This blog turns 1 year old this weekend! (The weekend of September 29th, 2013, but don’t worry it’s not too late to congratulate us!)
And while I have little to complain about since we launched last year, that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied.
As I sit back in my study and wonder how to write a post worth of capping off a whole year of blogging questions, I am honestly at a loss.
Huge video series? No. Massive eBook? No.
With a sigh and a long glance at my coffee machine in need of a good scrub after a year of blogging, I figure I’ll just do what I do best.
A BIG question: answered
So I set off to write a post answering another question. It’s one that nearly everyone who stopped by early to wish the blog a happy birthday had asked…
And with good reason – here’s the question:
Dear Blogger, how is this blog really doing? Behind the scenes, behind the questions and comments, what are your stats, and are you growing?
I’ve gotten the question via Facebook, Twitter, email, comments, and everywhere else as things have been unsettlingly quiet lately.
It’s a darn good question. You can call Dear Blogger a community or this and that and it surely is, but it’s also a WordPress blog like a few of you now run too.
So in this birthday-post, I’d like to walk you through a rather lengthily scenic tour of the answer. This post is long for a reason (it’s been a big year) so feel free to skip about.
And of course, ask me anything that pops up in your mind in the comments.
Looking deep into my stats
Now, I hate looking at the blog stats. It ruins my writing flow.
But, for this post I did look at the stats and in a major way, and I hope what I show you from the past year inspires you. The numbers below might not startle you but the upside is what you’ll find below is honest.
I’m just an average guy, average blogger, like you.
Sure what I did when I sensed an opportunity might be a bit unique. I launched this blog rather quickly, then spent hours each day cultivating, branding, and interacting on these pages.
But anyone can do it, and a major take away of this post is to show you what’s possible in 1 year of blogging.
Before we began, I have to tell you…
Google reads Dear Blogger
Of course, this post needed a title. Something really central to the blog. Well, I was searching around in my Analytics, nosing around Google, when I realized something was up.
As I said, I’m no stats guy. The downside is often times I’ll miss trends or login one day to see totally unexpected changes in readership, both good and bad.
Here is that something that I found:
Google Search for “create about me page” – #2 AND #3 result
Okay, okay I thought. Delete your history and cache then try again. Same results.
Google Search for “review site” – #1 result
I’m not the only guy who blogs about blogging or anywhere close to the smartest.
So why were my blog posts, all with fairly decent information I call “answers” and average backlink profiles beating the heck out of Google??
It was time to do some hunting.
Google Search for “where to blog” – 104,000,000 local searches – #1 result
*Scratch beard, sit back, think about cleaning coffee machine again*
Some of the best comments online
As I scanned through everything that could make my posts differ from the competition, I noticed that titles we all similar, post length was comparable, even images were all tagged properly. Both my content and the competitor’s seemed of good quality from a Google standpoint.
So what could it be…?
Then I found it.
The comments below each post were causing these posts to rank.
Each comment in my posts was rich in information from a real person adding hard-nosed value to the post. Literally, each comment was like a mini blog post on it’s own that took and idea from the post at hand and expanded on it in a new and cool direction I know would make a Google employee giggle.
In contrast, the comments on competitor’s posts around mine in Google were Weak with a capital “W”. These blog posts used standardized comment tools like Disqus and the comments were no more than a “thank you,” or “haha.”
Many were spam, even on reputable sites like Yahoo and Mashable, or by an author called “lolwhat” or “redbull5” something equally silly.
These comments (sorry to say…) add no value to the posts, and the author probably didn’t care as they are often times a paid author for a site, like Mashable, for example.
A blog beats the major publications
What we have here is something really cool, and as I write this I realize it may be best saved for later. You have a blog…vs…a publication…and the blog is winning.
Looking back to Dear Blogger, it made total sense. The comments at Dear Blogger are absolutely boosting my posts because Search Engines follow people.
*Shivers down spine, sit back, smile, make coffee without scrubbing pot*
Here’s what I just said, in image form:
Dear Blogger tangent or pure genius? Think about it. Google loves personal recommendations and any sort of social proof. At this point we don’t even know how much social proof is stored within a comment, but at the least it’s more text, a clear interaction, and a link to a Gravatar profile in most cases.
