Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Twelve Months of Blogging...

In September of 2012 I spent a very long week sitting in a children's hospital ward, staring at my partner and twin boys.  Despite being fed the same, living in the same environment, and so forth, one was getting heavier whilst the other was getting unexplainably lighter.  With the odd interruption from a nurse, or the rhythm of the three-hourly feeding schedule, there was nothing to do except watch the monitors going up and down, lights flashing, or listen to things beeping...

For me, this is a rare situation as I totally disconnected from the world.  You can't use your mobile phone in that environment, there's no Internet and I've pretty much found out everything there is to know about anything that's there is possibly to know about where we were standing with our twins.  I'd already scoured and learned every inch of the room we were in.  I knew how to reconnect the sensors to save the nurses from having to do it.  I knew when the shifts were and who was coming on or going home at what times.  I'd said everything I had to say to my other half.

For the first time in a long time, I was facing the spectre of having free time.

I'm a guy that doesn't get bored.  There's always something to do.  Theres always something to fix.  There's always something I want to learn about.  There's always something to think about.

So, given my location I couldn't fix things or do things, and my location also gave me a technology constraint, so I was basically left with the "something to think about" option.  Eventually, I got on to the topic of things I want to do to make me happy...

I have an opinion on most things.  If I don't offer my opinion then I'm normally holding back what I think is going to be an unpopular opinion.  On rare occasions, I will say that I don't know enough on the subject to have an opinion.

I like to write down things - not to force my ideas on other people, but to record where my thinking is or how my observations are forming at a particular time.  The rush of information I process regularly means I'm always taking on new facts and figures that alter my opinions and observations.  Putting it in a blog meant that it was somewhere I can go back to, and also others can read what I see or think.  I also made sure I was tracking metrics - not as a success measure, but just so I could see what happened.  The original intention wasn't to actively grow a readership base.  However, as I said above, my opinions on things can change with new information.

As soon as we were out of that hospital, I started my blog.  It was toward the end of the month by now, so only three posts posts made it in September 2012.  Those garnered me a surprising 205 views.

For the next few months, the viewership figures went up and down a little.  But then I wasn't promoting it.  By February 2013 I was at 421 impressions (28 a day).  In March 2013, I had run across a situation with a so-called technology expert who was having issues with promoting a corporate newsletter.  After much ado, I had given the guy a shed-load of pointers and advice on what I would try if I was in his shoes and the guy basically said that I didn't know what I was talking about.

Now, I don't like it when I'm asked for help and I give it, only to have it throw unceremoniously back in my face.  So, given I already had metrics to look at, I expanded things a bit in a spreadsheet and took a new look at my blog.

My new constraints were time and effort.

  • The posts were to be mainly written during my 20 minute morning commute on the subway train (typed into my iPhone), or quickly typed during a lunch break.  
  • Promotion would be a maximum of two minutes per post at no cost. 
  • Each month would have a goal of 125% of the views in the previous month.
What actually happened is detailed as follows:

To graph the above, it looks like this (The diagonal line is the linear average over time).

As you can see, it was totally achievable.  So, I attached AdSense to it - as I might as well make some money from it if possible.

Now, I'm not writing information that a lot of people would find appealing - arcane projects, data, weather, politics and technology seems to be my mainstay - but then again, that's pretty much me.  I don't know anyone else who has a personal datamart of Canada's weather history with 27 million records of historical data from 18 cities.... I don't know anyone else who tried to put a sewer backflow preventer on the internet...  My friends certainly don't measure the things I do, or have the desire like I do to one day sail the atlantic alone.  

I definitely march to the beat of my own drum on this one... It's not popular content and yet I'm still hitting my numbers.  

So here's what I did, so anyone else can learn something from it:
  • Having written a post, make sure people knows it exists (promote it).
    • Twitter
    • Linkedin (Only if its a proper article and not a rant on something unprofessional)
    • Facebook
    • StumbleUpon
    • Google +
    • Reddit (Occasionally - they're a fickle bunch)
  • Link the blog through other blog promotion services:
    • BlogUpp!
    • Outbrain
  • Look for the long tail.
    • I rarely post on weekends, but I do use these periods to measure what happens if I do nothing.  This gives me a baseline for organic searches that people are arriving by.  About 20% of the backlog of articles now generate their own traffic.  As I add more content, this increases the incoming views accordingly.
    • Look for the popular topics.  For me, this seems to be Toronto's floods, basement issues, and Bell Canada woes.
    • Make sure you got Google Analytics in place to help you pinpoint smaller trends that Blogger analytics misses.
  • Tweaking the blog.
    • Make sure the title of the page has the title of the post replicated in it and the metadata.   That way, Google doesn't see "Blogger" as the title and actually indexes the article properly.
As you can see, I've not begun to do many things I could have done... mainly because I've proven what I set out to prove - which was that I did know my original advice was correct, because if I can achieve a 125% growth target with these oddball posts under those time and budget constraints, I know it would work with a more consistent set of posts and a proper time schedule and budget attached to it.

Where I go from here is the next thing to tackle.  I've gotten several things on the go and so time is the biggest constraint.  But I think I want to try another experiment.

Details will appear on this blog once I've solidified things a bit in my head.