Deciding Not to Submit My First Guest Post

Rubber Chicken Flying with Pelicans

Licensed under Creative Commons by Dionne Hartnett

I admit it. I chickened out.

A while back I proudly proclaimed I was writing a post that I was going to submit as a guest post to ProBlogger.

Inspired by a Derek Halpern post on Social Triggers, I started developing a topic I thought would be controversial and bring in a bunch of traffic. As I wrote the post though, I began to think it didn’t quite fit The Hobby Blogger, which tends to be more technical and steers clear of controversy.

Then, nearly finished with it, I felt the post wasn’t up to ProBlogger standards. I took a step back, read the post from the perspective of someone else, and realized the tone of post was actually rather tepid. The gimmick had evaporated.

I wasn’t really surprised at that realization because I’m very much a see-both-points-of-view kind of person.

What’s more, I found my topic had already been covered in a better way on ProBlogger by a guest blogger.

So I figured there’s no point in submitting a post about inventing the wheel, which is somewhat ironic given that my post was about rehashing other blog content. Might as well save the first impression for better post.

Was I afraid of rejection? A little, but that’s not what stopped me. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. I wasn’t going to waste it on a post I didn’t feel was up to ProBlogger standards, or would make me look like I hadn’t done my homework.

In the end, I worked hard to finish the article, and posted it here. Judging by the lack of comments on that post, I probably made the right call.

But what do you think, should I have submitted the Bloggers That Rehash post to ProBlogger anyway? Be honest. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Happy Birthday

The Hobby Blogger Logo with Party HatI just had to take a break to acknowledge that The Hobby Blogger turned one year old yesterday. Man the time has flown by, I’ve learned a heckuva lot, and have gotten to know some great people in the blogosphere.

Because time’s short, this won’t be a state of the blog post, though that’s coming. Here are some more upcoming topics:

  • Customizing the default avatar in your blog’s comments section
  • App.net – Who’s actually on it?
  • Blog housekeeping tips
  • The importance of commenting on new blogs to grow your traffic
  • Changing WordPress’s permalink structure

It’s been a great year, and I’m looking forward to an even better second year. Thank you for everyone’s help, encouragement, comments, and camaraderie.

Bloggers That Rehash—Are They Lesser Beings?

Boy looking over girl's shoulder

Image copyright Sean Locke (sjlocke) – iStockphoto.com

Consider this scenario: you’re fighting off a bout of writer’s block when suddenly a great post idea pops into your head. You hit up Google to do a little research and discover that your idea has already been covered…in detail…by several bloggers. It’s been done to death.

With the wind now quickly deflating out of your blogging sails, do you give up and rack your brain for a new topic?

Nobody would blame you for doing so. The blogosphere constantly trumpets the “original content” tune. There’s no point in rehashing a topic and beating an already dead horse. Is there?

Sure, there is.

But isn’t that kind of, well, wrong?

Why? Because it’s unoriginal?

The Internet is full of unoriginal content. Try Googling “blog proofreading tips.” You’ll find dozens of articles offering proofreading advice. Nearly all of them cover the same seven or eight tips. Some posts offer a few unique perspectives, but in general, the blogosphere is saturated with proofreading advice.

While amazed by the number practically identical posts, I don’t hold any disdain for any of those bloggers. Do you think their regular readers complained much? I doubt it.

There are valid reasons to rehash content on your blog.

Keep your readers around longer

Some big grocery stores in the U.S. will dedicate half an aisle to hardware and household items (tools, light bulbs, duct tape, etc.). Why do this when other stores like Home Depot or Lowes sell the same stuff at lower prices and with more variety? After all, people rarely go to the grocery store with the sole intent to buy a light bulb.

The store hopes that you’ll remember that your living room light is out while you’re shopping for your food. They want you to opt for the convenience of being able to buy a bulb right now without having to go somewhere else. They make a tidy profit on the bulb, and keep you in the store longer hoping their displays and sample tables will convince to you to buy more food before you leave.

In the same way, you can offer rehashed content as a convenience to your readers in a voice that they recognize and trust. This will keep them on your blog longer, reduce your bounce rates, and increase your attractiveness to advertisers.

