Blogging and the Web1.0 world: never the two shall meet

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Is blogging still relevant?

A few weeks ago, Darren Tay of Social Media Breakfast in Singapore asked: Are blogs still relevant?

Like many others, when I am swamped with another project, my blogging suffers.  More than most activities, 90% of success in blogging is showing up.  Indeed, blogging technology rewards showing up.

A blog is less an act of writing and more a particular web format that allows easy updating.  More than that, Google ranks new material more highly than old and helps us find an audience, provided we show up.

Why sometimes I stop blogging

Nonetheless, sometimes I don’t show up.

At first I thought I had no time.  But when you are used to blogging, it takes little time.

Then I thought that other projects that require writing compete for the same psychological energy.

Hmm, I wonder about that too.  Writing for a blog is more carefree and energizing than most writing.  Well, possibly that is the reason. Much professional writing sucks the life and soul out of you (and your readers).

Another possibility is that there are whole swathes of the UK who only know vaguely what a blog is. They certainly don’t understand the technical point that a blog is just easy to update.

They don’t use RSS feeds and they don’t know what a feed reader is.

Broadband is wasted on the rich

Those who are uneducated about the internet are not the indigent or poor either.  People who don’t understand blogging have broadband. They just don’t use it.   We might argue that the government has wasted a lot of money giving broadband to people who are never likely ever to use it.

These are people who live in institutions.  They get up and tread the same path every day.  They talk to the same people.   And they watch the same TV programmes.   They are paid a lot of money to ignore the rest of the world.

They do bump into the real world sometimes.  They experience serendipity occasionally but so infrequently they actually remember!  Despite being moneyed members of the chattering classes, they have never heard of TED.

Blogging and institutionalized life: never the twain shall meet

I think that’s why I stop blogging.  I get sucked into that world.

I’ve always known that I have a poor kinesthetic memory.  When I step off a plane in Instanbul, or Nairobi or Singapore, I always blink and exclaim “It’s light!”.  I can remember that I will be surprised, but living in UK, I forget what it feels like to be in bright sunlight.

When I am fumbling my way through old institutions and groping around their murkier unswept cobwebby corners, I remember there are blogs.   But the feeling of blogging recedes.

Maybe that’s why we stop blogging. We’ve gone through Platform Nine and Three Quarters and we are in Muggles world.

Well, I’ve come back the other way.  Let’s see how long I can stay.

If I am going to waste time, I may as well do it in whole sentences.

Board Walk Sneak by zayzayem via FlickrSome of us count; some of us write

I’ve always been better with numbers than words, far better.  I like organizing things. I like getting answers.  But here’s an interesting thing.

But counting is evidently not enough

When I work on long number-crunching projects, I doodle.  I cover pages and pages of scrap paper with odd words effectively just practising my hand-writing.

And I write with both hands.  My left hand is almost as good as my right.

I don’t do this when I am writing a lot.  Perhaps I worry then that I am reading too much, but I don’t doodle.

Counting cuts us off from the conversation

Another dreary thing is that when I am number-crunching, I have nothing to write about.  In so far as writing is a conversation, at least with a fictitious other, we have nothing to say when we are crunching numbers on confidential data on a project that will take weeks.

So I doodle.

Talk I must.  It’s human.

And now I write. Because if I am going to waste time, I may as well do it in whole sentences.

The honeymoon is over? Should I stay in this job?

Reviewing the situation . . .

There are moments in every project when we have to take stock.  Suddenly, we have details evey where, probably in a big mess.  Then, we ask ourselves, where exactly are we going?

It’s so tempting to walk away.  And, if you work for someone else, it’s easy to blame them for blocking you in!  The truth is that if you worked for yourself, you would reach the same point.  But this time you would sort out your crisis of confidence for yourself.

An example of rebuilding your own confidence

Let me give you an example of my blog.  Well, a blog is just a blog, you say.  That is true.  But if you are a knowledge worker, your blog is important.  It shows off your work and it gives you critical Google juice!

