Rants & Raves

Happy 4th Blog Birthday – A blogging year in review

Its the time of year when I normally take a little time to reflect on the year that has passed, and plan for the next year ahead. This is mostly due to it being around my blog birthday. Over the past few years I started some kind of tradition where I take a look, at progress I have made with the blog over the year and share insights in an effort to help any other aspiring technical bloggers.During the course of a year of running a blog, you tend to learn and try a number of things. It’s a constant loop of experimentation and evaluation. This year has been no exception, and in many ways it’s been a busier year.

In this post, I will try to capture everything I have experimented with on my blog, highlights what has worked, failed and what I am more than likely going to experiment with in the year ahead.

Time has really flown by this year! It feels like it was only yesterday that I wrote and published Happy 3rd Blog Birthday!, in reflection a lot has happened with the blog, so it’s always a good time to sit back reflect and map out everything down.

So for the 4th year of my blog, the main thing I’m really impressed with, is that I have kept at it, although I have to admit I did have a little hiatus, for about 3 months, when I didn’t publish any new content, but I did spend most of my time updating old content, fixing and enhancing some CSS styles.

I also put in a bit more effort into to my company’s website and blog, and focused on improving, updating and enhancing content on that blog. In reflection that might have been a good idea, due in part, that even though I didn’t publish any new posts for 3 months, may daily visitor count increased and a number of blog posts have found themselves with higher search engine rankings! Which ironically was one of the things I was aiming on improving this year.

I put in a lot of effort in learning more about SEO, mostly from reading SEO for Dummies trying out everything I learned.

 

Content and Growth

The primary focus of the blog this year, has been primarily Content improvement and traffic growth. I have spent most of my effort learning and trying to improve on these two specific areas. Primarily if you don’t have significant traffic to your blog, your blog will never be successful, conversely if you don’t have great, meaningful and valuable content you’ll never be able to improve your traffic stats.

It’s a double edge sword, and I have learned that if you want to be a successful blogger you really do have to focus on both at the same time.

I spent a lot of time, analysing my blog traffic trying to understand what and why people come to my blog, how they interact with it and most importantly what I can do to deliver on their expectations.

The below report is synopsis of my blog traffic stats over the past few years. You’ll notice that my blog has been on a constant steady growth trajectory, which I am very pleased with. However, for 2019 my intention, is to really step it up a gear. In many ways, the past few years have all been about laying the foundations, cutting my teeth and learning the ropes.

Blog Traffic Stats

I know these are not super impressive numbers, but if you consider my specific niche and just how much competition there is, then it’s really not that bad. However, after spending the year analysing my readers traffic and getting to understand what my readers want, I will be looking to double those traffic figures for next year.

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Content Improvements

This year I have tried to really focus on improving my writing skills, focus on delivering value with my content and ensuring my content is easy to read and understand. This has been vitally important because it turns out that over 80% of traffic to my blog is from countries where English is not their mother tongue. Which I have to admit when I started this whole adventure I naievely thought that most of my traffic would probably come from the UK and possibly the USA.

It turns out that although the USA and UK, have the most views as individual countries, these figures are dwarfed when you start counting hits from India, Germany, France, Netherlands, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, Japan, Denmark etc.

So I now realise that, when writing my content I really need to focus on ensuring that it can be clearly understood by this audience. I have to be mindful of the fact and be considerate to them. I really have to try eliminate colloquial english phrases and sayings which my not so easily be understood.

I also realised that layout is also vitally important, because the reality is that most visitors to your website do not read your content. They mostly scan it, looking for what they feel is important. If they find the answer they’re looking and its useful, then they may actually take time to read your content in it’s entirety.

So it is vitally important to ensure your content, is easy to scan and that important parts are clearly identifiable. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself in your blog posts. Re-emphasise important content. This increases the chances of it being found!

In order for your content to be successful, you have to write content that people are going to search for. This requires thinking about your content, planning it and ensuring that its going to answer a question your potential readers are going to ask, by typing a phrase in a Search Engine.

Keyword Research is an absolute key aspect here. Taking time to master Keyword Research and ensuring you weave these keywords into your posts is a key skill any web writer should master. It is often fundamemental aspect of SEO – that most people often completely ignore – that is extremely important to master. Get it right and you basically guarantee the ongoing success of your blog, get it wrong you fail!

I also have been playing around with layout and styles within my content. Trying to find that sweet spot that ensures my content is appreciated. This is probably the most time consuming aspect of a blog. It requires constant analysis and research. I think I am still along way off from perfect but it’s something I am still working on.

I have been using a tool called Lucky Orange – All-in-One Conversion Optimization Suite and even wrote a blog post on my company website detailing how I use LuckyOrange to help improve my blog content.

