Today marks a significant milestone for this blog. After two and a half years I have reached my 100th post! I thought this would be a good moment to look back at what I’ve learnt from writing a hobby blog.
Why I created this blog
I’ve been a hobbyist website builder for about 13 years now. I’ve created a mixture of technical and personal topics. These have always been static websites where each page was created individually, either using a HTML editor such as HoTMetaL, or by using hand written HTML templates. Each website tended to stick to a particular topic, and some of them have done moderately well, getting many hundreds of visitors each day.
I had an ideal for another website where I could write about miscellaneous topics that didn’t fit anywhere else. I registered a new domain name with 1and1, created some static HTML templates, and started writing some content. I soon gave up as I found that I was spending too much time on the mechanics of creating each page, rather than on the more creative writing aspect. I abandoned the idea for a year, and didn’t think much more of it.
I began reading about blogs, and self hosted blogging platform like WordPress. I thought that my miscellaneous topic website might work if I used something like WordPress as the content management system.
At the time I was on a very basic web hosting package with 1and1 and I had to upgrade to a more expensive package that included MySQL database support before I could install WordPress. Once the web hosting was upgraded I had the basic blog up and running in a couple of hours. I registered the domain name reviewmylife.co.uk to host the blog.
The domain name is fairly self explanatory; I’d be posting articles that in some way related to my life. I thought there would be reviews (of hardware, films, and so on), but the name was generic enough to allow me to put any kind of content on the blog.
My very first post on 5th August 2007 was about setting up the blog on 1and1 (the company I use to host the site). It wasn’t a classic post, but it was a start. That month I posted a few other cheap posts, and also moved some of the content from my failed ‘miscellaneous content website’ over to the new blog.
You should think carefully before deciding to use a self hosted blog like WordPress. Self hosted blogs do require a fair bit of maintenance. At first it was a real pain as all the plugins and the blog itself had to be manually updated on a regular basis. As WordPress evolved it got easier as features such as one-click plugin updates, and then full one-click updates were added.
Over the years I’ve written many posts about the various issues I’ve had to solve with hosting my own WordPress blog on 1and1 such as configuring custom error pages, adding spacing round iframes, and adding a related posts section to each post.
As well as keeping WordPress up to date, you’ll have to dedicate time to customising it (if you want), and backing up your data (very important if you don’t want to risk losing everything). I’d recommend you backup your posts (doing a Tools->Export, and do a MySQL backup) every month. And backup before you upgrade the blog. New minor updates come out every month or two, and major updates seem to come out every three months.
Backing up your blog is very important as not only can you lose data from:
- Your own mistakes.
- Mistakes made by your hosting company.
- Malicious hacking into your site. WordPress has had a steady stream of vulnerabilities being found and patched over the years.
The blog picks up
As time went on I posted more useful information. I got plenty of appreciative comments for my post warning about the Spanish lottery scam, and for a post explaining how to get documents certified cheaply.
The number of comments went crazy when I posted about my experiences of trying to get rid of clothes moths. To date I have 74 comments for this one post, many of them would make worthy posts in themselves. This post is an example of a seasonal post. Clothes moths tend to cause problems in the Spring, Summer and Autumn so these are the times when this post get visitors. The number of people looking for information on moths goes down a lot in the winter.
Getting feedback from other people is one of the most satisfying aspects of writing a blog. I find that when I post about personal experiences I get a lot more comments than if I just provide some information.
As well as the clothes moths post, the posts on my cyst removal surgery, and my problem with knee pain and considering a lateral release got plenty of feedback.
In terms of what posts are popular I find that there are two types of posts that get lots of visitors.
- Personal experiences – like the posts I mentioned above. People like reading about others who are going through similar things to them.
- Useful information – posts where I’ve provided free useful information such as my 2011 Excel Calendar, and my guide to upgrading the Samsung N140 memory to 2GB get plenty of readers.
Whatever you are writing about I find that if you add quality original material to the internet you will get more readers then if you just re-hash information that already exists.
I’d predict for example that this blog post won’t get very many visitors. There are so many people blogging about blogging that this post will probably vanish in the noise out there. But I still consider it worthwhile to write it so I can look back once I reach 200 posts.
How I write each post
When I started I used to use the WordPress WYSIWYG editor. I found that it wasn’t a great experience. Typing text into a box on a web page isn’t as good as writing text in a word processor. I like having a proper spell checker, and grammar checker ready to use.
I switched to writing my posts in Microsoft Word and using a set of VBA macros that add the WordPress mark-up to the post.
I don’t have a fixed length for each post, some are very short being just a few hundred words long, and others are many thousands of words long.
The shortest posts have been done in less than half an hour, whereas the longest posts with original research, photos and charts have sometimes taken me four to five hours to complete.
