Tag Archives: blogging

Coca-Cola Unbound

CokeWhat a difference a grinding advertising recession makes. Only six months ago, culture secretary Andy Burnham said that a three-month consultation between the government and advertisers had “failed to produce a convincing case for product placement”.

As ever, of course, the usual government terror of bad things happening to people because of the economy has meant a predicted U-turn. Now, new broom culture boy Ben Bradshaw is thought to believe the exact opposite – and that a ban on product placement puts UK programme makers at “a competitive disadvantage compared with the US and other rivals”.

Whatever. It won’t help the BBC, or children’s programme makers (and let’s not forget that it was the popular ban on junk food advertising that has helped to hammer independent sector children’s programming).

But, you know, it might just help us bloggers. In a comment on my recent blog stats geekery post, FleetStreetBlues said “Now if only we could make the damn thing pay…”

The answer is simple – strike a lucrative product placement deal and fame and riches beckon. My cheque should already be in the post…

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Half-yearly blog stats geekery

Blog Stats GeekeryIn the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, and because such things may be of interest to new and student bloggers (and hopeless WordPress geeks), here’s the first installment of what should become a regular series of half-yearly posts on the statistics behind Freelance Unbound.

First off – Freelance Unbound is not a hugely visited site. There, I’ve said it.

My biggest traffic day so far has been a smidgeon over 200 visitors. On the average weekday, I get a minimum of 50-60 visits, though this halves at the weekend (unsurprisingly, for an essentially work-based site). This tends to drift down if I don’t update regularly – ie pretty much every day. There’s a lesson there.

All this doesn’t bother me that much, though – for several reasons.

  • Blogs don’t usually get much traffic. At the Association of Journalism Education Conference, successful political blogger Guido Fawkes reckoned more than 100 daily visitors is good going, apparently. Why? Maybe because the golden age of blogging is behind us and people seem more interested in social media.
  • This is a very niche blog. In the world of journalism blogs, which in itself is pretty niche, this is one that not only navel-gazes more than most, but also tends to focus specifically on the effects of digital media on content. That pretty much slashes the audience right there (though the audience it gets is quite focused too, which is nice).
  • It’s a bit esoteric. I have posts about PHP and Drupal, though I’m not a techy talking to techies. And I have posts about Marvel Comics and vampires on TV, though this is not a science fiction blog. It’s a funny old smorgasbord.
  • I don’t market it. Although it now gets a listing in Journalism.co.uk’s Best of the J-Blogs section, and I make a bit of an effort to visit and comment on relevant sites in the same field, I really don’t spend enough time relentlessly bigging Freelance Unbound up.

Nonetheless, there’s enough going on here to be interesting from the point of web analysis.

Top posts

In fact. looking at my top two posts of all time is a bit of a case study by itself.

The biggest post I’ve had by far was one offering advice on 11 key ways for journalism students to improve their employability.

I thought it might get some traffic, but it alone was responsible for the bulk of visits on my busiest day ever. But why?

The simple answer is Twitter. I now feed all the posts from the blog to my Twitter account, as well as sporadically updating with the occasional post there directly. (Yes, I know this isn’t really what you’re supposed to do with Twitter, but hey – it’s tough enough keeping up with the blog.)

In this case, the Twitter update was what drove my blog traffic. Several people with vast numbers of followers picked up on it, and the result was a healthy clickthrough to Freelance Unbound. It was an impressive example of how the right use of social media can help you draw an audience. (Twitter also seems responsible for yesterday’s spike, which saw more than 180 visitors in a relatively quiet week, mostly drawn to the post on whether media owners should ditch journalism altogether.)

On the downside, very little of that traffic stayed with me. Almost immediately, visitor numbers dropped to pretty what they had been just before this “big post”. Which is another important lesson, familiar in marketing circles. You want repeat business above all, not just people who drop in once and then never darken your door again.

Which brings us to the second biggest post – in which I asked is People Per Hour any use?.

I had a sneaking suspicion this might draw some traffic, as it’s a question I have asked myself and for which I have also searched on Google for an answer.

I came across People Per Hour last year when the bottom dropped out of my business plan and I had to start hustling for work when the recession kicked in. I thought it was an interesting idea – an online marketplace for creative and media-type work. But how reputable was it? And what were people’s experience of the site?

There wasn’t much information about, so I thought I’d stick in my twopennyworth and see if others were interested in the topic.

