This One’s for the Blog-Writers and Readers

Which, if you’ve read this far, is probably you—no matter how I titled this article. Why?

Because your clients…

… and mine…

are not reading blogs.

I have been doing a lot of Experience Audits for websites and blogs lately—many more than usual—and darned if that pesky fact isn’t coming up again and again.

Does your Ideal Customer read your blog?

The last time we visited these statistics, research said that only 29% of U.S. adults have ever read a blog at all. I think we need a drum roll here, because whoo, the numbers are up:

The newest figures say that only 32% of U.S. adults have ever read a blog.

Only 24% read blogs currently.

That’s right. 76% of your neighbors say they do not read blogs. 68% believe they have never read one at all.

(My Canadian friends: the same survey stats are not available, but social media participation Canada-wide is far lower. Expect that fewer of your neighbours are reading blogs.)

The ever-brilliant David Meerman Scott has made an important point that I hear you asking about right now: They say they don’t read blogs, Kelly, but what if they just don’t know they’re on a blog?

I’m with you, dear reader. I’ve always believed that numbers of casual blog readers are skewed. As David says, “Many people who reach blogs via search don’t even know they are on a blog!”

Fair enough. But if you’re running a business that you’d like to be growing through your awesome thought-leadership on your incredible blog, there’s a bigger picture. Those 68% who believe they’ve never seen a blog?

They didn’t stick around.

They didn’t subscribe to your fabulous daily or weekly updates through your easy email subscription or your handy RSS button. (If you’re new here, please do!)

They did not hang out long enough to know they were on a blog. And they don’t care.

So while David is certainly right that these semiannual surveys give figures that are way too low, the point of the surveys to me are in what your local and global neighbors, your potential customers, believe. And a lot of them still believe they don’t read blogs.

Yesterday, during a website audit:

Me: “Do you read blogs often?”

Daily Internet user, who is clicking through a blog: “You mean forums? Sometimes, but they’re pretty crazy places, aren’t they?”

But wait, there’s more!

I promised Experience Design lessons, not just gotchas about how regular folks use the wild, wild web.

If your blog is part of your business strategy:

FORGET that it’s “a blog.” Most testers I work with call your posts “articles” after they get the hang of wandering around, and they can get pretty excited to see someone’s written dozens or even hundreds of articles on their chosen subject.

You are informing your potential customer. You are convincing them that you know your business. You are having great conversations in the comments (we sure are), you are enjoying your growing readership (I do!), but remember: you are not hanging on to the majority of search customers or even word-of-mouth recommendations as subscribers, anymore than you’re subscribed to daily updates from amazon.

We don’t want to be amazon’s friend or have a long-term relationship, we want to buy what we need, if they can solve our problem. (If the company’s as great as yours is, that will lead to a relationship—but that’s a story for another post.)

That’s how someone who wants to buy from you thinks of your website. So adjust your thinking. Think of it as a series of whitepapers. Standalones. Every article, full of words I might search for, situations I might find myself in, and phrases that remind me (subtly) why working with you would benefit me. When you have got me there, convince me right away. A sales piece a day. If you’re writing a blog to grow your business, you’re a copywriter. (So that’s what Copyblogger means!)

Try to assume everyone walked in to your blog fresh today. Beware of bloggers’ standbys: 2.0-jargon, insider talk, and “remember that funny thing last week at that other blog that only three of us know about.” A little goes a long way, even when it’s relevant. Better saved for the comment section, where your prospects seem to expect things to loosen up.

STAY on topic. A lot. Very, very tightly on topic. I know at times it’s boring to you, the author, to come at the subject of baby rattles or wine cork manufactury or kneaded erasers from one more angle. You want to talk about your trip to Ibiza and the trouble with shopping for a new car.

Folks, you’re going to have to write a post about how shopping for a new car is just like a baby rattle, because when your potential customer clicks on a post (and they’re weird, it’s a free world and they think they may click anywhere, how dare they), it’s got to relate to what you want to sell them. Or they’re frustrated, confused, and gone.

CLEAN up the design. Think website, not blog. I promise you: unless you are willing to say, This One’s for the Blog-Writers and Readers, every day, and accept that only they are your potential customers, you have got to make the site a lot easier to get around. Fewer choices. Fewer accepted blog conventions, like blogrolls and other offsite links. You lose sales when I click away and don’t know I have, as I saw happening over and over in one recent audit. I’m not always there to guide your prospect back. Don’t let them get lost, get frustrated, or heaven forbid, get away before they’ve made their decision.

