Make your website irrelevant, take the circus approach

What would rather have?

  • Option A: 100 people experience your online presentation, but you only have proof of 30.


  • Option B: 50 people experience your online presentation, and you have proof of all 50.

I’m guessing you chose option A.  Here’s a second question, is that your reality?

Time and time again, online presenters are choosing option B.  And based on a bit of personal research, most don’t even know they’ve made that choice.

Here is what this post will cover:

  • I start by explaining why your website should be irrelevant;
  • then introduce the circus approach;
  • talk about other places your presentation is seen;
  • provide evidence on how you may be throwing your audience away;
  • show you the importance of email;
  • talk about the consequences of small barriers;
  • show WordPress users a setting they should check;
  • and offer advice to those frustrated with summaries.

Make your website irrelevant

When you’re on the web, are you singularly focused on getting people to your site?  Why?

I know you my dear reader, you’re not presenting in the digital world to sell.   You’re presenting to spread a message (in other words, communicate your something to your someone).  Does it really matter where that happens?

Yes, you do need a base of operations, but try to treat your site like a home office.  If your something is more likely to reach your someones on the road, pack it a suitcase and give it per diem.

The circus approach

If your presentation relies on your site for context, you will limit it’s spreadability.   To fix this, make every online presentation you offer self-contained and ready for travel.  Just like a circus goes to the audience, so should you.


  • If your blog is a resource blog, and you’re writing a post, add links to related posts within the post.
  • If you want new readers to sign up for your email list, ask them to do so in your post and give them the link.  Don’t assume they’ll be on your site to see the “follow by email” link on the sidebar.
  • If you’re presenting using video, call your audience to action within the video.
  • If you create an infographic ALWAYS put in the link to the full report.

Where your presentation is seen

If you present using social media, there’s a feed.  This feed can let your someones read/experience your presentations in places such as email inboxes, readers (i.e. Flipboard, Feedly), and aggregators (i.e. EvalCentral).

It’s fairly common for you to have a proprietary knee-jerk reaction, “Eep, that’s my presentation, mine, no you can’t have it interweb!”

But seriously, why do give a <insert your favorite expletive>?

Remember, the goal is to get your something to your someones.  Not get your someones to your site.

Throwing away over 90% of your audience

Alright, time to talk a little evidence.  With email/feed analytics there are two metrics of interest.  Open-rate (aka view rate) and click-rate.

  • Open-rate is the percentage of those receiving your email (or seeing it in their reader) who opened your email.
  • Click-rate is the percentage of those receiving your email  (or seeing it in their reader) who clicked on a link within the email.

Mailchimp has created a set of industry specific benchmarks for email, here are a couple that might be of interest.

  • Education has an open rate of 36.4% and a click rate of 3.1%. (In other words, 8.5% of opens, click).
  • Consulting has an open rate of  37.1% and a click rate of 3.4% (In other words, 9.2% of opens, click).

Now let’s talk about Eval Central, which is an evaluation blog aggregator I developed a few years’ ago.

From November 5, 2013 to December 4, 2013 there were a total of 22,191 items viewed through the site’s feed (email, etc.).  Those 22,191 views resulted in 798 clicks.   In other words only 3.6% of those who viewed a post clicked on a link.

The highest daily click-rate over that span was 9.7%.  This includes some blogs that offer summaries with a link (only some of their content) and blogs that include full text (also with a link to comment).

Too many numbers? Here’s the gist…

It takes a lot to get someone who is reading something to click anything.  Even at the best times, only a small fraction of those who read a post will click a link.  So if you force your audience to click a link to read your content, you will throw away readers.

Email is really important

So this is an older example, but I think a good one.  Awhile ago Susan Kistler wrote a post on AEA365 talking about subscriber growth.  Just check out this chart, even though daily pageviews only increased a small amount over the two year span, the email list boomed.

AEA365 is a blog but could easily be mistaken for a daily email newsletter.  The posts are written to be delivered and read via email, so they don’t pull in a ton of readers to the actual site.  But again, this doesn’t matter.  If the audience’s comfort zone is with their email inbox, don’t make them leave their email inbox.

Even the smallest barriers reduce readership

Did you read my last post on why you should present online?  One of the six common online presentation problems is that your someone is not receptive.

In a conference room an audience member will give you the benefit of a doubt for at least a few minutes if you get off to a slow start.  They usually won’t jump out of their seat and take off 30 seconds into your opening.  The web is different though, if you don’t grab them at the beginning, they’re gone.

Online, only the most motivated of audience members fight through even the smallest barriers.  Keep the barriers up and you’ll still get the diehard fans, but are they really the only someones you want?

WordPress users, check your settings

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend of late.  Bloggers who have had their feeds sending out full text in the past have switched to summary.  To which I say…”Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,”  give or take a few “o”s.

Here’s the crazy thing, switching to summary will show a short-term bump in your pageviews.  This happens because you force your die-hard readers to visit your site (not read in their inbox or through their reader of choice).  This is one of the reasons why shallow pageview-focused analytics should not be fully trusted (more on this in a later post).

But, because click-rates are low and most of your audience will usually start your post slightly unmotivated, you will ultimately reach a lot less readers.   You are essentially optimizing for someones reaching your site, not someones experiencing your something.

Here is what you do to change this…

  1. Go to your dashboard
  2. Click on Settings>Reading
  3. Where it says “For each article in a feed, show”, switch to “Full text”

Do you follow a blog that is only putting out a summary?

Is it frustrating?  Here’s what you can do.  Send the blogger the following in an email or through their contact form.

“Hi, my name is <stick in your name> and I love your blog.  I do have one suggestion.  I love reading posts <in my email inbox, using flipbook, using feedly, etc.>.  Any chance you could change your settings to show Full Text?  It would really help me read more of your fantastic posts.

Thanks for all that you share!”

If they ask you what you’re talking about, please feel free to send them here >

[How to tell if it’s a summary: Summary settings will often cut off the first paragraph followed by a … or “read more” link.]


  1. Sheila B. Robinson on December 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Wow, thanks for the tip about WordPress settings! Much appreciated! Great post. I’m enjoying the direction this is going and look forward to future installments. 🙂

    • Chris Lysy on December 10, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Thanks Sheila, I really appreciate the comment. Anything you’re struggling with that you’d like to see addressed in future posts?

      • Sheila B Robinson on December 11, 2013 at 7:38 am

        I’m wondering about the benefits and challenges of self-hosting and customization features. I don’t have a clue about CSS but think I may want to learn that. I do want to take control of the fonts, font colors and sizes to further customize my site. I’d like more flexibility in widget selection and placement. And, I want to know more about monitoring analytics – the benefits and challenges of using other services, like Feedburner, vs the basic stats that come with

        • Chris Lysy on December 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

          The trade-off is this, you can do a lot more with self-hosting. In return, you have to do a lot more. With your account, you don’t have to worry about servers and bandwidth. You don’t have to worry about scaling. You don’t have to worry about setting up something to let your readers follow by email. Automattic (the company behind takes care of a lot and gives you a free service (or a service where you pay just a little bit).

          You don’t really need to learn css to do the kinds of customization you want to do. Many of the biggest self-hosted WordPress sites start with a pro theme framework (often Thesis or Genesis). Once you have that nice base, you can start tweaking.

          Fonts, colors, sizes, and widget placements are often not all that hard to customize depending on your base framework/theme. You might tweak your CSS, but usually because you’re following a step by step process written by a more experienced web designer. Really this is the best way to learn any code, by following templates/examples and tweaking to make it work for your purposes.

          • Sheila B Robinson on December 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm

            Scaling??? I think I have a special lotion for that. 😉 I appreciate the info, however, new tech info begets new tech questions, you know! I’ll be back…I might have to stay in the kiddie pool a little longer until I really learn how to swim in these waters.

          • Jane Davidson on December 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm

            Sheila, I am not a techie but started off self-hosted, just really wanted to be able to customise as I wanted. I barely knew how, but it looked doable! And it was. It’s a gradual learning curve. I only just started learning a little CSS last year.

            I use Atahualpa as my theme because it is infinitely customisable and free. What I have found useful is making a donation to their support site, and that gets me quick and very helpful responses from the support guys.

            But actually, to just get started with something simple it is very intuitive. A bit like Excel, you know? Easy to get going with a few basics, but as you dig into what it can do and learn some more, woooahhh!

          • Sheila B Robinson on December 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

            Thanks Jane! I appreciate the encouragement. A gradual learning curve I can handle. It’s those steep ones that make me dizzy! 🙂

          • Chris Lysy on December 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

            Don’t let me talk you out it. Just wanted you to know the trade-off. Like Jane said, you can ease into it.

            It’s definitely a way to learn more about how the web works. There are a ton of blogs out there, so you can actually find a lot of support. Given that you’ve been blogging for a bit now, much of the beginning stuff will be familiar. You publish from a very similar dashboard setup.

  2. Jane Davidson on December 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Great advice, Chris! Patricia Rogers and I switched the Genuine Evaluation blog to full text quite early on after starting with summaries, for the same reason.

    Also, the email feed is crucial. I know of several good blogs that don’t have an email feed. I don’t subscribe to anything via RSS, so if the email feed isn’t there I just don’t know about it (unless I spot the announcement on twitter). Add an email feed, people!!

    One other suggestion for blogs:

    Put the name of the writer in the title of the blog. When the email feed comes through it usually comes with Sender = Name of Blog; Title = Title of Post. I quite often look at it and think ohhh, whose blog is this again? And sometimes even if I click through to the site, it’s still not evident!

    A question for Chris and other bloggers:

    Patricia and I co-blog, which means we write most posts individually but sometimes create one from both of us. We use self-hosted WordPress and then Feedburner to send out the email feed. One thing I have still NOT been able to do is get the feed to indicate which one of us actually wrote a particular post! It’s obvious on the site but not on the email feed. So, we’ve started including our names at the top of the post so people know. But does anyone else know how to do this for a two-person blog where we each write separate posts?

    Keep up the great work, Chris!!


    • Chris Lysy on December 10, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks Jane 🙂

      There are a couple of possible ways to add author to the feedburner feed but they’re not really straightforward. My suggestion though would be to consider moving over to an emailing service, a la

      You’ll have so much more control over your emails. If you have less than 2,000 followers and send less than 12,000 emails/month it’s free. It really would not be too hard to migrate over.

      • Jane Davidson on December 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm

        Chris, will MailChimp pick up a [self-hosted] WordPress feed and send it out by email, like Feedburner does?

  3. Nick Scott on December 11, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Great post!

    I wrote a very, very similar – but somewhat less engaging – post for think tank communicators a few years ago. I termed the approach ‘being there’ though, rather than the circus approach.

    I love the evidence and ideas in this one, and the cartoons. I may borrow some (with attribution, of course!) in any future presentations I make. Thank you so much for writing it…

    Nick Scott

    • Chris Lysy on December 11, 2013 at 6:50 am

      Thanks Nick. I just read your article, definitely a good read. Not sure why everyone is always stealing my ideas before I have them 😉

      You have a chart in the post which made me a little curious. Are visits your primary metric? Or do you have something else you track in terms of conversions? This kind of strategy doesn’t seem to really lend itself well to increasing pageviews. More a, get the people who receive your emails to actually read them and hear what you have to say, strategy. Or some other kind of conversion strategy (read the next article/take some other kind of action).

      Please feel free to borrow my cartoons anytime.

      • Nick Scott on December 11, 2013 at 8:58 am


        I agree the strategy doesn’t lend itself to increasing pageviews per se – I think the point I was trying to make (it was some time ago now!) was that actually, a ‘being there’ strategy can help to make your work better known to a wider audience and drive up general traffic from various sources – as you are cited more, linked to more etc. It’s why you’d have a media strategy in more traditional communications. So there is a possibility that you could have your cake and eat it, that is what seems to have happened for ODI. All of which is there to persuade reluctant researchers who aren’t sure about the approach of its benefits.

        I’ve written much more extensively on comms M&E and the particular point you raise about good strategy not being the best for measuring too, am very much on board with that.


        • Chris Lysy on December 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

          I think you effectively made that point, I was just curious. I’ll definitely be following your blog 🙂

          I don’t have a social media or marketing position within an agency but I tend to see this stuff working on a personal/professional level, as you suggest. For me, some of the short term benefits tend to be best touted through qualitative evidence (email replies, post comments, Twitter/LinkedIn conversations, new personal connections, and follow-up projects).

          I have lots more measurement/evidence kinds of discussions planned for the future.