We have all been there. You peel back the covers on your brand new WordPress site, ready for the masses to soak up your content, and boom…crickets. You improve your content, switch around your site design, and get similar results. When you have finished yelling at the cat you try to figure out what is going wrong.
Building an audience is hard, but with a methodical approach you can get great results. Here are some recommendations for how to get started refining your site to perfection.
Before we get into the recommendations, it is important to be data-driven. When people visit your site, there are hundreds of variables that impact their experience – the content, navigation, incentives, and more. With so many variables it is important to ensure that you measure the changes you make to ensure they are moving the needle.
Google Analytics is a great choice here. While a little overwhelming at first, it provides incredible insight into every aspect of your site – content, performance, inbound links, and more. Setting it up is simple: you add some code to the header of your site (in the dashboard) and Google Analytics will start reporting.
A simple way to be data-driven is to make a change and watch how the graphs change in Google Analytics. A more comprehensive approach is to conduct A/B testing (where you test two variations and see which works better). There are many A/B testing plugins for WordPress, and even some themes (like the incredible Divi) have it built in.
For the most comprehensive solution, you should explore Google Tag Manager. This allows you to trigger events based on almost any type of interaction and then make changes based on those events. It takes a while to get your head around Tag Manager but is a worthy investment.
Before we even get to the content, we need to ensure that our engine, WordPress, is working as efficiently as possible. There a series of simple things you can do here:
Add a sitemap
A sitemap is a search engine friendly list of the different pages on your website. Simply install a plugin and the sitemap is updated each time you add content. This will increase your Google juice.
Optimize page load time
Ensure that your pages are loading quickly. Some search engines such as Google penalize slow loading sites.
Simply use the performance statistics in Google Analytics to see the average load time and try to slim things down. Cut out the huge images, background videos, page clutter, and other elements.
Optimize for SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something of a mystery to most people. While there are some companies selling SEO services, some of which are snake oil, there is a simple solution to start with: the Yoast plugin.
Yoast makes a series of invaluable recommendations for optimizing the SEO of your website. It is simple and immediately adds value.
Most interestingly though, Yoast also provides tools for optimizing the content you create. You see this when you create post/pages. Yoast asks you to set a keyword and then provides tips and tricks for improving the readability and optimization of the page.
Bounce rate is a metric that determines how many people move away from your site after only reading one page. If you want to grow an audience, you need to reduce your bounce rate. You can track this in Google Analytics, but how do you get people to stick around longer?
Apart from great content, page design can play a large role here. Here are some recommendations:
Add related posts
Those “related content” thumbnails at the bottom of posts are surprisingly effective at encouraging users to explore other parts of your support. There are a number of plugins that provide this function, with Contextual Related Posts being a good place to start.
Use sidebars and widgets well
Most themes have a sidebar that you put widgets on that appear next to your posts. This is precious real estate – use it for the most impactful ways to keep your reader involved. From my experimentation I have found that showing the most popular posts, the most recent posts, and a box for subscribing to posts (e.g. part of the Jetpack plugin) works well.
Add social sharing buttons
It seems obvious to add buttons for sharing your posts easily to social media, but more importantly, ensure these buttons are (a) always visible as hover buttons, and (b) show the number of shares. The hovering will ensure people can click them on a whim and the numbers will make articles feel more socially popular if the numbers look good. Monarch is a great plugin for both of these things.
Master your front page
The front page of your website is a key thing to get right. If you want to get people reading your posts, be sure to ensure the front page gets readers to the content as quickly as possible. Reduce the clutter and showcase the content.
It goes without saying, you can do all of the above but if you don’t make great content, people won’t want to visit your website. So, it would be remiss to not share some tips and tips for making your content pop.
Choose descriptive titles
People will choose whether to read your piece based on the title alone. Avoid clickbait titles, but make it descriptive, clear, and compelling. Picking a good title can be the hardest aspect of writing a great article.
Have a strong start
Ensure your first paragraph explains the focus of the piece. People often lose interest in a piece after a few paragraphs so this is the time you need to grab people and keep them interested. In particular, your first paragraph needs to be strong.
Break up the copy
People don’t like walls of text. Break up the copy with plenty of images, diagrams, block quotes, videos, bullet point blocks, and more. Don’t just assess your writing: assess the quality of how your piece looks and flows.
We live in an age of shorter and shorter attention spans. Social media, online videos, and listicles are reducing our patience for content. So, write great content but be focused, concise, and tight. Avoid rambling stories and premises – get to the point and make it stick.
So there we have it. These are some of what I consider to be the most important things to focus on in making your WordPress site more efficient and improving audience engagement. Of course, we are merely scratching the surface and I will be back soon with more tips and tricks for building great content, engagement, and communities!