Blog Health Check: Assessing The Patient Prior To The 31DBBB Treatment

My blog needs a kick up the backside. Or perhaps I do.

Either way, I’ve decided to undertake the ’31 Days To Build A Better Blog’ course, written by Darren Rowse (the Problogger). I’m going to complete each task in sequence and record the results.

The patient that’s about to receive this injection of whoop ass is my main blog (the one that people actually read…). The site sets out to help recreational road cyclists improve their performance, and enjoyment, whilst on the bike.

The purpose of this series of blog posts is:

  1. To record the effects that taking the course have upon my blog, however they might manifest themselves; and
  2. To encourage me to see the course through to completion, undertaking each task in turn.

You can read more about why I am doing the course here.

In order to judge the impact of the course, we need to know the status of the blog currently. The aim of this post is to summarise exactly that.

Vital Statistics

My cycling blog is just over six months old. My first posts were published on 18 January 2013. The first visitors (according to Google Analytics) came on 21 January 2013 (all 11 of them – and probably mostly me).

Since then, I have written and published 51 posts. I don’t have the precise figures, but each post is generally between 800 and 2,000 words in length. I tend to post twice a week: once on Tuesday; once on Thursday.

My posts fall broadly into two camps: information/advice/’how to’; and personal cycling-related stories. Where possible, I’ve used the Google Keyword Tool to find the best keyword variant for a post, but my topics have not been driven by targeting particular keywords.

I use a free theme from Woothemes. There are very minimal adaptations (the odd font size here or there), which I have made myself.

I try to use at least one image in each post. The images are either photographs that I’ve taken myself (I’m not a great photographer) or pictures available under a creative commons licence (e.g. on Flickr).

In terms of ‘social’, I have sharing buttons on each post (Facebook, Twitter and Google+). I have set up a Facebook page for the blog and a dedicated Twitter account. For Google+, I use my personal account.

I encourage readers to sign up to my mailing list, in order to have each post sent to their email address. Initially I set this up through Feedburner but then switched to Mailchimp. Those who sign up do not currently get a freebie to entice them to part with their email address.

I have literally (like, today) added AdSense to the site. There is no other monetisation.

Promoting Dis Content

My attempts at blog promotion have been sporadic. Each post, as it is published, is automatically (via a plugin) shared on Facebook and Twitter. I then ‘+1’ the post manually using the button on that page.

Occasionally, when I’ve felt a post would be of interest to another blogger’s reader base, I’ve emailed or tweeted to see if they’d be prepared to share it. Back in late February, when I wrote a post that got particular traction and was shared by a large blog in my niche, I paid for some Facebook promotion as an experiment (the budget was around £25 / ~$40).

I’ve commented on maybe 5-10 blogs related to the niche. I’ve written one guest post. I’ve submitted my site to a few directories (the only one I can see as a link in Webmaster Tools is Technorati.com). I wrote one article, which was published on EzineArticles.com. I’ve participated in 4 or 5 relevant discussions on cycling forums.

Show Me The Numbers

So where has all this got me?

In total, as of 31 July 2013, I’ve had just over 22,000 visitors to the site (~18,500 uniques).

I made an error setting up the tracking for Google Analytics (an error which I’m convinced a lot of people don’t realise they’ve made). I had my tracking code appear in more than one place on the site (within the theme and an analytics plugin). As a result, pageviews and bounce rates were not being tracked properly.

I fixed the tracking problem at the beginning of May, so I’ll give the more detailed statistics for the period since then (they’re more relevant anyway).

Blog visitor statistics

As you can see, traffic has been growing week on week.

Rather unhelpfully (for the purpose of this exercise), the spike in traffic in recent days is a bit unusual. A lot of my content, including the post that I promoted originally on Facebook, concerns a cycling event that takes place this weekend. I rank highly for a few keywords relating to the event route and the hills that participants will have to climb. The past week has seen a lot of people searching for these terms. I would expect this activity to drop off once we get into August.

In an attempt to provide a useful benchmark, I’d estimate that my ‘steady state’ traffic currently is approximately 250 visitors per day.

Community Spirit

As I mentioned above, I’ve encouraged readers to subscribe to my mailing list. That list stands at 76 subscribers currently. The list open rate is 65.9% with a click rate of 25%.

The site’s Twitter feed has 173 followers. The Facebook page has 98 ‘Likes’.

Some of my readers are very engaged. I often get a few comments per post. The most popular post has had over 70 comments (although that number includes ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ as well).

Conclusion

I’ve tried to give a detailed summary of the current state of my blog, before the treatment is administered.

With any luck, the changes I implement as a result of undertaking the 31 Days To Build A Better Blog course will have an effect. Hopefully the effects will be positive and we’ll be able to quantify them against the results that I’ve achieved to date.

