Don’t Panic: What To Do When Readership Drops

Handle A Drop In ReadershipWhether you’re just starting a blog or have a widely read website, there may come a time when your readership drops. If new leads and loyal customers aren’t checking out your content as much as they once were, it’s time to make some changes.

“Change is the natural state of things, especially in the fast-moving world of content and social,” Matthew Turner, owner of marketing firm Boston Turner Group, says. “For many content creators and directors, finding the right mix of topics and information is one big science experiment.”

Now, if math wasn’t your strong suit in school, don’t worry. We asked Turner and fellow digital media strategist Joe Auer to help us break down the metrics behind readership and offer suggestions on ways to bring eyeballs back to your site.

To start, let’s talk metrics. To recognize a drop in readers, you’ll need a good handle on which numbers to watch. There is a dizzying amount of metrics that tell you how well your content is doing, and this data can be difficult to track. However, these numbers can cause “monitor and measure mania,” a kind of hysteria that leads to confusion and an overwhelming urge to pull out your hair. So, we’ll make this simple.

Metrics to watch

Visitors

You need to know how much traffic is coming through your site. See what kind of audience numbers you have so you can compare numbers down the road.

Pageviews

Which pages are your readers looking at? If you know which pages are popular you can use that to spark similar content ideas and direct your upcoming posts.

Referral traffic

How are visitors finding your site? Is it through referral traffic? Knowing this information will help you draw a bigger crowd and indicate which marketing channels may need improvement.

Average time on site

See how “sticky” your site is by looking at the average time spent on your site. If readers come and go quickly, it tells you that they’re not finding what they want as they browse your material.

Bounce rates

High bounce rates mean readers see a disconnect between your title and the content; it may be possible you’re not providing what you’re marketing.

Find patterns

As your site ages, you’ll be able to see how many visitors you have in a week, month or year. There will be peaks and valleys, but if you have a good handle on what traffic decreases, you can start to identify problems.

If you see a consistent drop in visitors and pageviews, it’s time to make some changes. The drop in readership could mean you’re letting visitors down in some way. If readership is on the decline, see if you’re fulfilling these three expectations.

What readers expect

Frequency

If you want readers to come back, you have to give them a reason to. If you have a sporadic posting schedule your readers won’t know when to check back in. That’s not to say that you have to have content published on your site everyday, just at a consistent rate. Set up an editorial calendar so your site releases quality content in intervals.

Recency

Readers can see when you post content, so make sure those dates are current.

“You should provide up-to-date information,” Turner says. “You don’t want your site to look dead because your last post was three month ago.”

You want recent dates and recent content. Recency isn’t just about the date; it’s also about posting content that’s timely. For example, if you’re an etailer, you should be publishing back-to-school articles; a hardware store should focus on getting ready for fall; and a bed and breakfast should create content about squeezing in one last family vacation.

History

To establish your site as one readers bookmark and visit regularly, you’ll need to show a history of top-notch content, Turner says. This takes time. There are no shortcuts here, but if you work to create quality content, the history piece will fall into place.

If readership is sluggish, work on frequency, recency and history first and see if numbers improve. If you’re already excelling in these three categories, you’ll want to try some of the additional tips below to improve a reader’s digital visit.

Improve your aesthetics

Poor Formatting

Poor formatting and other mismanaged aesthetics can frustrate readers and decrease your article readability.

If someone checks out an article on your site, what do they see? Analyze the look of your site, Auer suggests.

“If you have a bunch of long paragraphs in a row, most readers will quickly lose interest in your site,” he says. Take a look at the example to the right. There are no subheadings, nothing to liven it up, just paragraph upon paragraph of text.

“Instead, provide subheadings with larger fonts, add pictures and graphics and make the content conversational. Making these small changes can have a dramatic impact on readership,” Auer says.

Interact with readers

Your site shouldn’t be a one-way flow of information. In the digital world, you can engage with readers easily and doing so can improve your readership, Turner says.

“Readers want to feel special and having an exchange with an author makes for great anecdotes that they will share with others,” he says. “Be sure to respond to all comments and ask for feedback.”

To stay on top of comments, set up email alerts so you get notified when someone leaves a comment on your site.

Work on your social media following

One of the best ways to get people to check out a recent post is to tease content on your social media sites. Twitter, Facebook and the whole lot of social sites serve as great referral measures, Auer says.

“A lot of readers need to be gently reminded about new content on your site,” he says. “There’s no easy way to do this if you don’t have a social media following.”

Consider hosting social media contests or try a sponsored post or promoted tweet to boost your following.

Improve your headlines

If your headlines are bland, lengthy or uninspiring, your readers will skip right over the content. It could be the most well-written piece of content on your site, but if the headline doesn’t grab a reader’s attention, it might as well not exist.

You need a headline that explains what the article is about in a fun and creative way. Opt for specific titles over generic ones.

Install a “related reading” plugin

Suggested Content Widget

Using a suggested or related content plugin can help keep readers browsing your pages, rather than navigating to other sites.

You don’t want readers to drop in on your site and leave quickly; you want them to stick around. Help them pull up a chair and get comfy on your site by downloading a plugin that suggests additional related content, Turner suggests.

For example, when you read a breaking news article about the recent Ebola outbreak on CNN, you also see a list of “related content” that’s similar to the topic you just read about.

Here’s a quick list of WordPress plugins that can help.

Network with other content creators

You don’t have to travel the content road alone, Auer says. There are plenty of others who are trying to capitalize on a digital audience, so don’t be afraid to get out from behind your laptop and talk with other creators. See what’s working for them and talk about how they handle declines. It’s always helpful to bounce ideas off other people.

Of course, you don’t need to wait for your readership to sink before experimenting with different kinds of content, Auer says.

“I’m actually never satisfied,” he says. “If readership is growing, that’s a great sign, but I am always looking to find new ways to produce even better content and find potential new readers. I take a prevention approach and try to always improve my clients’ sites so that they are always increasing their readership.”

How do you handle dips in readership? What works for you? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.

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About Lisa Furgison

Lisa Furgison is a freelance journalist and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media. Find her on Twitter @lfurgison.

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