Category Archives: Blogging

Social Media is Your Short Game

Social media is a really useful tool for promoting yourself and your brand. With some changes and improvements I’ve made over the last few weeks, social media now accounts for almost three quarters of the daily sessions coming into this blog.

Twitter alone accounts for nearly 60% of the incoming traffic now. I’ve upped my Twitter game substantially, and the results are readily apparent. This blog got more traffic from May 1 through May 15 than it got in all of April. That holds true whether you measure it by sessions or by pageviews. And I expect another big growth wave as I branch out into other social networks and study the right ways to optimize traffic from those sources.

But social media is your short game.

The traffic from social media is ephemeral. The traffic from social media has a high bounce rate (the visitors who only look at one page on your site). Most who come in from social media are one time visitors. Social media visitors are far less likely to leave comments on your actual blog – but far more likely to talk about it on social media, so there’s a trade-off! But worst of all, the traffic flow is here today and gone tomorrow. If you don’t keep active on the social media every day, that traffic comes to a halt. The picture below represents traffic from Twitter after one particular influencer retweeted a blog posting of mine last week.

TwitterTrafficFalloff

Note the large spike and then the quick fall-off afterward. That’s not a snapshot over a period of days – that’s over a period of hours. Now, keep in mind that Twitter is the shortest of short game. Even in social media terms, Twitter is ephemeral. The tweets are gone quickly. Facebook moves at a much slower pace. And Google+ seems to have a nice staying presence in Google’s actual search results. But in general, you need to understand that any given post on social media doesn’t stay around on people’s radar for very long.

This doesn’t in any way mean that you should be neglecting social media. This one retweet by one influencer brought in more sessions in one day than I got in most months in 2015 (when I wasn’t doing much to promote this blog). But the following day, traffic was back to very close to normal. To sustain the traffic, you have to keep hammering away at the social media every single day.

But the key point that I want to make is, social media is the short game and must be treated like it. Spend time on it, but don’t neglect your long game. What’s the long game, you ask? Come back next week and we’ll talk about that!

Why Blogging Works – Inbound Links

Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works.
Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works.

Whether you’re promoting yourself, your product, your service, or your business, everyone tells you that you need to start a blog. A lot of places will tell you how to do it. But very few will tell you why blogging works. Understanding why will help you get more out of your blog.

Last week I talked about outbound links and said that they just might be the reason why blogging works to promote your brand. If it’s not outbound links, then inbound links are a strong contender. Once more, to understand how this works we need to understand a bit about how modern search engines work. Let’s recap from last time:

Google began as a research project by its two co-founders into a new technique to make internet searches better. They created a system called “PageRank.” The extremely simplified version is this: every time one page on the internet links to another, that link counts a “vote.” The more votes a page has, the higher its PageRank is. When searching for keywords, the algorithm first finds pages that match those words. Then it checks the PageRank of each page, and the page with the higher PageRank wins. But they got a little smarter than that, even, and added a few layers to it. They manage it by individual keywords. Say your page is about cars. Another page links to you, and includes the word “cars” in the link. If somebody comes along later and is searching for cars, that counts as an extra vote, because they used that keyword to link to you. And if their page is about cars – and ranks well for cars – then that vote counts even more.

Remember, this is a vastly simplified explanation. That’s ok. Just remember the three mnemonics. Links are good. Links that use specific, relevant keywords are better. Links from a “reputable” site are even better.

That’s all great, you say, but how is my blog going to help with that? Your blog helps because it’s easier to get quality inbound links to a blog than it is for just about any other form of content. I’ve run several web sites over the years and I can tell you hands down that this is true.

Getting inbound links to your blog isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back in the day everybody’s blog had a comment section and – like mine still does – those comments linked straight back to… well, whatever you told them to. And people liked it if that linked back to your blog. If you left interesting comments, they wanted to go see what else you had to say. So they’d follow the links.

