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Are your Readers Doing what You Want Them to Do?

Posted By Darren Rowse 22nd of October 2008 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

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:

  1. Subscribing, either by RSS or e-mail
  2. Clicking on revenue-generating ads or links, or
  3. 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 atAwake@TheWheel and is the author of forthcoming book Career Renegade: How To Make A Great Living Doing What You Love (Jan ’09).

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Dareen you are absolutely right.Few bloggers want to make money by clicking on advertisement units.But some blogger want to keep in touch with readers and want to share knowledge they have.
    Like me I want to share my Technology knowledge and want to share that how to make money with blogging.
    Thanks for this valuable post.

  2. Great post Jonathan… good to see you here! When you doing something like this for Copyblogger? :-)

  3. I agree that simplicity is the key. The simpler it is for people to subscribe to your blog the more likely they are to do it. The same goes for products, the easier it is to buy it the more likely the person is gonna buy it. Great guest post, good job Jonathan.

  4. One of the best posts I’ve read about blogging.

    Many thanks. Keep up the good work.

  5. Great advice Jonathan.

    I’ve tried to keep my own blog as simple as possible and make my content be the focus. But your point about too many social media links got me thinking. There are a couple links that I include below my post that have never once been used in the 3 months my blog has been around, and some that, while they’re used, never seem to do much in the way of spreading my posts. I think I’ll go ahead and cut those out for the time being and just leave the few social media sites that actually have proven useful. Thanks for helping me out with some blogcleaning!

  6. Great post – definitely some food for thought!

  7. Personally, I abhor ads on sites I visit so I keep ads off my own. I also prefer a two column layout for less clutter and confusion. I keep my social links in my about section and I offer my RSS link at the bottom of each post. Also, I dressed up my Feedburner subscription box to give it some character and personality as opposed to just clicking a bland link.

  8. A great followup post to why I blog

  9. @ Surender – No doubt, the heart of most bloggers revolves around the opportunity to share knowledge and interact with a community.

    @ Brian – Hehehe, I’ll have my people call your people. :)

    @ Ryan – You saw through me, it’s the same lesson you learn in direct marketing really quickly, just applied to blogging.

    @ YFNCG – Funny, I actually just removed a bunch of buttons and requests in my post footers, too, after realizing that they weren’t really doing anything beyond adding a bit of clutter to the page.

    @ x Miss Corrine x – Glad to get ya thinking!

  10. As far as your ‘top 3 actions we want our readers to take’ list is concerned, I currently am only focusing on #1 (subscription). But in the future I do want to be able to encourage social media sharing and ad clicking (if that’s the route I ultimately go). For now I really want my early readers to participate in the discussion through commenting and sharing ideas so I can build readership and a great sense of community. My long term goals reflect more what you talked about here, so I appreciate the heads up!

  11. Great article. Sometimes, especially for us little guys it feels like you need to offer everything under the sun to our readers when the fact is that probably is one aspect of why we are “little guys” still.

  12. Great post – thanks a lot. I was just pondering these issues as I’m about to do a redesign.

  13. Nice job, Jonathan! I expected this to be good as soon as I saw your name, but you have topped yourself in the sheer usefulness and applicability of this info.

    When you want to have only one instance of a conversion link, such as subscribing or an ad, that should normally go in the place where it makes sense for a reader to click on it as an action, such as after an article or at the top right.

  14. I think it has a lot to do with how cluttered your blog design is. Just make it really simple so that your visitors and readers can find everything really easily. You do not want people to have to go and search for things on your blog especially since Internet users don’t like to waste a lot of time.

  15. Super post, thank you, Jonathan…

  16. I think I might be doing this with my eBay listings but not much people read my blog in the first place, but I am hanging in there and wont give up.

  17. I think we often get tempted to use bells/whistles b/c there are so many tools out there…Keep it simple and herd ’em to one gate! ;-)

  18. This is an absolute brilliant post. Positioning is very important, as is design and content. It’s all about maximizing everything you have available to you as a blogger to get your readers to behave in the manner you wish. Thanks for sharing.

