2017 Survey Results: Analyzed

First of all, huge thanks to everyone that participated in my reader survey a few weeks back! I really, truly read through every response and listened to what y’all had to say. After all, I’m not perfect and I’m always open to new suggestions!

Just like last time, I thought it would be fun to go over the majority of the answers together so y’all could get a glimpse into the inner workings of my website. Of course, I’m not going to outline every.single.answer for you. There were hundreds and that would take forever! {Plus, ain’t nobody got time for that!} But there were some common themes, so I thought it would be a good idea to address those.

And I apologize in advance for the length on this, but there was a lot to discuss!

Question #1: How Long Have You Been A Reader?

Gotta love multiple choice; no one skipped this answer!

For the most part, y’all were evenly split between the three main options. Technically, “less than a year” had a slight edge at 33.07% but “one to two years” was 32.38% and “3+ years” was 31.5%, so I’m calling it a draw.

Question #2: How Did You Find My Site?

This was a mixed bag of answers. Quite a few of you found me back when USA Today put me up for their “Best of…” contest while many others said you found me via a random Google search and then stuck around {And I’m happy you did!} That doesn’t necessarily surprise me because unlike other sites, my highest traffic source is organic via Google searches, so it makes sense that it leads to a lot of my readership.

I will admit that this was one of my favorite responses:

Question #3: How Do You Find Out About New Posts?

You guys surprised me with this response! Hands down, the majority of you {35%} chose “other” and said you access my site via email or simply checking in occasionally. Since I’ve been abysmal at setting up an email subscription, this surprised me.

That said, based on your feedback, I will be changing that. Stay tuned!

I did want to address one of the responses:

I’ve heard this before and it’s partially because of my blog formatting and partially because of Feedly. When I write a new post, I use the “more” tag after the first paragraph. This is for one simple reason: I like the way it looks on my blog’s homepage. If you ever click through to my basic homepage, you’ll see that I have my most recent post featured with a grid-style layout of previous posts below that. If I didn’t use that “more” tag, that first post would be the full post, stretching far down into the bottom of my homepage. Essentially, it would leave all those grid posts stranded in no-mans land. Does that make sense?

That said, it is also tied into the way Feedly has their reader formatted {which I won’t even pretend to understand!} For example, if you read my site through Bloglovin, that “more” tag doesn’t affect anything.

Anyone else with Google Reader would come back?!

Question #4: What Topics Do You Most Like Reading About?

Well, this answer was pretty obvious…..!

Question #5: What Would You Like To See More of On This Site?

This is always the question I am most eager to ask since I truly enjoy hearing what you have to say! Of course, this can be tough. For example, check out these two answers:

Obviously, people have different opinions on things and this is a prime example. A few of you said that you wanted “zero politics” and would leave if I continued down that path. On the flip side, a few of you said that you preferred I use my platform and audience to advocate for things that matter, like protecting our public lands.

This is one of those instances where I won’t please everyone. But frankly, that isn’t what is most important to me. With issues like this, I have to stay true to myself and stick with what matters to me. That said, I will continue to advocate for public lands, whether it does or does not fall into the political spectrum.

Am I doing this to make people mad? Of course not. Honestly, I don’t love that people group the fight for public lands into “politics” because it is so much more than that to me. Without access to these lands, I *literally* cannot do what I love, and I find that absolutely unacceptable.

Of course, politics weren’t the only topic that showed up in this question {which is the beauty of an open-ended question!}

Quite a few of you mentioned that you wanted more introductory posts to various sports: backcountry skiing, hiking, backpacking, etc. This was great feedback because it made me think. At first, I was like, “Hey, I already do that!” But then I thought about it some more, and I realized you guys were totally right!

So often, I share adventure stories but I forget that I have been doing this for a really long time. And in forgetting that, I’m glossing over the information that a true beginner needs to know before heading out there. Thanks to your feedback, I will change this.

