I’ve recently been acquired by an online community to work as their editor. My job, while managing writers and their articles, promotion, et cetera, is to improve the community. So now that I’m starting and looking out into the future of where the blog is going, I realize that there are certain things that we need to know as editors, bloggers/writers to do our job properly.
First off, I’ve not much of an idea how my original job as the designer and Creative Director of Phuse has extended to becoming the editor of this new community. Not to say that I’m not pleased, but it was something unfathomable even a few months ago when I started the blog here. However, with the support of so many excellent blogs and bloggers out there (and of course you, my valuable readers for reading), I’m excited for this new turn.
Okay. Enough patting each other on the back. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
Analytics is a pretty straightforward tool. You implement it, check up on it (every 5 minutes), and get in a really bad mood when your stats are flatlined. Most of us use analytics for finding out how many pageviews we have to brag to others, but most standard analytics tools (unless you’re using an old hit counter) come with widgets to find out pertinent information about your readers.
But many of you would probably wonder, “why usability testing”? I mean, I already made my design user-friendly, it encourages community, and looks pretty darn sweet. But that side of the work is for designers. For this article we’re bloggers. We don’t have any affect on the design. Or do we? And on top of this, how can we use usability testing as bloggers to effectively write for blogs?
How to Use Analytics to Affect Our Choices
Analytics should help us with the choices we make. Every blog should have some sort of analytics tool, albeit Mint or Google Analytics. If you you’re on a cPanel-based website, then you may even have Awstats automatically enabled on your host to show you some pretty good analytics as well (although a ton uglier than Mint, ask your hoster for more details). Here are some important parts of analytics tools we should pay attention to that will help us create a predisposition of if an article will trend in our community (which is our goal for every article, isn’t it?):
- Visits – The obvious first is visits. This counts for both unique and total pageviews. Generally speaking having high stats from either of these would generally tell you that you’re doing well, however looking at them separately is important. They tell us two things:
- Unique pageviews tell us whether or not we are getting new readers or not. We should analyze this in weekly/monthly trend graphs since checking daily will likely show our same loyal readers. The more uniques in a month, the larger our readership is growing. This is far more important than it’s brother…
- Total pageviews can help us determine some other useful analytics, however in this case it can tell us if we have been proving quality content to the community (based on the community’s response), and how many people have been checking into the website. Generally speaking if your unique pageviews at any given time is high, your total pageviews will be as well (otherwise you’re going to have some pretty high bounce rates).
So here’s what we can determine from these two hefty stats as bloggers: putting statistics side by side with their articles can show us which type of articles trend. Most analytic suites will allow you to see Internal Trends that should help you determine what your readers like (and what your readers love).
- Locations - As if this wasn’t obvious already, you should be paying very close attention to where your users are coming from. For example, I know 32% of my readership is in the U.S. right now. Therefore, if I wrote an article on Canadian law or politics (hypothetically, of course), my U.S. readers would likely cringe and I wouldn’t have many people reading that article. As well, I know that in my articles instead of focusing on topics that are trending on the other side of the world, I should be focusing on trends in the U.S.
- Referrers - Referrers are very important. This will tell us where users are coming from (albeit a Google search, a link posted by someone on Twitter, etc). While it’s very important to follow up with these referrers and notice where a lot of referrals are coming from, referrals can also tell us what other things our readers like and can help us in promotion. For example, if you have a ton of people coming from someone posting a tweet online, you know that Twitter might be right for your business.
- External Trends – External Trends are just as important as Internal Trends – and, if you haven’t gathered already, external trends have to do with where your users go from your website. For example, I saw a lot of my readers followed a link I’d posted a while back about FontCase and using it as a tool. Therefore, I knew that writing an article on typography was a good choice at the time, and providing FontCase as a prize was an even better idea.
- Searches - Okay, so SEO isn’t your job as a blogger. Still, this is an important part of analytics. Finding out where your writers are coming from can really help you find out what your readers are looking for, and will ensure that you’re providing them with that content.
- Durations – While this will surely be a part of the usability section as well, analyzing how long your users are spending on the website can easily tell you their attention span and how much time they spend reading an article. This will greatly help you decide whether your readers will read 1,000 word articles as opposed to 2,000 word articles (like this one).
(Here’s a little side note to all my readers: We’ll be throwing out a new article purely on analytics in the next little while and it might include a giveaway or three. Stay tuned via feed and Twitter if you’re unfaithful and want to see the light!)
How to Use Usability Testing On Our Writing
Usability testing is fun. We have tons of wicked inexpensive remote usability testing tools that can help us find out how our readers read our articles. That’s right – we already know how to make article decisions based on analytics, now we need to find out how to write articles that our users will want to read.
But I’m a Blogger – I Don’t Have Any Say About Design Changes!
I beg to differ. You have a pretty big job to do for design changes. For example, you’re working with a nice little arsenal of font styles that you can use. For example, we know that bolding text will catch ones attention, and italicizing text will further emphasize a point. We know that users like hierarchy, and you know you have the ability to work with headers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5!). If you’re writing within an application like WordPress, you also have the ability (in a good theme) to work with photos and align them so that users have pictures to catch their attention.
Great. Now you believe me. We have the flexibility of formatting on our side. How can we work within these limits to create a better user experience in our articles?
Would You Like Fries With That?
So now we have all this amazing content we’ve been hacking at. We’ve got the burger (writers who have been through any sort of writing course will remember the symbolism of a hamburger in regards to writing), now we need the fries and pop. We need to make a combo. I think you get what I mean, and I think that joke/metaphor is getting a little dry at this point.
Here are a few key concepts of usability we should be paying attention to, and some suggestions on how this data can help us find out how to improve those little aesthetics of the content:
- Eye Tracking – Alright, so I don’t expect anyone reading this to be doing this, but eye tracking can be very useful. Find out of your users are so predictable as to be following an F-pattern of reading. What are they looking at? What’s catching their attention? How fast are they reading and do they slow down after some time because they’re getting bored?
- Scroll Rate – How far down the page do your users scroll? When you’re not doing eye tracking, this can help to find out (roughly) where your users stop reading.
- Get Users Opinions – I’m seeing more and more sites having GetSatisfaction toolbars to get real users commenting on improvements to the site. Having similar ideas to this to find out what your users think of everything can be important. You can use this sort of research in the form of a contest as well to get people to give you suggestions for content and improvements. I personally don’t think getting users to go through and read articles will help us as bloggers (e.g. local usability testing) – forcing anyone to read anything. I’d be interested in seeing studies on this if you’ve seen any, though.
- Heat Maps – Heat maps can be useful to find if users are clicking on links you provide, and if users like particular parts of an article. As well, heat maps showing where the user’s cursor was can be useful as studies show that cursor movement heat maps can tell us where users are looking (a good 80-90% of the time).
A Call To Action
I’d like to call all bloggers to band together right now, and hopefully I won’t be alone on this one. We need to demand more information about the readers we write for from our editors. Editors need to open up their analytics to us so we can do our investigating and provide the best article for the community. Because, just like usability testing, we are not our readers, but we need to ensure what we’re writing for them is something that will keep them coming back.
What do you think? What else can we learn from these two tools to effectuate awesomeness in our writing?
Oh, and that new gig? You’ll be hearing about it soon. Trust me.