Building Blog Readership – An Evolving World

When I started this site in March, after I stopped working with Vario Creative, where I had previously been blogging, I expected that the same traffic building steps that had worked for me before would work here.  After 5 months, I can safely say, that’s not the case.

You see, when I started blogging at Vario, the important keys to getting readership were Technorati position and getting trackbacks from other sites.  In today’s world of sploggers and spammers, the trackback is dead, and Technorati is increasingly irrelevant.  In fact, now Google Blog Search is really the source for accurate linking information, so much so that WordPress has a feed of links from them in the blog dashboard.

My stats have been looking really good, upwards of 240 readers a day, but when you dive into them, you’d find that the majority of the traffic is coming from Google and is associated with an image of a shark eating someone.  It’s driveby traffic, they come into the site, and it’s one and done.  No long term readers, no comments, no added value.  Yesterday, Google realized the error of their ways and my image is no longer showing up in Image Search.  The Google well has run dry.

Continue reading “Building Blog Readership – An Evolving World”

Week 4 – Online Community Building Field Test

The march to success continues.  This week:

  • We’ve jumped to 112 registrations from the first day of our trial.
  • We’ve had several users starting to post on their personal blogs.
  • I had a request to create a new forum for the Bicycle Commuter – and got the forum up in a couple minutes.
  • We were helped by the news today that Lance Armstrong will return to next years Tour De France.
Again, I’ve been too busy with normal responsibilities both in terms of development (I just had a huge site move to QA, watch for more info on Sept. 18 when the reason for these posts becomes crystal clear) and with my admin/publisher duties for http://www.reel-time.com.  I guess that helps to highlight that when you’ve got a decent domain, and a fairly well setup site, things can happen without you.
Wishlist:
  • A real admin – I’m not the guy to be running this site.
  • More hours in the day – I’m not doing this field test any favors with my effort level.
  • The ability to take what I’ve learned through another development cycle – yes, lessons have been learned. 
  • No email notice of moderation tasks – This is a big issue (but probably not for a more dedicated admin).  I sometimes don’t get into the admin area for a day or two.
  • A better way to see user blogs – I feel like their buried in the user profile and not as easy to find as I’d like.
I’ll continue to follow up over the coming weeks, but I can safely say this is a success at this point.  It’d be more of a success if:
  • I did an email newsletter to users.
  • Started a post of the week contest with a prize.  Recognize the users, and they really take notice.
Perhaps if I could dig up an intern somewhere.  BTW, if you’re into cycling, have some time, and would like to learn about running a community, I have an opportunity for you.  mcahill@namemedia.com

Online Community Building Field Test – Week 3

(If you didn’t read the first post in this series, you really ought to start here)

I was really, really caught up with other issues last week, but even with that, the experiment somehow managed to continue rolling along on it’s own, which honestly is a big surprise to me.

  • The cycling.com server was upgraded to use the Akamai Dynamic Site Accellerator system, which has greatly increased page rendering speeds.  It’s not something a user would generally notice, but a fast site helps to create a good customer opinion.
  • We’ve had three User Generated Articles uploaded, and I’ve got one which is quite good live on the homepage right now.  This was unexpected at this stage, and is very exciting.
  • Since the little experiment started, we’ve registered 87 new users.  That is about as many as had registered in the previous 4 months.  The registration pace appears to be accellerating.
  • The forums aren’t really being used.
  • We haven’t had any impact on the Google Analytics – currently  traffic is somewhat static.

Next steps

  • I’m not the right person to really build that site.  My theory has always been that to really build niche media you need some credibility in the field.  While I’ve got that in the Saltwater Fly Fishing space, I don’t have that in the Cycling space.
  • It’s time to develop a plan to start engaging users.  A newsletter to subscribers recapping Olympics coverage, and outlining a plan for the next month might be the ticket.
  • The site needs a real moderator.  Someone who is at home wearing lycra and talking about biking issues.

There are a few other things I’d do if I had the time, on a system level.