The key is to make sure readers (especially new ones) can find it. If you’re rehashing a saturated topic, chances are your post won’t rank high enough in the search engines to draw much organic traffic. Make sure your posts are well cross-linked, ensuring the content can be found in many places throughout your blog.

Save time when you’re in a rut

Sometimes you’re just at a loss for something to write about. Somehow you need to get the juices flowing because staring at a blank screen trying to come up with an original topic isn’t getting it done. You’re worried about meeting self-imposed deadlines to keep traffic flowing to your blog.

Is it really okay to use content from other blogs and put your own perspective on it?

Sure. In fact a popular consumer electronics store in the U.S. does something just like that in their television department.

The “house brand” analogy

Best Buy sells all the major brands of televisions: Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic, Vizio, etc. They also sell their own house brand of TV, known as Insignia.

Why would they do that? There are already dozens of great brands in their store. Why would they compete with and risk upsetting their suppliers?

Two words: more profit.

You see, Best Buy doesn’t really make their own TV. They don’t perform all the research, development and manufacturing that the big name brands do. They buy parts designed and built by the other brands, and hire a factory to put them together.

Sometimes they add their own little design tweaks based on buyer feedback, as in the case of their spill-resistant portable DVD players. Essentially, though, they’re creating a TV on the back of someone else’s labor.

Because Best Buy doesn’t have to do any of the R&D legwork, their profit margins are higher on the Insignia TVs.

Combining the Best Buy analogy with the proofreading example, you could write an article by compiling all the proofreading tips you find and commenting on each one based on your experience to make it your own. You didn’t have to produce the tips on your own, but at least you put it in your own brand or voice.

The art of rehashing

Now that we’ve established the legitimacy of rehashing content, here are some guidelines for going about it.

If you don’t need to, don’t do it

Already brimming with plenty of original ideas? Then don’t waste your time rehashing content. Unique, well-written articles will bring in far more traffic than rehashed content. In addition to not bringing in organic traffic, unoriginal content won’t inspire other bloggers to link back to it or share it on social media. If the content is commonly found elsewhere, you’re not likely to get a lot of engagement in the form of comments either.

Easy does it

How much of your content should be rehashed? I can’t give you an exact percentage, but it should not dominate your blog. It should be the dressing, not the salad; the ketchup, not the burger; the pepperoni, not the pizza; the…you get the point. Otherwise, you risk losing your blog’s identity.

Keep it relevant

You should always keep your readers in mind, and consider if they will find the rehashed content useful.

If you’re blogging about model airplanes, a post on SEO tips will put off your readers. Do it too often, and it’ll just look like you’re stuffing your blog for the sake of content.

Don’t use spinners

Put at least some effort into it. Forsake software spinners, which depend mainly on automated synonym substitution in a lazy (and lame) attempt to make your content appear original. They won’t get around Google’s duplicate content penalty, and worse, it’s plagiarism.

Instead, get to know the subject you’re writing about so well, that you can write from the heart, ensuring your voice shines through. Produce an outline based on the articles you’ve read, and then write based on the outline. Switching back and forth between your editor and the web pages you’re referencing tends to make your writing sound too similar to your references.

Give credit

Finally, you should acknowledge where you got your information and link back to the content that served as your research.

I know it can be cumbersome to link back to a lot of articles within the text, especially if you’re referencing several list-type posts. It’s fine to simply link to all of them at once in a References section at the bottom of your post.

If you don’t give credit, and someone calls you out for it, it can damage your reputation, and bye-bye readership

Conclusion

I’m writing this in reaction to the many redundant posts I found a few weeks ago when I was researching proofreading tips. While I mentioned in a recent post what I thought were the two best proofreading articles I could find, I also came up with my own ideas based on my own experience.

But it did get me thinking. Couldn’t I have just summarized a bunch of those posts instead? Sure, I could have. It was just my choice not to—I liked the challenge of finding a new angle.

So while unique and inspiring content is the cornerstone of any successful blog, it doesn’t mean you should skip writing about topics relevant to your blog’s niche simply because your readers can find it elsewhere. Just be aware that with less risk and effort, comes less reward.

