Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blog Field Trip: Limited Floor Space

It never ceases to amaze me that folks with blogs and websites believe their virtual spaces are infinite. Size of hosting/server space aside, I'm talking about the space on any particular 'page' a person sees. When looking at your web design layout or blog template, you do not have infinite space. At least not in functionality. Filling every inch with text links, banners and buttons, boxes, graphics, etc. results in too much information. Like your desk, just because it can hold 500 pounds of paper doesn't mean you can find a damn thing on it if it does.

Fundamentally this is due to human weakness. All those links and banners on a page become a jumble & we just can't take it all in. So if your sidebar (or webpage space) is filled with link swaps, banner trades, affiliate ads, links to your own site goodies and products, it may be too overwhelming for your visitors.

Coming from an extensive retail background, I typically view website page space as retail floor space. You have your front window, which is your content (images, articles, blog posts) and then you have sales floor space. If your blog sidebar is too cluttered you need to simplify to move shoppers (traffic) to your goods. In a real store you make sure shoppers can walk about, giving them isles, and featuring key items. It's no different with your blog or website.

Since this is a field trip, let's look again at Slip of a Girl's blog. I must first warn you that Slip and I discussed this months ago, so her clutter problems have (in large) been fixed, so when you go look you won't see so many of the boo-boos and errors discussed. However, I'm certain you've all had experiences at cluttered blogs; enough to know how 'bad' it can get. Anyway, the 'before' isn't as important as the 'after' ~ and neither is as important as the conversation and process of moving from one to another.

Slip came to me complaining of poor affiliate sales, asking me to look over her blog and give my opinions. Her blog sidebar looked like a to-do list at holiday time. Her links were not grouped (as they are now) so it was one long sidebar-O-rama of links and a hodgepodge of images & widgets.

Most of her affiliate links were/are lingerie related. (It makes sense if she's dishing lingerie to try and get a bit of money for all her work on said bits of nylon and lace.) But there were a few others there as well, hidden in a long list of catch-all links. Our first discussion was on the performance of her links.

Slip said, "Out of the 32 lingerie affiliate programs, I've only had sales from 3 programs. And these are at the top of the blog, so even if it's a short entry these lingerie store links are visible. The others? Maybe one or two sales. I don't see why they are so low with the traffic numbers I am having -- they are sites for lingerie lovers."

After comparing her pile of links to a real store having the lingerie in piles on the floor, she went to work. Slip identified not just which items/links sold well, but those that she simply insisted were part of her inventory (favorites she wants to support). She weeded out the rest. This resulted in a shorter, more concise list of links ~ or lingerie items in inventory if you will.

This also makes sense from an authority point of view. If links are recommendations, you certainly can't be honestly saying you recommend every lingerie store out there, can you? To be authoritative you select the best, the creme de la creme, your real favorites, and ignore the rest.

Next, we addressed the issue of the other product piles on the floor.

Slip defined the other products/links this way, "The non-lingerie links are mixed lot. There are stocking models, cross dressers, personal friends, link swaps with sex blog directories, general fashion sites, a few other stores I like which are not lingerie related... A real mish-mosh."

"So why not break them down as such ~ as much as you can ~ and label them that way?" I said. "This way folks interested in fashion, can find fashion; those into more racy sex sites can easily find them, etc."

Slip did just that, organizing her links in a more orderly fashion. Taking the text link groupings (each category given a header or name in her own wording to allow for personality), and listing them in her opinion of which were most relevant to site visitors (based on her blog entries, popular searches, keywords). In doing this, Slip created isles for shoppers.

Now she had most of the stuff off the floor, but there was still the issue of widgets ~ you know, site script feeds, badges and other automatically updating toys & visuals.

Since a sidebar of all text links (even if boldly separated into groups) can be mind-numbing, these widgets allow for practical matters of spacing (not to mention personality). Likewise, images, buttons and banners. Like mannequins displaying featured fashions, or sales racks with toppers announcing sales, these draw the eye.

The result is a sidebar which a person can scan and readily find what they are looking for.

But the proof is in the cash register; did Slip increase her sales? "My clicks to affiliate sites increased by 50% (not just to those stores I kept on my blog, but I mean overall clicks!) and within days I had sales. I'm not going to retire on this (yet!), but there sure was proof that housekeeping and clearing to make isles works!"

At this point I should make a disclaimer: Slip is one of my affiliates. So I have a bias. *wink* But this too adds proof that wise use of floorspace works; even I noticed her referral clicks increased.

Slip wisely realizes she's not done. "I've made a schedule for doing this housekeeping monthly, including rotating/changing banners, checking dead links etc. This way, I can weed out dead stuff, keep it neat and tidy, just like rotating store stock."

And Slip now uses this whole idea when approached for link swaps.

"Other bloggers noticed the traffic I was sending their way and asked to swap with their other blogs -- or sent friends my way. I now use the 'isles' to evaluate if trading my floor space for their floor space is a good idea. Not just checking if the blog is related to mine in content/visitors, but do they have isles? No sense in me being buried in their link pile -- needle in the haystack and all that. And when stores contact me regarding joining their lingerie affiliate programs, I can honestly evaluate if I want to do it -- and politely decline knowing that I made a good choice and why. Thinking of links as inventory and floor space really helps, especially if I have to say 'no thanks' to them."

So take a look at your website or blog. Are you making the most of your floor space? If not, what are you going to do about it?

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