Content Creation and Management

What I learned about Content Creation & Management

Bless me Father for I have sinned. Please forgive me for my content creation and management sins. Yes, I admit I’ve have mismanaged good content for the sake of expediency. Often I’ve have ignored how my readers consume my evergreen content. For that I beg for your absolution. I promise, on my CMS’s grave, not to stray from the path of good content creation and management again. Amen.

Today

It’s been almost 10 years since I started this blog and its gone through many evolutions. Everytime I switch to a new CMS it was to try something better and newer. I was chasing fades, looking for SEO shortcuts, and working to streamline CMS bloat.

In the end I’ve come back to two CMS’s that I thought were terrible: WordPress and Expression Engine.

Why? Because of what my stats and Adsense revenue say.

It’s no secret that I started blogging with WordPress. I tried out Expression Engine, Jekyll, Blot, and even TextPattern. Code injections and the plugin bloat of WordPress just turned me off. I completely misunderstood how to use Expression Engine and Jekyll wasn’t ready for primetime.

For me, TextPattern was like waking up next to a stranger after a night of drinking. Blot has an interesting proposition and it holds a dear place in my heart.

I know there are a few more big ones out there, like Drupal and Blogger, but I have little to no experience with them, so I won’t comment on them. Regardless, it feels like all these CMS’s or Blogging platforms are like various religions. Each one claims they’re the best and the only way to success!

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

All Blogging platforms are easy to use. You can post and share photos, tweets, and content as fast as you can write and hit “post.” Usually you sign up for an account and create your own subdomain like greatblog.blogger.com. The top 5 off my head are:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Blogger
  3. Medium
  4. WordPress.com
  5. Blot

Some of them masquerade as a Content Management System (CMS) but in the end they try to keep things simple for you. You don’t need to think about template structures, permalinks, caching, updates, etc. There is no software to maintain and no databases to backup. All you need to do is login, write, and post.

The differences between a Blogging Platform and a CMS is like night and day. One is simple with some flexibility, while the other is complex and very powerful – if you know how to unleash it.

My take on WordPress

WordPress masquerades as a full CMS if you install it on your own domain and server. It’s a quite capable CMS and it’s the most popular one out there. It has a nice user interface and making site wide changes is a breeze. I can install themes (aka templates) with one click and extend it with 1,000’s of plugins.

Since I switched back to WordPress, I’ve seen an increase in Adsense revenue and a bump in traffic. While these are all good qualities, I still feel it was cobbled together. WordPress feels like it started as a blogging platform that evolved into a CMS over time. Wordpress has worked hard to make its CMS fast and powerful but the plugins make it feel bloated. Especially if you need to install 10 to 20 of them to get it to do what you want it to do! WordPress feels like it was never built from ground up as a CMS.

My take on Expression Engine

Expression Engine isn’t as popular as WordPress. It occupies a small niche area for designers, developers and content creators. It’s comprehensive and flexible. You can create many content “containers” and spend your time building the UX for your site. It comes with many add-ons right out of the box where with WordPress would need you to install plugins. There is a plugin marketplace for Expression Engine but it’s just not as a large as WordPress. Expression Engine’s biggest strength is also its weakness, it’s too damn flexible. There are 99 ways to do something and 99 ways to mess things up.

This is where I failed with Expression Engine, I was like a deer caught in the content headlights. I had all these options to do things and I just couldn’t decide. It’s hard to choose when you have so many choices.

Still, both CMS’s are capable for managing your content. They’re both capable for helping your readers consume your content. The ugly choice is which one makes the most sense to grow your site and keep your content viable for your readers?

My Evergreen Content

I couldn’t fathom where my life would lead when I started this blog almost 10 years ago. My RapidMiner tutorials remain the biggest traffic draw from both organic search and referrals. I get some traffic from social media but most if it comes straight from Google and some friend’s sites.

When I analyze my Profit Index I see that visitors do two main things. They land on my home page and then navigate to my Tutorial page, or they go straight there. Almost all my traffic does one or the other but lately some visitors have been coming for my other content.

Regardless of what the content is, my tutorials are “Evergreen Content.” This is content that is useful and relevant even if it’s 10 years old, readers extract value for it. All other content outside my Tutorials are suspect. It’s hard to tell if they’ll stand the test of time, but I’m working hard to make them so.

Content and User Experience

As I switched from one CMS to another like a hamster on meth, I began to learn a thing or two. I learned about SEO, permalinks, and page speed. I read up on tweaking backend performance and the pros and cons of working with a database. I’ve come to prefer writing in markdown and love static html posts. I loathe regenerating those static posts every damn time. Simplicity is my ultimate goal but I covet complex well thought out websites.