As we get better at blogging, we have to fine tune the content and look.  And we have to get a bigger bang for our buck – or better return for the time we put it!

So let’s use this as an example!

Last unsuccessful time

The first time I tried to tidy up my blog, my project was not a success!  I just started with the list of  posts and tried editing and re-classifing posts one by one.  It was bitty and it was horrible.

This successful time

This time, I began differently.

  • I sketched out what I want my blog to look like on a dummy server on my computer.  I selected 5 topics that I think will be important in the next two years. I had something to aim at.
  • Then I used some basic psychology.  I began with old categories that had few entries, reread the posts, tidying them up a little, and sometimes added updates and some better tags.
  • Then I reclassified the post into 1 of my 5 new categories.  Sometimes it was hard to choose but to choose one out of 5 is not too much of a tax on working memory and doesn’t get overwhelming.
  • When the category was empty, I deleted it!  Reward ~ I can see progress as the old list of categories grows shorter quickly!
  • Finally, I Stumbled my old posts, getting some basic traffic and learning a little about Stumbleupon as I went along.

I am enjoying my work!

  • The work is going smoothly ~ I can see what I am doing as I do it!
  • I am seeing progress!
  • I do it whenever I have a break from other projects.

It’s not done though.  I have 500 posts to sort and at a pace of 5 a day, which is a cracking pace, the job will take me three months.  Is that too much to ask to sort myself out?

Maybe the trick is not to wait for your boss to sort out your job.  Couldn’t you begin to sort out your job yourself?

Here are four basic steps

  • Write out your perfect job description (and keep it private of course)
  • Without disturbing your current job, take little pockets of your job (my small categories), and polish up those areas to match your future job description
  • Submit those improvements to your boss for his admiration and gratitude (:-) being realistic of course what is worth someone elses admiration and gratitude.
  • And plug on!  You know where you are going!

The trick though is to write the perfect job description. That’s the hard part.  Upcoming.  Turn over!  That’s next!

Noobe? To break away from crude pecking orders, get rich information

It is such a pain being a ‘noobe’ – any place, any where

We are dazzled, momentarily, when we arrive.  Woot!  We are here.  We start to build relationships; we start to climb our way up the pecking order; and reality sets in.   We are jostled by every one we pass, and we shove back or skip past, depending on our taste for conflict or the weapons at our disposal.

The rank structure of the bloggersphere

In the blogging world, the first disillusionment of the noobe blogger comes when we understand that there are already kids in charge of the block.  They are called the “A list” bloggers.  By dint of being around longer, A-list bloggers command the playground.  One word from them and we are made!

We cluster around the A-listers hoping to be mistaken for the in-crowd.  We tweet them, @ClayShirky for example, hoping that our friends think we actually know them.

And the A-listers ignore us, just as the cool kids ignored us all those years ago at school.  Oddly, the more we fawn, the easier it is for them to ignore us.  You’d think we might have learned something from school.

The long road to a stronger blog ranking

In the blogging world, longevity really matters.  A stopped stone gathers moss, readership and Google page rank.  Life in the blogosphere is as simple as that.

We newcomers have a long journey from 4 page hits to 40 to 400 to 4000, from the very occasional comment to comments daily, from occasional readers to regular readers.

On the journey, we worry.  Is my writing too light? Is it too heavy?  Should I be more provocative or less?  Should I used better keywords, or not?

Rich information from Alexa Rankings

I use Alexa Rankings every few weeks to give me a sense of how I am doing.  And then I do a comparison with the big old established sites!

Pointers from Alexa Rankings

I can stop worrying that my writing is too inaccessible.  People spend more than 10 minutes on my site.  Not an easy read – sure – but people are reading.

My bounce rate is a lowish 30%.  Many A-listers have bounce rates of 70%.

And my visitors look at an average of 8 pages.  That’s very high.   (Thank you!).

Moreover, as these are averages, the people who stay are staying for a long time.  (A double thank you!)

