If you're using blogging as a key inbound marketing practice, then no doubt you are paying close attention to your returning visitor metrics. Returning visitors have already realised the value your blog offers and have been attracted back to your site to read more compelling content.
Readership loyalty is key for blogs. It demonstrates that your content is interesting and useful to your readers. You have already gained your readers attention and they are spending time taking in and digesting your content.
If you're checking your analytics and finding that your return visitor numbers are surprisingly low, then there may be many implications as to why. Is it that your content isn't as compelling as you thought it was? Are you attracting the wrong audience? Is your blog design good enough? Or is it something else...
Compare your number of return visits against the average time spent on your pages. When the average time spent on your pages is high, then it assumes your content is of good quality. Your readers take the time to digest your content. If your return visitor metrics are comparably lower, then we can assume its not the fault of your content. So what is it?
This problem could be attributed to something I call “Content Evolution Strategy”.
Content Evolution Strategy and Readership
The theory is simple: if you take your readers on a guided path through your content, with each piece complementing the last and seemingly following on from one to another, then the likelihood that your readers will return to keep reading will improve.
Now, consistency is obvious in blogging. Choosing a niche and keeping content related to that discipline is fundamental in attracting and retaining audiences. Blogs with random trails of thought and sporadic articles will usually retain little attention. Readers will have no idea what your future posts will be based on and that doesn't bode well for return visits.
Have you ever read a blog that posted one article on the latest fashion trends and then the next on how they conquered the online gaming world? Not unless you are the fashion conscious online gaming enthusiast type. But hopefully this proves my point.
Like 99% of the blogs of the internet, yours probably isn’t a “super blog”. Dino Dogan summarises this nicely in his video where he states that “1% of the blogs on the internet get 99% of the attention”. So when you do attract attention, it's paramount that you retain it.
Let's assume your blog is based on a niche, does offer quality content and does remain consistent - this is where content evolution strategy becomes most apparent.
Research and Planning is Key
When you're formulating your social media marketing strategy, what are you basing your blog content calender on? I'd expect the typical answer to be a mixture of things, including:
- What is currently trending
- What readers have asked you to report on
- What your keyword analysis has told you
- What matters to you most
- What topics you have the most knowledge or expertise in
- What you feel like writing about
If you plan your content around a predetermined path, a trail that leads your readers through a journey of knowledge and experience sharing, it would be easy to assume that you would retain higher amounts of readers, along with improving other key metrics.
Users like to read related content to what their searching for. Take YouTube as an example. After watching each video, you are presented with a set of related videos that point users towards complementary content. This is by design, not by mistake.
So if all the bigger social networks are spending huge amounts of time and money in trying to retain readership and increase return visits, then so should you. Evolving your content in such as way that it encourages readers to keep reading or come back for more, should be a key factor as to how you prepare and present your content.
So how can you implement the same thought process and evolve your content strategically?
Here are a few guidelines you could incorporate:
- Plan everything. Impromptu pieces are great, especially around significant events or trends, but think about its inclusion on your blog.
- Have crystal clear content categories
- Sort your keyword research and working titles into a logical order
- Ensure your articles easily navigate between the next and the last
- Ask yourself, does this complement my last article?
- Ask yourself, will this article complement my next article?
Take a close look at your blog content. Is there a distinct evolution between your posts? If there isn't, then incorporating a content evolution strategy may improve the amount of time readers spend on your blog and trigger return visits. There's nothing worse than spending a good chunk of your time writing a knock-out article and then have most of your readers skip over it because the title or angle of the piece isn't complementary to the article that they were originally there to read.
Some WordPress plugins have tried to minimise this effect by displaying lists of related posts to readers based on their own algorithms. “Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)” is one of the most popular that tries to achieve this. While this will no doubt help your readers find related content, it doesn't overlook the fact that your content must initially evolve for this to work effectively.
For example, if you publish three posts based on Internet Marketing and all three are based on different Marketing niches, then some readers may only be interested in learning about one discipline. It's unlikely they will want to initially learn about Affiliate Marketing if they primarily visited your blog to read your article on becoming a Social Media Manager.
Compare this to the following example. Here's five article headings that would take readers on a guided path through your content, all of which complement each other and would provide solid grounds for readers to return to your blog to read more:
- How To Set Up Your Twitter Account
- Five Things You Need To Know About Using Twitter
- So You're On Twitter. Now What?
- The Best Kept Secrets To Twitter
- Top 30 Most Powerful Twitter Tips
See how reading one article may result in visitors wanting to read all five? Or ensuring they bookmark your blog to return later to continue reading?
Think about it this way. If you blog has, let's say 100 articles, then visitors will be entering your blog from many different paths. It could be via your social media marketing, search engines, link building, email campaigns, or a whole host of other methods. Your thought process should be aligned with: “How do I attract one visitor and ensure they come back to read multiple articles?”
It's almost like you're up-selling your content. And pretty much all blogs that have some sort of monetary value, be it by displaying ads, affiliate marketing links, paid placements or to attract attention to their own services, will benefit from having a content evolution strategy in place.
Lets take a sales approach to discussing content evolution strategy. Assuming your blog has a typical purchasing process, it might look similar to this funnel:
If we take the first 4 stages of the funnel and summarise them as: readers finding you, getting to know you and perceiving you as offering more value than alternatives, then having compelling content and attracting return visits works towards fulfilling these stages. And ultimately, your blog's objectives.
People like to search for one article and then read three. It's human nature. By evolving your content and allowing readers to return to read related articles on your blog, many of your content marketing metrics will improve. Here's only a few examples:
- Content will be better received
- Increased likelihood of virality and social sharing
- More time spent on on your blog
- Readers will be more engaged
- You’re better placed to convert readers
So the question really is...
“How can I improve my inbound marketing efforts by increasing my volume of return visitors?”
One method would be to implement a content evolution strategy.
This is a concept that, surprisingly, hasn't been widely mentioned. It may be wrapped in different terms or attributed to slightly different tactics and approaches, but the fact still remains that it could be the reason why some of your readers aren't returning. Or why your blog engagement has spikes, but no consistency.
One tactic I have seen used effectively to evolve content is by splitting your content into a series. Having articles or tutorials that contain multiple episodes, released at different times, can encourage readers to want to stay tuned in and return when the next article is released. This is an effective tactic to take readers through a learning experience and ensure they keep coming back to read the next releases.
Evolving your content so that readers are kept on topic, yet are able to find complementary articles on what they initially wanted to read, will help to ensure that your readers come back. And keep coming back. I'm sure your readers will also appreciate it.
Are you implementing a content evolution strategy with your blog? I'd be keen to get your thoughts.