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How to Write Better Content: Treat Your Post Like a Startup

A couple years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk by Dave McClure of 500 Startups. It was a revelation for me, because I’d never a) heard of the now-ubiquitous AARRR, or “Pirate Metrics” framework for startup metrics, and b) heard someone entertainingly swear so much as a keynote speaker. Safe to say, I left Dave’s session with an altered worldview of product management, (and some devastatingly creative cussword combos).

Fast-forward to recently, when I realized that the AARRR framework nicely applies to blog posts as well as Silicon Valley-crushing startups–and Sujan graciously invited me to share my observations here.

In this post, I’ll explain how you can apply Pirate Metrics to create content that effectively moves readers to your objective–and how to diagnose when content is faltering and why. Sound good? Then hoist the mizzen-mast and shackle me cannonballs matey! We’re goin’ fer a little jaunt…

jack sparrow running away

(if you already know what AARRR means, skip to the next part)

What is AARRR? And did you say…“Pirates”?

AARRR is an acronym describing the 5 types of behaviors of all SaaS business’ customers:

Acquisition – Users come to the site from various channels
Activation – Users enjoy their 1st visit, and have a positive experience
Retention – Users come back to the site multiple times
Referral – Users like the product enough to refer others
Revenue – Users conduct some monetization behavior

(For the full presentation, go here: Startup Metrics for Pirates)

It’s nicknamed Pirate Metrics because saying AARRR makes you sound like a pirate–which is fun! Or, you know, a dental patient–not as much fun unless you really get a thrill out of imagining you’re at the dentist’s office (if you do, there’s probably a subreddit out there that’s perfect for you).

It’s my opinion that this framework perfectly describes the way that visitors interact with blog posts too–which is unsurprising, since as a blogger, each post is your product.

Hijacking Pirate Metrics for better content

Let’s take a deeper dive to see exactly how each of the five types of behavior in the AARRR framework map to the structure and relevant metrics of a good blog post.

Acquisition

Butterfly Catcher

What is it – This is the outcome of all the marketing channels you use to drive traffic to your blog – social media campaigns, guest posts, PPC ads, whatever–some people end up on your site.

How you measure it – The trusty old pageview is your metric here – just like a SaaS product. Your success in the Acquisition stage is measured purely by how many people you’re able to attract to your front door.

What it tells you – For a startup, the level of traffic you’re getting is an indicator of how interesting the concept of your product is to people. You typically only get at most 2 minutes to deliver an elevator pitch for your product, before people either choose to investigate further, or lose interest. Similarly for a piece of content, your potential readers will only have the post’s title with which to judge whether or not they’re interested in what you have to say.

Therefore, a strong post title is critical to the success of your post, so make it count! Craft and test your headlines for maximum impact to get visitors clicking through. Some excellent resources for this:

Activation

What is it – Here’s where things start to diverge a bit. For a SaaS product, “Activation” typically refers to users setting up an account–but for content, an activated visitor is one that arrives at your blog post and begins to engage with it in some way.

How you measure it – There’s a healthy debate about how best to measure content performance, mainly because there are dozens of potential metrics out there. In general, you want to see the user taking some kind of action, whether that’s scrolling down the page, staying on the page a while, clicking something, etc.–anything really, so long as they’re not immediately leaving. I advise that you focus on between 1-3 of the most relevant content metrics to your blog’s objective.

What it tells you – Strong activation by visitors to your blog is an indicator that your post intro is doing a good job of hooking visitors once they arrive on the page, and ensuring that they stick around long enough to begin consuming your content.

A high bounce rate strongly implies there’s something off with your post’s introduction – either you’re not capturing your visitors’ interest quickly enough, or you’re not paying off the promise of the post title that got people to visit in the first place. Luckily, there are some well-known methods for tackling this:

Retention

dumb and dumber tongue stuck on pole

What is it – Retention is the “stickiness” of your content. How likely is it to keep visitors on your site, whether reading to completion, or at least motivating them to browse your other posts?

How you measure it – There are a couple useful metrics for this stage:

Average Scroll Depth

Typically represented as a percentage, this tells you on average, how far down your visitors scroll on your post. I’ve done an in-depth (see what I did there?) discussion on scroll depth as a metric down below.

Page Retention

For any page on your site, there are two ways to arrive on it, and two ways out.

Page Retention measures the 'stickiness' of your post.
Page Retention measures the ‘stickiness’ of your post.

Page Retention measures the ratio of visitors that stay on your site from a specific page, compared to all the visitors to that page:

# Visitors that view next page / (# External Visitors + Internal Visitors)

What it tells you – How well your post is keeping visitors on your site, instead of leaving to go check out funny cat GIFs. Depending on which metric you’re following, they can each tell you interesting things about your post.

Avg. Scroll Depth helps you pinpoint where in your post you’re losing your readers’ attention, so you know exactly where to go back and enrich your content. If your readers are consistently reading your post fully, chances are it’s a good one to promote, or an excellent spot to add some kind of call-to-action (subscribe, sign up, share, etc.).

Page Retention is also a great indicator of which pages you should promote, since your stickiest pages are keeping visitors on your site more than the others. It’s also a sign that you should write more content on those topics, since your visitors are telling you they’re hungry for more via their browsing behavior.