Rich information helps us understand our role in our new playground

These figures are much better than most A-listers.  That gives me heart that I am doing something right.  I wish I had more comments though!  It would be nice to be able to shape the blog around topics and styles that you find interesting.

But I thank you anyway!   More people are coming and my site continues to climb the rankings at home and abroad.  Alexa kindly gives me the details and I can track my progress against my goals, which includes getting progressively more traffic from the UK

I also get some idea of what to improve.  I don’t get a lot of traffic from search, for example. I could obviously do a bit of SEO!

If you are a ‘noobe’,  Alexa Rankings are a good monthly stop.  The rich information provides the perspective every noobe needs to understand the rules and to break away from the crude rankings and pecking orders that rule all playgrounds!

Break the tyranny of the pecking order

Whenever we are new, somewhere in some place, we need to look for the equivalent of Alexa Rankings to escape the tyranny of crude pecking orders.  Look! Find!  Ask a richer set of questions  than whether the A-listers know us.

Get oriented!  Sanity for we noobes!

3 best known ways to improve a blog (that bored me silly)

This week was supposed to be a week of blog experimentation.  I picked out 3 best known ways to improve a blog, and set to with gusto.

This was my plan from improving my blog

Two posts a day (one at midnight to catch the eastern hemisphere and one at 17:00 to catch the western traffic)

More careful choice of keywords (at least check the keywords in Keyword Tool and make sure the words are in the title, tag and in two or three places in the text)

Better use of headlines (at least check down a list of good headline recipes and improve a little).

Do you think these are the most important ways to improve a blog?

I am sure if I persisted, I would get better results.   Do you think I would get better results with these three disciplines?

My results after 3 days

But I am bored.  The Secrets of . . . Doing X like a Y.   It just doesn’t grab me.  This feels like writing university essays.

I don’t even want to run experiments.   Experiments are close-ended.   There is no surprise.

I want adventure in what I do – even in a blog post written from a town in the countryside.

I want a set of headlines that talk about adventure.   Are there none because the audience doesn’t like adventure or because copy writer don’t think adventure?

How do you get the best return from your blog?

How do you approach blog writing?  What have you done consciously to improve your blog?  Did it work?

Any ideas about how I can make my blog into an adventure – even a little one.  An itsy bitsy tiny adventure that is surprising?

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4 things I learned in 24 hours with Google Adwords

Do you used Google Adwords? And does it bring you the traffic you want?

I think all ‘noobes’ to the internet struggle with Google keywords and experienced geeks around us don’t want to come clean and say simply how the system works.

Well there is a chicken-and-egg system here.  You don’t know which keywords to use until you know!  Maybe you may learn something from my this little experiment of mine.

My 24 hour Google Adword Experiment

On Monday afternoon, I found a Googles Voucher in my ‘maybe sometime’ box and it was about to expire on Tuesday.  So I decided to run a Googles Ad and see what 30 pounds could buy me in 24 hours.

Seven steps to running your first Google Adword

  • Log on to Google Adwords and set up your account
  • Write your ad and link it back to your website (they have a handy system on screen)
  • On the basis of your website, Google will suggest some key words
  • Edit your keywords
  • Put in your bank details & your promo code if you have one.  They will charge you 5 pounds for this entertainment.
  • Set your monthly budget at 30 pounds.
  • Sit back and watch comfortably knowing you can switch all this off at anytime at the cost of whatever bill you have run up – capped at 30 pounds.

