A couple weeks ago, I came across an awesome post by Ariel Meadow Stallings about Smart Layers. She won me over with her sweet graphic skills:
She was pretty stoked to see what Smart Layers was doing on her site. We chatted a bit, and talked to her community, gathering their feedback on the new tool. It was a great experience from our end, but what was even more exciting, was Ariel’s other graphic:
This is the kind of result we wanted our publishers to have with the new Smart Layers. For a community as engaged as Ariel’s Offbeat Empire (seriously, you should check them out and read her story on how it began), there are lessons we can all learn. Here are three I gathered from our email interview.
1. Your Content Needs to Be Relevant to Every Phase of Your Audience’s Life
When I asked Ariel if a highly engaged community was her goal when she started the community, she responded with a resounding “Yes!”
“The engagement was absolutely part of my strategy,” she said. “Offbeat Bride is the flagship, bringing in 700,000 unique visitors a month.”
When she noticed the transient patterns of her visitors––brides would stick around for a year or so, and drop off after their weddings––she expanded the site to include resources to keep her community engaged throughout the different phases of their lives, like family and home life.
“Now we’ve got content to help readers with everything from moving into a dorm room, to juggling grad school, to getting engaged, to considering family, to starting a family (or not), to raising kids (or just being an awesome auntie/uncle if you’re child-free),” Ariel said.
That’s how the community became an empire.
2. Let Your Analytics Drive the Content You Create
One interesting things I learned from Ariel is how she gauges what content to produce based off of her Pinterest analytics.
“I watch my Pinterest source pages all day to get a feel for what content my readers are sharing,” she said. “We’ve got seven years of Offbeat Bride posts, and while aesthetic trends come and go, the core issues involved with wedding planning remain pretty consistent.”
Recycling old posts is one of Ariel’s favorite things to do––and it’s welcomed by her community.
“Often, I’ll share these older posts on our Facebook pages, which amplifies the sharing of content that was produced years ago,” she said. “I like to be transparent about why I’m sharing old posts. I’ll often say things like, ‘Based on number of pins, this bride’s hair basically wins the Internet’.”
“I love seeing old posts get new life via Pinterest,” she said.
(Take note: the fact that this strategy helped Ariel generate engaging content that helped her community grow for over seven years is a testament it works!)
3. Always Be Honest with Your Community
Speaking of transparency, Ariel makes sure to be open and honest with her community about her content, and the tools she has on her site. She’s been using AddThis tools since 2010, so when she added Smart Layers earlier this month, she wrote a blog post about the change, and explained to her community the reasons for adding it. Her reasons were simple: to increase pageviews. Some of her readers accepted the change, while others disagreed.
“Whenever I make a change on my blogs, I always make a point to be honest about why I’m making the change (in this case, increased pageviews were my goal), and then make sure readers know I’m really hearing their feedback,” Ariel said.
Smart Layers Does the Job
In the end, Ariel is happy with the results.
“The impact on my site’s recirculated clicks was immediately evident,” she said. “Before SmartLayers, a peak day of clicks was about 800 (and that was a rare exception), after SmartLayers, I started getting up to 1,500 clicks a day.”
“I’ve seen a weekly pattern emerge, with clicks ramping up through the work-week, and then going into a lull over the weekend,” she said. “But now that weekend ‘lull’ is what used to be a standard weekday for me!”
I’ll leave you with this food-for-thought. Ariel says in her blog post: “As a publisher, I’m super stoked [about] Smart Layers because it’s great for getting folks to explore more posts on the blogs. As a reader, you can make your own choices!”