Which widgets: what content is really valuable in your Blog’s side bar?

Dec 18 2008

In many situations (fashion, food, my social life), I tend to disagree with the old adage that less is more. I love Halloween costumes, Las Vegas, loaded ice cream sundaes, drinking expensive champagne, etc. etc. For the most part I wholeheartedly believe that more is in fact, and by definition, more.

lotsa-kitties-1 Less is more

In my job however, it’s all about streamlining. At RD2, we tend to refer to it as “do less better.” We know that our clients can’t be all things to all people, and that just because we can include a cool feature doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. It has to be valuable to the user.

What content is really valuable?

What about seemingly granular features like blog widgets? A few weeks ago, we added some new cool features to the RD2 blog (including our Twitter feed), and quickly noticed that it is almost lost in the cacophony of things going on in the sidebar. We decided to wait, study the analytics, and make a case for each item – which I have outlined below:

From Google analytics: top click paths from home page
navigation-summary_-google-analytics

Categories and Archive

Categories and Archive links are perhaps the most “standard” of sidebar items. Virtually all blogs will have these items to serve as subnavigation, helping users navigate through the many posts. In our analytics, we found that these are not clicked on frequently, but we will keep them primarily based on user expectation. Readers expect to see these things on a blog, and will get confused if they are missing.

Authors

This is one that shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. We get a pretty fair amount of traffic to the author pages (especially as linked from the homepage). My gut instinct was that people would be reading our blog thinking in their minds that it came from “RD2,” not necessarily from an individual author (like me, for example). But author-specific interest is really what blogging is all about, and a trend that cannot be ignored.

There was a lot of hullabaloo last week around how consumers don’t trust corporate blogs. In general, consumers want to read posts written by people giving them a transparent account of the goings on of a brand… not rigid copy from a corporation. Getting to know the individual authors is yet another way to keep the blog personable.

Subscribe (RSS)

This is another crucial element of a blog that allows users to take the next step to not only read one post they may stumble upon, but follow your content. But before we move on, I want to say a few words about how prevalent RSS really is.

RSS is the red headed step child of social media technology advancements. It is by definition “really simple” (RSS stands for “really simple syndication”) and the concept of distribution over destination that has been enabled by RSS essentially changes everything about how we view content on the web… but for a while it didn’t seem to be getting the recognition it deserved. This article from ClickZ in 2005 noted that 27% of internet users were reaping the benefits of RSS (through iGoogle pages, My MSN, etc.) yet by and large the members of that group had no idea what RSS was (only 2% were self identifying themselves as RSS users at the time).

Now the number of users who use RSS aggregators is 11%, but the argument is still very strong that the number of internet users affected by the technology is actually much higher. IMHO: a more aggressive marketing strategy, and RSS could could be just as sexy as Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter Feed

On to Twitter. I’ve been having a great time with the RD2 Twitter account (are you following us yet?) and I’m enamored with all the applications it has (especially for brands). I love Twitter because it is inherently focused. It does one thing – allow users to share 140 character long thoughts with their friends/colleagues – and it does it mind blowingly well.

We’re spending a lot of real estate on Twitter to get the word out that we have an account. Our hypothesis is that people who read our blog are also likely to use Twitter. In the last month, about 1% of our blog traffic has come from Twitter.

Top referring sites to blog.rd2inc.com:
referring-sites-google-analytics

As a secondary benefit, it helps us from getting “brand jacked” (as Jeremiah Owang puts it). Including the link on our corporate site reinforces that the RD2inc Twitter account is indeed us.

As time goes on, we may simplify to just display the latest tweet, and allow readers to scroll through previous updates within the page.

Recent Comment

Because all the links from the recent comments list go to a post URL with a “/#comment” on the end, I can definitively say that not a single person in the last two weeks has clicked on a link from the recent comments widget.

top-content-google-analytics-1

This is an example of a feature that is great for us (helps us see the latest comment activity), but not great for our readers. Therefore, it is getting yanked. Something had to give!

Look for these and other updates coming to the RD2 blog soon!

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