** please see “Year 1: Rankings in Google” for further explanation…
I made Dear Blogger to answer an overwhelming reservoir of blogging questions, not to be well-ranked or profitable. I’ve said no to offers to setup lucrative forums here and have rejected requests to upgrade the WordPress comments to “CommentLuvPremium” or anything fancy because I believe in keeping this simple and non-third party.
And now, 1 year later, I’m glad that slowly, super slowly, my stubbornness is paying off.
Your comments are killer
It means that each comment you post here, each question I answer, has an increasingly large effect on SEO. That means more views on the post you comment on, more eyes seeing your comments, and even more clicks via the Gravatar links. That, I think, is a really cool revelation.
I’ll talk more about comments at the end of the post, but for now keep making your presence known here, and I’ll keep delivering answers.
Now, let’s shift to talk about how this blog is doing, and how it performed over the past year.
Year 1: Subscriber Community Growth
An email club is a very delicate asset to a blog. Send the wrong stuff, have typos, or get hit by a Gmail update and you can totally lose the footing you spent months gaining.
I’ll be first admit my email club is not invincible and neither am I as the guy who hits send. In the past year I’ve confused new subscribers by double-sending old follow-ups, losing crucial questions on things like domain names in my inbox, and have generally had a crash test in email marketing.
That said, I’m proud to say the club is almost 400 strong.
Is that a small number?
You might say, but Dear Blogger, 400 is so small compared to the 10,000 and 100,000 numbers big blogs are putting out, and mathematically you’d be correct. I’m sorry if you thought this blog had ridiculous numbers like ProBlogger, because at the moment I don’t. However, it’s no matter.
My style at Dear Blogger has never been “quick growth overnight” or anything like that. I’ve believed in growing the blog one reader, one question at a time, and have come to terms with the fact that this might mean it takes months (or years) more for the blog to reach it’s peak, whatever that may be.
I’m stoked every time I send out an email and see discussion build up on the blog, because that to me is email marketing. At some point, I will setup a good email follow-up series of the nature Pat Flynn describes, because when I think about it this is a good way to help a community while earning some revenue and I think our community is strong and trust enough after one year to accomplish this. For now though, it’s all about answering your questions.
Note: Number of eBook downloads you see here for example is greater than subscriber count because I openly encourage subscribers to share the free book to non-subscribers. Additionally, some folks have figured out how to navigate to the eBook page without subscribing! Clever readers 🙂
Year 1: Affiliate Earnings
Back when I talked about how to blog for money I made a long list of ways me and my peers have earned from blogging. But, I left out my individual earnings.
Cue the groans, but I’m leaving those stats out here too.
I will tell you that I earn on various blogs from private advertising, affiliate marketing, and Adsense, and I’d be more than happy to personally help you do the same.
My relationship with HostGator
On this blog, I refer people to Theme-Junkie, Aweber, and HostGator and earn a commission per sign-up. The first two are less significant at least to me – premium themes and email subscriptions, are more personal niche items and from what I’ve witnessed on the blogs of my peers you can find success with a number of different themes and mailing list tools.
However the third, HostGator is very significant to the business I do online. They’ve helped me more than I can even write in words. I truly do believe HostGator is the best choice for your blog or website’s future prosperity, and I’m about to explain why.
On the most basic level, HostGator provides:
- a. Domain setup and addons domains when you want a second domain name
b. New user discounts
c. Quick Install – a smooth tool that installs WordPress.org while also installing W3 Cache
d. Unlimited unique email addresses + forwards to Gmail (or whatever you use)
These four tools in particular have been useful to me as I setup a number of blogs, host blogs for clients, setup new emails for clients each day, and always need to keep the backend of my business air-tight.
Never perfect, always there for you
Hosting companies, though they’ll tell you otherwise, make mistakes. Sometimes these take hours to fix. Last week, for example, one reader came to me with a PayPal-to-HostGator communication glitch you should read about here in the Facebook comments and was quite worried. But the customer service at HostGator swooped in, solved the problem, and now this reader reports to love her blog.
