Are your readers doing what you want them to do? – In this post blogger and author Jonathan Fields explores this question and gives some tips on how to get readers to take the actions you want them to take on your blog.
Ask a roomful of bloggers why they blog and you’ll get a wide variety of reasons.
Some do it for fun, others for profit. Some do it for platform building, while others love the community aspect. Some do it to practice their writing chops. And, hey, I even know a few who do it as a form of public therapy. The potential motivators for bloggers are endless. But, no matter why you blog…
Nearly every blogger is looking for her or his readers to take some action.
So, I have two questions for you:
- What action or actions do you most want your readers to take? And…
- Are you making those actions as effortless as possible?
Let’s explore the questions, one at a time…
Question #1 – What action or actions do you most want your readers to take?
Hands down, the three most common actions most bloggers would love readers to take are:
- Subscribing, either by RSS or e-mail
- Clicking on revenue-generating ads or links, or
- Evangelizing content through social media
There are likely a number of secondary desired actions, but these tend to be most universally desired.
Whatever your reason for blogging, it’s critical to take a step back and ask what single action you most want readers to take. Because, knowing the answer to this question will allow you to make some basic design and formatting tweaks that may dramatically increase the percentage of readers who actually do what you want them to do.
Once you’ve sussed out an answer to question #1, it’s time to move on to question #2.
Question #2 – Are you making those actions as effortless as possible?
Take a look at the design and “action options” offered within your blog. The design may be drop dead gorgeous, but if the design and structure are making it difficult for readers to do what you most want them to do, then the design may actually be working against you.
Ad positions and reader action
If you want people to click on PPC ads more than anything else, take a look at the positioning and type of ad blocks you using and ask whether the positioning and block type you are using will give you the highest possible click thru rate. Sometimes, actually many times, the answer is no.
Many bloggers know one of the highest click thru rates comes from positioning square ad blocks within the content itself. StevePavlina.com and JohnChow.com are great examples of this. And, many larger, more commercial blogs and websites use this approach.
Problem is, it’s also one of the most disruptive places to position ads, and many bloggers are not comfortable with this, so they go for less intrusive ads, knowing it’s also very likely going to knock down their clicks and potential revenue. That’s fine, the point is, if you are going to make that choice, at least do it consciously, with an awareness that you’ll be diminishing your most desired reader action in the name of a less “in your face” feel.
Or, do what Steve does and make your content so compelling and highly differentiated, people will put up with more disruptive ad positioning.
Social media button positions and reader action
Another example of the role that positioning plays is social media buttons. Let’s say the action you most want readers to take it to promote your content using social media. In order to make that easier, you decide to insert social media submission/voting buttons into the content.
The question arises, then, where should you place them to make is easiest for readers to submit or vote on your content and increase the change they’ll promote it? Some people position buttons at the top of an article, others position them at the bottom and some do both. The question is…
Does one option make it easier/more effortless for a reader to click?
At first glance, it seems that positioning social media buttons at the bottom would be most logical, since people would want to read the post first to decide whether it was worthy of promotion, before hitting the button.
But, practical experience also tells you that, as you build your following and network, many people will simply skim the first few sentences and be willing to promote your content based only on their first impression. So, for those people, many of whom might not want to have to read the entire post to find the social media buttons, placement toward the top would work best.
Or, maybe, the best way to cover your bases it to place the buttons in multiple places—top, bottom, sidebar. A similar question exists when asking people to subscribe, one of the other most desired reader actions. Do you ask before the post, after the post, in the sidebar, all over…or none of the above?
Our first hunch is often to give the most possible options in the greatest number of places, but, as we are about to discover, that could be a recipe for disaster. Because, positioning is important, but there’s another factor that may be even more critical. And, it’s something so many of us get wrong…
When it comes to inspiring our readers to take some action, we may, in fact, be giving them too many choices
There’s some fascinating research that reveals that, much to most peoples’ surprise, too much choice actually dramatically decreases, rather than increases action.
