Behind the Scenes on a Working Blog

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 14 March 2012 |


Going behind the scenes at the Tape Tardis blog. Watch the blog's progress and get the inside information from the dashboard and beyond with this new series.

Before I started blogging, there were so many things I wanted to know, but couldn’t really find out. How many visitors would my blog be likely to get? How would I publicise it? What would the search engines think of my posts?...

True, it’s easy to find ‘answers’ to the above questions, but they’re usually the same ‘answers’, reeled off by the same people, many of whom are just trying to get you to use their services or generate business for them in some other way. Any impartial answers were normally along the lines of “It depends”, and were sadly not as helpful as I’m sure they were intended to be. Based on the advice I found, I concluded that if I didn’t essentially go round spamming other people’s blogs with sycophantic comments and ‘following’ so many other bloggers that I’d have to write off an email address, then I wasn’t going to get any traffic. Blogging didn’t sound like fun. It sounded like a nightmare. Like ‘keyboard telesales’, for want of a better expression.

But it wasn’t true. You don’t have to go around badgering bloggers, following and tweeting strangers, or spamming forums to get visitors to a blog, and I’m hoping to demonstrate the fact in this series, which will go behind the scenes with a blog I’ve just set up, and show exactly how it’s working. I’ll start right at the beginning, setting up the blog from scratch, and covering its development from square one, to what I hope will be a fair amount of prosperity. Will the blog succeed? I don’t know. I’ll discuss what gave me the impression it could work in this opening installment, but I can’t say what the future holds. What I can do, is show you, literally, what I’m doing, what’s working, what isn’t… This is not theory. It’s a real process, in practice.

THE CONCEPT

My idea was really quite nerdy. I’ve got absolutely piles and piles of old audio cassettes from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Of the sort you’d buy blank – not pre-recorded. Lots of different brands, grades and types of tape… I didn’t think much about it all until recently. Once I’d transferred the most important audio content from the tapes onto computer, the cassettes just got left in boxes. But then I randomly wrote an article on old 1980s tape cassettes for this blog, just to do something a bit different, and certainly not expecting anything out of the ordinary in terms of visits.

But within two days of posting it was very obvious that people were interested in old audio cassettes. In fact, setting aside my free download posts (which inevitably attract high numbers of visitors) the tape cassette article has been the second most visited on Planet Botch this year – to date, beaten only by Is The Forum Dying? It was evident, then, that a photo-blog looking at old audio tapes could be a viable project, and I decided that WordPress.com would be an ideal place to try the idea out. I already have a photo blog on WordPress.com, and it’s performed very well with the search engines. Plus, my new idea itself was almost throwaway in its simplicity, so I felt I had nothing to lose in giving it a whirl. I’ve got loads of tapes and I’m good at taking photos. How hard could it be to keep blogging pictures of cassettes? I wouldn’t even have to leave the house.



GETTING STARTED

So I set up the blog on WordPress.com, on 26th February 2012. WordPress.com is a free-hosted blogging platform. You simply sign up, and you’re ready to start posting. You can pay for upgrade features if you wish, but it’s not necessary. Just to stress, WordPress.com is different and distinct from WordPress.org. The latter doesn’t provide hosting, so you have to arrange (and almost certainly pay for) that yourself. If you want free blogging from WordPress, it’s WordPress.com.

Most people’s first step, I imagine, is to choose a visual theme for the blog. The theme is just the design – how the web pages look, and to an extent, how they work. With the free WordPress service all design themes come ‘off the peg’. You just click the one you like from a list, and your blog adopts that design. I initially chose the Andrea theme, because it presents photos at a nice big size, but still gives space for a sidebar where you can put gadgets, links to your other blogs, etc. However, Andrea proved to be retarded in that when visitors click a tag below a post, or view the blog archives, the posts are truncated and the photos don’t show. You can click on the post titles to bring up the photos, but there’s no indication of that for people who don’t know the site. That’s bad enough in itself, but search engines often send visitors directly to a tag rather than a post title, and that means new visitors arriving on the site to find a few lines of truncated text and no pictures. The pictures are my new blog. Any displays without them were unacceptable.


Selecting a design theme for a WordPress.com blog is as easy as clicking the
Activate link on these or many other sample thumbnails.


Sadly, this sort of frustration is all too common with WordPress themes. I think they do it on purpose so you’ll pay them $30 per year for custom design facilities. That’s not gonna happen (not with me, anyway), so I had another rummage through the themes and switched to SunSpot. I moved all sidebar items onto the left, afterwhich the theme performed very similarly to Andrea, but without the idiotic truncation.

