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Better Blog Pages: Page Navigation (Day Two)

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This post is part of a five-part series about creating better blog pages. You can see all the posts in this series here.

In this series, we already talked about the most important page on your blog, the contact page. However, before we go even farther in talking about specific pages you need on your blog, let’s take a moment to talk about navigation to these pages.

After all, pages do not matter if no one can find them!

Top Bar Navigation

The most common place people will look for pages (like your contact page) is on a top navigation bar. You can put this bar above or below your header, depending on the other navigation needs you have on your blog, but I highly suggest having one, even if you like to your pages other places, like on your sidebar.

Don’t rely on drop-down menus here, at least for your most important pages. The five to ten most important pages on your blog should be spelled out in your navigation bar. It’s about making your blog idiot-proof. You don’t want people to have to spend time trying to figure out your contact information or other information you might need.

Interlinking Your Pages

We often link to our own posts, but most bloggers don’t remember to link to their own pages. Where appropriate, you should definitely do this to allow for easier navigation. I often see people say something like “contact me for me details” within blog posts, but then leaving it up to their readers to figure outhow to contact.

You pages shouldn’t just be linked within blog posts. They can also be linked to one another. It might make sense to link to your About page on your Contact page, for example. Google cares about how long people are on your site and how many pages they visit when there, so definitely take the time to link as much as possible.

Other Navigational Considerations

It might also many sense for you to include navigation to pages at other places on your blog. For example, some people will look for this information in your footer. Others will browse your sidebar. It’s important to have a well-designed site, and you don’t want to compromise the look of the blog, but wherever you can put more page navigation, do it. When in doubt, it’s always better to link to your pages as often as possible than to make readers search for the information they need.

Join us tomorrow for Day Three of our Better Blog Pages series!

Red Routes: What City Busses Can Teach You about Website Usability

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Even though people in London drive on the wrong side of the road, there are still some things we can learn from their transit system. Their bus system, just like every other one in the world, is designed to get people where they want to go quickly and easily. However, they’ve found a way to optimize travelers’ experiences using a system called red routes. This same logic can help you optimize your website to guide your visitors to the information they’re seeking.

As you might expect, some places in London are more popular than others. In fact, just 5 percent of the city’s roads make up a third of the traffic. The city decided to fast-track busses on those popular routes by creating red routes, which received their name courtesy of the double red line land markings. These routes place restrictions on other traffic patterns and prohibit parking in bus lanes. By optimizing the efficiency of these routes, they’ve managed to reduce wait times on those routes by 15 percent in the first five years.

Now think about your own website. Chances are there are one or two pages off of your homepage that make up at least a third of your traffic. On my Web design company’s site, for example, most of the traffic from our home page goes to either a page about our services or our portfolio. I know that these are important pages to my visitors, and I also know how frustrating it can be when you can’t find what you’re looking for on a website. Therefore, I want to make sure this majority group can easily find links to that content.

Just as in London, Web developers now commonly refer to these critical paths as red routes. And, just as in London, optimizing them can have a big effect on your most important metric: conversions.

Identifying Your Website’s Red Routes
The first step is to identify these routes. A quick look at your analytics can shed some light on how visitors flow through your site today. Granted the paths might not be as easy as it could be for visitors, but these numbers will show you the popular tracks your customers are actively seeking out. By improving the flow to these red routes, your goal is to more easily direct the more passive visitor down the same path. After all, all red routes should lead to a conversion.

Optimizing Your Website’s Red Routes
Now you have two good pieces of data: where you want your visitors to go on your website, and where they’re currently going. It’s time to put those together to create a simple path for users to not only get to those pages, but more importantly, to also get from those pages to a conversion. Take this site as an example. Two obvious goals for this site are to get users to opt-in to the BlogWorld newsletter, and to register for the NMX conference. At the same time, let’s assume the most popular page after the home page is the most recent blog post. That is why there are prominent banners on the right of all blog posts showcasing these two things. There are plenty of sites that just feature these types of calls-to-action on the homepage, and they’re missing out on a big opportunity.

