topics is business plans, chances are you have more than a few related posts. You should create a dedicated resource page for that.
Derek uses Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich to illustrate this example:
As you can see, Ramit gives you a little intro and a series of links to content on his own blog.
5 – Topical Navigation
This is also related to the previous point. A first-time visitor will usually land on a post, if this person didn’t find what s/he was looking for, a Topical Navigation might give you a second chance with that visitor.
This is why a blog should have the main navigation and a secondary navigation featuring resource pages.
If your design does not allow the second navigation or you don’t have the resources to implement this, a good way to do it is on the sidebar. You can actually make this more visual as Derek has done on his own blog but, you should make sure they don’t look like ads because they’re often ignored by visitors.
6 – About Page
If you look at your traffic analytics, you will notice that visitors, specially news ones, will usually hit either the homepage or the About page after landing and reading a blog post. On SocialMouths, the most visited page after content pages is Who Is This Dude?.
This is why this page is crucial for your blog conversion. Derek recommends you structure the content a little like this:
- An introduction that sets expectations, what will your reader find here and how you can help them
- Email signup form
- About yourself
- Email signup form
- Social proof: Accomplishments and media outlets where have been featured
- Email signup form
It’s pretty clear that if your reader is going through this page is because s/he is almost ready to take a more serious commitment with your blog. If you feel 3 forms are too much, go with 2.
I also like to add contact information at the bottom of this page, since in my experience people don’t use contact forms.
7 – Negative Social Proof
I know I briefly mentioned this before but let’s elaborate a bit on social proof.
Social proof can be achieved with different vehicles on a blog:
- Media outlets where you have been featured
- Testimonials from influential individuals in your niche
- A top spot in a ranking that’s relevant in your industry
- High number of followers or RSS subscribers
- And even high numbers in your sharing buttons (if you display counters)
Social proof is displayed on a site to show that other people trust you in that particular industry, it will make people feel confortable with you or your brand, however, if the numbers shown are not significant, they can damage your brand.
A good example of this is sharing buttons on pages. People don’t usually share or tweet your About page and showing your count when it has only 3 tweets and 2 shares really gives the wrong impression to your visitor. Even if we talk about numbers not being important all day long, everything has an impact.
Make sure your social proof has a positive impact.
8 – Categories, Tags and the Search Function
One of things I’ve seen Derek mention several times, and for some folks is a bit controversial, is that people do not click on Category or Tag links and, they do not use the search function either. I wanted to see this by myself so I ran several “move” and “click” heatmaps on my site, the result was this: I did not see one click on either category or tag links and not one soul came even close to using the search form on the sidebar.
As you can see they are completely gone from my site.
If you have something in your blog that nobody ever uses, it might as well be invisible.
Heatmaps are a great way to see how visitors behave in your site, how they move their mouse or where they click so you can work on improving its overall performance. Here are two services you can try: CrazyEgg and ClickTale.
Here is an example of a heatmap:
9 – Action Colors
Something as simple as the text on your content can often confuse readers. I’ve seen bloggers out there that play a lot with text styling like using different colors because they want a line to stand out.
You might be thinking right now that this is something too small to make any difference but, the problem is that if you are adding a link inside a post is because you want your visitor to click on it. That’s not going to happen if that visitor doesn’t identify that text as clickable.
You need two different kinds of text, your “Reading” text and your “Clicking” text. Your links should be a different color or underlined, if you’re using a different color for your links, try not to use that color to highlight other text in your post.
10 – Header Removal Test
And lastly, this is not much of a tip but a test you can do on your own. First impressions are everything, you all know there is a split second when a visitor lands on your blog for the first time to convince them that they are on the right spot.
In order to do this successfully, Derek recommends doing the “Header Removal Test”, which consists on imagining your blog without the header to see if your reader will understand what your blog is about without it and without scrolling below the fold.
Look at what elements below your header help communicate your message successfully. A good example of this could be a prominent topical navigation, as we discussed before.
It’s pretty clear that his blog is about copywriting, self-publishing and content marketing. He’s accomplishing this without being too graphic.
How often do you look at your blog to find opportunities for improvement? Sometimes adjusting little details you might think are not significant, can make a huge difference in performance.
Also, don’t forget this is a testing game, you should not just apply things you assume are working for somebody else. Even though these techniques are pretty universal, meaning they will work in most niches, you should test what works best for you.
It’ll be great if you can comment on what’s working for you or what are you planning on testing next. Feel free to ask any questions or to completely disagree with the ideas shared here.