The 60 Minute Blog Audit (How to Increase Reader Retention and Subscribers)

I’ve seen a lot of crappy blogs.

No really.

I hate to say it, but I get a lot of emails from people asking me to check out their blog and give them feedback on it.  I do my best to be kind, and respond with some tips, but I’ve found that without fail, almost every single time I’m giving the exact same advice.

Now, I may not have the world’s best blog, but I’ve worked with a lot of Location Rebel members and others to help them position their blogs in the best possible place to be successful.

“What do you mean you need a tagline?!”

“Oh, I need a photo on my about page?! Says who?!” 

“Wait, people won’t sign up for just email updates?”

These are all mistakes I’ve made over the last three years

So in order to save myself a lot of time (yeah, I’m selfish like that), as well as hopefully help you improve your website, I’ve put together this 60 minute blog audit.

It may take you longer to actually implement changes, but by addressing some of these key site attributes you should be able to encourage more interaction, subscribers, shares, and in turn have more success in whatever form you quantify it.

Here’s What You Need to Do:

Get out a piece of paper, Evernote, a word doc or whatever it is you use to take notes.

Then open up your blog.

Copy down each headline in this article as you go through it, and take a minute to write down either “Ok” “Needs Work” next to each headline.

For the things that need work, take notes based on my recommendations.  When you’re done, sit down and start going down the list, making improvements where necessary.  Overtime you’ll be amazed at how a few small changes will increase just about every metric you have for blog success.

Here’s the cheat sheet for those of you too lazy to read the whole thing (although I really encourage you to spend more time and read each section):

  • Do You have a Professionally Designed Logo?
  • Is Your Tagline Clear Enough?
  • Do You Have a Bio Box?
  • Has Your About Page Been Updated in the Last Year?
  • Do You Have An Incentive to Opt In?
  • Do Your Headlines Suck?
  • Are you Communicating With Your Subscribers?
  • Are you Writing for the Reader, or Yourself?
  • Are you Leveraging Social Proof?

Ready? Got your blog open? Note taking device?

All right, let’s do this.

Do You Have a Professionally Designed Logo?

Have you actually got a real logo designed for your blog yet? Or do you still have the stock text that you entered into your WordPress backend?

Having a well designed logo does a number of things:

  • It proves that you’re taking this website seriously, which in turn will make people take you seriously
  • It helps define what your site is all about (more on that in the next item)
  • It establishes clear branding, which will make you stand out from the other 100 million blogs out there

It’s not difficult to get a blog designed.  For less than $100 you should be able to get something well thought out and specific to your goals.  To make things even more affordable hop on Fiverr and have someone design you something for 5 bucks.

Get started with that here.

Is Your Tagline Clear Enough?

When you’re getting your logo done you should also consider whether you need to add your tagline into the design as well.

I see so many people make mistakes with their site taglines.  They get too cute with it, and in turn tell the reader nothing about what the site is actually about.

If I were going to do that my site would be:

Location 180: Because Life Doesn’t Suck…

I love that tagline, but you know what? It doesn’t tell a first time visitor anything about why they should stick around and see what I have to say.

So, do you have a descriptive tagline? Do you even have a tagline? If you answered no to either of those questions you should fix this asap. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A first time visitor should know what your site is about in 3 seconds or less – People have short attention spans these days, don’t make them guess, make sure they know exactly what they’re going to get by coming back to your site week in and week out.
  • Can you summarize your site in one sentence? “Location 180 helps people build businesses that they can run from anywhere in the world.” Clear, descriptive, and while there  is a lot more to the site than that, it offers a very clear starting point. Get your summary down and then translate that into your tagline.
  • Does your current tagline reflect what your site is actually about? Often brands, blogs, and businesses change. Have you kept your brand consistent with the changes you’ve made in your business?  If you’ve changed course at all recently, make sure everything is still consistent.

By considering these issues with your site’s tagline, it will keep first time visitors more engaged, and make it much easier for people to describe to others what your site is all about. After all, if you can’t describe what you do in a single sentence, how the hell is someone else supposed to?

Do You Have a Bio Box?

Remember how I said a first time visitor should know exactly what the site is all about in 3 seconds or less? Well another way to help ensure that happens is to have a biography box on the upper right hand corner of the blog.

