Blogs can be better: the story of why we built Filament Pro

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

donkey_at_sea

“Uh…now what?”

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:

¯_(ツ)_/¯

“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!

“Guys, let’s build an analytics tool specifically for blogs”

“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
  • etc.

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?”.

whatifitoldyou

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:

lumberjack nod

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

Warp-Speed

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.

Forget your Twitter share count. Social referral traffic is more important.

don't cry

We need to talk about social sharing counts. Content marketers have developed a serious addiction to them that I think is bordering on unhealthy–and I’m saying this as one of the folks on the team that created Flare, a social sharing bar app!

Share counts are in danger of becoming the new Pageview, because they have the same traits as any vanity metric: They’re easily inflated, generate impressive-sounding numbers with lots of digits, and are difficult to tie to actual, meaningful engagement on the part of the visitor.

If a post is shared in the woods, and no-one clicks on it, has it really been engaged with?

Tweet this quote

In this post, I’m going to show you how raw social share counts are becoming irrelevant to measuring true content performance, and tell you why traffic referred to your sites from social networks is a better indicator of visitor engagement with your posts. But first: the evidence…

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How to choose which content performance metrics to focus on

huge haystacks

Somewhere in there is your blog’s most important metric…

We’re drowning in an ocean of data, but pulling useful insights out of it, and knowing which metrics to focus on is getting harder by the day. Don’t believe me? Answer this question in less than 10 words: how’s your blog doing, and how do you know?

mal_no words

…Yeah, I thought so–and I sympathize! After all, how do you answer concisely when someone asks how the blog is doing? Do you tell them traffic is up? Or that bounce rates are stable? Or that social shares are slowly declining? All of these things could be true, and yet taken together they provide a fuzzy, confusing view of how your blog is performing overall.

Fret not, friend. In this post I’m going to walk you through a simple process for choosing which metrics matter most for your blog, and how to choose which to focus on. Next time someone asks about your blog, you’re gonna answer like the crack of a whip. Wha-KISSHHHHH!

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How to increase your visitors’ scroll depth (and get people to read your stuff)

How deep will your visitors go?

How deep will your visitors go?

What the heck is “Scroll Depth”?

It means how far down the page your visitors scroll, once they arrive at one of your posts.

And I should care about it because…?

Because if no-one’s scrolling through your content, there’s a pretty good chance they’re not even reading the post you so carefully crafted for their consumption! And if no-one’s reading your stuff, well, that’s a problem, mmkay? A good average scroll rate (around 50-75%) means that your visitors are mostly finding the title and opening paragraphs of your post interesting enough to stick around for a while, and read a bit further. It’s an indicator of a) the perceived quality of your content, and b) the quality of the traffic coming to the post.

Right. So you’re gonna tell me how to increase my average scroll depth, then?

Yep! Here are several super-easy ways to push your visitors further down the screen and keep those eyes glued to your post.

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A major redesign is on the way!

A brand new dashboard design is coming!HEADS UP: we’re going to be rolling out a major redesign to Filament’s Overview and Individual URL screens later this week!

We’ve been busy listening to all your feedback, suggestions, raves and rants and carefully distilling them down into the concentrated goodness that’s fueling this next update – and I think you’re really going to like what comes next! So read on to get the scoop on the ch-ch-changes headed your way.

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How to measure referrer traffic quality

[Post #4 of 4] Over the past few weeks, we’ve posted a series of short tutorials covering how to get more useful insights from your blog analytics, and improve your content stats workflow. Many of these tips are pertinent to things that Filament Pro monitors for you out-of-the-box, but the beauty of metrics are that the math is the same, no matter which tool you use to track them – so hopefully you’ll find this series useful in your day-to-day!

« Previous post–How to understand your visitors’ sharing behavior


Lesson No. 4: Referrers and Traffic Quality

While referrers are crucial partners in driving traffic to your site, we tend to judge them solely by how many visitors they send you, but that seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? The referrer’s volume is only one aspect of their true value.

Problem: How do you find the referrers who are potentially sending you the best, most engaged visitors, but not in as great a quantity as the others?

Solution: Segment out the traffic from your major referrers, and compare how these sources of visitors engage with your site. Filament Pro helps you track the quality of your traffic sources in addition to their volume, so you can easily figure out who to nurture better relationships with.

Why it matters: Quality, engaged traffic means you have more people taking meaningful actions on your site, whether that’s reading it fully, sharing it, commenting or doing other useful things. Growing referrals also helps build authority for your content, thereby helping increase its search rankings. It’s a win-win.