This still works – just not as well as it used to. A lot of blogs use commenting systems that don’t provide direct links anymore. Many others don’t accept comments at all. But there are still plenty of blogs out there that do this. Find them and take advantage of it. Be sure that the comments you leave are relevant to the topic of each individual post. And personally, I try not to leave a comment unless I have something useful to add. But blog comments are a major way to get quality backlinks to your site. Google Webmaster Tools currently recognizes 4,275 links pointing to this blog from the blogspot.com domain alone. That’s a lot of comments! But I’ve left them at various blogs over 15 years. Many of them have pointed to this blog since its very first incarnation. And the beauty of the internet is that those links didn’t go away when I shut that blog down. They were right there waiting when I started it up again.

Some other techniques to get high quality inbound links for your blog:

  • Write about other people, especially bloggers. Review their products. My review of Somewhither is one of the top ten traffic generating pages on this site, and is responsible for more inbound links than almost any other page. Why? Because Mr. Wright saw it, liked it, and linked back to it.
  • Interview other people. They like to hear about it, and they’ll tell their readers about it. My interview with Brian Niemeier is another of my best-linked pages. I definitely plan to do more of those. [Hint: if you’d like to be interviewed on this blog, drop me a line!]
  • Write about things that people want to talk about – especially scandalous or controversial things. My post about science fiction and fantasy fandom’s pedophilia problem is my most linked page as of today.

Inbound links are a major reason why blogging works to help build your brand. Know how to build them and don’t neglect the work!

Why Blogging Works – Outbound Links

outboundlinksWhether you’re promoting yourself, your product, your service, or your business, everyone tells you that you need to start a blog. A lot of places will tell you how to do it. But very few will tell you why blogging works. Understanding why will help you get more out of your blog.

Outbound links are a major reason – perhaps the major reason – why blogs work. To understand why this is so important, we need to understand how modern search engines work. Thankfully, I’m a computer scientist so I can help you with that. But don’t worry, I’m going to leave out the math and the hard stuff.

Google began as a research project by its two co-founders into a new technique to make internet searches better. They created a system called “PageRank.” The extremely simplified version is this: every time one page on the internet links to another, that link counts a “vote.” The more votes a page has, the higher its PageRank is. When searching for keywords, the algorithm first finds pages that match those words. Then it checks the PageRank of each page, and the page with the higher PageRank wins. But they got a little smarter than that, even, and added a few layers to it. They manage it by individual keywords. Say your page is about cars. Another page links to you, and includes the word “cars” in the link. If somebody comes along later and is searching for cars, that counts as an extra vote, because they used that keyword to link to you. And if their page is about cars – and ranks well for cars – then that vote counts even more.

Remember, this is a vastly simplified explanation. But the short version is this: links are good. Links that use specific, relevant keywords are better. Links from a “reputable” site are even better.

Google has really updated its algorithms over the years – it’s come a long way since its founding! It now accounts for all kinds of other factors, and their process of determining all of this has gotten far more complex as well. For example, links from known spam sites now count against you. But at the core, this statement is still true: links from a reputable source that use relevant are really good.

Why does blogging help you so much with links? First, it’s pretty easy to get links to your blog. Google recognizes 4,862 links pointing to this blog. Now, I did spend a pretty good amount of time building those links. Back in the day when Google still measured such things, this site had a PageRank of 4 (out of 10). That’s not too shabby.

Links

The upshot is that this small blog alone has enough power from the links that I’ve built up that I can link to other sites and actually have a small but noticeable impact on how they rank in search results. It’s not enough to put a site up to number one, but it’s enough to take a site that’s not even ranking and get it on the radar. Right now the effect is very small. But give me two more years of working this blog, and it’ll will be significant.

Why is this important? Because you want to use that power to promote your brands, by linking back to yourself. But be careful – if you overdo it, Google will decide you’re spamming them and it will really hurt your site. One of the easiest things to do though is also highly effective: put links to your businesses, products, or services in the sidebar of your blog. Look over to the right and you’ll see links to my dojo, my publishing company, and my wife’s videography business. [Notice how I linked those using keywords instead of just straight text? And how I slipped them in and made them a natural part of the post?]Also notice that I have links to a few of my friends and to several of my most recently published works.

The nice thing about the sidebar links is that they’ll show up on every page of your blog.Google currently recognizes 225 pages on this blog, so anything I put on the sidebar automatically gets 225 “votes.” In a year, this blog will have at least twice that much content, and its power will be even bigger. It will also have hundreds, if not thousands, more incoming links – which means that its own reputation will also be far higher.