Write a brief descripion of who you are and what the site is, then include a photo.

After your tagline, this is often the next thing people see and is what will make them decide whether or not they should stick around and listen to what you have to say.

You don’t want people searching all over the place to figure out who you are. YOU are the most important component of your website.  Most of the people who read Location 180 do so because they’ve felt some connection or interest in me – the advice and everything else is just bonus.

People follow personalities, and you want to make sure yours shines through.

Some tips for crafting the perfect bio box:

  • Is the photo clear? Make sure people can actually see who you are.  I can’t stand going to a new site and having to search everywhere to figure out who the author is. You want to make it as easy as possible to form a connection with your readers.
  • Does your brief bio invoke curiosity or relate-ability? Those are two keys to a good bio box. It should either have them saying “Oh, that sounds like me.” OR “Oh, this is interesting, I want to learn more.” For instance, over on the right you see “My life sucked…” instant relate-ability to anyone who isn’t happy with their current life.
  • Do you offer a solution? People read blogs because they either want to be entertained or get solutions to their own problems – and usually both.  Does you bio box do either of those things? “I quit my job, moved to Thailand, and built a business…Location 180 teaches you how to do the same thing.” Enticing with an interesting story, and an offer to help. How does your bio do those things?

I take this a step farther by including a link to the about page and a one click chance to follow me on Twitter. Make sure once you hook them, you make it easy to take things to the next step.

Has Your About Page Been Updated in the Last Year?

You change. Your business changes.  What you’re offering evolves. You about page should always reflect where you’re at currently in your business.

All too often I see vague about pages with no real information on the author or the blog, which completely defeats the purpose of having it there.

My about page is one of the 5 most visited pages on my site, so people are obviously curious. Make sure what you’re telling them is an accurate portrayal of what the site is about.

Also, one of the biggest problems I see when looking at blogs, is there’s no photo or a very vague photo on the about page. For all the same reasons as mentioned in the bio box, you should have a big ass, clear photo of your smiling mug. Why? Once again, people follow personalities.  They want to be able to visualize who’s behind the words.  I’ll often not read a blog specifically because I can’t get enough information on the person writing it.

Things to consider when building the page:

  • Do you have a clear photo? Can’t reiterate this enough.
  • Do you have a video you can use? While not necessary, the more information you can give to new visitors the better. It’s time for me to update mine, but it still does a good job of getting the point of the site across.
  • Do you make it clear where else they can find you? This is a great time to tell people about other projects you have? Maybe it’s a product, social media account or addtional website, if you’ve grabbed their attention, they’ll often be looking for more from you.
  • Make yourself stand out – This is your chance to really grab their attention. Do you have some entertaining facts you can share? A funny story about how the site got started, perhaps? Get creative and make yourself stand out.
  • Don’t forget to add an opt in – If people are looking for more information, they might also be really interested in signing up for updates directly, so make sure there’s an opportunity for them to sign up for your email list.

Do You Have an Incentive to Opt In?

I’ve covered the importance of this in a couple blog posts, including:

Bottom line, email is the best way to communicate, build relationships, and sell to your audience.  But they aren’t just going to sign up because there’s a box there for them to do it – there has to be incentive.

If you read that first post on email marketing, you’ll see that I’m drastically tweaking my offer in order to make it even more appealing and valuable to readers.  The email series has worked great, but it’s time to take it to the next level.

Your list is also one of the few true assets you have for yourself online. Google can strip your search rankings or toss out your RSS subscribers, but your list is yours, and even if everything else blows up, not all is lost.

Consider the following points when crafting your offer:

  • Are you Actually Providing Value? A catchy headline with sub-par content isn’t going to cut it. Sure you might drag a few people in, but they’ll likely unsubscribe and the buzz will never be generated.  I think of it like this, what would a paid product look like in the niche I’m going after? I make notes, create the product(s) and give it away for free. Example 1. Example 2.
  • Do You Make it Easy to Sign Up? Do you have a box after every post? Is there a clear place to sign up on your sidebar? Are you leveraging the feature box?
  • Is it relevant? If my site is about building a business and my opt in is all about taking better photos there is a huge disconnect. Make sure you’re offering the right incentive to the right audience, otherwise it will conflict with your brand recognition and keep people from signing up – or worse, not coming back to the site.