FACTS AND FIGURES

WordPress gives you comprehensive statistics for how many visits your blog is getting. It tells you which posts people are reading the most (and the least, and everything in between), totals up your daily, weekly, monthly page visits, etc. But it’s a good idea to register with Google and Bing’s Webmaster Tools utilities when opening your first blog. These free services allow you to monitor what’s happening behind the scenes with the major search engines. How your blog is being indexed and crawled by the Google/Bing/Yahoo! bots, etc. Via these utilities, you can make the search engines properly aware of your blog, and generally ensure that the likes of Google/Bing/Yahoo! are not missing anything. You also get to see if there are any errors stopping the search engines from doing their job properly.

Inside Google's Webmaster Tools. This display shows there are just 5 links to my new blog so far (my other WP photo blog has 35,000). But search traffic is coming in.

For my new blog, I was going to stick with a tried and trusted formula: don’t faff around with comments or networking, and let search engines do all the work of bringing in traffic. Moderating and/or responding to comments can quickly become too time consuming on WordPress. The number of spammers blasting blogs with ‘comments’ is ridiculous, and being an unsociable so-and-so, I don’t really want the blog to be a dialogue anyway. WordPress does have an anti-spam filter incidentally, but it’s not 100% reliable, so if you want to be sure of what is or isn’t being posted you still need to read through it all. Much easier just to disable commenting, which was what I did.

Once I’d submitted the new blog to Google and Bing (Bing also incorporates Yahoo!), it was just a matter of starting to post. I’ve aimed to put up at least one post every day, and more if possible. Regular posting helps keep the search engines on their toes, as well as building up the size of the blog more quickly of course. Even though Tape Tardis (that’s my chosen blog title) is a photo blog, I’m still adding a reasonable amount of text to each post. Text is really important to search engines, because they can’t ‘see’ photographs and they need verbal illustration. Adding a couple of paragraphs of text really helps the likes of Google to grasp what’s in the pictures. I also find that adding the odd obscure detail here and there can increase search traffic in some quantity over the course of a whole blog.

HOW’S IT GOING?

Well, as expected in the first week, the blog didn’t get any visits. WordPress is pretty quick to make friends with the search engines, but it takes time for a blog to gain status. Even if Google indexes your posts (and that’s an achievement in itself in the first fortnight), initially they’re normally buried so far down on an obscure page in the search results that no one can find them. Until your blog starts to get backlinks (links from other sites, directing people to your posts or homepage), the search engines don’t award you great importance, so typically, you remain obscure. However, some of the tapes I’ve started to post about, have virtually no other coverage on the web. Therefore, even though my new blog doesn’t yet have backlinks, the posts relating to those hard-to-find cassettes will appear on Google’s first page when someone searches for them – from the start.

And that’s what’s begun to happen. You can see on the graph below how the visits have started to come in as a result.



There are no significant backlinks registering at all as yet, but the search engines (unable to find dedicated posts relating to certain cassettes anywhere else on the web), have been virtually forced to refer visitors to Tape Tardis. The more I post unusual or hard-to-find content, the more chances I have of pulling in visitors in these early stages. Earlier this evening (when I did the capture), Tape Tardis was showing 42 page visits on the graph. It’s gone up again since then, but even 42 is a good total of page visits for a blog that’s been open less than three weeks and has not been advertised. Those 42 page visits came from 8 referrals. That means some people coming in have explored the blog, rather than just looking at the page they needed and then going elsewhere. That’s another positive sign. I’ll be looking at stuff like that more closely in due course, when I’ve been able to analyse more data, but this is where I’m going to leave it for now.

You can see below how WordPress documents the number of views each post has had during the day. My post on the 1990s Sony FXII 60 cassette has had 6 visits, and is the top post of the day so far. Just behind that, the Sony Metal-ES 60 post has had 5 visits. This, incidentally, may not mean 6 or 5 separate visits from separate people. Sometimes one person will visit the same post a number of times. But going by today’s indicators, there’s interest in Sony tapes. Indeed, the third placed post also covers a Sony cassette. I have no idea who the visitors are, but WordPress tells me the countries they’re from. The top number of views has come from Pakistan, with the UK (my home country) in second place.



I’m not sure yet what the intervals between the updates for this series will be, but as soon as the second installment arrives, I’ll link to it from here, and of course I’ll keep subsequent parts easy to find too. All new content on Planet Botch (this site) is now going to the homepage as posted, so if you bookmark the homepage, you'll always find the newest additions.

Part Two is now up, on the link below...

Behind The Scenes on a Working Blog - Part 2

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