Intelligent link selection is just one of the techniques I’ve used to help my dojo completely dominate the search engine results for most martial arts related searches local to Madison, Alabama. I’m still building the web presence of my publishing company – and it’s a little harder to do on a national scale than a local scale – but it’s coming.

Before we go, here are my tips for using links in your blog:

  • All of your businesses should be linked in the sidebar of your blog so that they show up on every page. Simple links are fine – you’re not actually hugely worried about people clicking them. These are for search engines.
  • If you sell products or services, the two or three that are currently your biggest priority should have prominent, visual links (such as book covers, like I’ve done). These are partly for search engines. But you also want people to actually see and click these, so use the space.
  • Use that sidebar space to link to friends and supporters – but be very judicious about who you link to.
  • Inside your blog posts, be cautious about over-linking back to yourself. But if it fits the content of the post, don’t be afraid to do it – and make sure you use good keywords in and around the link text itself.
  • Don’t be afraid to link back to other bloggers and news sources that you’re referencing. In the old days (circa 2005) this was common, and just considered “good manners.” Too many bloggers have gotten away from it, thinking that they can keep the traffic and the credit to themselves. This is short sighted (more on this in a future post).

Building Your Blog is Easier Than It Used To Be

This isn’t the first blog I’ve run. It’s not even the first blog I’ve run at this URL. From about 2002 until 2007 – the golden age of blogging – I ran another blog on this site. It did reasonably well at the time. And I can tell you firsthand, a lot has changed since then. As I mentioned yesterday, in many ways, building your blog up is much harder than it used to be.

But in many ways, it’s also far easier than it used to be.

keep-calmTo put it bluntly, the blogging software back in the “golden age” sucked compared to today. Find today’s worst blogging platform and compare it to the best tools available in 2003 and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, the first version of a “blog” that I ran at this URL used software I wrote myself. Believe me, that software wasn’t very user friendly at all. At some point I switched over to B2Evolution, which was a huge improvement. WordPress came out around that time, and it was pretty decent, too. I liked B2Evo a lot better at the time. But today’s WordPress kicks its butt. The level of customizability, the number of themes out there, and the plugins available all far surpass what we had back in the day. And most of them are free.

We also didn’t have tools like Google Analytics or Google Webmasters, both of which are now indispensable. The best we had back then was the old fashioned “TTLB Ecosystem” and Google’s “submit your site” tool. Alexa came along a little bit later, but it’s always been less than perfect and seems today to actually be worse than it was then. You could get the Google toolbar and check your PageRank status, but that was always of mixed value.

And social media? MySpace was garbage right from the beginning. Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist until 2004 and 2006 respectively, and it took a few years for each of them to really get big. Today, I get more than half of my blog traffic from social media – and I’m working to learn that world even better and increase that. As an example, yesterday’s post about the difficulties of today got shared by Mike Cernovich on Twitter this morning. I got an entire day’s worth of traffic in 15 minutes. Make friends with influencers on social media!

Want to really make use of that e-mail list you’ve built? MailChimp is phenomenal – and they have a free plan that’s just fine if you’re just getting started. Want to automate your social media? Check out HootSuite – again, the free plan will be plenty for many users.

Want to improve the performance on your blog? Get the caching plugins, and boom it’s done. No more spending days messing with your server’s configuration. Want your own server instead of the free blog-only solutions? Hosting solutions are cheap these days. I pay $98 per year through OpenSourceHost.com, and I run four web sites off of that! Want to pay for a killer site design? If you’ve got the cash, there are plenty of folks who will do it for you.

All the things I wrote yesterday are true. But on balance, building your blog is easier today than it’s ever been. You just have to adapt to the times. Keep reading. Stay current on what’s out there. Use tools to make your life easier. Learn to play the social media game. And keep on blogging.

Building Your Blog Is Harder Than It Used To Be

bloggingThis isn’t the first blog I’ve run. It’s not even the first blog I’ve run at this URL. From about 2002 until 2007 – the golden age of blogging – I ran another blog on this site. It did reasonably well at the time. And I can tell you firsthand, a lot has changed since then. In many ways, building your blog up is much harder than it used to be.