For example, I’m sure many of you saw my “How to Layer” post that I wrote last week. I had quite a few of you specifically ask this question, so I hope that it helped! On this topic, I do want to mention one thing: you all know that I recently wrote a book called Backpacking 101Coincidentally, many of you expressed interest in learning the basics of backpacking and what you need to know before hitting the trail. This is where it gets tricky.

Per my contract, I cannot share the exact same information anywhere else. This truly isn’t a big deal since I’m not going to plagiarize my own darn book! So while you will continue to see beginner-level posts on various backpacking topics, they will not be as thorough as what you can find in the book. As shameless as it sounds {and I swear, that is not my intention!}, you will find more detailed information if you decide to purchase Backpacking 101. I hope that makes sense!

Gear seemed to be a hot topic! And again, this surprised me. Back in the day, I covered gear a lot more frequently. But after a few years, I felt that the wide world of outdoor blogs had saturated that topic and made online gear reviews ….. well, kinda fake. So I quit doing them.

But I’m happy to start! I don’t suspect it will be a regular series {i.e. a near gear review every single week} but I will try to do regular gear posts. Perhaps it will be a monthly post where I highlight my favorite items that month? Or maybe it will end up in my soon-to-happen monthly newsletter. Hard to tell at this point, but I heard your feedback and will get on it.

That said, here is another caveat. Y’all know that I cover gear for BACKPACKER magazine. In particular, my specific categories are tents, snowshoes and traction/crampons. This means that per my contract, I am not allowed to write gear reviews of these categories anywhere else, including my blog. So while I will continue to discuss gear, I cannot review any items that fall under those three headers. Thanks for understanding!

Question #6: What Do You Think Could Be Improved?

The million dollar question! I mean, this is why we do surveys to begin with, right? Of course, I always get nervous as I browse these answers because I never know what I’m going to find {but I did breathe easy in seeing that two-thirds of you skipped this question. Guess that means I’m perfect?!} {Just kidding.}

I read this comment, and I’ll admit to being confused. At first I thought to myself: “What in the world does that mean?”

But then I read another similar comment. And then another. So I called Will over and asked him to explain it to me…and he totally agreed with you guys too!

Once again, this is another example of me staring at my own site for too long and not seeing the forest through the trees, so to speak! But, it makes complete sense. With over 12 years of content, it is logical that a newcomer to my site would be confused on where to start.

Ask and you shall receive! If you take a look at the menu at the top of my screen, I have added a Start Here tab. My idea was to encapsulate a decade of my blog into one page: who I am writing for and what I like to write about. I also included some of my favorite and/or most popular posts for readers to get an idea of what they are diving into. I hope it helps!

Sense a common theme here?! Many of you asked that I post more frequently. Trust me, I will try to do this! Currently, I’m hoping for two posts per week. That is my goal. That said, sometimes life gets away from me and it doesn’t happen, but I will continue to try.

As for the third comment about Instagram: this is very true and it’s for a couple reasons. You see, it’s super easy to run to our computer and quickly edit two or three photos to post on Instagram. It takes maybe 15 or 20 minutes. However, a blog post takes much longer. Plus, a single trip could have three or four different stories which means that they will carry out over time.

Another factor to consider is this: sometimes an outdoor adventure simply does not warrant a blog post. For example, we go skiing quite frequently which leads to some awesome photos. But does that ski day make for an exciting story on my blog? Not so much. However, I did receive this feedback from a few people, so I took it into consideration and came up with a plan {I think!} For more details, read the section below about the monthly newsletter!

Monetization

Let’s talk about monetization. No, this wasn’t a question on my survey but it came up in roundabout ways so I’d like to address it. A few of you had comments such as this:

This is always one of those messy areas for anyone that runs an online site: how do you handle monetization? There are a couple ways to look at this. For example, every time I host a reader survey, I receive comments similar to those above. The message is always the same: you do too many sponsored posts.