Testing Your Website’s Red Routes
Once you’ve identified your red routes and set them up, it’s time to see if they work. While things might look obvious to you, it’s best to try some user testing to see what an average visitor thinks. When testing your own site, it’s always a good idea to give users a series of tasks to complete to see how difficult it is for them. Think of this like a virtual scavenger hunt on your website. You want to know if users can easily find what they want, or in this case, what you want them to find. This is much more valuable than simply asking how your site makes a person feel.

In this kind of testing, it’s critical to test your red routes. Can people locate the content that is most important to them? There is nothing worse than a customer on an ecommerce site who is ready to buy but can’t find the product they’re after. Likewise, a visitor to a blog that can’t find the “subscribe” or “share” buttons would be equally frustrated.

Red routes are just one important way to give your visitors a better experience on your site. If you’re looking for more tips, then you’re in luck. I’m speaking at NMX in January on defining and maximizing conversions through better usability. I hope to see you there!

Groupon’s Problems and Being Too Awesome for Your Audience

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Groupon hasn’t been doing so well lately. We also saw backlash against the company after their less-than-tactful Super Bowl ads, but I’m not sure that’s why their numbers, according to reports, are down yet another 30%+ in March. Deal aggregator Yipit threw out some theories for the decrease in popularity:

  • Groupon is now sharing the market, especially with Living Social, who saw a huge growth this month once again.
  • At first, Groupon users got one deal a day, but now they have several personalized deals for each user every day.
  • The Groupon demographic is young and single, so they may be limiting their growth potential (in contrast, Living Social’s users are older with more varying interests).

Point one makes tons of sense – if you’re the first and only company doing something, you’re going to control the whole market. When competition starts popping up, no matter how good you are, your growth is going to slow down as people migrate to try other companies.

The third point also makes a lot of sense. Maybe Groupon targeted the wrong demographic from the start. Young users don’t have as much money (even for deals) and tend to have more focused interests (which don’t always align with the deals available).

But what I want to really examine is that second point. At first glance, it might not make a lot of sense. How could offering more deals be a bad thing, especially if they are personalized for the user’s interest (based on demographics and zip code)?

The same goes for your blog. Doesn’t offering more choices make the most sense?

  • Posting five times a day, as long as you maintain quality, is certainly better than posting once a week, right?
  • Offering three versions of your product at different price points is certainly better than offering just a single version, right?
  • Eighty categories that separate your posts into relevant topics for your readers is better than just five broad categories, right?

While it might seem as though the answers are “Yes, yes yes!”, for many bloggers, the answers are actually “No, no, no!” Like Groupon, this could be one of the reasons you aren’t growing as fast as you’d like or even why you could see a decrease in traffic.

Post Frequency

Let’s first think about post frequency. I blog for myself and for others, so I have a different perspective on this than many others might. When I first started blogging professionally, circa 2006ish, there was a big push for us to post as often as possible. I actually remember that one of my first clients (who paid based on traffic with a rev share model, rather than based on post count), held competitions for their bloggers – the people in the network who ended the month with the most posts got a bonus. Most of my clients still do want me to post as often as they can afford.

I think there’s an emphasis today on quality over quantity, but at the same time the decrease in quality is perhaps not the only reason it makes sense to post less often. First, by posting less often, you build anticipation. Let’s say that I write a blog you LOVE to read. If I only post once a week, you get excited for that post. If I post every day or multiple times per day, there’s no time for you to feel that anticipation. More importantly, though, people just don’t have time for it, no matter how awesome you are.

Think of it this way: If you open your inbox and there are ten notifications for new Groupon deals (or even ten links in a single email), are you going to have time to read them all? Even if they’re awesome, you might only check out the one that sounds the very best. On the other hand, if those notifications were sent once a day over ten days, you might check out all of them. Posts are the same way. If you want busy readers to check out all of them, posting ten times a day might not be best.