  • We stupidly didn’t build an email alert into the system to warn us when a new bit of user content was uploaded, such as an article.
  • BBpress needs to be removed and replaced with a more full featured forum package.  Maybe it’s just me and my vBulletin snobbery, but I find that system doesn’t meet my minimal expectations for functionality.

The total time commitment I put in last week was virtually nill.  I honestly was thinking that I was going to have to admit that I wasn’t going to be able to have an impact.  Now I’m reinvigorated, even though the time constraints I face are still a huge impediment.

Week 1 – Community Building Field Test

(If you didn’t read the first post in this series, you really ought to start here…)

We’re moving right along on Cycling.com – and it’s beginning to look like the site now has a pulse!

Things improved dramatically after we got our login issue fixed.  Here are the basics for the week:

  • 40+ users registered
  • Several new photos added
  • Comments starting to come in
  • 2 new regional cycling groups were created by users
  • The first weeks poll had 65 votes – and I only seeded it with 10 votes…
  • We had our first ‘real’ forum post, i.e. one that I didn’t write

No doubt a lot of you are saying “gee, that’s not many users” and you’d be right.  The thing is, as low as that use level is, it’s much higher than the previous couple months, in which all we had was spam being posted.  The secret of community building is that when you start from ground zero, it take a while.  If things are going well, I expect to see a geometric progression of traffic for the initial period.  The problem is, that is very hard to do when you aren’t actively marketing the site and you’re left with only guerrilla techniques.

That comes with only a modicum of effort.

  • Olympics articles updated every day or so, as time permits
  • New videos are upload as soon as I find something worthwhile on YouTube
  • Forum posts are created pretty much daily

Next steps

Since we started registering users in March, I’ve decided we’re going to send out a newsletter.  I wanted to do it today, but unfortunately time has gotten away from me, so we’ll be sending tomorrow.  The basic play will be “We’ve got Olympics coverage” but deep down, the message is more simple, “we’re alive, come visit us.”

I’m looking to have stickers made, but I’ll admit that CafePress is an utter let down.  I don’t think a simple oval sticker is worth $2 per in a 50 unit increment.   So now I need to actually figure out what the design will be and go to bid with the traditional vendors.  Anyone have any luck recently?

Findings

It’s too early to make any prognositcations.  I have been surprised by how much I’m learning about the platform we’ve built, and most of it’s good.  I really like the ease I can post stories, the ability to easily post videos, the way user generated content is handled, and way that users can easily interact.  On the negative side, i really don’t believe that BBPress is a competetive solution for forum software.  Even though we enhanced the heck out of it, I don’t feel it is close to Simple Machines, or the gold standard in my mind, vBulletin.

Surprisingly, I have found that which Sal commented on in the first post in this season – the user interaction is spread all over the site, and that makes it that much harder to see what’s happening.  I’m wondering if we missed something by restricting you to seeing only what your friends are doing on the site, but deep down, I know we were right on the privacy issue.  Perhaps a homepage widget that boils up all public activity, such as wall posts, blog posts, forum posts, comments, etc. to show “What’s happening right now.”

Day 1 – Community Building Field Test

(If you didn’t read the first post in this series, you really ought to start here…)

Got off to a bad start, after upgrading the site to WordPress 2.6 and the latest BBPress, I find that our Ajax login isn’t working.  What’s worse is that I don’t use that to get logged in usually, so it’s been that way since late Friday afternoon.  Hence I am the only one that was able to login.

After such a bad trip down the rat hole, it’s hard to call anything good news, but I do notice that I’ve had 59 votes total in my poll that went up on Friday afternoon.  Not bad, although i did seed it with about 10 results.  Also, we’ve had 15 new registrations.  I’ll email the users personally to welcome them tomorrow morning when I know the login issue is fixed.

So why do I post about this?  Because this stuff happens – a lot.  You are going to make errors while you build your community and things aren’t going to work the way you planned.  Get used to it – you are going to need to do a lot of adjusting, fixing, etc.  The trick is to keep going, and to make things better.

Oh, and I find that drinking *(heavily)* often helps.