“I want to be a writer”

That’s what Asimov’s robot Cal said after committing murder — in self defence, to be sure.  His owner had decided a robot that could write better fiction than him was no robot he wanted to own, and so had ordered Cal destroyed.

I enjoy writing, and I enjoy people reading my writing.  I’d work out how to grow an audience — how to write appealing fiction people wish to read, and how to reach those people.  So I started an email list with MailChimp (top right hand corner, if you’d like to sign up!) about six months ago, I started paying for an Adwords advert for Broadcast From Heaven about three months ago, and I enabled Google Analytics about two months ago.  Google Analytics has been a bit of a shock.

There’s a concept I hadn’t heard of called ‘Bounce Rate’, which is the percentage of people who come to your website, look at one page, then leave.  It’s always pretty high — I go to Things Of Interest, a website I really like, pretty regularly to see if there are any updates, since my RSS reader is a bit borked, and so if Sam512 looks at their stats they will presumably see that someone arrived and left about 1 second later when I saw there was no update.  My AdWords ad leads to the contents and blurb for Broadcast From Heaven, so a high bounce rate means people are clicking my ad and either reading the blurb then clicking away, or just looking at the general UX of the website and clicking away.

I set up all of this, and saw a bounce rate (on the Broadcast From Heaven contents page only — not looking to see if friends are coming to the front page to check for new posts etc.), saw a bounce rate of 100%, and did the sensible thing: nothing for a month.  Between November 6th and December 5th my advert and landing page got a bounce rate of approximately 100% (see graph below).  On December 5th I tried to optimise everything a little bit:

  • I cut the blurb in half, removing the details which I thought didn’t stand well on their own.
  • I made the advert working much more direct, changing the heading from “Broadcast From Heaven” to “The Hackers Were Psychic”.
  • I tidied up the landing page a bit, making the links to the chapters a bit more obvious and adding ‘Contents’ to the title so that people would understand they could click through.
  • I removed a bunch of automatic keywords from my AdWords ad to make it more targeted at people looking for something new — people searching for ‘classic science fiction’ are not at that point looking for a free new serial.

My bounce rate, the rate of disinterest in this story, dropped from about 100% to about 80% (at the very end of the graph, the final few days), and my average pages per session climbs up significantly:

Bounce rate percentage and average pages for session for Broadcast From Heaven.and you can see why it’s important to wait for a month between changes like this — because my advert gets around 10 clicks a day, I don’t have many visitors in the grand scheme of things and the data are very spiky, and arguably it doesn’t even many any sense for me to write this post for at least another three weeks so I can really measure the change.  But that drop in bounce rate suggests to me that I made a change that was good.  The Internet suggests that 60% would be a good target.

More thought needed.  But given that I have 29 separate stories up on this site, ranging from drabbles to my last 13-chapter abortive attempt at a novel, it seems wise to spend some time exposing these stories, and thinking about engagement and building an audience — core parts of being an author.