  19. I love that whenever I read something here, I have to leave halfway through to implement some of the tips on my websites…I always get “action” items reading problogger.

    so, now that I’m back from tweaking my blogs….I have different goals for my visitors depending on my blog – on http://www.grechenscodes.com, I want them to click on my ads/affiliate links. And they are :-)

    On http://www.greengrechen.com, I am interested more in building a community – so I want COMMENTS, and subscribers. It’s a brand new site, so I am pleased so far with the interaction I’ve had with visitors and other bloggers, but am working hard to take it to the next level…

    in general, I think my visitors are “doing what I want them to do,” and that is not an accident – it’s by design.

  20. All I want is for my readers to comment and maybe stumble once in a while. Is that too much to ask!


  21. Unfortunately the blogs and their support components (widget, badges, gadgets…) are making things complicated for the layman. Sometimes, I get a feeling that many blogs are meant only for tech-savvy people… so readers find it difficult to interact as well.

    Ajith of DollarShower.com

  22. This is a great tip. Mostly I want people to comment and subscribe.

    You also have to keep your blogs clutter at very low levels.

  23. You’re right on the money, Jonathan. If there’s some kind of response you’re hoping to elicit from your readers, it’s best to really think about how to get that response. I also think, as Franklin Bishop mentioned, that your design can play a big part in your reader’s ability to effectively provide the response you’re hoping for. It’s important to avoid cluttered layouts. Great post!

  24. The main goal for TheSatisfied is to get users to submit content. When I launched the site, I required registration to submit. After reviewing the analytics, I saw that ~10% of my readers clicked the Submit link, but I had a very low conversion. In an effort to make the submitter’s job as painless as possible, I removed the registration all together. Since then the conversion has gone up significantly. Now I can focus on promoting my site without worrying about the terrible conversion rate.

  25. Good post. I really took to heart the statement that too many social media buttons can detract from action, rather than providing the freedom to do so. Looking at my blog now, I realize that I probably do need to simplify!

    The question is, which social media hubs should one focus on?

  26. The Black Tom Brady says: 10/22/2008 at 1:48 pm

    Great post. This is extremely informative and answered a lot of questions that I had. It definitely reconfirmed for me Keep it Simple!


  27. I’ve been struggling with this exact topic in my blog re-design. I use Sharethis mostly, but I also throw a Stumble button in the bottom. I haven’t really experimented with throwing the buttons up top, but maybe that is something I should try.

    I would like my readers to take all 3 actions, however most important to me at the moment is for them to tell others. I agree that giving them too many actions is likely to cause inaction. I’d like to find a way to implement a footer that asks them to take action every time, not just throw in a button and expect them to.

  28. When creating my first blog, I put much thought into how I would design my page so that it was as appealing to the reader’s as possible in both aesthetic and usability aspects. I found that the best way to do this was so look around @ other blogs and see what I personally felt was a good equilibrium for the user interface.

  29. I’m currently trying to come up with innovative solutions for solving question #2, thanks for this write-up.

  30. I’ve have used the “to many choices = no choices” rule in trying to design my blog. There are going to be those things that you put up front and then there are going to be those things that you put on a separate page for those who want to search a little bit may.

  31. Great insight. AS I just set up my newest blog I can tell you I’ve screwed up in a few places as far as optimizing my blog for the actions that I really want. New subscribers.

    Thanks so much for the clarity. As usual you share 1st class great content.

  32. I’m trying to catch up on blog posts I’ve missed since my power cord went out on my laptop.

    You get a whole lot of comments! I feel like I’m scrolling down to the bottom of the page forever.

  33. Jonathan,

    Great post as always. I remember reading that jam-research before, and I’ve found it to be true at my blog and in my “real” work, too. Three choices is what I prefer to give a client or a reader, and six is the outer limits. Know what you want, and just stick to that. Simple, necessary advice.

    Thanks for having Jonathan over here, Darren!



  34. Okay I am inspired now :) I will go to my blog and rearrange some stuff here and there. I had not kept the RSS subscribe link at bottom of my posts I will do that :)

  35. You such a lifesaver Darren,thanks for this tips.It’s a very good and important post.Thanks

  36. As a far-away (Europe) Patriots fan, I am always looking for new sites with Pats’ information.

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