When this blog’s redesign launched nearly 3 weeks ago, I wrote
For now thought all you’ll see is a bit of a fresher and more modern face. I’m sure there will be a few hiccups as I learn how to work with it.
And there were indeed some hiccups. There are some positives, I think.
- It’s much more mobile-friendly, or at least in terms of how Google thinks about these things. Google has now started ‘penalizing’ sites in search results that don’t meet mobile standards, and I do want people to be able to find the things that I write, so this matters.
- There’s more engagement with the site overall. I don’t actually know why, and while traffic has been growing at a steady clip that really leaves me humbled and in awe to begin with, there was a real spike with the new site.
I love that. But there were also some unintended consequences. I had not realized that the setting for my ‘RSS feed’ would change, so that instead of showing full posts there would be an ‘excerpt’ of posts.
Given this natural experiment, I was interested to see how it would play out.
- Site engagement really did spike up — not just ‘getting people to click on posts’ but actually having readers share content substantially more than before. The ‘reach’ of the site has grown. I assume that causing people to click means they engage the content overall more, and once they’re engaging it they’re most likely to share it with their friends.
- At the same time, many readers were frustrated. It’s not the way they prefer to interact with the site.
- The new ‘excerpt’ feature built into the blog, both for how posts are shown on the front page of the site and how they’re shown in RSS feeds, changed.
First I had to learn to address how posts were being excerpted. I learned that text was just being run together without formatting. HTML code didn’t show up, because to set things otherwise could cause tags to be left open (since only some of the post was showing) . But this made things pretty difficult to read. The solution is to actually write the excerpt, something that’s new to me, and I’m still learning.
Second is that I had to figure out what to do with RSS feeds.
As I said, the excerpted posts bring people to the site and probably more importantly appear to be causing people to share this site. That means a lot to me.
The experience of my long-term readers means a lot to me, too. So four days into the test or natural experiment (April 8) I asked the BoardingArea folks who host this blog for a solution — that the standard default RSS feed excerpt posts as it does now, but that we find a way to offer the full content feed also for those who prefer it. They said they’d work on it, and it’s something I’ve prompted, and that I want to offer.
I held back comment each day hoping I’d have the solution already in place to offer, but since it’s been a couple of weeks since I asked for the full feed as an option and I don’t yet have it, this seemed worth addressing and sharing.
Why do I like this increased engagement? It isn’t revenue, as many commenters have surmised. In fact eliminating full posts from RSS feeds is detrimental to my income! That becomes obvious when you understand sources of revenue for a blog like mine.
- Advertising (and so page views) is a very small part of revenue. If I had millions of visitors a day (as opposed to a month) then increasing the number of pageviews from each person might move the needle on revenue. But each pageview isn’t getting me but a penny or two.
- I do very well from this blog, largely when readers use my links to credit cards instead of going directly to a bank’s site. They get the miles either way, but I get referral credit too. Eliminating full content means that links to cards aren’t sent out via RSS, email, etc. So the tradeoff from excerpted posts is less use of my links.
Back to the excerpts, some would call them ‘click bait’ and I think there are a few different things going on here. One is that I’m not very good (yet?) at writing excerpts. And two is that I have fun with titles sometimes. Not everyone appreciates my sense of humor, or my whimsy.
I’ve always written what has interested me on a given day, and I think it’s great that it’s been interesting enough generally that plenty of people decide it’s something they want to read. That makes me feel great, I really appreciate it. But I’ve always written my own thoughts, in a way I’ve been most happy with. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I think I have to do it this way. I wouldn’t be blogging after 13 years if I was writing for anyone else.
And the truth is that I chuckle, a lot, when I write something like Why Frequent Flyers Will Want to Use the Royal Jordanian Website for This One Simple Trick for a lead in to changing the frequent flyer account number attached to an award booking made with miles from a oneworld frequent flyer program.
Some readers enjoy it too, they’re in on the joke. I completely ‘get’ that my writing will always be at least somewhat niche and I’m fine with that.
I don’t often write ‘meta’ posts about the blog. I think they tend to distract, especially when most readers seem to enjoy the site and get something out of it (at least judging by readership trends, including that people spend more time on the site than before). But I also wanted to share my thinking here, this isn’t a finished product. I’m working on it, just as I’m working on being increasingly thoughtful in my approach to travel and increasingly generous in my approach to those I disagree with. Never perfect, always trying to be better along some dimension.
At least the blog doesn’t look like this anymore: