Continuing on the Road Not Taken

Read time: about 4 minutes

At Meraki Post, while we pride on original, honest content, we give equal importance to its presentation as well. A few weeks ago, we received a few kind compliments for the design of our site, along with some suggestions. We were touched by the support. We have spent significant time with the design; when the community recognises the effort, it makes our day.

In our post, Taking the Road Not Taken, we spoke about a set of ethos that Meraki Post works on. And I think it is these principles that make us stand out in the Community. One such principle, I recently realised, has been challenged by convention.

When we implemented Google Analytics, we were constantly admonished for what it called, bounce rate. In other words, most people read only one page in a given session. To Google Analytics, it was a fatal failure that we were unable to make you stay on and read more. Unhappy, we tried other measurements. Google Page Speed test gave us 96% (and not 100). We thought we would apply Accelerated Mobile Pages to score better in rankings, even though it came at the cost of typography. And then came the suggestion of related articles. Overwhelmed, we went to take a nap.

Recently, while on my bicycle ride (when I usually get great ideas), I thought this was a good thing. It was simple:

  1. Our page loads within a blink, on phones. That’s good enough.
  2. We have our connections encrypted. That’s good.
  3. We receive great feedback about our content. Excellent.
  4. We have healthy social interactions (thanks to Veena). Great.
  5. We host it with Amazon, a highly reliable provider. Great.

And the list went on, indicating that we were covered with respect to what mattered. All that, plus, I was relieved we were this way after the thinking exercise. Allow me to throw some light on why not listening to Google too much, is nice.

Google’s primary suggestion is to make people stay on the site more. One way of doing that is to implement “related articles”. It is simple to implement. Most site designers write a small set of instructions to fish out articles similar to the one that’s open. And some ad providers even leverage this to serve ads. Great for revenue. But user experience?

These links do two things:

  1. Make readers go from one article to another, making them spend more time on the site. Google says this is good. For revenue, of course.
  2. Divert attention, sometimes so much that the point of engagement is lost.

If we placed a series of “related posts” at the bottom, what would you, a normal person, do? Click on one, right? What are you currently doing? Google Analytics tells us you click on the link we share, read the post, and leave. I think this is a good thing. (No worries, we have no way of knowing who you are unless you personally tell us.)

I disagree with Google, having thought about it a little.

  1. I value my time. I’m more of this “bouncer”—I read an article, gather the knowledge, and assimilate it. I go to these pages with a purpose. I don’t like to read something, then jump from there to another page, read more… three hours later, “I’m watching a video on YouTube about how to tame a dragon.” Nice for a meme, but three hours matter in real life.
  2. I like focus (the reason why I read most articles in Firefox’s reader view). ‘I read something about Shantaram, but don’t remember what.’ is unacceptable to me. Second, I share and discuss on the content. Apart from adding value to the content I read, it is also a way of showing respect to the content.

Wasn’t this the reason, in the first place, that we made the articles look stark black with big letters while everything else faded to the background either through grey text or smaller font size? Why else are we paying the site charges from our pockets while we could monetise on ads in related content?

‘OK, but what if I want to spend time on your site reading related content?’

We have you covered (even though Google tells us you don’t exist; we have our reservations). There are tags and categories to posts we make. These tags and categories have been consolidated under the Tags and Categories pages. Clicking on any of the tags or the category at the end of the post takes you to the corresponding tag or category, which then contains all the posts made under it.

This is not to say that we will not implement related articles, just that it won’t serve many of you. We like how it is currently going—we take away your attention for less than five minutes, and then, out of respect for your time, let you do what you were doing.

We don’t want your entire day. It doesn’t work well for a long-term relationship.

Analytics numbers should only guide our understanding of you; not control what we do for you. We like it that way. We would rather listen to you than to a bot that thinks all of you are its cousins.

Cheers, and a happy Fourth of July to our American readers!

Ram Iyer

Writer, PowerShell addict, typographer, self-acclaimed rationalist.

Bangalore, KA