After almost a year that I wrote my first blog Phlogging or Blogging, that is the question it is time for reflection. Did it bring what I expected of it? That may sound as an easy question, but in my case it does not have a simple answer. The reason is that I started it as kind of an experiment. I was curious to learn what it means to actively participate on the social web as a blogger. So, what did I learn?
Before I could start to blog I had to make all kinds of choices. I had to choose a subject on which I wanted to blog, a blogging platform to publish my blogs and an effective layout to render the actual pages. The subject was immediately clear, it had to be on photography, a subject that I love. Choosing a platform was much harder. Obvious choices for me where the Google Blogger platform and a hosted Wordpress service. In addition to these two someone pointed me as well to Squarespace, which I ended up using. It is more expensive than the other two solutions, but is delivered in a well-managed environment and very easy to maintain. I was able to create the basic structure and layout of my site within about 6 hours. With regard to the layout, I have tried to create a simple effective website, one that supports black and white photography well.
From a blog perspective I also had to choose a target audience and a blog frequency. The latter was not too difficult. Assuming that a blog needs visitors the blog needs to be updated at least 2 times a week. To define the target audience was for me much harder. Was I going to blog for other photographers, artists, potential models, or for the general public? I did not have an idea; I would probably learn and adjust course if needed.
Visitors and Page Views
So, I started. I wrote my first blog. The moment that you do that, something changes. The initial focus was on how to get started. Once started, it was immediately replaced by a focus on adding material and on being found and read by visitors. Key performance indicators like the number of page views and the number of visitors become magnetizing. Tools like Google Analytics and Google's Webmaster Tools give interesting insight on where visitors come from, which pages are visited and how long visitors actually stay on the site. The data provided a clear message: I had to grow the number of visitors. I had to attract more visitors and make them stay. So, how to achieve that:
- Ensure that the content is interesting and of value to the reader. In a context where I am unsure about my target audience, this is not trivial to achieve. Currently, I blog on the topics that I consider interesting, but the blog should not be about me. At least, that is what I think. So, this is an outstanding issue, one that I hope to resolve over the months to come.
- Ensure that the content is findable. On this point a lot has improved over the last year.
- As a consequence of consistently adhering to the Google rules for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) the Google ranking of my site has significantly improved. I am especially amazed by the ranking of my images on Google’s search result pages.
- The provision of a sitemap for my site to Google has had also considerable effect.
- The creation of Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets to my blog has definitely helped to grow the visitors of my site. The effect of this has been amplified by working actively to grow the number of my Twitter followers.
- Have other sites to link to your site. This will directly and indirectly support findability. Directly, since visitors on that other site can directly go to your site; indirectly, since links from other sites have a positive effect on your Google ranking. This can of course be achieved by the creation of interesting relevant content, but also by active participation on all kinds of forums or guest blogging inserting the links yourself.
- Ensure to actively engage with the visitors. This proves to be a difficult one. As a consequence of not being clear on the topic of the blog, as well as not providing a clear integrated manner for visitors to participate on my site, lively dialogue is not properly supported. This is an obvious weakness that will need to be addressed.
By studying my website's logs and the reports provided by Google's tools I also learned that you have to be completely open to surprises. For instance:
- Web Crawlers: First of all, the amount of automated web crawlers visiting the site is amazing. There are obviously a large amount of services on the web that see value in crawling websites. They come from all over the world, and some of them clearly work in a coordinated fashion. It was also interesting to see that one day my website was really bombarded with crawlers. I wondered what triggered that, was it completely by accident or had it to do with the picture of a troposcatter that I published? I have no idea.
- Search terms used: Google's tools also provide the search terms that people have used that made the website appear on the search result list. These terms and their frequency of use show that there are quite a few people that find my site on completely unexpected search terms. This shows actually the obvious: If it is the objective to be found with Google, it is very important to use the language of the audience of the site and match the queries that they are using. The search terms from the analysis tools also indicate that there are many more people searching topics in the domain of fashion then there are people interested in photography.
Did the experiment bring what I expected of it?
I guess it did. It is fun to do and I have learned a whole lot of things about the World Wide Web, many of my ideas and assumptions where challenged, and it forced me to think much more from the perspective of the visitor. Clearly, I still have to learn many things and to solve some issues. I'll just continue and enjoy the "journey".