This is a story about curiosity, betterment, and wanting to solve a problem. I’ve told it to a number of people, and it’s always surprised me how intrigued they appear while I’m telling it.
I love this story, partly because it’s a very personal one–I’ve been a player in it for the last 3 years–but also because I always have another chapter to add each time I’m asked why we decided to build Filament Pro. In this post, I’m going to tell you how a 4-person UX team obsessed with making the web better ended up building an analytics tool for content, from scratch.
Chapter 1: Adrift in the doldrums
It all began with a problem. By this time last year The Digital Telepathy blog had been our labor of love for 4 years, and we we’ve always been so curious about it. Seriously, we sounded like insatiably inquisitive 3 year olds, with all the questions!
“Which post is the all-time best, and why?”
“How many shares did we get yesterday?”
“Which social network should I share this post on?”
“Why are we getting so much traffic this week?”
But whenever we tried to answer these questions, It. Took. FOREVERRRR. Even though we had Google Analytics installed on our blog, and were constantly digging around in there to find answers, it almost invariably resulted in the same answer:
“Feh. I dunno.”
We’d tried looking at over a dozen different metrics, trying to figure out which one told us whether we were doing better, or worse. And yet the numbers all seemed to contradict one another–pageviews would skyrocket, along with our bounce rate. Time on site would plummet, while shares soared and pages-per-visit stagnated. We just wanted to know: are we doing better? Or worse? Was that so much to ask?
We were steadfastly denied answers, and didn’t have the time to dig deep into the numbers as frequently as we desired. And yet our curiosity burned! BURNED!
Chapter 2: A gust of wind
We’ve always wanted to make the whole web better with our products, but in retrospect, we heeded the blog calling a lot earlier than we consciously recognized. After all, 3 of our most popular product concepts were tools perfectly-suited to blogs:
- Flare social bar for sharing
- Ivy for quoting and highlighting passages from your posts
- Passport for building your audience
As they gained popularity, we came to three big realizations:
“Do you have stats for Flare?”
People kept asking us this, and when asked why, would say they said they wanted to see how many shares they’re getting, so they knew how to improve & grow their blogs. They were hungry for insights and clues on how to get better at blogging–specially tailored for their blog.
Blogs need help
We see a lot of websites in our line of work, so we knew firsthand that a great many blogs struggle with poor design, or content, or both. But we also realized that in large part, it’s no-one’s fault.
The analytics tools for understanding what’s happening on your blog are hugely complex to learn. It’s no wonder people abandon their blogs, when the only way to grow it is to randomly post from the hip, blindfolded, until they hit something!
Lots of tools but little understanding
We could build all the blog tools in the world, but that’s just feeding a man a fish. What if we taught people how to blog better, instead? Enabling across-the-board better content would have a dramatic effect on everyone’s web experience!
“Let’s build an analytics tool for blogs”
And so, following a team conversation that left all of our heads, frankly, exploding, we decided…to build an analytics platform into Filament, an undertaking none of us knew exactly what would be involved, but yet none of us could turn away from.
Chapter 3: Charting a course
We knew we wanted to help people grow their blogs, but how best to do it? Google Analytics tracks everything, and is on everyone’s site already, so we decided to look at how we could make our analytics time more effective.
Get to the insights, faster
One thing we’ve always struggled with when using Google Analytics was simply the time it takes–there’s absolute gold in there, but no-one has the time to go digging for it. In addition, most analytics tools typically only present you one metric per screen–when the most valuable insights typically come from two or more metrics being cross-referenced, like:
- # Shares / Pageviews = Share Ratio
- Exits from Page / Visits to Page = Stickiness
One metric that matters
There are dozens of metrics you can track for your blog, but we knew from prior experience that choosing a few, meaningful metrics to focus on greatly helps to speed up your blog’s growth. The catch? Everyone’s meaningful metrics might be different. We needed some kind of…super-metric to ensure that Filament could provide value to everyone.
Enter the Engagement Score.
“What if,” we asked ourselves, “we could consolidate all our blog metrics into one simple score–kinda like a Klout score, but for content?”.
This was a question worth pursuing, so we created a prototype algorithm for calculating the Engagement Score (via a bunch of crazy Google Spreadsheets), and flexed our +16 charm skill to persuade a number of brave souls to share their Google Analytics accounts with us. From there, we started tinkering, to see if we could actually provide useful blog insights from real-world data. By the way, a huge hat tip to our intrepid guinea pigs, for their brave sacrifices in the name of blog science:
Ian Cleary, Razor Social
Danny Brown, DannyBrown.me
Raymmar Tirado, Ray.do
Andy Hickey, Adventure.com
Rob McCrady, Renegade Citizen
Christian Karascewicz, Christian K Online
Gregor Schmidt, Studio 5 Innovation
From all our experiments, we were able to realize a number of huge benefits from tracking the engagement score, mainly:
- We could see what was just a normal day–and what was significantly higher or lower than normal
- We could fairly compare two posts against each other
- We could gauge the quality of different sources of traffic
At this point, our brains and hands were starting to cramp up from painstakingly maintaining spreadsheets by hand in order to crunch the numbers for these folks, producing insights. And so, we started to build…
Chapter 4: All ahead full
In the last 11 months, Filament has been through 4 complete redesigns, with each iteration reflecting new approaches, feedback from our courageous beta testers, and ideas that we’ve picked up along the way.
This chapter is unfinished. That’s because by signing up for Filament and sharing your thoughts, you’re helping us write it. If that sounds a bit scary and uncertain, trust me, it is, but there’s one thing I can assure you: Blogs can be better–and we’re committed to helping yours.
We offer a free 14-day trial, which I’ll extend if you signup for Filament, and just email me at jason [at] filament.io to say hello.
We’re officially launching today, so check us out on Product Hunt & help us make blogging better by spreading the word.