Guide your prospect through the sales process. Clear, baby steps, as if they’re walking through your store. (Yes, Experience Design works the same online as it does in your brick-and-mortar shop.) Ask yourself as you’re eliminating clutter: What action should they take next? Is that the only step they can see, and is it right in front of them so they can’t miss it? It’s okay to have more than one right path. It’s not okay to have wrong paths (dead ends) or so many choices that the “exit” sign looks enticing. They’ll choose it, every time.

CALL to action. This is going to scare you: Louder. This is going to freak you out: In the text.

Banner blindness, sidebar blindness, adorable sparkly rollover image blindness, have reached peak levels. NO ONE LOOKS at your ads, even your ads for yourself. They assume it’s for someone else, and they assume it’s been randomly placed. But if you’re writing something good, they’re reading it, and they’re hoping you’ll tell them what action to take next. What testers are saying to me consistently as they’re reading:

I didn’t see that. (To your fancy-schmancy ad in the sidebar.)

I read that, but I didn’t get it. (To your gentle text link to your contact page, worked into the paragraph oh-so-sweetly.)

It needs to be red or something if they want me to buy! (To your subtle link colors, coordinating fabulously with your tone-on-tone website.)

I’m waiting to get the point. I’ve forgotten if they’re trying to sell me something. (While reading with increasing frustration through post after post with no calls to action at all.)

TEST, test, test. I say it frequently here and not one of you has taken me up on it. Go now. Get your mother to check out your site. Cheap, easy, and you will learn stuff you’ll just hate. But that outside Perspective will help you grow your business, and that’s what Experience Design, Bloggy-Style, is all about.

Email me if you’d like someone else’s mother to audit your site. My team of user-testers is always hungry for a new challenge.

Since we can’t go back to being blog-reading newbies like so many of your search hits and word-of-mouth referrals are, let me ask you this:

Even as the knowledgeable blog-reader that you are, are you more likely to become a paying customer when you’re new to a blog than after you’re a loyal, longtime reader?

What else can a blogger do to convert you to a customer in that new-reader honeymoon phase?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. Very necessary aside: There’s a shiny new badge over in my sidebar. (That’s the area on the left.) Revered trade publication AdAge keeps track of the top blogs in marketing and advertising in their Power 150, and I’ve just entered their ranks at a very, very respectable #543. That badge may say something different today because the rankings are constantly updated, so (until I get tired of it and put up a plain badge) you can peek over there to see how we’re doing versus all those really boring bloggers like (the inimitable) Seth Godin, who tops the list, and (one of my favorite guys) Chris Brogan, who shaved his head for charity the day when he toppled Seth for a nanosecond. (If you want to help me topple Seth for a nanosecond, I’ll drive to Boston and let Chris shave my head. Yes, I will.)

By the way, this is the insider talk I suggest you hardly ever do at your blog.

Have a glass of champagne with me, dear reader, because I wouldn’t be ranked at all were it not for your loyal eyeballs and kind links and recommendations. THANK YOU.

P.P.S. Completely totally unnecessary aside: In researching for this article I wanted more current information than the statistics I’ve cited here from December 2007 about how few of your customers believe they have ever read a blog.

So I typed “never read a blog” into my favorite search engine, thinking the stats I needed would be right at the top of the search engine results. Instead, I discovered that I am old. This is because Peter Buck, guitarist and cofounder of R.E.M. who were my absolute heroes when I was a young teen, is 52. If you click that link you will note he doesn’t directly mention that I am old. But holy moly. He made his point.

By now you have clicked and discovered that Peter Buck has never read a blog, so I am not worried that he will read this mention, either. Still, Peter—next time I’d prefer you did not point out how long ago I must have been a teenager.

This, sadly, is the “what kind of whitepaper is this?” talk I also recommend you rarely engage in. But sometimes, we have to break the rules…

P.P.P.S. Rule: We always read the postscripts. So click here to email me if you’d like your very own Experience Audit for your site—and if you’d like to get updates delivered free by email or RSS, you’ll find everything you need at the top of that sidebar on the left. Go on, now. I’d love for you to become a regular at the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.