The end of 2014 is a good time to take a step back, look at how the things you do have moved forward (or not), and decide what needs to be changed (if anything). I’ve already decided to redesign my online sites in 2015, but there’s a lot to learn from the existing site that can guide those changes and help me how to better help people find the content they’re looking for here.

In 2014, 47,000 people views 80,000 pages on my blog. Thank you to each and every reader for taking the time to visit. Users were up 50% from 2013, and pageviews up 33%. 77% of the audience is U.S. based. The split between OS’s visiting is interesting. For the first time, Windows users visited more often than Mac visitors, 31% to 29%, but IOS visitors where just behind at 28%. Android was about 7%

Think about that number a second; a third of my visitors are on a mobile device, not a desktop. This shift to mobile viewing is crucial for all of us who maintain web sites. If our sites don’t look good or doesn’t function properly on mobile devices (at the very least, an iPad or Android Tablet) we’re now cutting off an increasingly large percentage of ourr site visitors. If there is one reason why I’m redesigning my sites this year, this is it — while I’ve tweaked my sites to look okay on mobile devices, my designs aren’t really mobile friendly (just “mobile compatible mostly”). By the end of 2015, all of my content has to be redesigned to be mobile friendly and fully responsive to match this trend. How are your sites set up to handle this transition to small screens?

About half my pageviews come in through organic search, and 98% of those come from Google. Thank you, Google, for supporting my site (or a few pages of it, at least). 25% come in direct (no referer noted), and about 12% each social (primarily twitter, no surprise given my activity there) and links from other sites.

Most Popular Articles in 2014

Here’s the most popular pages on the site in 2014

  1. My Fuji Camera Kit
  2. My Canon Birding/Wildlife Camera gear Kit
  3. Getting started in bird photography: Choose Your Weapons
  4. Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords
  5. Life at Apple revisited….
  6. Thoughts on Jim Goldstein’s ‘Best of 2013′ project

It’s interesting to note that one big change I started late in 2013 was a shift from posting stuff to the blog and leaving it there towards building up specific topic pages where I sucked in pieces from the blog and built up longer, more in-depth articles compared to what a typical blog post gives you. This tactic seems to have worked well — the top five pages and 6 of the top eight are all these rewritten (and updated as needed) pages.

There’s a lesson here: a blog post will typically see 90% of it’s forever traffic in the first week, and 98% in 30 days, after which, unless the search engines choose to bless it, it disappears into the mist, and I don’t know about you, but I rarely find time to update those postings if my opinion or changes. I think it’s a good policy that if you have useful information spread across multiple blog postings that you should collect it into a single topic page — and delete the blog posts and redirect those links to the consolidated page.

End users aren’t going to wander the site picking out the bits of content you offer them; web analytics makes it clear most users are looking at 1-2 pages. So the “long form” model works — for you, for the viewer, for the search engine. And if it’s collected in one place, it’s a lot easier to update when it needs changes than when it’s spread around a half dozen blog posts that may (or may not) be linked to each other.

My strategy for the last year has been:

  1. Write blog posts or a series of blog posts to get the content published and available.
  2. Collect those posts into a single topic page as appropriate.
  3. Collect those topic pages into a single bundle of content and publish that as an ebook.

Well, that last one would have been the plan if I’d had the time to do it… Still the plan when I actually can.

I think that’s a good strategy for people wanting their content to be read into the future; you are going to be better liked by the search engines with fewer better pages; a dozen well written pages of content will fare a lot better than 500 blog posts without much coordination. More isn’t better here. Better is better here. The day where “post every day” was more important than “post well” is long, long gone.

Things you can’t depend on

The front page of my site is only the 4th most popular page; the blog home page is 7th. This is because of organic search links and linked content, so you can never assume people ever see your home pages, because many don’t.

Most users are going to look at the page they clicked onto. They might check out one or two other pages. After that, they’ll click off and leave again. They are not going to explore the site. They are not going to search through lists of things for content, they’ll click off and search again.