The blogging community is radically different than it was in the early 2000s. Political differences still existed, and were very real. But the community of people on these newfangled things called “blogs” were a lot closer knit. Blog relationships transcended party lines a lot more. It wasn’t just party lines, either. Pretty much anybody who had a blog on pretty much any topic would interact cordially and frequently with just about anybody else who had a blog on just about any other topic. Many of today’s biggest bloggers knew each other back then and got along very well. Back in the day, even the biggest of big name bloggers would respond easily to even the lowliest of other bloggers.

The blogging community of today is very fragmented. It’s fragmented politically. The “red vs blue” divide really hit home during the 2004 presidential election cycle. The political blogosphere segmented along lines that were somewhat party based, somewhat ideological, and pretty much all “I’m going to live in my own bubble now, thank you.” Beyond politics, the blogosphere has largely segmented into topical blogs that are far more focused. Back in the day, most bloggers talked about anything they felt like. Now most bloggers are looking for a niche. And those big name bloggers? They’re getting spammed too much, and it’s hard to get through their filters.

The infrastructure that supports blogging has also radically changed. If you wanted to “reply” to someone else’s post, you wrote a nice post of your own. And then your software notified them via “pingback” or “trackback” that you’d said something. These often showed up in the comments section of their own blogs, which served as a nice way to get more traffic to your own blog. Readers there would see the notification and (some of them, anyway) would come over to see if you’d said anything interesting. Comments themselves were a great way to get traffic. Leave an interesting comment on another blog and people would click through to your own. Even better, the links from pingbacks, trackbacks, and comments would all hang around – and the search engines would pick up on them. Your own blog would climb up the search engine listings, little by little.

Today, trackbacks are all but dead. WordPress still supports them, but they’re manual. Many blogs, if not most, ignore them now. So even if you take the time to do them, they often won’t show up. Pingbacks are still a thing and are still automated… but they don’t seem to actually show up on most blogs, either. Again, they’re mostly disabled. And comments you leave on other blogs? In many cases they don’t link directly to your own blog anymore, but to your “profile” somewhere – either on the host site or on the site of a third party comment provider, such as Disqus. You’ll still get a bit of direct traffic from people who click through, but the search engines don’t recognize those as links to your site anymore.

There are good reasons for all of these changes. Spam is the biggest one. If you had a blog back in the day then you know just how bad the problems of pingback, trackback, and especially comment spam were. Fighting comment spam could easily become a full time job all on its own, even for a small blog. Today’s automated spam detection tools are less than perfect. Back then they were barely functional. And many sites moved toward simply shutting down pingbacks and trackbacks as a direct result. The move toward comments without direct links came early as well.

Those big name bloggers who don’t respond to you anymore? It comes with success. Some of those guys get millions of page views a month now. They’re simply too busy for the unknown guy – just like every other celebrity. It’s sad, but it’s completely understandable. It comes with the territory.

Last but not least, there are far fewer blogs now than there were then. Most bloggers never had their heart in it to begin with. Many, like me, enjoyed it but couldn’t find a way to monetize it. I’ve since solved that problem. But blogging takes a lot of time, and without either love or compensation (or preferably both), most people either can’t or won’t keep doing it. That means that there are far fewer small name blogs, which means fewer opportunities to leverage their readership to help build your own – especially since the big name bloggers won’t interact with you as much anymore.

No matter how you slice it, most of the techniques for gaining traffic that worked back then are simply worthless now. Pingbacks and trackbacks? Pingbacks are automated, so you might as well leave them on. But trackbacks are worthless now. Commenting on other sites? It’s still helpful, but the return is far lower. Also, you have to be aware of what site you’re commenting on and whether those comments link back to you or not. There are sites I’d love to participate on, but since they don’t link to me anymore it’s not worth my time. I need to spend that time in other ways.

Building your blog is much harder than it used to be… or is it? Tomorrow we’ll look at ways in which blogging has gotten much easier over the years.

Why Your Blog Should Be Ad Free

Go ad free.
No, most likely you couldn’t be.

Straight out of the gate I’m going to acknowledge that this post won’t apply to everybody. But there are plenty of folks out there for whom it will apply. The plain and simple truth is that your blog should probably be ad free.