Above all, I’ve come to appreciate the reader of my content. After all, it’s all about them. You might have the best content in the world but no one will ever read it and get value from it if your UI and UX sucks.

I had this epiphany earlier this week when I came across a retweet on Twitter. It was a blog post titled a “Guide to Useful Content (Part 1).”

The article talks about building content containers. Content containers are well thought out building blocks of content. They’re built with flexibility and usability in mind. They look toward making the content reusable in many different ways, even if the UI changes. The idea is to be dynamic.

“In essence, content types are the building blocks of dynamic, future-friendly content across systems. They provide the structure used by people and computers to explicitly express meaning.”

My Application of Content

I have a Tutorial page where I share my different applications of RapidMiner. That tutorial page is simple, it just links back to a single blog post that I wrote weeks, months, or years ago. There’s the body of the post, maybe a code block or video, and sometimes a zip file download. It’s a simple way of helping my readers find my tutorial content. They just visit the page, find what they need, and click on the link.

In hindsight, this simplicity is lacking in robustness. I can’t summarize a list of all available downloads, or codeblocks, or videos. Cross referencing that summary by a particular category, like Python or D3js, is impossible. There’s no way to extract all that information into a newsletter and email it to readers. The site isn’t dynamic enough to handle this!

In hindsight I should’ve been thinking about how build my content from the ground up. It never occurred to me to think about the reader what he/she experiences when they visit my site. Hell, I never thought my little blog would get so popular!

The reality is that my readers come from all over the world. Some of them look for book references, some of them want videos, and others want XML code. My readers make heavy use of my search function – I love reading what they type in – to find what they need.

The Way Forward

I’ll continue use WordPress for the time being. I plan on learning all available features it has to fill my content management gaps. I read that they created custom fields recently. While this is a good thing, custom fields was something that Expression Engine had from day one. At work we use WordPress’s resource functions for our PDF assets but it still confuses me.

I also plan on building a test site from the ground up using Expression Engine. I plan on spending the time thinking about what Carrie shared with us in her post. If it means weeks or months, then so be it. I’m going to spend a lot of time thinking about how my readers consume my content. How they extract value from it and how to continue to build Evergreen Content.

Lessons Learned to Share

The takeway from this long post is this, always think about your reader. If you’re going to write something to make an impact you must write awesome content. Period.

Work your tail off at writing something of value. Many long hours and late nights were poured into my blog content and my reward was steady organic growth and a dream job. Do the same and your readers will thank you for it in ways you haven’t imagined.

Ask how your readers will get the most value from your content. Can they find it easily? Can they find what the want and in the format they need? Is your website inviting or clunky? What are the channels for consumption? Are you using only RSS? What about newsletters or login protected content? What about e-books? Think about all the ways your reader will want to consume your content and format it accordingly.

It’s only after those two steps, and in that order, should you hit publish button.

The Freemium Devil

I recently read a great article on the Freemium model that resonated with me. It kept me thinking for several days afterwards about how some startups with freemium models “made it” and how others failed.  The difference between success and failure has become a very fine line indeed.

I completely get it, it’s all about how many users your product or service has. The rationale has always been that more users == more revenue and many startups created wonderful free products (i.e. Dropbox) around that idea. Free isn’t so bad if you’re trying to build a startup yourself. I know many entrepreneurs who build startups on open source or free products. Open source and free is the backbone for a vibrant startup community but there are so many companies hawking their “free/open source” stuff that I wonder how they make any money at all.

You need to make money, especially if you’re a startup. If you don’t, you’ll need cash and lots of it.  Whether it’s attracting talent or paying your receptionist, you’ll need cash for just about everything you do.

The only problem? Getting that cash is harder to get now more than ever.

The Dot Com Years

I remember vividly the Dot Com years when Venture Capital threw billions of dollars against good startups (Amazon) and half baked startups (Pets.com). When the VC’s got burned, they started demanding more robust business plans and a path a profitable path to exit. Startups took notice and started to think about how to convert users to customers more either right away or at some point in their experience with the product.

If you have users and figured out a way to convert a portion of your users to paying customers then you’ll likely to get some funding. If you haven’t figured that out then you’ll probably end up making a Deal with the Freemium Devil

A Deal with the Devil

Freemium is like making a deal with the Devil. You want to get more users and minimize your acquisition costs so you put out a free version of your product or service. If all goes well, you’ll start seeing an increase in your user base. So then the problem becomes how to convert those users to paying customers.