Often I don’t have a plan for each post, I just start writing and finish when I think the post is done. Take this post for example; I have very little idea where I’m going after this sentence! All I have is a few notes about certain topics I want to include.
I didn’t always include photos in my posts, but more recently I’ve tried to have at least one photo or diagram in each post. I think the sight of a large block of text can be off-putting to blog readers. A few relevant (or even not so relevant) photos can help to break the text up. All my photos are taken with a Sony Cybershot W80 camera which I reviewed on this site in 2008.
To upload the photos I use the FileZilla FTP client which has useful functions such as directory bookmarking, synchronised browsing, and filters.
Getting ideas for posts
As my blog is a multi-topic one rather than being a specialised one I can think of ideas for posts all the time. The problem is that I don’t have time to write many of them up.
Often my ideas are topics that I’ve tried to find out about on the internet, had no success, and so have decided to write about them myself.
I find that if I get an idea for a post, I need to write it down right away. If I don’t then I’ll have probably forgotten a few minutes later. If I’m at my computer I record my ideas as a simple list in Word. If I’m away from my computer I put the ideas in a ToDo list on my phone.
If I have specific ideas for what content should be in those posts then I might jot down a few bullet points, but most of the time I just write the idea down in a single line.
Promoting the posts and website
I spend very little time on promoting each post or SEO compared to the amount of time spent writing new content. But I have done some simple things to make sure each post has basic SEO hygiene factors.
- I’ve installed the All in One SEO Pack plugin, and I make sure I add a title, description, and keywords for each post.
- I add tags and a category to each post.
- I submit most of my new posts to Digg, reddit, Delicious, and StumbleUpon.
- More recently I’ve installed the Tweetly Updater plugin so Twitter is notified when I make a new post.
- The Google XLM Sitemaps plugin is installed on this blog to make it easier for search engines to index my blog.
- I have a TweetMeMe Retweet button on my posts to allow other people to Tweet about them.
- I have an AddThis button on my posts to allow them to be easily submitted to social bookmarking sites.
One area where I haven’t put much/any effort into the blog is with the look. At the time of writing this 100th post I’m still using the default Kubrick theme. I will probably customise it at some point, but may wait until the default theme changes in WordPress 3.0 before I do that.
The Kubrick theme may be basic, but it works well and means I don’t get incompatibility problems each time I need to upgrade the blog. You can get plenty of readers without having to use a fancy theme.
Here is a graph showing the number of visitors I get per week which goes back to when I first installed Google Analytics. The left of the graph is October 2007. The right side is the day I made this post; 27th March 2010. The number of visitors is not huge, but at least it is growing.
Monetising the blog
I decided early on to monetise the blog. Not to make real money, but to at least pay for the costs of the web hosting, and domain names. To do this I use the AdSense Injection plugin with a number of custom tweaks.
It inserts text adverts into the posts automatically, and randomises their position. I find it to be a very easy way of generating a small amount of money for the site. It covers my web hosting costs, but isn’t enough to give up the day job just yet!
If I’m writing a post about something that can be bought from Amazon then I might add an Amazon affiliate link as well. This worked particularly well when I reviewed the Samsung N140 netbook. The review has nearly paid for the netbook already!
Where do my visitors come from?
This site may look like a blog, but in reality I treat it more like a static website that just happens to be using WordPress as the content management system.
Blogs usually have some common theme through their posts, mine are on quite random topics.
Because of my scattered topics almost all my readers come from search engines. I have very few – almost zero – subscribers. People use Google, Yahoo, or Bing to search for something specific, and sometimes they find one of my pages in the results.
82% of my visits come from search engine queries, and 75% of those are from Google.
You might have noticed that quite a few of the list item in the ‘Promoting the posts and website’ section above were relating to social bookmarking websites. However only about 1% of my traffic comes directly from these kinds of sites. It does make me wonder if it is even worth submitting the pages to these sites at all.
Of course these social bookmarking sites may be driving visitors in other ways – by increasing the rank of my pages in the search engines. I don’t think there is any way to find out, but I’ll keep submitting for now.
The top referring social bookmarking website for me is StumbleUpon.
In terms of which country my visitors come from 41% are from the UK, 25% from the US, and India, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and Germany are all in the low single figures. In the last month I had visitors from 122 different countries.
Internet Explorer is the most popular browser with 48% of my visitors using it. Firefox gets 34%, Chrome 10%, Safari 5% and Opera 1%.
So what does the future hold for this blog?
Quite simple – more posts! On average I’m posting about one post per week, but sometimes there will be several in a week, and then none for a few more weeks.
I hope to keep to at least this amount of posts for the next year, and work my way towards 200 posts. I have a big backlog of post topics to write about so I won’t run out of ideas anytime soon. And I hope my writing is getting better as I go on.
If you read this I’ll say ‘thanks’. And do pop back sometime soon.