What’s your feeling? Am I off base? Is rehashing okay? Have you done it?

Deciding to Write and Submit My First Guest Post

For the last couple of days I’ve been working on a post that I planned to publish today.

I got the idea for this post a while ago, but it’s been sitting on the back burner because it’s a bit controversial, and I wasn’t sure how well it fits with the rest of this blog’s content.

However, Derek Halpern’s How to Manipulate People For Fun (and Profit) inspired me to push forward. His formula for getting posts to go viral is:

Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic

So I thought I’d give it a try and see if I could boost my traffic.

As I’ve developed the post, though, a few issues have been nagging me. First, I’m still concerned about the post’s tone note quite matching The Hobby Blogger’s overall tone. I’m not a controversial guy—I’m much more of an even-keeled shades-of-gray kind of person.

Second, I don’t have a ton of readers yet, so I wonder if that limits the post’s ability to go “viral.”

Third, what would I do with all that traffic if it did come? I’m still using FeedBurner for my email list (not great). I don’t have any products to sell, and I have minimal advertising. So I’m not really in a good position to take advantage of a sudden influx of visitors.

My reasons for guest posting

I figured that submitting the article as a guest post could solve all three issues:

  1. A guest post frees me up from worrying how my readers will take the post.
  2. I can get a lot more exposure by leveraging a popular blog’s large audience to spread the post throughout the blogosphere.
  3. Having my post go through another blog’s editorial process would give me some time to get ready to take advantage of the traffic. Incidentally, Michael Chibuzor just wrote a good piece on John Chow’s blog about determining if you’re primed for guest posting.

So with that, I’m going to swing for the fences and submit the post to ProBlogger. I mean, what the heck. This blog’s almost a year old. Getting the post accepted would be a nice anniversary present. And if it gets rejected, I’ll probably end up posting it here.

I’d love to know how and when you decided to write and submit your first guest post. Tell me your experience in the comments.

Perfect Your Proofreading Posture with These Five Tips

Woman sitting with a book on her head

Image copyright Milenko Bokan (bokan76) – iStockphoto.com

Not long ago, my proofreading skills apparently took a short vacation. I published one of my how-to articles with several errors in it, and they weren’t completely corrected until a couple of days later.

The errors weren’t of the minor grammatical variety—they were in blocks of code used to create social sharing buttons. If anyone used the incorrect code, the buttons wouldn’t work correctly.

Embarrassing.

This caused me to wonder what I’d done wrong to let those errors get published. Then I remembered my high school typing class (yes, on real typewriters).

The typewriting analogy

If you’ve ever taken a typing class, you probably remember the teacher telling you to sit up straight, bend your elbows at 90 degrees, and keep your wrists off the table. Setting up your body that way is supposed to help you type quickly, accurately, and painlessly for long periods time.

Likewise, you should set up yourself and your environment to proofread as effectively as possible, making sure your posts are perfect before clicking the Publish button. But before we get to my tips, let’s review what’s already out there.

Two proofreading articles you should read first

It seems like blogs have done proofreading to death. I found tons of blog articles with advice on proofing your work. Many of them rehash the same tips over and over again (another post for another day), but there are two posts in particular I want to highlight because they are the most comprehensive.

ProBlogger – 11 Blog Proofreading Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore

Copyblogger – 14 Foolproof Proofreading Tips for Bloggers

Both of these posts are process-oriented—they focus on proofreading techniques rather than pointing out common writing mistakes. The Copyblogger post is particularly unique because Shane Arthur helps you to get into a good mindset for successful proofreading.

For some of the most common errors to look out for when proofreading, start here and there.

Posture for Proofreading

Now here are five of my own tips I’ve come up with based on my own experience since I started blogging. These aren’t about physical positions per se. They are ways to set up your body and computer so you’ll catch errors more quickly and easily.

1. Use two different environments

Accomplish the ProBlogger tip to “Choose a different font” by proofreading in two different applications. Each application should use a different font. For example, I compose and proof my posts in MS Word. Then, after I’ve copied everything into WordPress, I click the Preview Changes button and take a few more passes proofreading the post.