They were. But interestingly, the traffic has only twice been in double digits in a day. Instead, the post has seen a steady flow of visits, day in, day out, since it went live in April. There’s a good chance that it will feature in the Most Visited section in the sidebar as you read this. If not, it may well do tomorrow. And before long it may well overtake the meteoric student employability post to gain the top slot. [UPDATE: as of 16/9/09 it has.]

The lesson from this? A top tips on employability is popular, but it often needs to go viral to work. (For non web marketing geeks, that means it needs to be picked up by others and passed around their online networks).

On the other hand, pick a topic that you sense may have potential interest, and that isn’t covered to death on the internet, and you can draw in casual readers via search engines on an ongoing basis.

It’s at this point that you do start having to think about search terms when you’re writing your posts and your headlines – and it’s why journalists who shun search engine optimisation (SEO) as beneath their dignity are on a losing wicket.

Top referrers

If you want to build readership, though, gaining traffic from search engines may not be the best way forward. Instead, you’re better off plugging into the blogging community and drawing on a readership that looks at blogs reasonably regularly.

Again, my experience of pulling in traffic via referral from others has been instructive.

There are some oddities here. For a time I found a lot of visits came from a site called Alpha Inventions – a strange site whose only purpose was to aggregate a stream of posts from different blogs and show them in sequence for a few seconds each in real time as they updated. It’s a bit like Twitterfall, only once the post has been shown, it vanishes forever.

I still can’t figure out if this is the equivalent of viewing spam – so if someone has the Alpha Inventions site open in their browser and it scrolls past your blog it counts as a visit, even if the person concerned is away from their PC or looking at a different program. The inventor of the site claims not – but who knows…

In the real world, however, the clear winners in terms of pushing traffic my way, by nearly an order of magnitude, have been those lovely people at FleetStreetBlues.

It’s interesting because, although the site’s traffic is bigger than mine, by their own admission, they only have about 250 daily visitors. Crucially though, those visitors are the kind to click through to other sites – which makes the difference between a small and active audience and a large but passive one.

This is a phenomenon noted by Laura McKenna in her Apt 11D blog on what has changed in the blogging world over the past six years. Readers are burning out and not clicking through to blog links as much as they used to. It makes building readership tougher, and its why I’m very grateful for the support of blogs such as Knowledge Workers, Bristol Editor and Taking Out The Trash that have recommended Freelance Unbound and linked to my posts.

Bill Bennett on Knowledge Workers has been particularly kind – sending a couple of my posts to Reddit, which pushed traffic here up noticeably. Though, of course, it’s difficult to know how ‘sticky’ these readers were. Did they stick around for a while and browse the other posts? Have they been back since? I don’t know. Which is another reason to get the hell out of WordPress.com and move to self-hosted so I can get some better analytics going.

Top comments

The real life-blood of any blog is its readers – especially if the readers care enough about the blog or the subject matter to take part in the comment threads.

So far on Freelance Unbound, comments tend to be a bit – shall we say – clustered. Some posts have sparked lively debate – others nothing (though they have seen healthy traffic).

The most commented post (and the most commented topic) is about why, essentially, I argue that the old news model is dead and journalism as we know it is finished. Understandably, journalists get stirred up about this and are more likely to challenge me, or take my side, in this debate.

But it’s difficult to predict what will spark a debate. Sometimes I will post on the same topic and get no reader reaction. All I can say for sure is that I seem more likely to get more comments once one reader has responded. It seems, like the early stages of a party, no one wants to be the first to break the ice.

It also seems that readers will chip in when I ask them to. As noted, my post on People Per Hour has drawn a lot of visits over the past few months, and once I asked readers to add their own experiences of the site, it has also generated comments.

For what it’s worth, bloggers love comments. Freelance Unbound welcomes all reader comments – whether they agree with a post or not. The only proviso is that they are more or less civil in tone.

Conclusions

What do we learn from all this?

  • You can’t really predict what will work.
  • It’s important to update every day.
  • Loyal, regular readers are worth their weight in gold.
  • Blogs work best when it really is a conversation.

Stay tuned for more blog stats geekery in six months’ time…

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Critique of the Online Journalism Blog’s new look

OJB_250809Being as I’ve been too busy checking, unchecking and then rechecking tick boxes on a CMS for the past few weeks, I’ve only just caught up with the redesign of Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog.

The OJB is excellent as a resource, but it used to look dreadful – tiny type, an unattractive colour scheme and confusing post attribution, so you never knew who’d written what. It was also jam-packed with links, tabs and sections, so navigation could be a bit confusing.