But let’s look at that for a second: Of the past nine posts I’ve written {10 including this one}, the only one that was sponsored was my Snow King post. And, to be fair, I was not paid for that; I simply received comped lodging and lift tickets. If you count back to my last 30 recent posts, four of them are sponsored. Is one out of 10 posts truly a lot of sponsored content? Is four out of 30? In both regards, we’re sitting at just over 10%. I don’t think this is excessive, but maybe it is.

That said, it did make me evaluate monetization on this site. Running a website simply costs. It costs money and a lot of time {For example, it cost me money to host this survey since I had more than 100 responses}. I don’t say that to sound whiney because I absolutely love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! But I feel justified in monetizing my site to compensate myself for the financial and emotional energy I put into it. I hope that seems fair.

But until recently, I’ve never put much thought into how to recoup those costs. Sponsored posts were the easiest way for me to do that, so I simply went with it! {Plus, I’ve never really liked the look of banner ads and flashing things all over the website. Drive me mad!}

All this is to say that I’m trying something new. Will there still be sponsored posts? Yes, there will be. But instead of those, I’ve climbed out of the Dark Ages and started to work with more affiliate links. Everyone else on the planet has done this for years but I never had. {What can I say? I’m old and stuck in my ways?!} You’ll see affiliate links pop up occasionally as a means to eliminate a few sponsored posts. But I will say this: rest assured that anything I link to is truly something I use, love, and rely on personally. I won’t ever link to a BS product simply to make a couple dollars. Absolutely not worth it!

More Personal

Another theme I routinely heard in my feedback was that people wanted to learn more personal info about me. Let’s chat about that!

Many of you brought up this adorable face:

You’ve noticed that you don’t see Tals on the site as much, and you are right. But this is for a reason: Baby Girl is simply getting old.

Tally turns 11 this year and the transition from 10 to 11 has been noticeable. She isn’t a young pup anymore and age is starting to wear on her. It felt like it happened overnight but arthritis hit her back right knee with a vengeance and she now regularly takes medicine to control the pain. And, more ailments continue to strike my baby as is usual with old age. Currently, she is nursing what may be a sprain but could potentially be a bone fracture in her ankle. It’s rough.

All this means that Tals doesn’t get to come on the majority of our outdoor adventures anymore. She loves her daily walks but trail running, backpacking, and most hikes are out. They cause her too much pain and discomfort and it’s simply not worth it. We pushed it on one trip to Crested Butte back in the fall, and Will ended up carrying our 68-pound behemoth down two miles of trail because she simply couldn’t walk anymore.

It’s been really hard to watch her age but we’re learning to adjust. She still loves camping so we bring her on any car camping trip that we can! It’s a running joke: the second we pull “her” sleeping bag out of the basement, she excitedly runs downstairs and nestles into it, eagerly anticipating her fun adventure. If a media trip will accommodate a dog in the hotel, we always ask to bring her {which is why I was so thankful that Snow King allowed her to come! She has such a good time exploring Jackson with her mom and dad.}

Another frequent comment was that a lot of personal information seems to be missing from the site….and you’d be right again.

Things changed when I switched from bachelorette-living to married life. To put it simply, I have to take into account Will’s wishes along with my own. {It’s that whole compromise thing, you know?!} Quite a few expressed that you wish I’d talked more about building our new home or our wedding last year. Truthfully, both of these were left on my site intentionally.

One of three wedding photos you’ve probably seen a few times, amiright?!

I realize that wedding stuff is quite popular with the blogging world, and I get it! It’s fun to get a peek inside the personal relationships of people you know online. That said, none of my friends or family signed up to be on my website, and I don’t feel comfortable putting their photos on here. Many of them work in law enforcement or for the government, and it’s just not a good idea. Plus, Will and I kinda viewed our wedding as a cherished moment between the two of us. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because that is not my intention!