Please do sign up to my mailing list to make sure you don’t miss any of the updates on my progress:


How To Improve Your Blog: Following Problogger’s ’31 Days To Build A Better Blog’

I’ve been writing my blog for six months now and I want to take things up a notch.

I’m pleased with how things have gone. I have posted steadily and consistently. Readership has grown week on week, month on month. I could stick with what I’ve been doing. It seems to be working, but I think there’s an opportunity to do more.

To date, the work I’ve done on the blog has been based on what I’ve learnt from reading articles and from following other bloggers. There is a lot of information out there, the majority of which is free. The challenge is to know which advice to follow and, more importantly, to put it into action.

The purpose of this series of posts is to recount my experience using a ‘blog improvement course’ (for want of a better term) that I’ve paid for.

My Blog Is Growing As It Is – Why Do I Want To Change What I’m Doing

I won’t be changing what I’m doing, I’ll be adding to it. I will maintain my twice a week posting schedule. I’ll continue to respond to comments and emails. I’ll continue to use Twitter in the sporadic way that I do currently (unless the course calls for some improvements in my approach, which I will of course implement).

My reason for mixing things up a little bit are twofold:

I want to follow a course that has a series of actionable steps that I can follow, without having to think about it

This seems an odd thing to say. Mindlessly following a series of instructions is not generally deemed the optimal route towards successful entrepreneurship.

However, one thing I’ve learnt with blogging so far is that most favourable results don’t occur immediately after the relevant action has been taken. A seemingly innocuous decision to write about a particular topic can lead to a traffic boost many weeks down the line.

Sometimes, you just have to take some action.

So, for the sake of a few dollars, and “31 days” of potentially-wasted effort (there is no risk that this will be wasted effort), I am prepared to put my trust in one of the most successful, and thoughtful, bloggers on the planet to tell me what actions to take.

I want to put ‘skin in the game’

By paying for a course, I have already made an investment in the success of the exercise. It is therefore more likely that I will also invest the time and effort necessary to follow the course to its conclusion.

I want to stop reading. I want to start doing.

Which Course Will I Follow?

I have purchased, and will be working through, ‘31 Days To Build A Better Blog’ by Darren Rowse (aka the Problogger). The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that this is an e-book rather than a true course. Bite me. I’ll be following the tasks sequentially, so I will be treating it as a course.

As the name suggests, the book is divided into 31 daily tasks, with associated teaching around each task, as well as further reading should I wish to know more. Clearly the idea is to complete the course in a month, but I’ll probably undertake it on a slightly slower schedule.

How Will I Record My Progress?

Why in this here series of posts, of course.

I haven’t decided exactly how I’ll do that. I might write about each task in turn or I might recount progress on, say, a weekly basis, with each week representing 4 or 5 completed tasks.

The aim of this exercise is to show the results of undertaking the course, rather than reveal explicitly what is contained within the book itself. I will therefore focus on what I did in response to each task and the results (however they might manifest themselves).

Clearly my account will give a sense of what each task is. If you’re persuaded as to the course’s value, I’m sure you’ll want to buy the book itself, to get the associated teaching and to interpret the information in the way that best suits your own blog’s requirements.

What Happens Next?

In my next post I’ll look at the current status of my blog: what I’ve done so far, both on and off the blog; traffic statistics; my objectives for the future.

With a baseline set, hopefully we’ll be able to judge the impact of the actions I take as I work through the ’31 Days To Build A Better Blog’ course.

In the meantime, happy blogging!

Writing Problems (And How to Solve Them): Not Enough Time

In this series of posts I’m going to look at the common problems standing between a writer and the production of a finished piece of work (be it a blog post, a first draft of a novel or a completed short story).

I’m going to try to provide some useful solutions (or at least talk about what has worked for me). Feel free to use them, ignore them or shoot them down (and if you elect for the latter, please do it in the comments box below so everyone can laugh at me benefit).

I may as well get this out of the way now. I’m a hypocrit. I suffer from many (if not all) of the problems that I’ll share in this series. As much as I may preach a solution, you can rest assured that there are times when I certainly don’t practice it. We’re all a work in progress.

On with the show.

The Problem Is Time

We’ve all said it:

“There’s not enough time for me to write.”

“I’m too busy.”

“I’m always being disturbed.”

(As opposed to “I’m always disturbed”, which may or may not be a good state for a writer to be in.)

The thing is, everyone is busy. The majority of writers (have to) have day jobs. Some, like me, have to fit their writing around the needs of looking after their children and maintaining a tight household ship (confession: I’m pretty unsuccessful at the latter).

Some writers carve out the time to be prolific, some at least manage a level of acceptable consistency.

So, if you’re struggling to find the time to write, here are some ideas that might help.