So a redesign is good news. The bad news is that that the new design really hammers the blog’s usability. 

For a start, the blog has suddenly closed off its archive. I mean, it’s still there, but you can’t browse it by date. The home page only displays the latest post, and only displays the previous 5 posts in a “Recent Posts” section in the sidebar. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like to flick back through a blog’s content chronologically for a while if I see something I like to see what else is up. The OJB has stopped this, and also has no calendar-based archive link, so you could look at June’s posts at a glance, say. A big, big failing. 

Other issues:

  • Typography – justified with no hyphenation, so there’s a lot of distractingly gappy text
  • Categories – navigation is much more category-based, with a prominent list in the sidebar. But you can’t see which categories have been assigned to a post just by looking at it. I don’t know why, but this bothers me. I think it must be because I am spending too much of my time with taxonomy at the moment. I’d like a more transparent taxonomy in the sites I visit, I guess. 
  • Attribution – authorship is much clearer when you get past the home page, but not on the “Latest post” which is the most prominent on the site, strangely. 
  • Clickthrough – the Latest Post is long enough that you might miss clicking through (like I did), because it seems complete in itself. I’d prefer to see the whole of the post on the front page, with images, or else an obvious excerpt. And with excerpts, I’d prefer to see more of them. Although I’d prefer the whole thing. 
  • Repetition – for some reason the Latest Post is published twice on the home page: once as a normal-looking post, the next as a box-out underneath it. I’m thinking (and hoping) it’s a weird programming glitch that will be sorted out. 
  • Signposting – I’m often not sure where I am or what I’m looking at. Underneath the Latest Post on the home page, for example are several items under the heading “Asides” that look like comments, but in fact turn out to be other posts. Confusingly, some are from the OJB, some aren’t. This may be a deliberate element of the OJB’s “This is a conversation” strategy, which is fine, but the fact that I had to look twice to realise they were separate stories instead of comments or something else, is less fine. They also don’t have headlines. They need headlines. And the clickthrough link is a bit weak. More clarity please!

Verdict: ultimately, the redesign gives the impression that there’s much less on the Online Journalism Blog than there was before. And makes it less easy to access. Just my tuppennyworth…

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Call yourself a writer? Meme response

It’s meme day on Freelance Unbound – mainly because it’s August and I think we all deserve to enjoy the Silly Season. (Though in the era of 24-hour rolling news, does that even exist any more?)

Here’s an interesting meme started by Linda Jones. (Well, she hopes it will become a meme, and I’m calling it that, even though it may not quite have achieved the stature of the crasher squirrel.)

This response is prompted by Sarah Hartley’s entry which, although it didn’t tag me, did invite anyone to participate. Which would really be the only way it could meme itself, I guess.

So – here we go:

Which words do you use too much in your writing?


”Really”, “Crucially”, “You know”, “Of course”.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

“Climate change”, which is used as a catch-all to explain almost anything bad that happens because of the weather, with almost no justification most of the time. 

“Celebrity”. I mean, really…

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

A piece on the “House of Tomorrow”, published in the late lamented Internet Business. As it was a Haymarket magazine, and as it was all about the internet, there is no online archive to point to, of course. 

What blog post do you wish you’d written?

John Scalzi’s “Bacon Cat” – a traffic-generating triumph. 

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

Drifting into a “career” in journalism/publishing – an industry with a very uncertain future and no money in it. If I had my time again I’d do something orders of magnitude better paid, or else much more creatively fulfilling. But, you know, there’s still time.

How has your writing made a difference?

It’s helped to pay my mortgage over the years, so it’s made a difference to me. With luck, some pieces of advice from Freelance Unbound may have helped journalism students or graduates along the way. Perhaps to do something better paid… 

Name three favourite words

Vampires, zombies, time-travel.

And three words you’re not so keen on

Impact (as a verb), holistic, synergy.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

John Scalzi has some very good writing advice on his blog. I especially liked his introduction to his novel Agent to the Stars, which outlines the least angsty way to write a novel I’ve come across. I also liked the advice given by crime writer Robert B Parker in a Telegraph interview:

“Dialogue is easy and it chews up a lot of pages,” he says. “Describing a room is hard and it slows everything down and it doesn’t chew up many pages” 

What’s your writing ambition?