For your final lesson, we’re going to delve into how to identify good referrers and share with you some tactics you can use to effectively grow them. Onwards!

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How to understand your visitors’ sharing behavior

[Post #3 of 4] Over the next couple of weeks, we’re posting a series of 4 short tutorials covering how to get more useful insights from your blog analytics, and improve your content stats workflow. Many of these tips are pertinent to things that Filament Pro monitors for you out-of-the-box, but the beauty of metrics are that the math is the same, no matter which tool you use to track them – so hopefully you’ll find this series useful in your day-to-day!

« Previous post–How to measure content performance with just one metric


Lesson #3: Sharing is Caring

While many tools already tell you what’s being said about your content within the social networks themselves, Filament Pro helps you learn more about your visitors’ sharing activity when they’re actually on your website—a critical performance metric.

How’s that, you may wonder? Well, once you can understand your visitor’s sharing behaviors, you’ll be able to see which posts are getting the most share-care-love. Yeah, we made that up. But it’s actually a real thing! And by knowing where your shares are coming from, you’ll also know where and how to focus your social media promotion strategies.

And remember, this is Lesson No. 3 of 4. Here are Lessons No. 1 and No. 2 so you can catch-up and feel ready to dive in.

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How to measure content performance with just one metric

[Post #2 of 4] Over the next couple of weeks, we’re posting a series of 4 short tutorials covering how to get more useful insights from your blog analytics, and improve your content stats workflow. Many of these tips are pertinent to things that Filament Pro monitors for you out-of-the-box, but the beauty of metrics are that the math is the same, no matter which tool you use to track them – so hopefully you’ll find this series useful in your day-to-day!

« First post – How to save time with your blog analytics


Lesson #2: All about Engagement​

In this lesson, we’re going to explain how Filament measures the overall level of visitor activity on your website, using a single number – your Engagement Score. We’ll explore how you can analyze this score to quickly gain insights about what’s happening on your site, identify what content is resonating most with your visitors, and also why. This is useful to know, if you want to increase your visitor activity. These kinds of insights help you understand what to write about, where to promote your content and how your visitors are responding to it!

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How to save time with your blog analytics

[Post #1 of 4] Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to post a series of 4 short tutorials covering how to get more useful insights from your blog analytics, and improve your content stats workflow. Many of these tips are highly pertinent to things that Filament Pro monitors for you out-of-the-box, but the beauty of metrics are that the math is the same, no matter which tool you use to track them – so hopefully you’ll find this series useful in your day-to-day!


Lesson #1: How to save time with your blog analytics

We love Google Analytics (GA for short) and use it often. GA is many, many things—it’s free, it’s by Google, it’s orange—but sometimes it’s like trying to sip from a firehose. There’s just so much data there!

We designed Filament to help you get to the useful stuff quicker. This is the first of four quick posts we’ll be publishing over the next few days to speed up your daily content analytics ritual, and help you get the most out of Filament Pro.

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The Complete Guide To Developing Evergreen Content

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 7.51.42 AM

Evergreen content is, quite simply, content that is always relevant. It doesn’t matter if you created it five minutes or five years ago — it still has use for your reader today.

Evergreen content is also a huge help to you, the content creator, in that it has a long shelf life. You can reshare evergreen blog posts on your blog far past the date they were published. You can repackage evergreen content over and over, creating new content types and bringing in the traffic long after the original publication date. (more…)

Simple UX mistakes to avoid on your blog – Volume 2

And we’re back with the second release in our blog-focused UX & Design series where I aim to provide you with short tips and ways to avoid the most common mistakes I see committed across blogs internet-wide. You can catch volume one here.

I know, I know – you have no budget. Or you can’t code or design your way out of a paper bag. There are always better options out there and that’s why this series exists.

Here’s what we’ll cover this time around

  • The effects of poor readability
  • Overly aggressive Calls-to-Action
    Okay, let’s get started… (more…)

25+ Blog Image Tools & Resources To Help Boost Engagement

Blog Image Tools

Blog posts that have images get 94% more engagement. Web pages with images get 50% more shares. When an image is present, people will look. Or, I should say, when a high-quality relevant image is present, people will look.

Most bloggers know, at this point, that they need images with their blog posts. Images bring engagement.