Since my blog’s theme uses Arial (a sans-serif font), I set Word to use a serif font such as Times New Roman. The post preview looks different enough from the Word version that it helps catch more errors, especially subtle ones like it’s/its, your/you’re, their/there, etc.

2. Make it easy on your eyes

Hopefully, your blog’s content is narrow enough, and your font size large enough to make it easy on your readers’ eyes. Likewise, your editor should also use a large font and relatively narrow width to help facilitate your proofreading.

In Word, I compose in the Web Layout view using an 18pt font, and adjust the window width so the content is slightly narrower than that of my blog’s. This makes sure the amount of words on each line in Word is different from the blog, contributing to the “change of scene” effect that helps pick out errors.

3. Sleep on it

A common tactic to help find errors is to take some time off and come back to your post a few hours to a day later for a final proofread. That won’t do any good if you’re not alert. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep.

4. Slow down

Copyblogger suggests slowing down your pace of reading when looking for errors, but you should also slow down in general. A favorite quote of mine by the late great basketball coach John Wooden is:

“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Rushing causes performance and results to suffer. So if you’re scrambling to publish your post before you leave for the Katy Perry concert, don’t. Come back the next morning and finish your edits. Your readers won’t mind a day-late post as much as they will a badly written one.

5. Get rid of distractions

Proofreading takes concentration. Turn off the TV. Don’t check your traffic stats. Quit checking out the hot new barista at Starbucks. If you’re in a distracting environment, try putting on your headphones and listen to a single song over and over again.

Get in the habit

If you’re new to blogging, go through these tips every time before you publish until they become second nature. The odd typo here or there won’t make or break your blog’s credibility, but these habits will help you avoid the kind of lapse I had a few weeks ago.

Even though errors can be found and fixed after you publish your post, keep in mind that email subscribers will see the errors regardless of when, or if, you fix them. So get it right the first time.

Do you have any tips? Add to this list and share with us in the comments.

Unclogging the Pipes: Overcoming My First Blogging Dry Spell

Storm Trooper with a Plunger

Licensed under Creative Commons by JD Hancock

Seems like I’ve fallen into the same rut that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. Back then, a blog I intended to start never got off the ground, because I spent seven weeks reading about blogging.

See what I just said? I was reading about blogging, but not actually blogging. I created this blog because of that frustrating realization.

It’s funny because the tendency to do a lot of research plagues me often. When I bought my first car, I did about two months worth of research—reading forums, magazine reviews, etc.—before I made my purchase.

Of course, that was almost thirteen years ago. I still drive that car every day to work, and I haven’t had to put any money into it other than routine maintenance. All in all, I’ve regretted few, if any, of my major purchases. So doing a lot or research is usually a good thing for me.

When it comes to blogging though, my penchant for research and preparation gets in the way if I’m not careful.

Lately I’ve been working on a couple of projects for this blog that have kept me from posting for a while. The projects are taking longer than planned because I want to get some other things in place (like setting up MailChimp) to take full advantage of the posts: the over-preparing thing.

I hadn’t created a Facebook or Google+ page because I wanted to learn more about the best ways to create and use them. Again, things not getting done because I didn’t feel completely prepped.

So my drive and motivation have waned, and I’ve been slacking a bit.

Finally, Jason Mathes’s (from avgjoegeek.net) comment on my last post woke me up and made me realize the over-research/prep monster was creeping in and blocking up my blogging.

I know it happens to bloggers­­––losing motivation or inspiration. More and more time elapses between posts, and soon the blogs drift into the ether. Three newish blogs I was reading a regularly have gone completely dark over the last month. I hope they come back, but it doesn’t look promising.

I refuse to let that happen to me. Just like how I started this blog, I just went and created my Google+ page. It’s barren, but I’ll figure it out and improve it as I go along.

I know Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan can be trite at times, but they’re right. Get off the schneid and do something, anything, to keep your momentum going.

Thanks Jason for shaking me up a bit.

I wonder if any of you have hit dry spells. When did you hit your first blogging wall? How did you get through it?