Do Your Headlines Suck?

One of the most important things I’ve done for my business is improve my copywriting.  It doesn’t matter how good your content or website is if you can’t get people to go there in the first place.

So how do you do that?

You have to garner attention with solid, descriptive, headlines.

It doesn’t matter if people see it via social media, in search results, or as a link from another site if you don’t have a way to hook people in.

Review your blog headlines and ask yourself honestly, “if I saw this on Twitter from someone I didn’t know, would I click on it?” If the answer is no more than 50% of the time, then you should probably re-evaluate what you’re doing.

My friend Dane Maxwell once told me the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received as it relates to copywriting. He gave me his formula what he calls his instant clarity headline, and it looked like this:

End Result Person Wants + Specific Timeframe + Objection Handled

Offering one of those is a good headline.

Two is a great headline.

All three is an irresistible headline.

For instance on my Location Rebel sales page I use the headline: Make $1,000 in Extra Income in Three Months (Even if You Still Have a Full Time Job).

Result: Make $1,000 in Extra Income

Time Frame: 3 Months

Objection: “Does this work if I still work full time?”

Headlines are more important the actual blog post or page itself, here are some other things to help:

  • Grab Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks – He put together an ebook of the 52 best headlines of all time. Really useful if you run into a block trying to create better headlines.
  • Split Test – I use Visual Website Optimizer to split test a couple different alternatives. One test improved my opt-ins for Location Rebel by 88%.  Also, as you begin to see what works well, you can emulate it with future posts and content.
  • When In Doubt Use What Works – 9 out of my 10 most popular posts ever started with “How to”. Lists are also incredibly effective to get click throughs.  For instance: 10 Things You Can Do Today to Start a Lifestyle Business (Even if You Have No Ideas) led to my highest traffic day of all time.
If you’re only spending 5 seconds to come up with a headline you’re doing something wrong – put serious consideration to you post headlines and why your choosing them.

Are You Communicating with Your Subscribers?

Your blog should be a way to facilitate relationship building, and the more you treat it as such, the more successful you’ll be.

How are you engaging the people who are reading your site? Are you responding to their comments? Answering their emails? Does your email series encourage them to actually engage in a conversation with you?

If not, you should seriously reconsider how you’re approaching this.

I’m actually speaking on this topic at SOBcon 2013 in a couple weeks, so if you’re in the Chicago area in early May definitely come check it out.

The bottom line is, if someone signs up for your email list and then doesn’t hear anything from you until you decide to send them some pitch to buy a product, they aren’t exactly going to be very receptive, are they?

Here are a few ways to increase communication with your subscribers and build relationships not just fans:

  • Create a Newsletter – I send out a weekly newsletter that covers happenings on the site, big wins from Location Rebel members, and other cool things I’ve found throughout the week. I send it (almost) every Sunday, so people learn to expect it and there’s always an open line of communication if someone has a question about any of the content.
  • Don’t Take Everything Personally – When you begin communicating more, there will be people who don’t like it.  They’ll view it as spam no matter how high quality the content is. Don’t take it personally, they aren’t your target audience anyway.
  • Ask a Question – As soon as someone signs up for your email list, ask them to respond to you with the answer to a specific question.  This is the best thing I’ve ever done to get to know the people who read Location 180

As soon as you make the transition from thinking of your fans as statistics and begin to look at them as real people that you want to get to know, everything changes.

Are You Writing for the Reader, or Yourself?

This is a tricky one, and something I often struggle with.

You need to decide if your blog is going to eventually be a business or if it’s simply something for you personally.

If it’s just a way for you to write and tell friends and family what you’re up to, then by all means, write about whatever your little heart desires.

However, if you’re trying to garner a larger audience and build a business out of your website you need to stop writing for yourself and start writing for the reader.

This is a fine line.

You have to be interested in what you write about, willing to share about yourself and be vulnerable, but in the end most of what you write needs to have a takeaway and value for the reader – otherwise they’ll go get the information they’re looking for somewhere else.

