Monday, April 29, 2013

From the CEO's Desk: How I Published Five Hundred Posts

A strong voice and passion through writing take time to develop.

Yet, with the barrage of information and opinions available on the Internet today, it's too easy to write what we think others want us to say to drive traffic to us.

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What do you think makes the most impact and creates an engaged readership?

Along your journey to five hundred posts, you'll find what works for you and you'll filter the rest. Today I'm sharing how I reached my 502 post in hopes my journey inspires you.

If you've been blogging for a while, you'll realize that very few people share their numbers. Asking someone about their pageviews is equivalent to asking a coworker how much they get paid.

It's a taboo subject for some reason.

So why am I revealing my numbers? Because, when I was starting out, those women I looked to advice from and who I got help from, did. And I'm a big believer in paying it forward.

Annual Posts versus Annual Visits and Annual Pageviews


Also, I firmly believe that if you just keep writing what you think others want to hear, you won't keep your readers engaged.

First let me say this... even though I was on a few social media sites early, I did not actively promote my content there. (I had much lower bounce rates than others for this reason.)

I also did not grow my audience with giveaways or advertising. (I saw much higher repeat visitor percentages than others for this reason.) Both giveaways and advertising can accelerate the growth of your site. But, unless you're attracting people who care about your content, you're foregoing stickiness--a magical mix of repeat visitors, low bounce rates, and higher time spent on site.

On my journey to 500 posts, I relied solely on my content and search. With content, I wrote about what interested me and what I was passionate about. Which means all the tips presented here can be applied in today's media landscape.

Magazines for inspiration and clippings for motivation


Who I Look to for Inspiration and for Advice

Shortly into my blogging career, around 2008, I looked to Nicole Balch of Making It Lovely, Meg Keane of A Practical Wedding, Kathleen of And Kathleen/Braid Creative, and Holly Becker of Decor8/Blogging Your Way for inspiration. All four women are incredibly humble and amazingly giving of their expertise. All share their stories of how they got where they are. And, for that I'm incredibly thankful.

When I first encountered Nicole, Meg, Kathleen, and Holly, I was working as a marketing creative in enterprise software. Corporate (B2B) blogging was in its early infancy. There weren't many people to look to for actionable advice. (There were lots of "experts" spouting tired cliches.)

So, why did I gravitate towards these four women? They shared their numbers and offered actionable advice. I believed (and I still do) that personal blogging and corporate blogging aren't that different. These women gave the proof for their truisms. They all said blog what you love -- that's what they did and it worked for them. Forget the metrics -- the raw numbers. Yes, set up Google Analytics, but leave the data until you find your voice. Trust your gut, don't let numbers drive your decisions. Speak to your readers as if they are your peers and your friends. Write what you know, what you love, and the rest will follow. After you've been at it for awhile, then take a look at your data.

For someone familiar with the corporate world, the advice is hard; management typically wants results now. To take it requires a leap of faith. Can you truly be yourself and be successful at the same time? It's scary. What if I'm myself and no one cares or worse, hates me or boycotts the company I'm representing?

Luckily, those fears and others were never realized. Over 500 posts, I've learned to relax. To let go. To dance as if no one is watching. Or, rather, to blog as if no one is reading. What's happened in the meantime is still kind of magical to me. Somewhere between there and here people found my blog. Others found it and kept coming back.

How to Measure Traffic and Visitors: A Case Study of What My Journey from 0 to 500 posts looked like.


The Journey to Five Hundred Posts by The Numbers: Visitors and Pageviews

As I worked on my site, I frequently forgot to look at Google Analytics. I had them set up, gathering information for that time I might be interested in them.

Instead of being driven by numbers, I focused on delivering the best blog I could. I took classes on blogging, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), branding, photography, social media, and more. I got out and connected virtually and offline with other bloggers. I didn't obsess over total Twitter fans (I think at the time I had maybe just over a hundred). I also didn't share new blog posts via Twitter or Facebook. And, while I wasn't looking (or obsessing) magic began to happen.

Annual Pageviews by Month


Week after week, month after month, unique visitors and pageviews increased. When I did finally look at Google Analytics, I was surprised to see results better than I'd seen on my wedding blog.** (Note that in the following graphic total visits not unique visitors are shown.)

Annual Posts versus Annual Visits and Percentage of Returning Visitors


Return visitors were up (31.2% in 2012), as were average visit duration (3:19*** in 2012) and pages per visit (6.04 in 2012). Like me initially, you may not know whether these numbers are good or bad. Here are some average benchmarks (remember that averages include mobile readers who are more likely to read a post and leave your blog or site quickly) that I've heard or seen: average visit duration is between 2 to 2.5 minutes (source) and average bounce rates are between 60 and 80% (source).

Earlier, I said that I didn't promote all of my blog posts on Twitter or Facebook in 2012. I only shared a post when I felt it was especially relevant to followers. Selective sharing resulted in lower bounce rates for referral traffic on my blog. When I promoted every post in 2011, bounce rates ranged from 63.16% to 85.71%; this range dropped to under 60% when I promoted a handful of posts. For my blog, I find when I promote every post via social media I don't significantly affect blog traffic, but I do significantly drive up bounce rates.