Most of the time you gave away all your product’s functionality for free and now you want to charge for it. Your users panic and drop off because your suffering from the “why pay for milk if you can get the cow for free” syndrome.

Maybe you reserved some functionality as an upgrade for users to pay at a later date. That’s smarter thinking but what if that upgrade is really lacking? The users can get by using your free product without ever having to upgrade!

It’s so confusing what approach to take, which way is right?

The Right Freemium Model

Kyle, in his Linkedin article, shines light on 4 Freemium models that look to survive the test of time.

  1. The Free Trial
  2. Tailored, hyper specific free products of lead gen
  3. Product qualified lead (PQL) engines
  4. Anti-lean startup approach

The free trial is just what it sounds like, a free trial that’s limited to a time period. The danger of this is that your sales reps keep extending the trial period for some apparently “big fish” user. In the end, they never convert! Free trials are very successful if it’s a great product, at a great price, that’s easy to use and demonstrates significant value for the user on day 1.

The tailored, hyper specific free products of lead gen method is a relatively new one that I’m seeing being adopted with some success. The ones I run across give you access to a REST API but limits it maybe 1,000 calls a day. If you want 10,000 calls a day then you pay some $. If you want 1,000,000 calls a day, then you pay more $$$$. It’s a pay as you go type of model and I really like it.

The PQL model is something I’m very familiar with and I’m seeing its success first hand.  This is a robust land and expand model that typically provides all the functionality of your product but measures product use.  The goal of this is to identify a subset of users that exhibit a strong propensity to buy from casual users. While every PQL model is different it comes down to identifying the right leads for your sales team to go after instead of every lead that comes through the door.

The Anti-lean startup is an interesting model and I’ve seen some startups do this approach. It’s definitely a great way to generate a buzz for your product. Hopefully customers will line up at your door with money in hand BUT it’s got to be a great product.  This one puts a lot of pressure on the Startup to get it right on the first get go.  The biggest risk is that this product remains in Alpha mode and never truly gets released!

TL;dr

Before you put a free or open source version of your product out there, think about how to convert your users. Be smart about this. It’ll save you a lot of headaches in the future when you want to get VC money.

Custom Reports in Google Analytics

Recently I imported some custom reports in Google Analytics that I found online. They have been eye opening indeed!  My most favorite ones are the Profit Index and Time of Day custom reports.

Profit Index

Google Analytics assigns a page value to each and every page you have, provided you use Goals. Without using Goals, this won’t work! In my previous post, I wrote about how I started using Goals to see how readers interacted with my site. I arbitrarily assigned a value of $1 each time the reader clicked on a tag or stayed on a post for more than 5 minutes.

I began searching through Google to see if could find a way to lower my bounce rates because I switched back to WordPress (that’s for another post altogether).  As soon as I switched back, I noticed an increase in bounce rates and that bothered me.

I found out that bounce rates are really just people going to one page (usually my home page) and then dropping off. The majority of the visitors have no desire or incentive to continue through the site. The ones that do usually end up on my Tutorial or Archive page.

In my sleuthing I found something called the Profit Index. This is a fantastic report you can build for you Google Analytics as a custom report. The Profit Index can show you what posts have a high value but have the highest bounce rates! You can also see which pages have the highest Adsense revenue vs bounce rates. Once you know where the problem is, you can work to fix it.

pagevaluevsbouncerate

For the most part all my posts are incredibly sticky and OK page value vs bounce rate, but I never dreamed that the Stock Trend Following post has such a high drop off rate.

Time of Day

This custom report is a fun one for me. It let’s me look at what time of day readers come to my site, what day the come to my site, and most importantly what time AND day they come to my site. Originally written by Dan Barker, it’s very enlightening for me!

timeofdayweek

Over the course of the last 30 days, my most popular visit days have been Thursdays at 11AM, 1PM, and 5PM. The numbers change when I look at them from across the year but Thursday at 11AM appears to be the winner. Is it any wonder why I scheduled this post for today and at this time?

Note: Day 0 is Sunday.

Get Custom Reports in Google Analytics

Getting custom reports in Google Analytics is pretty easy if the creator has shared them. With the exception of the Profit Index, the Time of Day report is shareable and easy to install in your Google Analytics dashboard. You can easily rebuild the Profit Index report by following the instructions on the their website, it’s pretty easy but eye opening!

If you want more reports, just visit this page here. They have some great free ones!