This guest post is by Gab Goldenberg, author of The Advanced SEO Book.
Previously in the Blog Design for ROI series, I discussed the importance of prioritizing your email optin form within your page layout.
The next best use of space in your design is to highlight your key content.
Why does highlighting your key content matter?
There are a few reasons why this is important.
- It helps convert one-off visitors into repeat visitors: If someone browses a few posts and realizes that they really enjoy the content, they’ll keep coming back for more. This is one reason why many blogs struggle to build a loyal following—they leave it to more-or-less random chance whether someone sees their best posts.
- It helps repeat readers keep digging into your archives: This way, they deepen their knowledge of the subject, and associate that education with you.
- This highlighting is also an easy, practical way to give visitors an idea of what you blog about.
When I say you should highlight key content, I don’t just mean posts, I mean your key posts and key blog categories. You can pick key categories either by popularity of the category’s posts and/or frequency of posting on that topic.
In the main content area
In this regard, I think ProBlogger’s design circa end of 2005 was a brilliant, successful approach to the problem:
Beneath the logo and banner ad, there are three visually dominant content blocks. The prominent position is one part of the story.
Another part of the success story here was the specific content featured.
- The first block, aptly entitled Introduction – Key Articles, featured core posts. It did something quite clever that went beyond that, though—after five specific posts, it offered a single link to drive people further into other posts—the Top 20 Posts at Problogger. And it offered a broad review of past experience—a summary of the best content, if you will—in the seventh link, Lessons I’ve Learnt.
- The second block, Tips and Hints – Toolbox, listed core categories on Problogger that still represent the blog’s topics accurately to this day—advice on publishing ads, blog design, writing and marketing.
- The third block, for miscellaneous items, provided valuable resources like interviews, case studies and tools, as well as miscellaneous info about ProBlogger like ProBlogger News, ProBlogger In The News and a Disclaimer.
I don’t know if it was deliberate at the time, but to me the content in those blocks is arranged in increasing order of expertise. Beginners can read, “What is a blog?” Intermediate bloggers can dig through the archives to satisfy their curiosity and deepen their knowledge. Experts can see interviews and case studies with particular details, as well as tools for for implementation.
In the sidebar
Another popular place—though probably less effective—to highlight a blog’s top content is the sidebar.
Here’s how Copyblogger did it back in the day.
And you’ll see that this is still where CopyBlogger highlights his top content today:
While CopyBlogger didn’t also link to category pages in 2006, you’ll see the design comes around and does this later, with the categories linked to above the Popular Articles section. Again, he enables people to go deeper into his subject matter and deepen their knowledge.
Email form + top content = win?
Another aspect which I like about Copyblogger’s positioning of the top content in the sidebar is that it’s right next to his email optin form.
One best practice for optin forms is to provide a [lightbox / popover] link to a sample email so people can preview what they’re signing up to. This advice comes from those well-known conversion experts, the Eisenberg brothers, founders of FutureNow. Here’s a look at their optin form.
Caveat: I said that I like this association of the email form with links to key content, because I think it’s similar to providing a sample newsletter as advocated by conversion rate gurus like the Eisenberg brothers. I haven’t tested it myself, though, so I don’t know if the analogy (sample newsletter link = top blog post links) holds true.
Raise ROI by highlighting your key content
After your email optin form, the most important element of your blog that you need to devote space to is your key content. It shows what you blog about, builds your loyal and subscribed audience, and helps people explore your archives.
Your key content is not just articles, but also categories and additional resources like tools and case studies.
Organizing the key content call-out by the intended audience’s degree of expertise is a practical way to make multiple audiences happy.
Placing the key content near your email optin form gives people a preview of what they’ll get in the newsletter, and may increase subscriptions.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these tips in the comments. Have you tried these approaches? How did they work?
Next time, we’ll look at integrating the community you’ve built around your blog into the design of the blog itself. See you then!
Gab Goldenberg wrote The Advanced SEO Book – and you can get a free chapter here. Gab and Internet Marketing Ninjas, the folks behind the Blog Design for ROI series here on Problogger, are offering to mail you a free print copy of the Blog Design for ROI guide as a small book. Get your free copy from seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ .
Great article Gab. Highlighting your best content is probably the best way of converting a lurker to a subscriber
Thanks Kevin :)
So if this lay-out is so good why does ProBlogger no longer use it?? Great article.
Not sure if the ‘great article’ was serious or sarcastic, but I’ll say that Problogger does have an area for popular content on the homepage. (It doesn’t currently seem to be populated for reasons I’m unaware of.)
You can see more about the thought behind the redesign at the following link;
Oh no, this wasn’t meant sarcastically at all! I did think this was a great article and was just wondering if there had been any reasons for the advice apparently not being followed on this blog. For example, I did upload images of my most popular posts to the sidebar but they do detract a little from the actual images in the current post so I’m thinking of taking them down again and making everything less cluttered. I was wondering whether problogger had had similar second thoughts. :-) Thanks for the follow-up.
