Monday, January 7, 2013

5 steps that made my blog happy

I started by programming blog two years ago and for the first year and a half it has been quite unsuccessful. I still don’t say it something big, but there is definitely something that changed the trend and help me to increase my visits – I even meet some milestones I though to be quite far away six months ago.
The thing that helped me a lot and bring me visible results (will shows some stats later in the post) in almost no time was the book: Technical Blogging: Turn Your Expertise into a Remarkable Online Presence It’s a great book for everyone that wants to establish some kind of technical blog (programming, photography, whatever you can think of) and has never done it before. Although, the main goal of the book is to help you get money from your blog, which is definitely not my goal, there are still quite a few very useful (and most of them easy to do) tips that you probably haven’t think of. It will give you guidance for all kind of things and decisions you have to make – starting from the name and the domain of your new blog, through your blogging behavior – how often to blog, when to publish your content, what kind of stuff to include. Finally, you will get very good ideas on how to popularize your web space – this is probably the most important part, no matter how good are you in writing and how interesting is your content, if no one reads it – it is in vain. 

1. Choose wisely your domain name

The first thing I did after reading the book (actually while still reading) was to register my own domain and to stop using the default one from blogger. It’s important to do this before invest any time popularizing your blog, otherwise you will be tightly coupled to the blogging platform you choose. Now if I happen to change my blogging platform all credits I have earned in terms of SEO will not suffer. Also, there are many sources that claim that top level domains are better threated than the lower one. Choose wisely, as future changes will inevitably hearth your popularization – you will get lots of advices in the book and tons of them in the internet.

2. Getting the layout work for you

After registering and setting up my new domain, I realized I need to do some changes in the layout of my pages. The author made me think what is the most important thing I want to achieve at this stage with my blog and to arrange the design so it leads my users to this goal. As a total beginner I decided that for the first couple of years my main goal would be to build loyal visitors (as much as I can).
Because of this, I put the RSS subscribe button in the area that is claimed to be most influential – the top right corner. The effect I noticed was a increased activity in my subscribers and readers through this channel. Feedburner can give you very useful statistics about what happens with your rss. I also added list with top 5 of my most read posts, so people can easily access other interesting stuff after reading their article. This action brought me increased “Pages/visit” ratio.
I have missed something else – to present myself. I didn’t have an About me page. Although this seemed not so important at first glance, if I want loyal visitors that follow me – I need to make them believe me, I need to show some credibility and give them the context of my posts. The statistics shows that even though the page is not from the popular ones, there have been 50-60 that are interested in who I am and if they get to this page – they are potential followers.

3. Build your blogging behavior and follow it as strictly as possible

I felt from the beginning that how often I post, at what time of the day, at what topics is very crucial for my success, but I didn’t know how to approach. It turned out that there is no a silver bullet and a single answers – it depends on so many things that experimenting is the best approach I think.
For example, I try to post up to 3 times a month (I just don’t have time for more). I never publish posts on consequent days and noticed that the most convenient time for publishing is Monday, Wednesday or Thursday in the morning (BG time). I usually prepare my post in the weekends when I have spare time and schedule them for a given time slot. Otherwise, no one will read what I published during the weekend and it will get burden
One of the best advices I found in the book is to interact with the community. I’ve been most successful when show opinion on trending topics. Unfortunately, this is very time consuming and I rarely have time to do this, but when I do it – it is always rewarding.

4. Popularization

I guess this was the aspect I sucked most – I did almost nothing, just sharing my content in the some social networks. The first thing I did was to find web sites that allows you to submit your links and add them to a rating system. There are tons of them, some are specialized for example in .net technologies like www.dotnetkicks.com and www.dotnettechy.com. Others are generic like www.reddit.com, www.technorati.com or www.stumbleupon.com I started with these and some other and with the time passing I abandoned those that didn’t proved to be useful for me. Again, no receipts here – experiment and evaluate to find the right way.
After that, I thought that it will be a good idea to promote it on link blogs – such blogs that aggregate interesting links from other blogs. I wrote some letters to the authors of all link blogs that I already followed, informing the about my blog an briefly explaining what I write about and who I am (again some credibility here wouldn’t hurt). Some of them wrote me back, some didn’t. Nevertheless, I started to see my post here and there in the link blogs and this made me really happy. When I see my post published in such blog, I try to analyze what made the authors publish it – after all these people are part of my loyal visitors and if they are happy with what they read, there are probably other people like them. This is a free evaluation of my work which I always try to get the best of.
Another very important thing I already mentioned that supports popularization is participating in the community – write comments to blogs you follow, express opinions in forums, take part in Q/A sites (like www.stackoverflow.com) this will bring you much less people than the search engines and other sources but these people will be much more committed to what you write and the chances are to be more engaged.
All this steps increased my traffic directly – this is easy to check by analyzing the analytics data. But they also increase your performance in the search engines and helped my blog to be much more discoverable. Actually, this indirect benefit brought more people than those that comes directly from the sources above.
The book will give you very valuable information about how search engines works, what’s important for them and how to get the best of your content. Still, be careful not to turn SEO into your primary goal – at least for me the top priority is to provide interesting stuff, so I put there most of the effort.

5. Add shape to your content

Writing content for web is a whole new science so I can only scratch this matter in a paragraph or two but still… Readers to today are literally flooded content, so value their time and make their reading easier. Use paragraphs, bullet points, headings, etc. is a must even if you are doing it only for yourself. Moreover, using the right markup will boost your SEO performance as search engines are getting smarter and smarter in analyzing the semantic of your content not just the text.
Cross linking between my own posts is also something very useful (again this is easily visible in the analytics data). Posts that include meaningful links to other related posts from your blog greatly increase your Pages/Visit ratio which is always good.

Finally, the results…

So, what I achieved after all this was done. I will show you some graphs from different sources that will hopefully convince you can easily make a difference.
ga_stats
I guess, no need to tell that all the worked I described start in the end of April 2012. My current goal is to keep this trend going up and higher. Similar graph I see in the Feedburner analytics, too – which is really important for me, this means that I not only manage to bring more visitors, but manage to keep the attention of some of them and make them my followers.
feedburner_stats
1000 unique visitors a month is something that I set as a first milestone after completing the book and I meet it in 7-8 months will no additional investments for advertisements or whatever else (just 10 euro/year for a domain). I’m going to keep moving and always try to deliver useful content for me and my visitors – this is probably the only silver bullet I have and use. I definitely recommend this book to everyone who is just starting and wants to establish its own blog. It will give you a good foundations to step on and will help you to find the best approach and format for you.