State of the Blog: Months 4-7 and the Importance of Blog Commenting

Airplane Taking Off

Image copyright ssuaphoto – iStockphoto.com

It’s been a little over seven months since I launched The Hobby Blogger, and it’s really starting to come into its own. I’ve fleshed out the blog’s structure and given it a new look. Traffic is growing. Posts are getting comments. It feels like a full-on blog now.

In this post I’ll tell you how have I’ve grown my traffic, and we’ll look back on the goals I set in the last update and see how well I stuck to them.

Strong traffic growth

During the first three months, I had very little traffic and no one had commented on any of my posts. I hadn’t performed any blog promotion either: no social media, only one comment on another blog, and I had told only two people about my blog.

Starting in December, I began regularly commenting on a number of blogs, growing my traffic significantly. Here’s a graphic showing the number of THB’s monthly unique visits. Note that Google Analytics data is missing because I didn’t install it until right before the New Year.

THB Unique Visitors First 7 Months

While the numbers between AWStats and Google Analytics differ significantly, the trend is the same: traffic has been roughly doubling every month since I began commenting on other blogs. The total visits also shows the same trend.

THB Total Visitors First 7 Months

In February, I got a big lift in traffic from a comment I made on StudioPress’s blog. It wasn’t the comment’s backlink that brought in the new traffic. Rather, Brian Gardner checked out my blog through the backlink, and liked my recent design changes so much that he featured The Hobby Blogger in their showcase.

You can see the traffic spike in the Referral component of traffic sources below. This is a stacked area plot in which the amount of each type of traffic is represented by how much area each color covers. So because you see very little green relative to the other colors, it means that the amount of direct traffic (via bookmarks or typing the site’s address into the browser’s address bar) I get is relatively small—about 20%.

THB Traffic Sources Jan-Apr 2012

The other interesting part of this graphic is the recent increase in search engine (organic) traffic. Recently, it’s been about 40-45% of my traffic. This is because I’ve been more mindful of putting relevant keywords in my post titles and headings.

Overall, the number of visitors is still quite small, but I’m psyched about the rate of growth. Also keep in mind that I still have no presence on any social networks yet, so there’s still a lot of growth potential.

One final traffic stat is that my Alexa Rank has gone from 8,899,358 on Dec. 6 (when I installed the Alexa Toolbar), to 428,726 as of March 31.

Regular comments

Most of my posts now get a handful of comments, and I gratefully reply to every one of them. It’s really nice because many of the comments have been helpful and pointed out things I’ve missed, or have given me something new to think about. A nice little community is starting to grow here.

Room for improvement

While I’m happy with the traffic and participation, the blog still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

  • Email list – I only have about 12 FeedBurner subscribers, two of them by email. Everyone says that the money is in the list. Well, I’ve got a long way to go then.
  • Revenue – I’ve earned a whopping total of $0.00. Not that I’m surprised. I’ve had quite a few click-throughs on my StudioPress affiliate links, but no commissions yet. That’s OK. I realize my traffic is way too low to be making any significant money. At this point, creating content is still my main focus.
  • Bounce rates – Bounce rates are running about 60%, which is still way too high. Though it’s understandable given that so much of my traffic is coming from the StudioPress showcase. Those visitors are probably bloggers just checking out the look of my theme, and unless they’re interested in this niche, few of them will stick around for long.
  • Posting schedule – I’m still struggling to post regularly every week. I’m striving to set a standard schedule of posting every Thursday. I don’t have any posts in reserve either. I’d like to build up a cache of five to ten posts to cover vacations, intense times at work, etc., and perhaps build up to posting twice a week.

Previous goals

Here’s a status report on the goals I set for months four through six, and how well I met them.

Add more basic blog elements

  • Contact page – Yep. I’ve even received a few emails through it.
  • Email subscription form – Got it. Though I only have two subscribers so far.
  • Newsletter subscription form – Nada. Can’t yet justify devoting any time to setting up a newsletter.
  • ChangeBlog – Check. Not yet sure if this is a “hit” yet, but it does get quite a few views, and it’s unique to my blog. My apologies to Internet Explorer users on the formatting. It’s the only browser that centers the text in each table cell, but a fix is on the way.
  • Privacy and disclosure policies – Extra credit. I didn’t originally plan for these pages, but I discovered their necessity when I started my affiliate programs.

