That brings us back to figuring out who your readers are and what it is that they want. At first glance, that may seem like an impossible task — or at least, a task that is better suited to the carnival mind reader.
Luckily for you, the carnival tricks will end here. You do not need to be able to read your viewers’ minds; you just have to be able to read their actions. Plenty of tools exist that can help you to figure out what your readers are up to.
Today we are going to take a look at some of those tools and how you can use them to get at who your readers are and what it is that they really want from your site. First, we will review each tool, and then we will discuss how that particular tool can help you to make the most of your site.
Google Analytics is a tool that many site and blog owners use. This is not only because it gives you a great starting point, but because, unlike some of the other options, it is available to you at no cost. It also has a low barrier to use. Even an 80-year-old running a knitting site can use these tools easily after quickly copying and pasting the code.
The problem that most people end up having with Google Analytics crops up when they need a more in-depth solution. Instead of being willing to harness the power of multiple tools, they look for an all-in-one. As is usually the case, people who take that track usually end up with one tool that does do everything, butt can not do them all well.
Think of analytics as the big picture. It is more of a topographical map than it is a street map or a turn-by-turn GPS. As long as you understand its function and expect it to do what it should, then your relationship with analytics will be just fine.
Analytics does offer a wide range of tools and reports that, in the right situation, can be useful. That is not to say that they will all be useful for our purposes. Here are the tools on which we will be focusing our attention.
1. Map Overlay
In its default setting, this map will show you who your viewers are by the country in which they live. It will also tell you how long they stayed on the site. If you find out that users from China stay on the site 15 seconds, but users from Canada stay four minutes, you know where your demographic lives.
If you need more detail, then take it down to the city view. You may find that even though you are based in NYC, your audience comes from the Midwest.
2. Content Overview
This section will show you how many times a specific page or post is being visited. The easiest way to see this is to choose the “content by title” view on the left hand menu. From here you can see not only how many views each page (or post) has, but how long a viewer was on that page.
What can I do with this information?
Well, the content overview will tell you which pieces your readers find most useful. Look for pieces with a high visit rate, and relatively long view times. These are pages that are not only getting visits, but that your readers are actually staying to read. A high click rate with low reads means you hit a great topic, but the execution needs tweaking.
As for a general location, it can help you with news and issues posts. If you have a news section, then you may want to slant it towards your readers’ local areas. That way you are not boring Boston-based viewers with updates about Atlanta’s art gallery openings.
Now that we have some basics of where and what, we can move onto who, and more importantly, why.
Most site admins do not give much of a thought to their readers’ comments. Sure, you may give them a quick once over before you approve them, just to be sure that they are not ads for “Enhancing your pleasure” or “chatting online with real live school girls,” but how much consideration do you actually give them?
Understanding your commenters is one of the most important things that you can do for your site. Reading comments is a lot like taking the pulse of your readers. They will give you open feedback on your site, and their thoughts on your content do matter. Sure, it may not be easy to hear some of those dissenting voices, but you should listen to them — even if you have to take a break with your stress ball afterward.
Your comment management system can help you to get a handle on your comments. If you want to use the system built into your host, that is fine. You should also be aware of several other options that you can install on your site. They can help you to track the users who make the comments and get a more in-depth idea of who they are.
Comment Luv (www.commentluv.com)
Manage My Comments (http://www.eitall.com/CMS/)
The goal here is not only to take a general pulse, but to find out who your primary users are. If you find a user who comments on your site regularly, then you may want to track down their user name and visit the sites that they run or write for. Where they post, and what they choose to write on, will help you create a profile of who your core users are and what interests them.
Choosing a comment system is a personal choice, so you are going to have to do what feels right for your site. Some may give you less information, but allow your commenters more options. You should balance the two needs based on your readers.
At first blush, this may feel a bit intrusive, but a tool like Comment Luv, that allows your readers to sign in with a Twitter or Facebook log in, can give you access to a wealth of data. Follow your base users on Twitter or friend them, and you can begin to build a user profile. This profile can help you to tailor your site to your readers.
And now you’re probably wondering what you should include in those user profiles you’re building, right?
A basic profile should look like this:
User location: Ontario Canada
Interests: Technology, Graphic design, Art, 3D modeling, Painting techniques
Other sites they are likely to visit: www.moma.org, www.deviantart.com, www.blender.com, www.freelancegraphics.com, etc.
Posts most likely to visit on my site: -List of URLs-
Of course, you should base this profile on more than just one or two users. For a smaller site a sample of 10 will do.
What should I do with conflicting data?
If you find in your sample that you have two widely conflicting groups, you may think that you have a problem. You may even think that you can’t make a profile. You would be wrong.
What you have is a good thing. It means that your site appeals to a wide range of readers. Let us suppose that you run a finance site and you have a dual user group. One group is in its 20s, and they are interested in your budget how tos and financial basics posts. The second group is older, maybe 40s, and they tend to focus on your news posts and market analysis. How can you put that in one profile? You can’t; you are going to have to make two profiles.
Now that you have your profiles, you can create content that will help your site to grow and keep your readers coming back for more. If you are ever in doubt about a piece, you can just go back to those profiles and ask yourself, “Will this reader find the content useful?” If the answer is not a Yes, then you should probably ditch this idea in favor of more useful content. Always tailor to your market, and you will do well with your site. Fail to evaluate, and your results could be random.