Drop The Idea That There Is A Perfect Time To Write

Or indeed a perfect [insert anything: place, type of notebook or pen, phase of the moon] for writing. The experience of writing is rarely perfect in the “lose five hours of your life to inspirational ‘flow’ and, whoops, here’s a masterpiece” sense. Hence, there is no need to plan the perfect conditions in which to write.

I know from experience that my best times to write are first thing in the morning, with a coffee to get me going, and then, after breakfast, the period between 9 and 11am. If I’m feeling fruity then late afternoon (4ish to 7ish) is not a bad time either.

Worst times: just after lunch, say from 1pm until 4pm, when I feel unmotivated and grumpy, and in the evening (any time after 8pm), when I feel tired and in need of alcohol.

So when am I writing this post? I started at about 2pm, and am hoping to complete it by about 4pm. Right when I’m at my lowest ebb.

The problem is, with two pre-school children and a wife that leaves for work just after 7am, my times of optimal production are already taken, filled with fraught, noisy distraction.

I have learnt that if I’m going to write consistently, I need to use the time when my daughter has her afternoon nap and my son (if he’s not at pre-school) has his own post-prandial rest in front of the TV (I’m such a responsible parent).

Not everyone will have the same time limitations as me. My point is that just because you are unable to write when you’re at your most productive, don’t let that mean that you fall into the trap of not writing at all.

Chip Away Rather Than Carve Out

Many people (including the ‘old me’) tend to feel you need a decent chunk of time in which to sit down and write. Shorter periods are just not worth the effort.

The concept is implicit within the idea that a writer ‘carves out’ time for his or her craft (I used the phrase earlier in this post).

Rather than carving out chunks of time in which to write, a time-starved wordsmith needs to ‘chip away’ little time windows in which to produce. As little as 5 or 10 minutes is enough.

Being prepared to write for short periods has a untold benefits (which I will now tell you):

1. There tend to be more short periods than long periods in a day – the law of large numbers (is that a thing? I’m not a mathematician) says that at least one of them will feature satisfactory (note: not necessarily perfect) conditions in which to write;

2. Telling yourself that you’re only going to write for 10 or 15 minutes is a good way to get your bottom to make contact with the chair (c’mon, anyone can sit in front of a screen for 10-15 minutes);

3. The stars may align (or the distractions may not appear) and the 15 minute window turns into a focused hour or two of writing;

4. If the stars do not align, and you’re dragged kicking and screaming back to the real world, you have at least continued on the road to consistency, and maintained your writing habit;

5. You avoid the obsession with creating a masterpiece. No one (okay, few people) can write work of unquestioned genius in 10 minute stints. So the pressure’s off. Get some words down on paper (or screen) and tidy them up later. To have at least written something, whatever its quality, is better than not having written anything.

I’ll return to some of these themes in later posts (spoiler alert: consistency is good; developing a writing habit is to be pursued; the common factor uniting all successful writers is the ability to place their backside upon a seat (preferably one that’s near to a desk)).

Stop Doing Something Else

Everyone has the same number of hours in a day (assuming you’re reading this on Earth).

We sleep, we eat, we poo.

We play, we work, we watch TV.

Some people write (or blog).

‘Not enough time’ is really another way of saying ‘I’m not prepared to prioritise over something I’m already doing, which let’s face it, is easier, with more obvious instant gratification’.

Some posts on the subject of prioritisation, as it pertains to writing, will tell you to get up earlier, or write after the children have gone to bed, or give up TV (huh? whoah there).

I’m not here to suggest you do that (exactly).

In line with my argument that 15-minute time chunks are valid writing opportunities, all you need to do is curtail one (or more) of the things you do by a tiny amount and replace it with time spent writing.

For me, I like to sit down after the kids have gone to bed with an alcoholic beverage of my choosing (not absinthe) and watch a bit of TV. I have therefore been working on a habit to slot in a short ‘writechunk’ (a term I’ve just coined) before I switch on the TV (I allow myself to have the beer – I’m not crazy).

More often that not, said 15-minuter turns into an hour (since external distractions tend to be rare after 7pm) and I find I’ve made material progress with a blog post or on my creative writing. And I don’t feel my life is any less rich for having missed an hour of television.

By making slight tweaks to your schedule, increasing the priority you attach to your writing just a little bit, you start to develop the writing habit. Writing (both the act of sitting down to write and the craft of writing) gets easier and more pleasurable. Naturally, almost without conscious effort, you start to prioritise writing time more and more. Even over sleep.

And that, my friends, is what we call a virtuous circle, which must surely be better than a vicious one.

Over To You

So that’s how I’ve dealt (and continue to deal) with the problem of not being able to find the time to write.

How about you? What are your strategies? Let me know in the comments below.

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