What Impacts Blog Traffic the Most: Frequency and Subject Matter

Two things impact my blog's traffic the most: frequency of posting and subject matter. When I stop posting for a long period of time, weeks on end, not a week at a time, traffic dips noticeably. Posting once or twice a week, depending on subject matter, doesn't negatively impact traffic. (Most of my regular readers visit the blog once a week and catch up on all the posts at that time.) Subject matter that is exclusively about San Francisco negatively impacts traffic; most of my readers are not from the Bay Area. Getting fixated on a very narrow topic, like Alt Summit in January, negatively impacts traffic (the recaps positively impacted traffic immediately after the event). (An editorial calendar now helps ensure that I keep thematic, holiday, or current events posts balanced with content returning visitors expect -- home, family, food, and fashion posts around haves in your life not wants you think you need.)

Inspiration is never more than an arm's length away


What I've Learned

In the tradition of Nicole, Meg, Kathleen, and Holly's openness and honesty, here in my 502nd post, I'm going to get real. I'll share what's worked for me, what hasn't worked, and where I am now. I'll also answer any questions you might have, in comments or via email if you'd prefer to be anonymous. Here goes!

Too Many Blogs Dilute Quality

At one point, I had five public blogs in addition to the corporate blog I ran. Of the five blogs, this one is the oldest; the first post was written in June of 2006. It has been woefully neglected in the past and at times has been a sandbox for testing ideas I would later implement on the corporate blog I ran.

This blog has had many lives, starting out as a personal blog and then morphing into a blog that supported my photography business in December 2008 (at which point I installed Google Analytics). At the end of 2009, I shuttered my photography business. In 2010, I blogged exclusively about my wedding on a different blog.

In 2011, I turned my attention back to this blog, turning it into more of a microblog with a photograph and short text paragraph. The only ties between photographs were that they were my original work and they were either things I owned or places I ate at or visited. I saw high bounce rates, the lowest 54.09% in March 2009, but mostly around 72% and 80%.*

In the Fall of 2011, I thought about combining all of my blogs into a lifestyle blog. My readership and followers across multiple twitter accounts and blogs overlapped a lot. I found I had time to produce and publish one quality blog in my spare time, not five. Even on days when no one but I was reading, for myself I wanted to deliver a polished post that I was proud of. So, I did it.

Blogs Thrive with Consistency

In November 2011, I changed the focus of the blog from random photographs of my life and began consolidating features I loved from each of the other blogs. I no longer worried about whether a post was going to go on this blog or that blog or trying to come up with content to support consistently publishing three days a week on five blogs in my spare time.

I wholeheartedly believe narrowing my focus and focusing on what I wanted to write about and not worrying about what others were doing was the game changer for me. The numbers appear to to support this decision as well.

Tips for Getting to Your 500th Post

No one looks at their first blank post thinking about their 500th post. If they did, they'd never start. Starting is scary, but you learn a lot on the journey about your voice and what works for you. It's easy to compare ourselves to established blogs, but we shouldn't. We're all at different places. Be inspired, but don't be intimated. Keep hitting publish and you too may reach your 500th post.

When I started blogging in 2006, I didn't have a vision for what I'd do or where I'd go. I never thought about what 500 posts would look like or what I'd write about for 500 posts. If I'd focused on 500 posts, I might not have started at all. But here I am, well actually I'm at my 502nd post.

  • Leave the data until you find your voice.
  • Trust your gut, don't let numbers drive your decisions.
  • Blog as if no one is reading.
  • Even on days when no one but you are reading, deliver a polished post that you are proud of.
  • Consistent, quality content trumps quantity.

How I'm Getting to My 1000th Post

Each blog is different. Specific tactics that work for one blogger may not work for another. Here is my strategy for the next five hundred posts:

  • Be yourself.
  • Publish content that you are proud of.
  • Check your statistics no more than once a week, optimally no more than once a month.
  • Be consistent in how frequently you publish and in what you publish.
Thank you for being part of the first 500 posts. I hope you'll stick around for the next 500. I'm continuing to hone my skills (attending Blogshop last week more on that later this week) and have exciting things planned.

What advice do you give other bloggers?
What drives traffic and engagement on your blog?

genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.

*If your blog has a low bounce rate (less than 10%), first double check that your Google Analytics code doesn't appear multiple times. This will under report bounces.

**The best numbers I saw on my wedding blog were 2,633 pageviews (March 2011), 1,574 visits (January 2011), 1,354 unique visitors (January 2011). I published that blog for a year, and started averaging over 1,000 page views in my second month of production and 1,000 unique visitors in my tenth month of publication.

***I pulled my average visit duration from the main Google Analytics dashboard for my blog. This isn't an accurate measure; you need to dig deeper by segments of your audience, for example traffic source and country. To learn more, check out this February 2013 article from Web Analytics World.