I’ve been blogging for a month now. I had no expectations going in. I just decided to blog three times a week for a month and see what would happen. I wanted to learn what worked, what didn’t, and if I even liked blogging. In the first month, I posted ten articles that were viewed a combined 3,450 times. I think that is pretty good. Here’s what I did and the lessons I learned.
1. Just start. There are probably a hundred different decisions to make about your blog from what to write, where to host it, what plug-ins to use, how to promote it, and what the perfect look is. It is easy to get paralyzed by all the decisions and not get started. But no one will read your blog if you don’t write it, so just jump in. Would you rather have a couple hundred people read your blog on a less-than-perfect site, or no one read your blog because it does not exist? Give yourself three or four hours to set everything up and at the end of that time, you have to launch the blog. Make changes and improvements incrementally over the next few weeks. That’s what I did. In fact, I lost a whole week of blogging during the first month because I realized that I should move the blog from a company site to my personal site and had to figure out the best way to do that. No big deal. I was just getting started this month anyway. Things on this site still aren’t perfect. I have a list of changes I want to make, but I will do them a little at a time.
2. You have to promote your blog. You won’t have readers just because you write. I knew this from the start. Therefore, I did not spend hours trying to do SEO to the site or anything like that. I decided to just try to attract direct traffic. I hooked up Google Analytics to my blog from the beginning, and, as I thought, the chart plotting visits to the blog tells the whole story. When I promoted the blog, people visited. When I didn’t, no one came by. This was a very predictable pattern, but it was also an empowering one. It means my actions influenced the blog’s success. That means yours will too.
3. Twitter was an excellent source of traffic. I tweeted about all my blog posts from my personal Twitter account, and, when appropriate, the RAINN Studios Twitter account. Given the size of the followings there, tweeting a link to a new blog post resulted in about thirty visits to the article within a few minutes. This was extremely predictable and I was pleased to see it. Of course, all of your followers will not see the first link you put out on Twitter. Repetition is key. For about 24 hours after a post went live, each time I tweeted the link, I would get about twenty new visits to the article.
4. You can get Facebook traffic without paying for it. For business purposes, Facebook is almost an entirely paid platform because posting a link to a Facebook page gets very little organic traffic. I thought about paying a few dollars to promote each blog post on Facebook, but decided against it when I saw the traction I was getting free on Twitter. I did not really want to pay to promote the blog in the first month while I was still learning anyway. However, I am a member of several Facebook groups that are related to my blog. I shared my post “Two Things Kickstarter Does that Can Leave a Creator Critically Short on Shipping Funds” to one of those groups and it became my second most read blog post almost immediately. I posted about three more links to groups as part of replies to questions when the blog post was directly related to the question that had been asked. That requires a deeper level of Facebook interaction than just posting a link to a page, but it was free and it got much better results.
5. Choose one metric to focus on. Google Analytics generates a huge amount of data. Don’t go nuts trying to optimize everything when you are getting started. All the data it is collecting on session duration, bounce rate, and everything else will be there when you want to study it later. I chose to focus on the number of views each of my blog posts had. I thought that was a reasonable proxy for the number of times the article was read. I was pleased to find a simple plug-in that just tracks post views and that its data lined up with what Google Analytics was reporting. That is how I came up with the number 3,450 for my total views over the month. My most read article (“The First Question Creatives Should Ask Themselves: A One-Question Interview with Eric Lang”) had 586 views. My least, (“Five Things Kickstarter Creators Can Do to Manage Shipping Costs”) had 208 views, but it was also the last posted, so total views isn’t a good measure of its popularity. At the end of the month, I saw Google Analytics reported that the average session duration on my blog was about a minute and fifty seconds. I write blog posts that are about a thousand words long. No doubt that some people read the headline, decide it is not for them, and leave, but the average session duration seems to be long enough that there are lots of people who are staying around to read the articles.
So, is my 3,450 views good or bad? That depends on who you are, what you are blogging about, what kind of following you already have on other channels, and what kind of marketing budget you have to promote your blog. But, when I started the experiment, I expected to have a couple dozen readers for each post and that my most read post would have about 50 views. Given that, I consider the first month of blogging to have been a major success. What advice do you have for someone who is trying to get started with a blog?