As for our house building? Definitely intentional! Here is a fun fact: many moons ago, Will used to work in cyber security, so he has learned the worst of the WORST in regards to what can happen. {Pro tip from him: never get a NEST system in your house!} Because of this, we prefer to err on the side of caution in regards to putting our living situation online. Sounds crazy? Check out how small the world is:

Back when we were selling our house last year, I had a longtime Twitter follower tweet me a photo. Bless her heart, she was touring houses to buy and wanted to tell me that one of the homes she viewed stole one of Will’s photos and used it on their brochure. She even sent me a photo of it. I got ready to be indignant! Who would steal our photos to sell their home?!

Turns out, the realtor did not steal the photo; she was actually standing inside our house. We had used that photo on our brochure; our home was one of the ones she and her fiancé were looking to purchase!

Thankfully, she was amazing, pulled the photo down {since it had our address} and it was no big deal. But as y’all know, there are some weirdos out there, and that isn’t always the case. So, we just try to be cautious with personal info.

All this is to say that I did hear your feedback. Within the parameters that I am comfortable, I will try to include more personal info and fun tidbits. I will say that I tend to include a lot more personal randomness over on my Instagram Stories. I tend to film time at my CrossFit gym, random stories from my day, adorable Tally videos….you know, whatever strikes my fancy!

For the reader that asked about my CrossFit coach training: it’s still happening! The regular training doesn’t produce much content to warrant a full blog post but again, I regularly talk about the process over on IG stories. I’m hoping to be on the floor coaching by April!

Monthly Newsletter

This is the last topic I wanted to address, especially considering this whopper of a blog post has taken up my entire morning! I addressed a monthly newsletter on my survey and results were slightly in favor of it:

Roughly 53% of you said you would be interested, so I’m going to give it a go. It’s going to take me a little bit to get it going, but here is the general idea:

When you opt in, you will have the choice to opt in for the monthly newsletter {only one per month}, my blog posts, or both. So, if you are someone that wants to subscribe to everything, you can do that. Or, if you like simply checking in on my blog whenever but do want to receive the single monthly email, you can do that too.

What will the newsletter include? In general, it will vary every month but I suspect I will highlight personal adventures that I go on that don’t warrant a blog post. Additionally, I’ll include micro-stories or links from the outdoor industry that are important or entertaining but again, won’t ever make my blog. If I feel that I have  a few favorite blog posts from that month that I’d like to highlight, I will include those. I may also throw in occasional tips that are helpful but not necessarily enough to write a post about. But the idea is to not replicate my blog content. In essence, it will be a more in-depth look at what’s going on with me and the outdoor world.

And yes, for now, it will only be once per month so if you subscribe, I promise to not fill your inbox. Again, ain’t nobody got time for that!

WHEW! Thanks for making it though that, guys!

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7 Comments

  • Reply Laura February 23, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    You should be able to customize your WordPress theme to show excerpts on the first page of your site, without truncating posts through use of “read more” to force clickthrough. Here’s a site that explains how to do it: https://clickwp.com/kb/truncated-posts-excerpts-on-archive-pages-genesis-framework/

    Hope that helps!

  • Reply Rob Ford February 24, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Any tips for where to take a dog that likes to lead backcountry skinning in Colorado? I am new to backcountry skinning so it will be low angle popular spots the rest of this season so I can learn some technique. Was hoping my Nala could tag along, but I don’t want her to upset other people by running in skin tracks. Any thoughts of a good area to learn some stuff and just have some fun with a dog and some skis?

    • Reply Heather February 24, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      That’s a good question. Tals was never into backcountry skiing since she was on the older side when we started. Off the top of my head, I would take a look at Butler Gulch; I have a lot of friends that takes their pups there, and I know personally there is some good, low-angle stuff.

  • Reply Michelle February 26, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Awesome that you consider what your readers want but within your own boundaries – keep up the great work!

  • Reply GEORGE BUDD February 28, 2017 at 3:50 am

    This is really interesting to read! It would be interesting to see what gender breakdown your blog has. Love reading your posts Heather!

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