Some bloggers are solving this problem by grabbing images from anywhere and tossing graphics into their posts that are neither relevant nor high quality. Poor-quality images aren’t helping your engagement, in the long run, and you only end up putting more time into your post for very little additional return.

Let’s take a look at what you should consider when creating images for your blog posts, and the tools that can help you do it right. (more…)

How to grow your email list by 600%: A behind-the-scenes look at hosting a virtual summit

Jan KochI first met Jan Koch over a year ago as a beta tester for Flare, a role that he’s continued with Filament. Anyone who has the privilege of chatting with him for even 5 minutes will realize that building businesses using WordPress is what lights Jan’s fire, and it’s such a pleasure to hear him talk about it, that I thought I’d share his wealth of knowledge with you all. Jan hosts the global WP Summit which brings together some of the smartest marketing minds to help you get the most out of WordPress as a business platform. You can check out his blog at jkoch.me and follow him on Twitter – @iamjankoch. In this guest post, Jan takes you behind the scenes of his experiences, experiments and findings with hosting a virtual summit. So, without further ado, Jan, over to you! ~ Jason

Running a virtual summit is a great way to boost a business, to gain a lot of attention and position yourself as the expert in the market. But measuring the engagement of a virtual summit is tricky, as there are countless metrics to track. This post gives you in-depth insights on the engagement of my first WP Summit. (more…)

How Post Enrichment Can Help You Increase Shares & Traffic

When it comes to finding tricks to increase the sharing of your content, every little bit helps. A killer headline, perhaps, or an amazing post with content so spot-on that people can’t help but tell others. Sometimes, though, in a sea of other killer headlines and great posts, your content needs an extra boost.

Do you live your life a quarter post at a time?

Do you live your life a quarter post at a time?

That boost is post enrichment. It can super-charge your content and make it more interactive and sharable.

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How engagement will save the web

Engagement might be scrawny right now, but it could be the hero we need

Engagement might be scrawny right now, but it could be just the hero we need

Ok, let’s do a quick experiment: close your eyes for a sec. Oh, wait, open them, you won’t be able to read the instructions that follow otherwise. I want you to envision some of the things that annoy you the most about researching a topic on the web.

Got a few ideas? Ok, do me a favor and nod your head if you thought of at least one of the following:

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The 4 most important content marketing decisions, made easier with data

When you’re choosing a topic to write about, or deciding where to promote your content, what do you base your decisions on? Go on, be honest: a lot of it is simply by gut feel, right? But other marketing specialties (email, social, CRM, etc.) have greatly benefited from tools and data to drive their decisions for years now. So what gives?

 

Sharon Stone rolls the dice as Ginger in Casino

The Ginger Mckenna Method of content marketing

Let’s face it, content marketing has been a crapshoot for a long time – too long – especially considering blogging has been around for about 15 years now, (which equates to approximately 3 millennia in internet years). Well I say now it’s content’s turn!

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3 essential engagement metrics you aren’t paying attention to, but should

Website engagement is a tricky thing to nail down, and there are lots of different approaches being taken to measure it – everything from time-based metrics, to click-oriented indicators.

While it’s useful to blend these separate metrics into a single score for the sake of ease, don’t be fooled into treating each of these metrics as a commodity – some carry weightier implications for your content than others, and can reveal incredibly useful insights when fully understood.

This post will share 3 of the most essential engagement metrics I’ve encountered so far for blogs, as well as some of the tools that best help you measure them. Remember, though, that the best engagement metrics are always the ones that align with your website’s objectives.

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The Life of a Blog Post: From Creation to Promotion

Sujan Patel is an expert in content marketing and SEO, and the VP of When I Work, a SaaS product that removes the headaches of scheduling hourly employees in Excel and brings the process into the modern web. In this guest post, he takes you through the lifecycle of a blog post, starting at the ideation stage, and continuing right through to repurposing it.

If you’ve decided to invest time, money, and energy into implementing content marketing strategies as a way to grow your business, you have to take the time to plan. It really is the only option If you want to be successful and see any sort of return come from your efforts.

The hard part is, when it comes to blogging for business, it’s not always easy to know where to start. It can be overwhelming!

