All the fish needs is to get lost in the water. All man needs is to get lost in Tao.
Several years ago, my friend David and I were having one of our infamous late-night discussions about life and work. These usually went quite late into the night, most often in his hotel room after a pork tenderloin meal. One particular discussion has stuck with me over the years: is it better to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond, or a Little Fish in a Big Pond.
At the time, we both knew we were on the cusp of something bigger and had to make a choice. Would we prefer to move to a big city and try to make something of it, or were we better off staying in the small city and becoming something much bigger? Of course, making a living in a big city is possible but is far easier and quicker in the small city. He chose to leave for the big city. I stayed in the small city and ended up climbing up the ranks of the hotel quite quickly. I started off as a lowly front desk agent and within a year, I was the supervisor. Within two years, I was a Revenue Manager for two hotels in control of producing revenues around 5 million dollars. Considering I had zero hospitality training or previous hotel experience before entering that position, it was quite the accomplishment for me.
During the upcoming year, I have to make that same choice, once again. Having moved from the small city to a larger centre, the going has been tough in finding work. Do I retreat to a smaller city to work up the ladder in a quicker manner, or try to start something new in the larger city and climb the ladder quickly again?
But I do not want to get into that debate right now. Instead, I want to discuss the notion of what happens if we position our blogs into the mindset of a Big Fish, Little Fish.
The Big Fish
Even though I am relatively new to writing on this blog at a steady rate, I do have some posts which are more popular than the rest. My first post that made it “big” (in comparison to the rest) was my post “A Lesson in Blogging: Ramit Sethi and the 4,355 Word Email.” This post became popular because of people searching for “Ramit Sethi 4,355 email.” Next, has been my reviews of The 4 Hour Body (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, the entire review here). Those posts became popular through search, and also the number of comments I was leaving on other sites. All this traffic (nearly a thousand hits on those articles, or 36% of total hits for the past month) is great for a blog just starting out – especially when the subject matter is not as focused as other sites.
Here is the problem though: my bounce rate was over 70%. People were landing on the pages and leaving right away.
Making Sure Your Big Fish Are Found
It is difficult for me to say whether this is caused from a lack of quality writing on this blog. I prefer to think optimistically about it and believe my content is as good as other sites out there. The area I put blame on was the design of the site. It did not allow people to discover my Big Fish. The initial comment mentioning my book review was the bait, and after they took the bait and caught the fish, they gave up trying to find other fish to fry up. A lot of the blogs I have been reading lately have been discussing tactics in how to bring readers to the site, and then leave it at that. There is an assumption that once people get to your site, they will discover the rest of your content easily – or will have the desire to search around to find it on their own.
Using the interface of my previous host (Squarespace), it was difficult for me to structure things so people could discover the content easily. The most that I could do is: a list of the categories, a list of the tags, a list of the most recent posts, and search – apart from actual links contained within the content to direct people to other posts, these options all pulled the reader’s eyes away from the main content area in order to discover new stuff. Contrast that with the new design using WordPress, and I am able to give people several options to discover content immediately after reading a post, or make it easier to discover new stuff without moving the eyes around a lot.
Here are some of my solutions that I implemented here:
Make a Sandwich of Your Header
I made my logo stand out from the rest of the content through its colour and its size. I did this for two reasons: 1) create the brand for the blog and make people know what they were reading, and 2) attract their eyes to the top area of the site. When they look at the logo, people will notice two other lines with the main pages of the blog that I want to highlight, and a list of the broad categories for the site. In my case, I chose to highlight The 4 Hour Body Review at the top, along with the usual About Me, Contact Me, and recommended books/resources. Below the logo, I have only two categories right now: Blog Reviews and Featured. Why only two? Because these are my Big Fish posts. I want them to stand out above the rest because I believe that this content will convince people to subscribe more than anything else.
Pictures Say a Thousand Words
Including pictures in the posts are incredibly important. Not to enhance the content you have or to complement it, but it’s one of the best ways to attract people to read that post. In my opinion, people judge whether a post is worth reading based upon the title and the included images. A photo from a recent trip overseas will draw me in to read that post more than a simple graphic or no picture will. I am going to use more pictures in my posts to give people an image summary of the post they are about to read. For example, my post about Rob Neyer, I included a baseball, because he is a baseball writer and it is a team sport, which the post was touching on. In my book reviews, I have been including the cover photos of the books, because they are generally easier to read than a written out title. Some covers are instantly recognizable, as well, which helps people make connections between previous interactions with that book and the decision to read my review. I also included a slideshow of images with quotes from my featured posts to keep people’s eyes locked to wait for the next slide, or to click on a post they want to read.
Connecting the Dots
I installed the Efficient Related Posts plugin which serves two purposes: it adds five related posts to the bottom of the post (above the comments), and quick links to the previous/next post. I find that when I visit other blogs, the next post I read on the site is almost always either included in the content or is suggested at the bottom of the page. This plugin is extremely easy to setup and I have been greatly impressed in the suggestions that it has been making at the bottom of the posts. As I tag more of my previous entries, the plugin will only continue to work better.
Don’t Lose Your Fish!
Having a 404 Error Page for your blog is good. Having a personalized one is better. But never having one? That is almost unheard of for any site you visit. Enter into the arena the Permalink Finder WordPress plugin. Any time an outside link is broken and ends up at an invalid location, this plugin kicks in to search the information contained within the link and then searches your blog with that information to come up with the most relevant post or page to display to that reader. I was skeptical that it would actually work, but it does. Every time. Here are some quick examples if you don’t believe me:
http://www.foursides.ca/the-4-hour-body (the real link is http://www.foursides.ca/the-4-hour-body-review/)
Keeping it on the Periphery
One of the most important lessons I learned in band class was about peripheral vision and how much we can see to either side of us. With blogs, that is some useful real estate to take advantage of. I use a few plugins to make sure there is current or relevant content to be found:
- Popular Posts – puts the most popular posts into the side-bar
- Social Slider – creates the social media list on the left hand side of the screen
- Tag Cloud – collection of your tags in the format of a cloud (most used is largest in size)
- Recent Posts – (set number of most recent posts)
The last two are installed automatically on new installs of WordPress.
Don’t Dirty Your Pond
If you look at some of the other WordPress themes out there, they are designed to fill up every square inch of space on the page with something – usually something to make the blogger money or is a distraction. With my site, I aimed to keep it simple (like my previous design) and also keep it directly related to the content of the blog. I want to introduce people to other blogs and ideas, yes, but I also want to keep people reading on my site for as long as I can. By limiting the distractions to the sides to only the tag cloud or a list of popular posts, people can stay focused on the middle content panel.
You may notice that there is no mention of the words SEO or backlinks, etc. Those tools may drive traffic to the site, but it does not turn the reader into a subscriber or helps them discover more content to read. The above list of design choices and plugins aims to help keep your readers interested in your site for as long as possible.
Of course, this is not a complete list of plugins and tactics to use, so I welcome your advice if I am indeed missing something useful.