Why do you think articles that start with “how to” are so effective?  Anytime you can teach someone how to do something there’s tangible value. Sure you may love writing your travel stories, and there will be people that like to read them, but you need to make sure the overwhelming amount of your content has something of value for everyone else.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  • Have a Clear Reader Takeaway for Every Post – While I was writing this post at the top of my screen I wrote this: “Goal for audit: Help people improve their reader retention, build stronger relationships, and in turn become more profitable by making these small changes to their blog. Keep in mind occasionally this could be as simple as “entertain the reader and give them a break from reality”. I do that with my travel stories, but those are few and far between.
  • Are you venting? – There are a LOT of times I want to write about a time I got screwed or when I wanted to vent my frustrations.  There’s a right and wrong time for this. These posts have the potential to bring a ton of traffic, but only if you’re venting about things relevant to everyone else. Venting about my nightmare at the DMV? Bad vent, no one cares. Do that on Twitter. Good vent? “Why America Hates Everything But the Status Quo.” Hehe, I enjoyed writing that one.
  • Can You Share Someone Else’s Story to Get Your Point Across? – I should do this more. It’s one thing to use yourself as an example over and over, but if you can use case studies or tell the story of how other people have had success (or not) with your topic of choice, it can help make the concept more relatable on a broad scale.

Think about why you’re writing. If you’re still writing for yourself, it’ll be hard to garner the attention that you’re looking for.

Are You Leveraging Social Proof?

Everyone loves to jump on a bandwagon.  If you’ve had some big wins or been featured in other places around the internet, you should make that known! Do you have 10,000 Facebook fans? 30,000 RSS subscribers? Featured in Forbes?

Those are all things that should be advertised.

Even if people don’t want to, they will still look at that and say “Oh, if so many other people think this is good, it must be.”

This can go the opposite way however. If you’re site is brand new and you have a very small following, displaying small numbers can hurt you.

If you only have 20 facebook fans, that’s not going to make anyone think much of you. Wait until you have a few hundred before publicly displaying just where you’re at.

Here are a few ways you can leverage social proof:

  • As featured in – Create a sidebar ad with an “as featured in” title with the logos of all the places you’ve been. Instant social proof. Take this a step farther by including a press page with links to the various posts.
  • One Click Twitter Follow- Don’t want to show off your 23 Twitter followers? Use the one click follow button to help garner more followers without having to tell them right off that your only current followers are your siblings and mother.
  • Have You Made the Effort? – Usually getting big media mentions isn’t something that just happens, especially not in the beginning.  Be proactive and reach out to various agencies and give them a compelling reason to tell your story for you. Here’s a strategy that works beautifully.

Social proof can be one the most powerful positive (or negative) forces on your blog. Assess where you can leverage this, and if you’re at a place where you can’t – then make more of an effort.

So How’d You Do?

The key things in this article are some of the biggest mistakes I see bloggers make.  No one is perfect, but if you make some small changes based on this audit you’ll have the potential to see a huge shift in the direction of your website over the coming months.

Was this post useful for you? I’d love it if you would share on Twitter or Facebook!

Andrew Elsass April 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

Fantastic post, Sean! A few of these points I already have covered (mainly because when I was building my site, yours was one of the main ones I looked to for design inspiration), but I know I have plenty of areas to improve upon. It’s great to have some direction and a defined list of things to chip away at.

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Sean April 22, 2013 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the kind words Andrew, and good luck as you keep building up the site!

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Aaron April 22, 2013 at 10:32 am

Very Helpful Sean. It’s given me a few actions to take over at The Everyday Language Learner. On to the about page ….

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Alan April 22, 2013 at 11:10 am

Sean, as part of my job I’ve reviewed hundreds of corporate blogs over the last couple of years. This is a great breakdown of many basic but SUPER IMPORTANT elements to nail. Thanks for putting this together.

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Jon Bishop April 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Damn Sean!! This is such a great post. Definitely top 3 you’ve ever written. I am constantly overwhelmed by the support you offer your readers. Love it!!

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Sean April 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Now this is the stuff I like to hear!

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Bobbe April 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Great value here, our blog scored better than I thought on this checklist, we just need more good content! Feel free to check out our site and see what you think.

Thanks for the post!
bobbe

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John April 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Thanks Sean, this post hits the nail right on the head. There’s so much marketing tripe thrown at you when you’re trying to build an honest blog, so it’s a real breath of fresh air to read your post.