My entertainment

  • What I am going to sell.  I wrote a special blog post for this game: I offered to set up interview questions to match a job description and let someone practice with me over Skype (with webcams).  The nature of my product didn’t really matter. What mattered was that it was offered on the landing page of my blog.  Google does limit the length of url that goes in the advert so I couldn’t direct to any post or page.
  • My ad.  I wrote a simple ad saying “Practice for your job interview over the internet with webcam with an experienced coach”.  (The word Skype was disallowed).
  • First impressions.  There was an immediate flurry of activity with impressions from Search (that is the keywords I had chosen) and 3 Click Throughs.  My CTR or CTR was well above 0.5% at that stage.  As we only pay for the Click Throughs and Google is setting the price on a rolling auction, the price varies.  I paid 133p for 3 clicks on my blog.  No one contacted me so I had 0 conversions but I had set my prices rather high.  I was interested in the Google-end of this experiment.
  • Frills. I had left the ‘Content Network’ on.  Google puts the ad on Content partners too.  It advises to leave that option on.  The impressions from Content Partners were slow at first but rose dramatically on the second day.  The CTR was rubbish though.  After 36 hours, my ad was delivered (impressions) to just under 1500 partners with 1 click through.
  • Results.
    • From search traffic, “interview questions” drew 350 or so impressions with 3 click throughs – just under 1% and above the 0.5% which makes Google frown and say you are wasting our time.
    • “Interview tips” drew around 100 impressions and 3 impressions – so 3% click through.
    • “practice your interview” drew no impressions and of course, no click throughs.
    • All my ads appeared on the first page of Google search, but rarely at No 1.  The exception was “behavioral interview”.  (Remember these are ads we are talking about not the list of websites on the left.)
  • Cost.
    • This all came to 313p for 7 click throughs and an average price of 21p per person who arrived at my blog.
    • That might be meangingful in an advertising world.  Can you imagine though attracting 50 000 people a month at that price?  That would be 10 000 pounds a month.  I would need to be selling an awful lot.
    • The real issue though is the conversion rate.  Obviously of the 7 people who arrived – I had made one sale with a profit exceeding 313p, I would be ahead.

What did I learn?

  • Advertise in 10 minutes. Now, at any time, I can log in, write an ad,d and spend down the 30 pounds in my Google Account.  I know I can do it in 10 minutes. I recommend giving it whirl just for the pleasure of being clearer about how Google works.
  • Writing Ads is hard.  Do you remember all those Marketing types at Uni who we wrote off for being flibbety-gidgets?  Start buying them a lot of drinks.  And get them to write a whole lot of boiler plate ads to keep in a notebook when you need them fast!
  • Start early. Google is a chicken-and-egg system but you can break that vicious cycle by beginning.  I learned two important things from this experiment which had no purpose but to spend a Googles Voucher.
    • People are out there looking for interview questons and tips.  The click through rate was better on tips.  There is a market there.
    • No one is looking to practice their interviews.  No market.  Or is it a market waiting to be made!
  • Marketing.  How many of us have an explicit marketing budget?  How many of us have costed how many people we have to wave our product at (impressisons).  How many of us know our CTR (how many people we meet and how that translates into meaningful contacts?).  How many of us know how much each CT has cost us?  How many of us check the check our conversion rate to sales?  Have we budgeted adequately the time we need to spend, the time we need to wait and the money we must spend to achieve the conversions we want and need?

Good luck with your experiment.  Buzz me if you need help.

And sorry about the ad yesterday.  I wasn’t trying to sell you anything.  If you are a friend of mine, I helped you practice your interview for free!

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How fast do you grow your blog? 10% 20%?

Oh, oh, oh,  it is New Year and it is time to transfer some stats helpfully supplied by WordPress onto an Excel spreadsheet.  Oh, what fun!

First the obvious

Month-on-month growth

When I first launched my blog, month-on-month growth was over 100%, that is, each month my readership doubled. Progressively, my growth has dropped to about 8% month-on-month.    The number of additional readers per month is more than it was at the start, but the % gain is now around 8%.  Imagine if that growth translated into revenue!

Good and bad months; good and bad days

People do stop reading blogs when they have something better to do!  Yes, that’s right.  Readership drops during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We also stop writing blogs when we are busy.  There were two months when I was busy on other projects.  The first time, my page hits plateaued.  The second, hits dropped horribly.

Readership also goes up when we write about something topical.  Experts talk a lot about key words.  The key to a killer post is writing about what people are looking for today: current events!

The best days are supposed to be Tuesdays and Thursdays.  What I can say, is traffic at weekends is less (we have something better to do) and traffic is very slow during the morning, British time!