I’ve used short lists to good effect this year, but I’m even wondering if I need to trim those lists a bit. I have more extensive lists over on my writing page, but as you notice, effectively nobody clicks that link to go explore them. I’ve also known that the email subscription hasn’t really done much, but I haven’t had time to wrangle that yet. I do think, with the death of Google Reader, that making an easy email subscription as an alternative is a useful thing, but the tradeoff between making it easy and visible and being annoying and grabby at people just trying to look at the site is something I haven’t had the time to do anything about.

I absolutely loathe sites that try to make me sign up for stuff before actually letting me see what I came to look at. Sort of like a restaurant that wants to swipe your credit card before you order. Very off-putting. That said, if you talk to those sites they tell you that tactic is very effective, but I think most of them aren’t really tracking how many users drop off because of it. At its base, it sends a message of “me getting your email address is more important than you seeing my content” and I think that sends a very negative message to users. I don’t ever want to do that. but where’s the acceptable line in the sand? Not sure right now. I’ll have to deal with that in the redesign.

Lessons Learned

My first takeaway: most of the things I tried this year worked pretty well. Shifting to full-page and moving most of the sidebar content to the footer? I was afraid users wouldn’t find it, but they clearly are. Redesigning the affiliate advertising? Revenue went from about $1/mo to about $50/mo. I call that a success, and I think I did a very nice job of not making the advertising annoying or having it distract from the user experience of the site.

What message does the experimentation this last year and these stats tell me?

If you’re website doesn’t run on an iPad, you’re in trouble. (Those of you still in flash-based sites, I’m sorry. Bang bang, you’re dead). Special mobile sites are a bridge, but web sites need to be fully responsive so they are useful even on a phone, because that’s increasingly where users coming to your site are.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Users don’t want complexity. They don’t want to have to dig for content. They want to visit a link and find it. If you make it hard for them, they’ll drop you and go find another site. They won’t explore your site.

As the site designer and content creator, this puts some interesting challenges in front of you: we need to make decisions on what we want to present to the viewer who lands on a given page that will encourage them to visit other pages. But we have to limit your choices on what to present.

So we need to keep it simple, you need simple, effective navigation. The page they land on has to stand on its own, but it can’t be cluttered up with lots of options. If we give someone a list of 15 choices the most likely item they’ll take is none; they’ll go elsewhere. So it’s important to keep these lists short and simple and easy to find (but not in your face annoying). In some cases we can get away with something like an accordion or a tab interface, if you understand that very few viewers will check out the content not visible by default (hint: make sure ONE of them is open by default, or the entire thing will get skipped)

I have some legacy content (OtherRealms, my fiction, etc) I need to keep available but it can’t add to the complexity of navigating my site. that’ll be a fun challenge to work out.

I think this reinforces my thought that it’s time to split the photo content from the rest of the site; if I added to the topic areas, it’d add complexity, and that is in conflict of keeping it simply, organized and easy. Too many choices is a bad thing. We need to guide the user.

My Bottom Line

In 2013 I analyzed my site and came up with some ideas that I thought would improve it, especially in terms of navigation and helping users on the site find other interesting content. I experimented with those ideas in 2014 and have found most of them have worked out quite well. It gives me more ideas I want to try, but I’ve pushed the existing design and infrastructure as far as I reasonably can (and a bit beyond), and what I want to do goes beyond tweaking.

That’s the reason it’s time for a redesign. Web sites are never done, and they are always evolving (or should be), because the universe is evolving around them.

My big limitation is — and will continue to be — time; that implies I have to be careful what I commit to doing and how many things I try to do. Better to do fewer things well than many things poorly. It also implies I need to keep the processes for managing and creating content for all of this simple, and automate where I can (one minor detail that shows this well: on my writing page, I thought putting the year each page was updated in the listings would help people see how current the content way; in practice, I don’t think anyone really cares, and almost all of them are out of date because I never remember to update them when I modify the pages. So they need to be removed)

I think this is the first year in a long time where the list of things I don’t like about the sites I’ve built is shorter than the list of things I think are working well. that makes it a good base to build off of because it’s not as much about fixing the broken as it is about improving and enhancing.

Which should make 2015 a good year, if things go to plan… (but do they ever?)