A Quick, Six Times Increase in Blog Page Visits

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 10 November 2012 |

Since July 2011, I’ve had a local interest blog on the WordPress platform. It’s one of a number of sites I now run. I didn’t really set it up as anything much more than a way of compiling memories for my own benefit, with public access there for anyone who also happens to be interested. But it’s been useful for experimentation, and has allowed me to test various layouts and widgets without having to worry too much about the consequences.

The blog – focused on transport in my local area – progressed fairly steadily through 2011, but hit a plateau in the new year of 2012, and even saw a slight dip. Because Planet Botch (that’s the site you’re on now) had begun to take off by that time, I began to neglect the transport blog, and that resulted in a further decline in its visitor numbers. By the start of this autumn, the stats were significantly down on their peak at the end of 2011. It was at that point I decided to experiment a little with some ideas on improving the so-called ‘bounce rate’ (that is, reducing the number of visitors who land on a page, and immediately leave without exploring the site any further).

My redesigned transport blog is now heavily focused on image thumbnails. Small, clickable images, with links to old posts now fill most of the spare space on each page. The update has resulted in a page visit increase of around 600% in six weeks.

The implementation of these ideas is now well advanced on the blog. It looks very different, but most importantly, the improvement in performance has been staggering. In fact, whilst search engine referrals have increased marginally, exploration of the site has increased by a phenomenal amount. Whereas back in September the vast majority of visitors looked at one post and left the site immediately, current statistics show an average of around 6 or 7 page views per search referral. Since September when I first started to revitalise the blog, page visits have gone up by more than 600%. So, how did I get people to start exploring a blog they formerly couldn’t leave quickly enough?… One word: images… Okay, perhaps two words: images, and thumbnails.

One of the things it’s very easy to forget as a blogger, is that unless you show them, other people don’t have a clue what else is on your site. You, the blogger, know what’s there, obviously, but for all your new visitors know, your blog may only have one solitary page. Getting round that is the first problem. The second problem, is actually persuading visitors that any other pages your site does have, will be of interest to them.

With the transport blog, I tried a range of measures to improve the amount of exploration visitors made. I knew the standard of the photography on the blog was very high, so I found it really frustrating when visitors would land on a page, looking for photos which were plentiful across the rest of the site, but then leave the site immediately and presumably go straight back to Google Image Search. I’d got exactly what the visitors wanted, but that just wasn’t registering with them. I tried making the links bigger and more obvious, and moving them into more visible positions… Made no difference. I tried explaining things more thoroughly, almost to the point where I felt I was being patronising… Made no difference. Whatever I did, Google Images beat me hands down.

The Older Posts pages now have thumbnails accompanying the post links, as well as larger thumbnails in the sidebars left and right. Is that overdoing it? The stats would suggest not.

So I decided to play Google Images at its own game. Google Images lays out lots of thumbnails, and people just click the pictures they like the look of. I decided to do the same. Obviously, there still had to be room for the blog posts, but I was literally gonna hammer all remaining space on the blog with thumbnail sized images – of different sizes, depending on the space available in each area. I added a second sidebar on the right (there was already a sidebar on the left), which would primarily display clickable thumbnails. Each thumbnail in the new sidebar would, when clicked, take the visitor to the full post containing that image. I also added a smaller selection of clickable thumbnails to the existing left-hand sidebar.

Then I completely removed the text link/tabs for the home page and my Older Posts pages, and replaced them with clickable (large) thumbnails, linking to the same pages. I picked the best or most evocative images I had – shots which I knew visitors would probably want to see at a larger size or find information about.

Originally, my Older Posts pages comprised lists of straightforward text links. To give the pages more impact and to give visitors a sense of the quality of the photos, I began adding thumbnails alongside each of the text links to older posts. It’s a longish job, and I haven’t added thumbs to all links yet. But I’ve added enough to get visitors started on clicking the links. The evidence I’ve seen is that once people start clicking the links with thumbnails and find something they like, they will also click the straight text links which I haven’t yet updated.

My final step was to add a “Related Posts” box at the bottom of each post, containing two or three links to posts with connected subjects – and yes, once again, each link is accompanied by an image thumbnail. I’m doing this on all new posts, and steadily working my way back through older posts until every entry on the blog has at least two “Related Posts” links with image thumbnails.

One of these "Related Posts" boxes is progressively being added to every post on the blog.

Even though there’s still a long way to go with the “Related Posts” boxes on older entries, there’s been a huge impact. The downside is, of course, that there’s a lot of work involved in adding all the thumbnails, linking them to posts, making sure the HTML code works across all the major browsers, and on different screen sizes, etc. But, if the images you’re using are eyecatching, and they appeal to the kind of visitor who’s likely to land on the site via the search engines, THIS DOES WORK, and the difference it makes can be staggering. For me, it’s been more than worth the time it’s taken so far, because if I’d spent the same amount of time simply adding posts I wouldn’t have made anything like the gains I’ve made from reworking the layout.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to underestimate the power of the image thumbnail on today’s Internet. If my combined blog stats are anything to go by, many, many more people use Google Image Search than the standard Web Search facility. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, and that value doesn’t appear to diminish with the size of the image. As far as I’m concerned, with some blogs, the more you can do to make the layout look and work like Google Image Search, the better. If you have a blog/site on which images play a major part, I believe the principles I've explored in this piece could give it a serious shot in the arm. Even if photos are more incidental to your blog, the fact is that people do respond to attractive pictures much more consistently than they respond to text links. I still think, if, as I did, you have an issue with a lack of visitor exploration on your blog, it's worth using the best of the image content you have in a quest to improve things.

Follow/contact on Twitter