Then a little deeper

The next thing I did was to model the exponential growth.  Allowing for the good times and bad, on average how fast has my blog grown?

What I did (for anyone who has forgotten their maths) was convert my page hits for each month into a log (using Log10) and then used the “slope” function to regress the logs (Y) onto another column in which months were labelled 1-14 (X).  The slope was 0.11 meaning that my page hits increased 11% each month.

To check I had the maths correct, I recalculated the monthly amounts by talking the first month and multiplying it by 1.11, and then did that again for the next month, and the next, until I got to December 2008.  The model estimated my December total within 3% of the actual number.

So 11% growth per month.  Is that good or bad for a first time blogger?  Does anyone know?  A quick Google search didn’t throw up any figures.  An odd omission I would have thought.

Then forward

If I can maintain this growth, then what readership can I expect this time next year?

This time I took my actual figure for December 2008 and multiplied it by 1.11 and then again by 1.11, twelve times.

Hmm, the total figure would make me happy.  I had set myself a target of exceeding the number of student hours in my classroom in my last university job : 50 000 per year (staggering isn’t).  I did this again using 8% or 1.08, and I still exceed 50K.  Fine!

But several of my friends in the Social Media Mafia have readers of 500 per day.  That is three times the total I expect!  Hmm.  That made me feel dissatisfied.

What is possible?

There is plenty of advice out there on blogging.  So far I could say that I have mastered writing regularly.  I have some loyal readers who even comment sometimes (thank you).  And I comment happily on other people’s sites.

I know the search terms that bring people to my site and I know that responding to world events will bring more.

I imagine if I were in a less specialised field and wasn’t addressing professionals, largely, I would have greater readership.  Those characteristics I’ll accept as constraints.

My questions

With my specialised field, tendency to long posts designed to solve professional issues that I am grappling with now,

  • What is a realistic rate of growth to aspire to?
  • What attributes of blogging should I attend to.

Until I answer those questions, I think I need to aspire to growing my blog 8% to 11% a month by posting regularly and about topics that have some link to world events.  I would like to do more though.  And advice would be welcome.

Thanks to my readers

Thanks so much to the people who do read my blog and spur me on.  You mean a lot to me.  I believe writing clarifies my thoughts about my professional work and with an average of 70 page hits per post, I am encouraged to put in more effort!  Requests taken!

A very good 2009 to you.  May it be happy, joyful, and despite all odds, prosperous!

Being attractive to large groups, crowds and communities

Eeee . . ., why do I have empty seats? Where are my students!!!

Much of my life, I’ve taught in Universities. As we all know well, our ability to lecture varies enormously. Some people pack the rooms, and students from other courses are sneaking in the back. Some people empty the rooms, and are never quite sure how they do it!

Most of us are somewhere in between. Delighted when we delight the students and a little curmudgeonly when students are missing because we would just love to know how the stars pack them in.

Oh . . . that’s where my students are!

I was privileged to work alongside someone with theater training, who taught marketing, and who had worked in broadcasting. This was great! She could hold a room AND explain how she did it.

She asked questions about her performance differently. Instead of seeing everything as function of what she did or didn’t do (and also entering a negative emotional spiral when an hour wasn’t too sparkling), she thought about what the class was doing.

She thought about people entering, and taking their seats. What were they feeling and what were they doing? How they changed as she entered? How they reacted when she flicked the microphone switch to green: go. How they listened to her first sentence. How what they felt changed? etc.

She understands classes well enough to choreograph their reactions.  Whatever she did was aimed at producing a wonderful collective experience.

Now I have found someone else who can explain charisma!

I am a member of Xing, which is the European equivalent of LinkedIn. It’s worth looking at because it runs on slightly different lines.

Erica Nelson posted this brilliant article in Xing’s group for Global Business Women group. It is about how to write an attractive blog.

It’s also sage advice for thinking about presentations, lectures, meetings, and for that matter, going to a party! Erica also writes here.

Thanks Erica!

OOPS!  Link seems to have broken.  I’ve written to Erica (2 November 2009)