Data-Driven Blog Design

Content Marketing Strategy Credit: Justin Brooke, AdSkills

Here’s an oldie but a goodie from 2016.

[Side note: the fact that a piece of content from 2016 is an “oldie” is ludacris but true these days. I remember doing research in college and getting excited when I found sources from people who were still alive.]

The topic? Data-driven blog design.

Justin Brooke says he spent $30,000 on Facebook ads testing different blog designs and came up with a winning formula.

I know the suspense is killing you already, so here it is:

I know what you’re thinking…

“That’s it? This dude spent $30k on the obvious…”

Not so fast. Put down your pitchforks and keep reading, because there’s actually some interesting science behind it and a few details that may surprise you.

Takeaway 1: Take advantage of premium real estate

Brooke’s background is in writing and optimizing sales letters.

He says he spent a lot of time focusing on the above-the-fold areas of these letters (the part of that’s visible when your page loads without having to scroll), so he figured the same should go for his blog.

Lo and behold, out of everything he tested in this experiment, he says that optimizing the above-the-fold area had the biggest impact. By moving his opt-in box from the sidebar to the header, his conversion rate went from 2% to 5% conversion.

The offer hadn’t changed! It had simply moved.

Then he changed the call to action in the opt-in box from “Get free updates via email” to a piece of content that people could download immediately.

What happened next? Conversions doubled, from 5% to 10%.

Placement and calls to action matter. By making these two simple tweaks, he improved conversion 400%.

Takeaway 2: Put your sidebar on the left

After moving his opt-in offer to the header and changing his call to action, Brooke took a look at   the Facebooks and Amazons of the world for more ideas of what to test. To his point: “They have way more resources than I do for testing optimum performance, so I wanted to borrow from their experience.”

He noticed that a lot of big companies put their navigation on the left.

“Think of your Facebook newsfeed,” he says. “Think of Amazon. You almost always interact with the left-hand side of the screen. When I dug deeper into this, it was confirmed by the Nielsen Norman Group.”

Nielsen had conducted a study that showed that the left part of the screen is viewed a lot more than the right. It’s called the F-pattern.

Eye-tracking study results by Nielsen Norman Group

By moving his sidebar from the right side of the screen to the left, Brooke says conversion improved from less than 1% to 3%.

The more important change that might have led to this increase, however, came from the next takeaway, which is…

Takeaway 3: Use sidebars strategically

Most people stuff their sidebars with junk. Social media widgets, most-popular articles, archives, and other miscellaneous cruft.

Very few people interact with those widgets. Plus, think about it. What would you rather someone interact with: a recent article or a conversion opportunity?

We’re talking about a content marketing strategy for lead generation…that question is rhetorical. If you want leads, it makes sense to eliminate distractions and clutter and focus entirely on getting people to convert.

Brooke says, “I removed everything from my sidebar that tried to get them to visit multiple pages. I replaced it with a call to action on one of my lead magnets because my highest priority was converting visitors to leads. Optimizing my sidebar combined with moving it to the left is what I attribute the 300% increase in performance. Today, my sidebar only has three things in it: a CTA, a way to become a fan, and a search box.”

Takeaway 4: Include a CTA at the end

I’ve covered this at length in other posts, but it’s worth repeating again.

If you want to optimize a blog post for conversions, you need a call to action at the end of the post for a downloadable piece of content that relates directly to the post.

Take a page out of Hubspot’s book. If you’ve written a post about email marketing, stick something like this at the end.

BONUS Takeaway: Use welcome mats

A year after this blog post was posted, someone asked in the comments if the Justin had any new revelations. Check out his response.

I’d echo his advice 100%. While I’ve personally had mixed results with SumoMe, I recommend implementing welcome mats if you haven’t already.