I cannot stress enough just how important a tool like Lucky Orange is as blogger. It’s one thing reading your traffic statistics etc using Google Analytics, but it pales in comparison when you can actually watch and study just how your readers interact with your content.

My personal favourite tool is the HeatMap tool, focusing on this has really helped me to improve my content and layout, Check out another post I wrote How to increase conversion using heatmaps to gain a better understanding.

 

200 Posts

This year I also hit the 200 post mark, which is quite an important yardstick to hit. It is also vitally important to review and reflect when you get to this point – well that is my observation anyway- on what is actually working, what you should do more of and more importantly what you should do less of.

I’m still not sure if it’s just a coincidence or just something as result of a number of actions over the past year, but I noticed a significant boost in my search engine rankings and traffic statistics as a result of hitting the 200 blog post mark!

I did do some research, but was never able to either confirm or deny, but I can only say that there was a sudden hockey stick style growth in my traffic virtually overnight from when my 200th post was published. I went from 700ish visitors a day, too 1000ish visitors a day, thankfully I managed to maintain 1000ish visitors a day for over a month!

This has really inspired me to continue and strive for further improvements, and write even more posts!

A key thing I did when I got to this point, is basically do what is termed as a Content Audit, taking stock of what posts are performing well, the reasons why they are performing well then comparing it againsts the poast that are not doing well. This will lead to an action plan on what you should and can do to improve these posts. It may be simple things like just improving the layout, maybe enhancing the content, improving it or in my particular case, simply rewriting it completely.

This helped to highlight just how my blogging journey has evolved and just how much I have improved. It also helps to re-evaluate.

Unfortuately, it also generates a considerable amount of work! So my 2019 blog workload is full to brim with additional items.

 

Social Media – The bad

An aspect of blogging I went into this year was Social Media, and I have to say for me personally it was nothing more than waste of time. It’s definitely something I will use in the future really sparingly. In fact, this year I actually closed down most of my social media accounts and use the rest really sparingly and selectively.

Social Media could be a useful tool for blog promotion but in my opinion it is more of a cess pit of humanity, spam honey pot and in general a complete waste of time.

The lesson here, for other bloggers is to be very selective when it comes which social media channels you choose. The key here, is too pick at the most 2 channels and only 2 channels. You should also only dedicate between 5-10 minutes to them daily. Automate as much as you can i.e Schedule some blog post promotion, ask/answer a few questions. The rest of the time steer clear.

Earlier this year, I tried to go all in on social media, posting regularly across a number channels, I chose LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. I found myself spending several hours a week on social media, burning battery time on my phone and to be honest getting involved in debates and disputes I really had no need to be involved in. The end result is that it actually had a negative impact on my blog.

There was no direct result in the increase of traffic and the ROI was in all honesty 0. Taking into consideration time vs benefit most of the effort was wasted.

In a couple of years I may revise my social media strategy, but honestly for the most part on a personal level I am probably not going to engage with it. This also maybe something I will outsource to somebody who has nothing better to do with their timethan debate the Nazi’s ad nauseum, loves cat pictures and doesn’t mind high levels of hate propaganda.

I have removed all social media apps from my phone and have placed blockers on all Social Media channels during work hours – ( I work from home – as a freelance full-stack web developer)

I may still use some elements of Social Media going forward, but for me personally focusing on organic search growth is by far the best strategy and one which continues to pay dividends.

 

Social Media – The Good

I’ve highlighted some of the worst aspects of Social Media from my personal point of view, but it hasn’t been all bad, there have been some good aspects, just nothing that has had a direct positive effect on web traffic but more from a personal growth point of view.

The one key thing I have taken away from my social media splurge, is the importance of having a community of like-minded folk to mix with. I started to seek out other successful bloggers to see what I could learn from them and to discover what tips, tricks and strategies worked for them.

Blogging for the most part, can be a very lonely and isolated experience. It can also be something that actually cuts you off from your family and existing friendships as it is something that they may not understand or have any interest in.

Ensuring you mix with other bloggers is hugely important, but the downside is it can be difficult to connect with other bloggers. I was able to overcome this hurdle by first joining the Reddit – Blogging and then I joined the Slack Group – Blogging Mastermind Group, which is actually a virtual Gold Mine!

I have learned so much over the course of year, but it actually required some effort from my part. You have to keep in mind, any social group follows the same norms and practices, and you have to try fit in just like you would anywhere else. It’s going to take time and effort.

The people I have been fortunate enough to meet and share ideas with on this group run some pretty successful blogs and some a earning significant revenue from their online investments.

These blogs include

Another positive side effect, is I was looking at methods to automate some my social media tasks etc. A key thing I wanted to do was to do it cheaply, but also learn something from it. I decided to explore doing this via AWS Lambda service, which lead me onto exploring the Serverless Framework and being a blogger I wrote a blog post to help me document my findings. My post Build a Twitter bot with AWS lambda serverless framework and node.js what actually picked up by the guys at serverless and they thought it was good enough to include in their monthly newsletter, which incidentally generated a lot of traffic to my blog.

