This is a guest contribution by Graeme Caldwell
WordPress is a hugely powerful content management system that makes it easy to include any number of widgets and features on a site. The range of options can be overwhelming, and many novice webmasters stuff their pages with as much functionality as they possibly can: I’ve seen pages loaded down with a dozen social media widgets and buttons, comments, forms, calls to action, advertising modules, modal popups, and more.
The abundance of choice leads some WordPress site owners to refrain from making a choice at all; instead they include every possible feature that users might possibly want and a good few that are there just because they look cool.
I think that approach is a mistake for several reasons: the most prominent of which is that it shows a lack of thoughtfulness about the site and its purpose.
The final cause of many sites is to make money, which can lead site owners to include every possible method by which revenue might be generated, but that’s a misguided approach. Site owners want to generate revenue, but making money is like finding happiness: it’s a nebulous target to aim at. You need something more concrete.
What is it that your site offers to its audience? If it’s publishing written content for example, the focus should be on providing the best possible writing, displayed in the way that best suits it. That means thinking about readability, about information architecture, about writing and editing, and about outreach to raise awareness. The site should then be built around decisions that are consonant with making the best possible experience for readers.
If you are thinking from principles that entail a great reading experience, there’s no way that you will think your way to modal popups that obscure content as soon as a visitor arrives. In theory, modal popups increase conversion rates, but in practice they have nothing to do with providing a great experience for your users. On the other hand, giving users the opportunity to sign up to an email newsletter after they have finished reading, or in a prominent but non-interrupting CTA elsewhere on the page is entirely in keeping with offering a good reading experience.
If you offer an optimal experience, the eventual payoff will be loyalty, repeat visits, greater engagement, and increased revenue. Revenue will come as a byproduct of providing a great experience and making people aware of it.
But thinking isn’t enough. Testing is also essential. It’s possible to reason from sound principles to unsound solutions, so split testing is key. Sharing is part of the content consumption experience, so it follows that social media widgets are part of providing a good experience, but tests on some sites have shown that they are hardly ever used (different sites have different results). If no one is using social media widgets on your site, then remove them: they take up bandwidth, provide visual distractions, and they’re often horribly slow to load.
By thinking from first principles that aim to provide the best possible user experience, rather than concentrating on revenue maximization, you will establish a brand that stands a greater chance of making money over the long term.