Here are some methods for increasing the stickiness of your posts:

Referral

Relay race baton

What is it – It’s a pretty universal rule that the better a product or business does something, the more likely people are to recommend it to others. In the context of blog posts, this takes the form of sharing your content via social media, and linking to it from other places.

How you measure it – There are several good metrics for gauging the level of referral happening on your blog:

Social Shares/Share Ratio

Just looking at the raw number of social shares is fine if you’re keeping mental tabs on the average number of shares your posts typically get. For a better comparison of whether your post is doing better or worse, the Share Ratio is better, as it lets you objectively compare the shareability of your posts, regardless of when they were published. Calculate it thus:

Share Ratio = # Shares / # Pageviews

Inbound links

People link to great content – or is it that great content encourages people to link to it? Either way, if you’re killing it with high-quality content, it’s more likely to become a resource for other blogs to share with their visitors. Gauging the number of links to your post is a decent measurement of how often this is happening.

% of Referral Traffic

A direct result of all those inbound links is that the proportion of visitors referred to you by other sites will go up. Easy!

What it tells you – I want to peg Referral as THE gauge of content quality, but I can’t, thanks to the popularity of misleading clickbait headlines and listicles. But measuring your content’s referrability is a decent yardstick of whether visitors are finding it valuable. Yes, I just made referrability a word.

Fundamentally, if people aren’t directing others to your content, you’re either not putting it in front of the right people, or you need to make it more valuable.

Revenue

What is it – So I’ll be honest, this is where the whole AARRR tie-in kinda frays a bit, because only a tiny minority of blogs actually produce revenue. However, according to the Web Analytics Stack, revenue is one of only a handful of the most elemental objectives of all websites, so I’m using it here as an umbrella term for anything your blog produces that gives you value. Love email subscribers? Imagine I’m saying “Subscribers” instead.

Phew, tie-in saved!

How you measure it – It depends on which objective you care about. You can measure just the raw numbers (monthly revenue, subscribers added, etc.), but it’s probably helpful to also monitor the conversion rate of your objective. So like before, if Subscribers are what wet your whistle, track each post’s subscriber conversion rate as follows:

# of subscribers captured from a page / # of pageviews of the page

What it tells you – Ultimately, this tells you how valuable your post is to you, as well as which of your posts should get more promotional love. But it goes further than that.

Knowing the value of your content with this level of granularity tells you what you should write more of, and which posts should get the repackaging treatment. As a bonus, if you’re able to tie your subscribers to a particular referrer or social network, you can use this conversion rate to gauge the effectiveness of each traffic source like so:

# of subs from Facebook / # of pageviews from Facebook = FB Subscriber Conv. Rate

The higher the conversion rate, the more likely you should focus on growing that traffic source to move the needle on your objective. Here are a few tools to help you measure various conversion rates for your blog:

Wrapping it up, matey!

Remember, your blog post is your product, so you can use the AARRR metrics framework to measure its effectiveness at each stage of a user interacting with it. You could do this all day every day, or just on a monthly basis–regardless of frequency, you’re likely to uncover useful insights into where your content is doing well, and where it needs a little love.

I’ve shared a ton of potential metrics here, but focus just on the most important ones for your blog, and don’t fall for the siren song of those sexy vanity metrics–they’ll only lead you astray!

Comments

11 Comments

Jason Amunwa

Thanks for having me, Sujan! If anyone has questions about blog metrics, I’ll be happy to entertain them here–fire away!

Christopher Jan Benitez

Cool concept about Pirate Metrics for startups and how it applies to blogging. And great save about the revenue aspect in blogging, as not all focus on building revenue through their blog. I like how it sort of simplifies the blogging process by taking a foreign idea and making it sound familiar through blogging.

Jason Amunwa

Thanks Christopher! Yeah, it was one of those late-night flash of inspiration kind of moments, when I thought to myself “Wait a second…this actually kinda makes sense…” =)

Video reenactment of that exact moment, courtesy of 2001: A Space Odyssey 😉 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM6OIlreneA

Debraj Bhowmick

Thanks for the Pirate Metrics it is too useful to me. I think it is most easiest and cool definition of pirate metrics. It is an effective way to move the reader in right object. I surely apply this technique. thanks again.

Jason Amunwa

You’re very welcome Debraj! Do me a favor: please come back and tell us know how it works out for you, I’d be curious to hear!

Ravi

Awesome line – your blog post is your product, I have realized that lately. :)

Jason Amunwa

Thanks Ravi! Yeah, it just dawned on me that the posts we write are merely mechanisms we create to guide people towards some kind of value–much like products! =)

Michael

This blog piece is great for reflecting on how blogging went for us in 2015 and how we can improve in 2016. Thanks!

Jason Amunwa

Thanks Michael! Yep, it’s a nice, straightforward framework to experiment with. I’d love to hear how it works out for you!

Harshika

The way you have presented this content is truly awesome. Got motivated from AARRR framework, and yes, as you have quoted “your blog post is your product” going to work like charm.

Jason Amunwa

Hey, thanks Harshika, I appreciate it =) I think many folks get into blogging just as a means to drive traffic to the things they care about–but by just doing the bare minimum needed to rank well for a post, they’re doing themselves a disservice, because the content they put out IS part of their product.

Just like in life, it’s not easy to consistently put out great content, but the potential for outsize return is far greater when you commit to it, and the AARRR framework helped me think through a systematic approach to achieving this.


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