I saw a post on this topic come through my Twitter feed over the weekend by one particular self published author. He was trying the tactic of patiently explaining to his readers why the ads were there, and that he needed them to pay for his blog. Among the points he made was that the blog costs him $2500 a year to run. My first impression was amazement. He must get a heck of a lot more traffic than I do! But then I read on, and I’m not so amazed. Among that $2500 were the following expenses.

  • Site hosting and bandwidth.
  • Themes for the blog
  • Site design work

Now, this author probably sells a lot more books than I have (so far!). But unless he’s pulling in a lot of money from his books (like well over six figures annually), he’s simply spending too much. Only one item on this list is a required cost: site hosting and bandwidth. That one can – and should – be amortized in other areas. As for themes, there are lots of free themes out there. Pick one you like. It doesn’t matter if it looks like everyone else’s – many of the most popular blogs out there all use only a handful of themes anyway. And those are all free themes. And you don’t need site design work. These days, WordPress does everything but write the posts for you.

Those two factors alone almost certainly accounted for more than half of his $2500 total. They probably accounted for four fifths of it. Cheap site design usually runs in the $300-600 range. It’s not uncommon for it to hit $1500 or more. Themes can easily be a few hundred dollars each.

I pay $98 a year for the site that hosts this blog. But in addition to that, I host three other business related web sites on the same server for the same fee. That means I’m paying $25 a year for hosting. My host has bandwidth limits. I get enough traffic to manage all of those businesses. I’ve never even come close to exceeding my bandwidth limits. And this is paid hosting. There are several decent blog hosting sites out there that are still free, and several more that will host a blog (if that’s all you’re hosting) for $45 a year or so. My only other notable expense for the blog is the annual cost of renewing the domain name itself (around $15).

But the big problem is that he’s looking at his blog in entirely the wrong way. Your blog isn’t a revenue generator. This is the part where I reiterate what I started with – there will be some people out there for whom this isn’t true. Your blog is advertising. Treat it that way, and pay for it that way. If you’re careful, it can be one of the lowest cost advertising methods you use – and it will likely have one of the highest returns on investment (most likely far superior even to social media). But it needs to go in the expense column under ‘advertising.’

Running ads on your blog causes several problems. First, it degrades the user experience. Nobody likes ads, it’s that simple. But beyond that, they’re slow, they’re obnoxious, they eat up your readers’ precious bandwidth (and mobile users, at least, are paying for that!), they frequently cause layout issues. I’ve had sites crash on me due to the ads – and this very writer mentioned the time he spends fighting to keep the ads working right.

Second, you lose readers. Again, this very writer mentioned that he needs the ads… to make up for the revenue he loses when people click through the ads and don’t come back to his site! Your blog is about gaining readers – and potential paying customers! – not running them off.

Third, online advertising pays shit. The revenue you get from it is simply terrible.

But fourth, and most importantly, your blog is your advertising. Keep it focused on you. Advertise yourself, not somebody else.

I ran a very successful blog at this same URL for more than half a decade in the early 2000s. One reason I shut it down because I didn’t have a good way to monetize it at the time – and that included looking at web ads. They just didn’t bring in enough revenue.

I brought the blog back because I figured out the correct way to monetize it: by driving traffic to my other businesses. Blogs are excellent tools for that – one of the best out there. The hows and whys of that are enough to fill an entire other post, but it works (if done right). Forget the ads – make up the revenue by driving traffic to yourself. One click to another site will give you anywhere from a few pennies to a few dollars. If you’re an author, one click to yourself (ie, your own page, where you’re selling your book directly – or to Amazon, where you’ll get royalties from it) can give you a few dollars. If you run other businesses, it can be more. With my wife’s videography business, for example, one click could generate up to $2500 in revenue. With my dojo, one click could generate a paying student. The immediate revenue might not be as high. But if that student ends up staying long enough to, say, reach black belt, it will be substantially higher even than that.

There are a very few people who generate enough blog traffic for ads to become a significant revenue source. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly not one of them. Your blog should be a piece of your sales funnel, and that funnel should end with you – not with somebody else.

Ditch the ads. Pay for your own blog, and chalk it up as a cost of doing business. At the end of the day you’ll get more business from staying ad free.