I have to admit I am quite proud of that, in not only that it helped increase traffic, but that other people think my content is good enough to promote with their own newsletter.

The year ahead

The theme for the year ahead is one of focus, and its going to be focus on 3 key areas, which I believe are absolutely core to the future success.

Content

This year I have devised a content strategy I am going to work towards. This is something I haven’t done previously.

In the last 3 years, I haven’t had any plan what so ever, as regards content. I have to be honest and admit I’ve just blogged what I felt like when I felt like it. Which may have been a good strategy in the beginning, but in review and hindsight it’s a pretty bad idea for continual success. What I have learned that focusing on a core group of related subjects, is what actually drives traffic.

The result of a haphazard approach is that, there isn’t a consistent theme of subject that my blog is particularly known for, or could even be possibly known for. I have blogged on a myriad of different subjects from .net core tutorials, Homeplug Adaptor buyers guide to ubuntu linux help guides and mostly anything in between.

Although, I have been passionate about all these subjects, at some point throughout the past 3 years, it has all been sporadic and scatter gun.

Focus on being an expert, but don’t try be the expert

This is going to change this year, I am going to attempt to focus on just 2-3 related subjects, C# , .net core and Full Stack Web Development. There may be on occasion be cross over into other subjects, but this will only be to emphasis content related to C# , .net core and Full Stack Web Development.

Monetization

During last years update, I spoke about how I was investigating methods hows on how to monetize my blog, and this past year I have been able to generate a consistent meagre earnings.

Being able to monetize the blog, is fairly important, least of which is because it actually requires money to keep it going. It also sucks a lot of my time. Although I do enjoy it and it does have some side benefits, it would still be nice to be able to generate some additional revenue.

Currently, the only source of revenue is from Google Adsense, which to be brutally honest, just about covers the Webhosting and administration bill for the year. It’s not a lot of money, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is vital to keeping the blog up and running.

So this year, I am really going to explore a number of different avenues as to how to generate revenue.

WordPress Theme Update

This third an final objective, is going to be somewhat dependent on the success of the previous objective.

I would love to update the theme for the blog, I just feel the current one is a bit dated and it does have some low impact bugs that may affect the success of the blog going forward.

If anyone has ever changed WordPress themes, you’ll realise that it is alot more work than just clicking change theme in your WordPress admin panel. I estimate that to actually successfully change the theme of my blog, it’s going to take at least 2-3 weeks, of full time effort. Which I can’t really afford to do, as I am the sole person behind this blog and I still run my own company.

So it ultimately comes down to investment, which following the formula of ROI (Return On Investment), at current ratings the blog just doesn’t warrant significant investment as there are no returns, at least financially.

 

Treat it like a business

This is really an important aspect for the blog this year, in that I am not going to treat the blog as a hobby project anymore. I am now going to treat it like a business. In my opinion this is a very important distinction to make. I can’t take credit for this, this is actually idea a member of the Slack Group – Blogging Mastermind Group shared and completely resonated with me.

Over the past few years, my blog has been an exciting side project, an avenue for me to learn new skills and generally a fun distraction from sitting on the couch and watching hours of mindless TV. It’s served its purpose, but now I want something more.

Conducting the content analysis of my blog, it’s obvious the content has been all over the place, without any real purpose or objectives. It’s primarily been about me scratching itches and searching for topics I wanted to learn more about it. The content has been very my driven by my own personal needs.

This focus is now going to switch and attention is primarily going to be focused on the reader and meeting their needs. With this in mind all blog posts are going to focused on providing the best possible resource I can provide to my audience.

This is important because the reality a blog is business, primarily because ultimately it shares the same characteristics.

  • Readers == Customers
  • Target Audience == Target Customers
  • Content Strategy == Business Strategy
  • Content Plan == Business Plan
  • Purpose == Mission
  • Revenue , Revenue , Revenue

No business can survive without generating a revenue and profit and a blog is exactly the same. The same key components required to run a business apply equally to a blog. These are :

  • Risk
  • Money
  • Resources
  • Time

Conclusion

This past year, has been a fairly successful one for the blog and I have certainly learned a lot, which has been quite beneficial for me in a number of ways. I have also learned some new skills.

This next year, is going to be really important for the future of this blog and I am quite excited to get on with it. I’m really looking forward to learning some more and to find out whether I can monetise this blog going forward.

Gary Woodfine

Freelance Full Stack Developer at threenine.co.uk
Helps businesses by improving their technical proficiencies and eliminating waste from the software development pipelines.

A unique background as business owner, marketing, software development and business development ensures that he can offer the optimum business consultancy services across a wide spectrum of business challenges.

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