I have been blogging on Quick Sprout for around three years now, and the blog has been through four different designs. At first, I redesigned the blog to have a better aesthetic look, but then I started redesigning it based on user feedback.
Over the course of four different redesigns, I learned a few things. Here they are:
I tried placing each blog post in categories to make it easier for you to read older posts, but that didn’t work. You didn’t seem to click on categories as it takes too much work for you to get to the older blog posts.
When I removed the list of categories in my sidebar during the second design, a few people complained, but the majority of you didn’t mind.
I am guessing that the reason why categories don’t work well is because people have to work hard to find the “good” blog posts.
Most Popular widget
In the sidebar, there is the Most Popular Posts widget. Within my current design, it is the most popular section. My theory behind this is that it allows you to see what is hot right now, what has always been popular, and what my favorite blog posts are.
This widget has been the most effective way to get you and other readers to read older blog posts.
The most effective way for me to drive you to my two companies (Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics) turned out to be providing links to them in my sidebar bio. Quick Sprout is a top three referrer to both of those companies, and many of you have signed up for their services.
The best thing I did during the second design was to add a Top Commentors widget. Since I added the Commentors widget, comments per blog post went up by 79%. Now, granted, I respond to each comment, which helps encourage more comments, but without the top commentor widget, there wouldn’t be as many comments on Quick Sprout as there were after the redesign.
Subscribe to Comments
During the third design, I added a subscribe to comments option, so when you posted a comment, you got notified by email when someone else commented on your comment. This really helped boost traffic and the number of comments per post.
The problem with adding this is that a good portion of the Quick Sprout readers marked those emails as spam, so they stopped going to your inbox.
In the fourth design, I removed the subscribe to comments option, and comments per blog post have gone down by roughly 26%. I am working on fixing the email spam issue, and once I do, I will be adding that feature back to the current design.
Question and Answers
A few weeks ago, I added an Answers section to Quick Sprout. Not only did it help create a stronger community, but it has been causing my pageviews per visitor to go up by roughly 17%. In addition to that, my search traffic has gone up by 9% so far. The increases are due to the fact that more pages of content have been created within the last few weeks through the Answers platform than within the last three years of my blogging.
Social media buttons
Whether it was Digg, StumbleUpon, or Delicious buttons, none of these social media icons really helped increase the blog’s traffic. Currently, the top referrer to Quick Sprout is StumbleUpon, and it always has been. Whether I added or removed social media buttons, my traffic didn’t change.
But when I removed all the icons and just added a retweet button, the number of tweets per post went up drastically.
Because of this retweet button, Twitter has become the fourth biggest traffic source for Quick Sprout.
There are a lot of commenting systems out there like Disqus, but with Quick Sprout, the standard WordPress threaded comments system seems to perform the best. I didn’t run Disqus for very long (roughly one week), but what I learned is that you prefer a simple commenting system compared to something with a lot of bells and whistles.
Disqus and other fancy commenting systems may work well on your blog, but they didn’t work for me.
RSS subscription options
Throughout all of the designs, I have tested multiple RSS subscription options. Whether it was providing a box where you can enter your email or linking to the RSS feed in my sidebar, I have tried it all.
The most effective way I was able to grow my RSS subscriber count was when I had an RSS subscription option in the top right corner of the blog. I had this during the first design, and since then, I haven’t been able to replicate the same subscriber growth rate.
Once your blog starts getting a bit popular, you will start getting more emails from your readers, which is great. The bad part is, you’ll also end up with a lot of spam emails.
I addressed this problem through my contact page, where I talk about the type of emails I will and won’t respond to.
In addition to this, I removed my Gtalk, Skype, and AIM user names because having them public was reducing my productivity. I don’t mind helping you out, but it is easier for me to do so through email.
These are just a handful of things I learned through multiple redesigns of Quick Sprout. What worked for my blog may not work for you, so make sure you test things out with Google Website Optimizer before you start making design changes.