In a study conducted by Sheena S. Iyengar from Columbia University and Mark R. Lepper of Stamford University, a display of jams was set up in a grocery store. On the first day, 6 flavors of jam were displayed. Then, on day two, the number of flavor options was increased from 6 to 24.
No doubt, the 24 flavors attracted more people. Sixty percent of the shoppers stopped at the table with 24 jams, while 40% of the shoppers stopped at the table with 6 flavors. But 30% of the people who visited the table with 6 flavors of jam actually purchased jam, while only 3% of the shoppers who visited the table with 24 flavors bought jam.
Translation—The people who were presented with 400% more options were 90% less likely to purchase ANY jam. So, the 6 flavor display actually ended up selling way more jam.
The theory is that too many options make people have to work to decide what action to take. They become overwhelmed. And, for many, instead of working to choose what they want most, they just walk away without taking any action.
Now, transfer this principal to blogging
In a 2006 seminar, optimization mavens, MarketingExperiments.com, backed up the jam experiment, revealing:
“Too many choices fragment a prospect’s attention. In a split test, we simplified from 3 columns to 1, the subscription process from 2 pages to 1, and reducing the number of subscription options from 3 to 2 resulted in conversion rate increasing 42% and revenues more than doubled.”
This is precisely why the classic long format sales pages is only one column wide and offers but a single action option…buy now. Marketers have known for years the power of minimizing action options. So, how does this apply to blogging?
The effect of ad quantity on reader action
Positioning is important, but quantity is also important. If you place too many different ads on your blog, you may in fact offer so many click-thru options that readers will feel overwhelmed. The volume and variety of ads will literally shut down a reader’s click response. So, often, a small number of highly relevant ads with yield a substantially higher click-thru rate than a veritable sea of unavoidable ads. Counter intuitive, yet true.
The effect of social media button quantity on reader action
A similar thing happens with social media buttons. There are now so many different potential social media hubs and promotion options, many bloggers feel compelled to add a lot of social media buttons in an effort to give the most possible submission and voting options. And, certain plug-ins, like Sociable or Share This for WordPress make it easy to simply check boxes and add dozens of buttons or options with the swipe of a mouse.
As we’ve seen, though, there’s a good chance this strategy will backfire, leading not to evangelism, but overwhelm and inaction.
So, you may be better off limiting your readers’ submission/voting choices, placing only to one to three social media buttons on your blog and encouraging readers to aggregate their promotional effort among these hubs.
Reality is, too, people who are in the regular habit of promoting content, the social media mavens, often already rely on shortcuts and tool bars to facilitate the process. They don’t need to be prompted all that much. So, it’s really those not highly accustomed to content promotion that social media buttons target, and those are the very readers most susceptible to becoming overwhelmed and bailing on action.
The effect of too many overall action-options on reader action
Last item, let’s bring it all together here, go bigger picture and look at all of the action-options presented on your blog.
A big place we see reader overwhelm shut down action is in presenting too many “overall” options. This is most likely to happen when a blogger doesn’t strongly favor a given action. So, instead of simplifying and featuring one or two most desired reader actions, there is equal and frequent emphasis on a wide variety of actions.
So, for example, if don’t have a strong reader action preference, we might ask a reader to subscribe by RSS or e-mail in three or four different places, click on a variety of ads and links in 5-10 different places, promote content in 3 or 4 different places and at offer them the option of 10 to 20 potential social media hubs. In the end, rather than taking all of the above actions, or even a single action…they shut down and take none.
It comes down to knowledge and simplicity
Know what action you most want your readers to take. Then make the changes in design, content format and layout that will make it as effortless as possible for your readers to take that action. Create what marketers call a sales/action funnel that leads the reader to a single, compelling action…the one you “most” want them to take.
Then once you have your blog optimized for that action, slowly introduce other potential action options, test how they impact your most desired reader action and choose consciously as you add then.
As always, feel free to share your own experiences, insights and observations in comments below.
We’re all in this blogging evolution together…
Jonathan Fields writes on the crossroads of work, play and life at[email protected] and is the author of forthcoming book Career Renegade: How To Make A Great Living Doing What You Love (Jan ’09).