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Carlo April 22, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Fantastic content here Sean!

Once again you’ve given me some inspiring ideas to work into my website.

:)

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marianney April 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

This is my first comment here although I’ve been reading for a little while now. Super useful information here, I’m surprised that most of the tips I knew and am implementing on my soon-to-launch blog but a few I hadn’t thought about. The headline formula is spot on and I’ll be using that for sure. Also, asking a question when someone subscribes to your list, great idea! Couldn’t agree with you more on the logo, tagline and about page. Definitely a great post, thanks!

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Leigh April 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm

This is just what I needed to read as I am placing the final touches on my website before launching it.

Thanks for the great advice.

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Glen April 22, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Lovin’ this, thanks bro!

I’m sketching out ideas for a new blog as we speak and you’ve just thrown down the foundations for me, all the way to the bedrock, booya!

Glen

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benay April 22, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Awesome resource – thank you for putting it together. Are you still in Thailand?

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Chiara Cokieng April 22, 2013 at 10:45 pm

I published my blog only a few weeks ago and most of the stuff I’m still working on.

Took me a minute to include the “Follow” button on my bio box. Thanks for that!

Things I really have to work/improve on ASAP: Clear tagline, Opt in incentive, and my writing in general. Hehe

Thanks Sean!

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Sean April 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Sounds like you’re on the right track Chiara!

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Jo April 23, 2013 at 2:15 am

Perfect timing! I sat down today to redesign my blog, and was just popping over to your site and a few others that I admire, to see how they do things, and WHAM, there’s the blog post I need. Thanks a lot, Sean.

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Sidney April 23, 2013 at 4:20 am

Hey Sean, I was just thinking about this – you just read my mind! Great post!

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Jeff Tse April 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Good stuff man!

I’m going to take your advice and update my blog with a bio box…

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Peter Santenello April 24, 2013 at 4:15 am

A very well thought out and detailed post. Thank you!

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Pamela April 24, 2013 at 11:34 am

It isn’t that I didn’t know these things (and I’ve done many of the things you suggested already) but I needed a little push. Definitely need to swap in my new About page which I’ve written but not loaded. Time to get some better pictures. Oh yes, and stop procrastinating on making a welcome video.

Thanks for the nudge.

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Sean April 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Glad I could help Pamela :)

Sometimes we just need a little push in the right direction to do the things we already know how to do.

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Pawan April 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Very impressive information. I think “Are you Writing for the Reader, or Yourself?” bloggers should now concentrate over this particular point. They need to write for readers but instead they are doing it for search engines. I always insist on Unique + High quality content instead of just unique content. Thanks for sharing all the stuff here, your knowledge and experience are awesome. :)

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Kent April 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Excellent post, Sean! A very well-defined and ACTIONABLE list. Thank you!

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Brooks April 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Duddddeeee — good stuff!

I think Im failing at many, but have done well at others.

Who your audience is will be one of the toughest. If you aren’t interested in it yourself, then you won’t do a good job at writing about it.

I guess you have to create content where the 2 circles of personal interest and audience interest intersect.

Thanks!

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jmayel & sacha May 2, 2013 at 1:05 am

This definitely made me take a long hard look at my site. But I use Tumblr which is bloody hard to find plug-ins and widgets for. I definitely want to improve the design and navigation but without mad developing skills I’ll just concentrate on the content and headlines. Great advice and well written. Thanks for posting

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Lisa Jackson November 14, 2013 at 7:40 am

Thank you Sean! In a world where there’s so much information, this is the best post i’ve read on what a website should do and be.
My website needs a lot of improvement, but I already know that these changes will have an impact on it. Simple but effective!
Thanks again.

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Kashiefah Chetty August 20, 2014 at 4:12 am

Wow.
I’ve just gotten my blog up and running after only reading your posts and not even joining Location Rebel yet. Thank you so much for all your help. And for this post especially. It’s what I need right now. You’re amongst my favourite sources of information.
I appreaciate the time and effort you put into the detail of all your posts. You have helped me a great deal :)

Now all I need to figure out is what to do with this blog. Not sure if I can focus on only one thing..

P.S I never used to comment alot before this. Guess I was ashamed that I didnt have a blog yet. I feel so much more confident now.

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