Different Versions of Products

I see a lot of bloggers who have complete stores on their websites, either with their own products or with affiliate products. While you don’t want to eliminate potential sales by only offering a single product that isn’t relevant to most of your readers, it can be dangerous to offer too many products. People tend to get overwhelmed when they have too many choices, which leads to them not buying anything at all.

In addition, you have to consider your readers’ budgets (and their perceived budgets). If you release ten products over the course of a month, some of your readers might not be able to afford them all, and once you start them thinking that way, they start to wonder if they can afford anything. Or, because a lower-priced option is available, that’s what they buy, even though if it was the only one offered they would have shelled out the money for the higher-priced product. It’s a fine line to walk between too many offerings and not enough offerings, but I think finding this balance is important.

Links on Your Site

Too many choices are bad in general (for many blogs – as always, it depends on your niche). This applies to any kind of navigation system on your site – pages, categories, tags, even links within a post. Again, it’s about balance. If you don’t have any kind of navigation, it could make your site confusing and less useful to readers, but too many options can make your blog too overwhelming.

For example, let’s say you come to my blog and I have ten links within my 300-word post. If it’s a resource post (i.e., all about the links), that might make sense, but if I’m just linking to other categories on my site, other posts talking about the same topic, news stories, etc. it can be too much. Those links can get so distracting, that you might never finish my post over even come back to my site.

Or let’s say that you want to read more about me. If I have pages called About Me, About My Site, Contact, Social Networking, My Resume, Speaking Experience, As Seen On, 100 Things About Allison, My Story….well, as you can see, it can be confusing where to even start. It’s okay to have multiple pages, but keep things under control.

Will Groupon bounce back? I don’t think the company is going anywhere, and they’re still relatively young, so I think they’ll continue testing different things to see what works best. In general, the number of choices they give users is definitely something they should consider – and as a blogger, there are some lessons you can learn as well.

30 Days to a Better Blog: Consider Your Categories

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30 Days to a Better Blog: Consider Your Categories

As part of our 30 Days to a Better Blog series you should now have great posts and pages on your blog – and we want your readers to find them, even months in the future. It’s time to consider your categories and navigation.

In the “olden” days of blogging, categories were the main source of navigation through a blog. They were typically located in the sidebar, and a blog could have 50+ categories if it desired! But with newer themes and layouts, many blogs are moving to a top level navigation – and you can create menus and sub-menus within your category structure.

I’ve done several category reorganizations and I know it’s a daunting and time-consuming task. But ultimately, your categories serve as the main navigation and overall structure to your site. A reader should be able to look at your menu and know exactly what they’ll find.

So, carve out some time, take a look at your existing categories, and consider implementing the following (I prefer doing this in excel for easy visualization):

  • Choose 15 (preferably 10 if possible) top level “parent” categories. If you move to a horizontal top navigation, you want to keep your parent categories in a single line. You may have to create new categories, or rename others – but these should encompass the main post topics that you cover.
  • Under each of these you can now place your remaining categories as sub-categories or “child” categories. You can incorporate a drop-down navigation that will display these when someone mouses over your parent categories.
  • If something doesn’t fit into this new structure, take a minute to analyze why. Is it a category that you’re not really using? Is it a rogue topic not covered by your blog and needs to go? Does it need to be a parent category over something else?
  • Have a couple of people glance at your new category structure. Does it make sense to them? Do the sub-categories fall where they’d expect to see them?

Once you’ve finalized your new category hierarchy, it’s time to implement it!

Quick Notes:

  • To avoid SEO meltdown, do NOT edit your category slug if you rename it.
  • If you delete a category, any posts only assigned to that category will now be assigned to your default. You will want to edit those posts and reassign them correctly.

Read Alli’s rethinking the structure of your blog.

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