Good call. Keeping the kind of content a visitor is most likely looking for where they’re most apt to find it quickly not only keeps them on your blog, it builds perceived value. They are going to find more content that interests them, more easily, with each visit. That means they’ll be back or subscribe.
I have had good luck puttin my blog (as opposed to my e-mail list) subscribe in the top/left, directly under the header. Heatmaps show that’s one of th most viewed areas.
I swung by your site to check it out and admit that I missed the rss logo initially, and only realized it was there my second time. I think it’s the force of design conventions, so I’d be fascinated to see a case study where you split test the two options. Perhaps you can email me – gab at my site.
I think it’s great to highlight key content, but what about monetization? It’s OK to monetize with your own product if you’re Copyblogger or Problogger, but if you’re publishing news or working on a “volume” model you’re going to starve with one single 125×125 ad placment in the sidebar so that you can make room for highlighted content.
Just once I’d like to see a blog ROI discussion that talks about how to work Google adsense ad units into your site as part of your overall strategy…
David, that’s a great question. The issue is classic chicken or the egg – you need money (like from ads) to grow, but you need growth (visitors) to sell ads. A few thoughts…
1. I’d say that you’re better off delaying the monetization to begin with, and making up for lost time later, when you can charge significantly more for your large audience.
2. I hope to write one of the articles in this series on advertorials, which sound like a good fit for news-type sites. In short, you have an area after your post that looks like another post, but is an ad. Yes, these are commonly for in-house products, but I’ve also seen them for affiliate (i.e. 3rd party) products. These can also be placed after say the 3rd post on your homepage and archive pages…
3. Another point is that if you’re working on a CPM model (implied by your volume comment)… over time this is slowly dying, so you’re best thinking how to evolve that
4. Re: AdSense ad units, try searching google for ” site:problogger.net adsense ” (without quotation marks). Also, many people show them conditionally to search visitors, since these are the type of visitors that are most likely to click. So you can use that kind of situation to balance your ad publishing above the fold with your loyalty-generation efforts. If you want to be even more sophisticated, you can exclude loyal visitors (i.e. computers with a cookie or recognized IP address) too since their likelihood of them clicking is lower.
The fact you aren’t aware of these posts just proves my point with this article, since this is popular content and was also popular back when PB was newer. While PB’s design has many pros (e.g. high CTR from homepage), this would be an area that can be improved in.
Good idea to compare ad revenue from search visitors against ad revenue from directs…perhaps we can grow audiences by rewarding them them with fewer ads.
Still, I have doubts that adsense (or whatever ad delivery system you prefer) is going to go the way of the dodo. A great many of the advertisers in the industries we work in don’t use adsense at all, preferring to buy ads using an old fashioned “media buy” format. I don’t understand this approach, as they’ll earn more revenue by using Google’s system.
However, because they’re unfamiliar (read “old”) they don’t know what they’re doing and are too afraid and/or unwilling to learn to buy targeted ads.
Therefore, I see the revenue from adsense increasing over time.
Not to mention the fact that big brands are diving head-first into real time bidding, something that’s going to put more money in small publisher’s pockets. While I think there’s an argument against having numerous ad placements, I don’t think there’s a justification for cutting down to one singe 125×125 for all but the most successful bloggers.
I didn’t mean Adsense is going away – I meant CPM is slowly going away. Advertisers want less risk – i.e. paying for ad impressions no one sees. Models that share the risk between publishers and advertisers (CPC/CPA/CPL/CPS) are going to continue to increase because they can gain against the CPM model.
As to the “old” and “big brands” adopting CPM, that may be true but I think that in the first case that’s a temporary market situation until these people retire. In the latter case, real time bidding and big brand ads are less likely to go on small sites since the metric for these companies is “reach” i.e. traffic.
“don’t think there’s a justification for cutting down to one singe 125×125 for all but the most successful bloggers.” Wasn’t making that argument, so not sure where you got that?
OK maybe I misunderstood.
First, my main point is that bloggers need to set aside space for ads. IMHO, there are three types of ads to run:
– ad space sold by a media team (which most bloggers don’t have)
– ad space filled by Google AdSense (or similar) that can be sold on a CPC, CPM, or CPA basis (whatever Google thinks will generate the most money)
– ad space filled with products sold by the blogger (much like this site)
When I read your post, I get the impression that you’d suggest putting content in the primary spots that ads occupy on most sites. To me, this means that you’re suggesting fewer ad placements…which brings me back to my first point: How do we make money with ads? Everyone says to promote content, but ad units need love too…right?
Its really useful for everyone who neglect their useful content
Good stuff, Gab. I’m currently experimenting with a newsletter form that only appears within a pop-over for users once per week after reading for 20 seconds. I’ve found this to be more effective than the opt-in box on the side, and this allows me to utilize that real estate for other things.
The one drawback of this is for those who don’t opt in that one time, I need to make it easy to find again. So I will be implementing it within my HelloBar.
Clever solution with the HelloBar Jon. Would love to publish details if you’re willing to share :)
Thanks you Darren, It’s really useful for everyone who neglect their useful content.
I agree that it is helpful to highlight your content. It is helpful as an end user as well.