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A Change Of Pace

By John Clarke

Or rather a change of pace, a change of content and a change of design.

So far, I’ve mainly written art­icles with the primary inten­tion of presenting “the facts”, even if you do have to distil them from the murky cas­serole of ter­rible jokes, swearing and catpix. These kinds of posts might be about a phar­ma­co­lo­gical process, a recipe, tek, or perhaps an update on a news story or devel­oping situ­ation, and I’ve tried to write some­thing about once every week or two. The problem is, these kind of posts usually require all sorts of crazy shit like “fore­thought” and “reading stuff”. It’s not that I’m incap­able of such bizarre activ­ities, it’s just that I’ve often got more to say than the time it would take to say it prop­erly. I’ve always felt it neces­sary to try and cover as much of a topic as I can, while trying to present it nicely as pos­sible, but that level of effort means I can only be arsed only have the time to write art­icles like that sporad­ic­ally.  As a result, I’ve ended up not both­ering to write about a number of inter­esting topics that perhaps weren’t that big of a deal because there’s not enough time in the day to cover them all “prop­erly”.  So, I quit.

Hah. Only joking.

I’m going to try blog­ging a bit more cas­u­ally instead. The plan is to write shorter posts, perhaps not going into all the details, or con­sid­ering all even­tu­al­ities, or whatever. I might be more likely to just quote the odd article, for instance, or maybe just write down my opin­ions on some­thing. The upshot is I’m hoping to post more fre­quently about a broader range of sub­jects, so everyone’s a winner! That is, unless you hate what I have to say, in which case, why haven’t you fucked off yet?

I’m not giving up writing longer posts alto­gether though. Far from it! In fact, writing more posts in general will prob­ably encourage me, and I’ve had a few topics in mind for ages.

The next thing I’m chan­ging is the blog’s design.

Prob­ably some­thing like this?

No, nothing that amazing, don’t panic, just a few tweaks here ‘n’ there to find what works best for the largest amount of people. And I’m going to do it with science!

For a while now, I’ve been thinking how long the blog takes to load, espe­cially the front page, and espe­cially for new users with an empty cache. Shaving off a second or two doesn’t sound like a big deal, but you’d be sur­prised on how much of an impact the speed of a website can have, but it affects almost everything, such as how long people stay on the site, how many pages they view in that visit, how likely it is they’ll pass your link around, how likely it is they’ll buy some­thing and how much they’ll spend (for eco­m­merce sites) and poten­tially where the site will rank in Google.

Pages Per Visit vs Page Speed

Have a look at some more graphs ‘n’ charts to see just how much those few seconds matter.

I’ve already gone through the entire blog and com­pressed the fuck out of every single image, shaving off an entire mega­byte in total, but only a frac­tion of those images are on the front page. Luckily, there’s a few things I can do that will spe­cific­ally affect the front page:

  • Display less posts
  • Display only the first bit of posts (with a “Read More” link to the rest)
  • Don’t display as many images
  • Write shorter posts

That last one I’ve already covered, so what about the first three design-​​related options? Obvi­ously, they’d all reduce load time, and, if I went as far as dis­playing only the one post’s head­line and first three letters with zero images, load time would be minimal, but then no one would stick around anyway. A site needs to be fast, but it still needs some content to keep people engaged.

To find the most effective trade-​​off, I’ve set up a little exper­i­ment… In the mar­keting biz, it’s called a split test, and it works some­thing like this:

You create several dif­ferent ver­sions of some­thing — it could be an entirely dif­ferent page layout or design, or it could be as simple as placing a little button in dif­ferent places on the same page — and then you ran­domly assign each visitor to one par­tic­ular vari­ation (making sure they always see the same vari­ation on sub­sequent visits). Then you just sit back and watch the data pour in.

After a while, you can then start to compare how each group of vis­itors behave. Version #3 might keep people on the site for twice as long, but version #2 might see people return thrice as often. When  enough data has been col­lected, hope­fully a victor will emerge.

Yes­terday, I created six ver­sions of the front page and got the exper­i­ment under way. Here are the details:

V110 full posts are dis­played — this is how it’s been for everyone up to now, so this is the control
V28 full posts
V36 full posts
V4Latest two posts dis­played in full, next two are max 1300 char­ac­ters, next two are max 800, rest are 500 max — 15 posts in total
V5Same as above, but 20 posts (so more of the 500 char­acter excerpts at the bottom)
V620 posts again,  but only first post in full, next two 1300 char­ac­ters max, next five 800 max, rest 500 max

Any­thing that’s not a full post won’t have any images in it either, and older pages (there’s a link to older posts at the bottom of the front page) will display the same as the last post on the front page, so older pages of V1-​​3 will be exactly the same as the front page, while older pages of V4-​​V6 will have 15 or 20 posts of 500 char­acter excerpts with no images. Also, the excerpt length is approx, and will (hope­fully) round off to the nearest whole word.

When it’s clear that one has per­formed better than the other, I’ll stop the exper­i­ment and imple­ment the winning version for all users. Then I’ll prob­ably test some­thing else. Of course, there’s no guar­antee one of them will perform any better, in which case, I’ll pick the one I like best. Whatever happens, I’ll let you know, prob­ably via some off-​​the-​​cuff scribble of a post.

… Which is what I was hoping this post would be, but it looks like I’ve ended up writing loads again.

One Response to A Change Of Pace

  1. Tim says:

    well done for trying to put more stuff out, i have to say i like the long posts but i know ( as my other half blogs ) that its hard to fit it around every thing that goes on in your life.
    as for the front page i think the shorter the better as i dont mind invest­ig­ating a little more …
    looking forward to more science stuff :-)
    keep up the good work.

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