To earn royalties.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:

My friend the Wartime Housewife and her brand new blog. It’s packed with advice on surviving hard times – both in the family and in the economy. There doesn’t even have to be a war on…

Tag time:

Here are my nominations for journos/bloggers to take part:

Soilman

Hackney Hackette

FleetStreetBlues

Bristol Editor

Unmitigated England

The rules:

If you have time to do this meme, then please link to my original, then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a “published” or “successful” writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging has brought them and how it has been useful to others.

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Why paid journalism is in trouble

As a coda to my post on why journalists can’t afford to be purist about their trade anymore, Eat Sleep Publish sums up exactly why the paid journalism model is in such trouble.

Former P-I staffer Curt Milton runs theEastlake Ave blog. He keeps a part time job, makes tons of local connections, writes his posts, edits them, and shoots and edits and uploads video and pictures.

It’s simple economics. When one-person publishing costs virtually nothing and can achieve much of what the news dinosaurs can, it’s much harder to make the economics of journalism add up.

And don’t start on how a one-person, part-time neighbourhood blog just can’t offer what a professionally staffed newsroom can. At the local level that simply isn’t true any more. And even nationally, the quality of journalistic output can be pretty ropey. 

Crucially, when you’re at the level of the hyper-local, I suspect a local neighbourhood blog actually does a much better job of reporting than a local paper.

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How to blog without killing yourself

As a kind of coda to this week’s series on blog longevity, here’s a nice (and long) video from Tim Ferriss about how to make blogging easy. Lots of good stuff here.

Key points:

  • You don’t have to post every day (he posts two or three times a week)
  • Write your passion – not your focus group
  • Don’t chase topicality (he’s not a journalist though)
  • Make it fun

There’s also loads of material on visitor statistics, making best use of the design of your page and using other platforms such as Twitter. Great stuff.

[HT: Bristoleditor]

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The five pillars of blog longevity, part 5

Part 1;    Part 2;    Part 3;    Part 4;    Part 5

The last part of this series on keeping a blog going beyond the point at which most people give up is all about interaction.

5) Have a conversation

Blogging is a lonely business – which is why most people prefer hanging out on Facebook with their mates. But blogging at its best is a conversation.

If you want proof, check out Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog – it says it explicitly on the masthead.

But it’s easier said than done, of course. To have a conversation requires people not only to actually read your blog, but also to take the trouble to respond to your posts in the comment threads.

Yesterday I suggested it was a good idea to spend time commenting on other blogs. This is only partly to get your blog address published around the web. It’s also to build relationships with other bloggers.

Develop a network of like-minded bloggers and you benefit in a number of ways:

  • Links – either in their blogroll or in individual posts. This helps with Google rankings as well as traffic
  • Comments – this keeps your blog lively, shows visitors you are more than a community of just one, and also helps feed you material for new posts
  • Feedback – this can help you spot problems with your blog, show where you’re doing something right, and also make you feel you’re not talking to yourself in a padded cell
  • Traffic – as discussed yesterday, more visitors is more motivation to post material

Developing relationships in the blogging world has other advantages:

  • Guest posts – writing for other blogs lets you reach a different audience and raises your profile, like these ones I wrote for FleetStreetBlues
  • Guest post input – allowing other relevant bloggers access to your blog is also worth doing: you pick up some of their audience and you encourage fresh input. You can also relax as someone else does the hard work for a day. (But don’t just take in anyone off the street – make sure there’s a good fit between your work and theirs)
  • Joint poststhis one I put together with Soilman helped bring in new readers and comments, and also helped me creatively with fresh ideas

Crucially, all of this is a big boost to you, the lonely blogger. It’s far better for your blog to be a way of interacting with the wider world than a silent noticeboard of your innermost thoughts – no matter how profound.

If you do want to keep going with a blog – and I strongly recommend journalism students and new graduates do, especially in the current economic climate – having feedback that your content actually matters to like-minded people is a tremendous boost.

Be realistic

Finally, have a sense of perspective. (This kind of makes it six pillars, I guess, but I think we’ve all had enough.)

High-profile political blogger Guido Fawkes says more than 100 daily visitors is pretty successful in blogging terms these days. And the New York Times quoted Technorati chief executive Richard Jalichandraas as saying: “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”

This means you shouldn’t beat yourself up about not having thousands of visitors. But follow the advice in the five pillars and you should be able to develop a thriving blog in weeks and months rather than years.

Part 1;    Part 2;    Part 3;    Part 4;    Part 5

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