I have been blogging on Quick Sprout for around 3 years now and the blog has been through 4 different designs. At first I redesigned the blog to have a better aesthetic look, but then I started to redesign it based on user feedback.
Over the course of 4 different designs, here are some things that I learned:
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.
My assumption on 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 a 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 I have been able to drive you to my two companies (Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics) was to add links to them in my sidebar bio. Quick Sprout is a top 3 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.
Subscribe to comments
During the 3rd design I added a subscribe to comments option, so when you posted a comment you got notified by email when someone else commented. 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 4th design I removed the subscribe to comments option and comments per blog post has 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 on 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 because more pages of content has been created within the last few weeks through the Answers platform compared to what I created through blogging for 3 years.
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 refer 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 amount of tweets per posts drastically went up compared to when I didn’t have the twitter button.
Because of this retweet button, Twitter has become the 4th biggest traffic source to 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 preform the best. I didn’t run Disqus for too 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 out 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 in your email or just 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 at the top right of the blog design. 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. But the bad part is, you’ll also end up with a lot of spam emails.
A good way I solved this was that I modified the content on the contact page to talk about the type of emails I will and won’t respond to.
In addition to this, I removed my Gtalk, Skype, and AIM users names because it 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 the things that 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.