“Personal, swift, effective, and proven” were words this reader used after using my HostGator + WordPress Complete Guide.
What about the commissions? Earning a commission from anything you recommend is understandably a fun feeling but it’s not something a blogger should ever overemphasize in their work. Doing so is almost for sure guaranteed to make your creative work suffer, and it’s your creativity and helpfulness that keeps people coming back in the first place.
So, if you are also in the business of affiliate marketing or trying to get started, keep commissions as just a pleasant encounter in your day as you do your work, and no more. And at the end of the day, the earnings are just a new revenue stream I can then reinvest in things like new WordPress themes and plugins to help the people I write for and work for.
I hope this makes any affiliate marketing you’ve seen here totally clear. If you do purchase anything through on of my links – you rock! Drinks are on me should we ever meet up. Trust that I’ll be around to explain the product in full and help you get the most out of it, just like I have.
Year 1: Traffic Metrics
I’m no SEO expert but was forced to learn all about my Google Analytics account this year as it become increasingly valuable to know which posts and queries were sending Dear Blogger the most organic traffic.
Here’s a look at the “overview”. Ride the wave 🙂
Good numbers, poor conversions
- Unique visits
At least 100-200 people stop by each day. These are crazy-huge numbers, but for one guy who blogs from his study with the tennis match and some pajamas on, I’ll take it. Remember, it’s all about the answers and long-term growth…
- Unique monthly visitors
Lets do some quick math – 4363 x 0.8012 = 3495 and 3/5 people showing up to read answers each month. That’s a ton of knowledge potential as we move forward, but it also means my conversion rates thus far stink – with this many new people showing up each day the blog could be getting hundreds more comments and subscribers by now. No matter though. Lots to think about at least.
- Bounce rate
Nice and low like it should be. Of course, as I wrote a whole eBook on the topic, low bounce is something I take pride in. If it ever gets above 5%, I know I have some serious work to do. And let me know if yours is too – it’s more deadly than you think.
This screenshot shows global rankings on Alexa, which I always find cool:
Even though only 2.1% of my visitors come from Indonesia, that’s still 2.1%, which equals at least 50 people, and maybe there are small tweaks I can make to make this blog more fun and informative for them.
Year 1: eBook Delays
My style since day one on this blog has been chatting about blogging with you and only promising something I am 100% sure I can deliver to you on (like lowered bounce-rate). This is a large reason it takes me so long to produce eBook content – I can’t hone a book around something I can’t back up.
You can expect the PageRank ebook – it’s just too good of a concept to pass up – but there are hundreds of obstacles in the way now like people being out of town, working on other eBooks, and even legal barriers.
What should I do?
So I have two options, either write the eBook as a content curator where I basically hunt down everything I can find/know on the web about PageRank and package it into a book. But I’m not the comfortable going that route with an idea I know is a good one.
The other alternative is to push the envelope and get good stories from people outside my sphere who have perhaps 10-20 more years of experience than me on the matter THEN package that into a PDF eBook for you. That’s a route I much prefer 🙂
Year 1: Writing strategy
The way I write here is definitely a bit different. Sometimes it’s too specific, and other times I’ll completely forget an intro and jump in to answering your questions.
A crash course yet again
Like building an email list, writing and structuring posts to be helpful yet entertaining for you has been totally crash course – thanks for putting up with it.
I even tried titling some of the earliest posts as a question, then the first sentence would the answer, but ditched this method because it could confuse people coming in through Google Search.
Somewhere along my bumbling copywriting snafus, I encountered something called direct response copywriting. I think this was about 3 months in, so I’m sorry for not including this in my first eBook.
You might want to read this
If you haven’t heard of direct response copywriting I’m honored to show you it today, and you should try it out on your posts. It’s an awesome way to “drag and drop” text into a structure and make sure your writing spikes a reader’s attention before delivering good content, then following up with a call to action.
Check it out:
Direct response copy writing is basically the glue which holds together many of your and my favorite blog posts. I know bloggers who use it in every single post, and those who have their own hybrid versions.