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Simple UX mistakes to avoid on your blog

Shawn is Filament’s product designer and front-end dev unicorn – so naturally I asked him to share his wisdom here. He also eats a tremendous amount of Internet and daily breakfast burritos. So…now you know… ~Jason

If you’re reading this, we have something in common – an appreciation of a good experience. Dare I say an engaging one? [I’m already regretting this… ~J]

I work on the design of all things Filament – including Flare – which means I’ve seen and designed for a lot of blogs. One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of UX mistakes that occur at every scale, not just rookie blogs; major brands, established product companies and even marketing experts make these mistakes too. (more…)

Analyzing our post engagement – March 2015

I’ve said before that this blog is an experiment unto itself, and I meant it! That’s why each month, I’m going to share my insights on our own blog’s engagement for the past month’s posts – starting right now. I’ll dissect the engagement performance of select posts we’ve published recently, so you can a) learn where we’re succeeding and failing, and b) understand a little more about how to gain insights about your visitors’ engagement with your own content, and how to grow it. So let’s blast off, shall we?

Space shuttle Columbia liftoff from launchpad

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8 Distribution Tactics For Extending The Life of Your Best Blog Posts

Hi folks, Jason here! I learned one of my most useful life lessons while I was a one-man-band marketing consultant, a few years ago. I was struggling with having the confidence to believe I was an expert on any of the topics I discussed with my clients, and as a result, was terrified of being “outed” as a fraud. And then I realized the rules were really quite simple – if you know more about something than the person you’re talking to, you are the expert. If you’re not, shaddap and listen, you might learn a few things.

Portrait of Sujan PatelWell, Sujan Patel is an expert in content marketing and SEO, and I’m honored to welcome his perspective to the Filament blog. Sujan is the VP of When I Work, a SaaS product that removes the headaches of scheduling hourly employees in Excel and brings the process into the modern web. In this guest post, he’s going to explain exactly how to ensure you’re wringing every inch of potential reach and value out of your very best content.

So shaddap and listen – I guarantee you’re gonna learn a few things!

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VIDEO: Watch (one of) us speak about website engagement at WP Summit!

Jason Amunwa headshot with info on the WP Summit, March 20th, 2015

A quick heads-up for you guys: today I’m representing Filament at the WP Summit tomorrow, a virtual conference that’s been put together by the multi-talented (and likely heavily sleep-deprived) Jan Koch.

Sign up for the WP Summit for free

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8 proven tactics for boosting your blog’s engagement

Engagement – everyone, from web analytics nerds to fairy princesses wants it, and if they have it, they likely want more. And even said nerds know (as well as the princesses) that you don’t just sit around in your ivory tower, waiting for engagement to come to you – you’ve gotta go out and get it.

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Beyond the pageview: How to measure website engagement [Part 2 – Tools and Tactics]

In my last post, I broke down the still-nebulous concept of website engagement into its slightly less-nebulous, and easier-to-track elements – which was fun, and all, but I figure you’re probably still wondering how to track this trendy-sounding thing all the hipster kids call engagement?

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Well wishes for Harrison Ford

This’ll be a short one.

I’m hearing Harrison Ford has just been injured in a small plane crash. Sounds like he’s understandably rattled, but is, thankfully, alive. Han Solo was such a huge influence on me growing up, so I just wanted to post this.

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Beyond the pageview: How to measure website engagement [Part 1 – The Theory]

There’s a variety of definitions of website engagement out there – hey, I’ve even shared my own in a previous post – but on one thing, they all agree: engagement is tricky to measure. So I decided to tackle this thorny topic, and see if I can’t shed some light on how to understand and track your website’s engagement yourself.

In Part 1 of this mini-series, I’ll deal with the theory – we’ll get familiar with the basic elements that make up engagement. (more…)

The Website Engagement Primer: What is it, and why is it important?

You might have been seeing the word “Engagement” bouncing around a lot recently in marketer & blogger circles. This is for a good reason: creating good content is really hard, so when you labor to put something out there, you naturally want to know how it did, right? Many smart people are scrambling to figure out that next all-important digital yardstick, and although there are various definitions currently in circulation, most of those smarties are calling it Engagement, because they’re unified by a desire to go beyond the pageview, and measure how visitors actually engage with content.

In this post, I humbly submit our own definition of Website Engagement, and explain why you should be paying attention to it on your blog. Sound good? Then let’s begin. (more…)

Lessons and learnings in blog engagement: Welcome to the Filament Blog!

Hello World! It’s my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the Filament blog. Congratulations, this is our very first post, which means you’ve gotten in at the ground floor!

Now, there are a million ways we could do this, but being a fan of simplicity, I thought it’d be nice to present our opener in a Q&A format. Let’s answer some questions, shall we? By the time you come out the other side, you’ll know more about us, and whether or not you want to stick around. (more…)