Why this works so well
The point remains the same though. Readers will dive in if they see a problem worth reading/caring about and if they view you as a credible source of advice. The problem is, most of the time us bloggers do have these components in our writing but we’re just not presenting them in a clear enough way.
Once you start experimenting with this framework it will all make more sense.
For example, you can experiment with each stage of direct response. You could convey step 1 with an image, video, quote, or just a personal story. Your call to action can be something simple like posting a comment, sharing the post on Twitter, or subscribing to the blog.
You could even write an extremely short blog post in direct response…and let me give it a shot:
Look through the above example and you’ll see that in just five sentences I’ve crafted a blog post that follows the direct response framework.
While the meaning doesn’t make a ton of sense, you can expand each sentence as you’d like and create a blog post that’d be much more attention grabbing than if you just sat down and wrote.
That’s all I will say for on this for now 🙂
Year 1: Rankings in Google
If you missed it, I wrote a post this summer to help your posts hit Google #1 too: Why a Simple List Post Ranks in Google’s Top 10
Simple steps to follow
Not sure why this post got no attention – maybe you were on vacation – but in the post, I talked about how if you want rankings you should:
- Use creative keywords
Not just bland or repetitive ones, but keywords original enough to tell Google you researched the post (they know!)
- Secure a good honest link
Even in today’s Search climate, one major link is often enough to propel your blog posts to the top of Google when other posts are not linked and are of equal quality.
- Include your target phrase in both title and permalink
This is as important as your backlink, and while it seems like old advice I still see SO many bloggers with dreams of good rankings mess this up.
- Corner your niche
Writing lots of blog posts on different hot areas of your niche will ensure each post has a better chance of ranking 1 year later because each post comes from a more relevant authority.
- Let time play play its course
I’m still baffled by SEO agencies that bumrush blogs for quick links so they can blast webpages up in rankings. It often takes months or years for Google to notice an article.
- Longer the better
If you have a particular blog post you’re trying to increase from the #3 spot in Google to the #2 spot, for example, adding more modules to the end of it will definitely help, so long as you don’t change the meaning.
These six things are all I really keep in mind when it comes to ranking my posts, and one year later, things are clicking. I’ve never paid for SEO, never will, and still see wide openings in Search every day.
Google tries to maintain a tight ship, but the reality is they are just doing their best, like we are.
Again, feel free to ask any questions about rankings, SEO, or anything at all in this post in the comments below or via another medium.
Before I write the conclusion, I want to say that I wrote this post with lots of folks and blogging issues in mind. If you can’t read all of it now, bookmark it and returning when you need a hand for help or a boost of confidence.
Conclusion. Time to Say Thanks
So, how do you right a conclusion on a 6000 word post about something that’s meant the world to 1 year of your life?
Here are some honorable mentions to the folks who’ve impacted Dear Blogger the most in Dear Blogger’s 1 year online.
In no particular order…
- Ehsan Ullah – Community, comments, this Kunduz blogger asked our first question.
- Ana Hoffman – Taught me tons in her Marketing Skinny, has a blog design so good it’s scary, and you’re so hot! (There, said it.)
- Kulwant Nagi – A powerhouse from India and major rolemodel of mine.
- Pamela Hodges – Truly the kindest, most down to earn advice on writing and personal growth. Not sure if she even wants this type of promo…but thank you.
- Billy Murphy – Utter inspiration, and I think he taught us all a lot when he blitzed the web with a quick launch in the tightest niche ever.
In all seriousness, you guys, just like my readers here, rock the house. You each add a totally unique perspective to the blogosphere and make me proud to be a part of it.
As I said in my original about page, the blogosphere can get really clouded nowadays by adverts, marketers, and spammers sometimes and people like you help clear it up and remind everyone why we’re all here.
You made it!
Now, tell me what you think – do comments impact SEO as much as I’m estimating? Does Google notice them? Does Google notice you? I actually am a bit teary eyed as I wrap this up – it’s been a long year and may be a long time before I publish again – but I’ll try to keep my composure enough to respond to all of you below.
Please leave a comment below because I’d love to hear what you think. Cheers!