Grow readership and traffic

  • Engage blogging community
    • Comment on blogs – Started doing this in earnest at the beginning of December, and that’s exactly when my traffic started to grow.
    • Participate in forums – Haven’t got around to doing this yet because of time, but I wonder if it’s even worth doing. I’ve wanted to join WarriorForum, but which gives more bang for the buck in terms of driving traffic: blog commenting or forum posts?
  • Create presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter – FAIL. The good thing is that my traffic is still growing without the use of any social media.
  • Research/improve search engine optimization– I’ve slowly picked up and started implementing a few SEO tricks:
    • Front-loaded keyword-rich post titles that are less than 70 characters
    • Keyword-rich h2 and h3 headings
    • Using Google Web Master tools
    • Creating a sitemap using Google XML Sitemaps plugin
    • Changing my permalink structure to a custom structure with keyword-rich slugs

Site design

  • Create color scheme – More than just a color scheme change – also created a new logo, moved the navigation menu to the header, snazzier email subscription box.
  • Add visual gradients to comments – Haven’t gotten to this yet, but will soon. Not a super high priority though.
  • Security tweaks – Umm, yeah. Hackers, please stay away a little bit longer. Already have a few things locked down like changing the admin username and using a subfolder for the WordPress files.
  • Speed optimizations – enabled gzip compression, reducing bandwidth by half and hopefully speeding up your load times.
  • Development site – Extra credit. When I wanted to work on my design changes, I needed to install a local copy of the blog on my laptop so I could test design changes without messing up the live blog. It was indispensable in coming up with the new design.

Revenue groundwork

  • Become affiliate for Genesis, HostGator, and NameCheap, and add their banners to my sidebar – Got the first two done. Haven’t made a dime yet.
  • Experiment with Google AdSense – Not yet. As a nod to John Saddington’s recommendation of getting at least 250 unique visits a day before advertising, I’m going to hold off on implementing AdSense until I get more traffic, especially since there are far more pressing issues to deal with that will help increase said traffic.

Goals for next three months

Here’s what I’d like to accomplish by the end of June:

  • Add Google+, Facebook, Twitter presence – Though I’m worried about time being taken away from writing, I need to at least get going with Google+ to keep growing traffic.
  • Build up a reserve of at least five posts – This will help ensure I post regularly every week.
  • Blog enhancements
    • Add visual gradients to comments.
    • Add sitemap to blog – I want readers to be able to find older content more easily.
    • Security tweaks – Would love to be able to securely login on public wifi without worrying about my password getting hacked.
    • Speed tweaks – Add a caching plugin to speed up page loads.
    • Add an affiliate box like Darren Rowse does on ProBlogger that promotes Genesis and HostGator.
    • Update Prose theme to version 1.5 – I’m really excited about the responsive design aspect of this update so that the blog works better on mobile devices.

Bottom line

The main idea to take away from this post is that simply commenting on other blogs will help get your blog’s traffic off the ground. And doing a little search engine optimization on your posts will enhance that traffic. So if you’re pressed for time when you start out blogging, you can put off promoting your blog through social media, and you’ll still get visitors.

Keeping those visitors is a whole other ballgame. I’m only scratching the surface by analyzing visits. We should also be paying attention to repeat visits, bounce rates, how many pages deep our visitors go, and so on.

How did your blog’s traffic grow early on? Also, any tips to help me post more regularly? Let us know in the comments.

New Feature: Introducing the ChangeBlog

I’ve just added a new feature to The Hobby Blogger that I hope will help solve a couple of problems:

  1. Give my readers a way to quickly scan through all the changes I’ve made to the blog since its launch.
  2. Help compensate for the lack of site navigation.

So without further ado, please welcome the ChangeBlog.

Changeblog Screenshot

Tracking the changes

The Hobby Blogger’s primary gimmick is that it’s actively being built on the fly. So I need to give you (the reader) an easy way to see the history of changes I’ve made to the blog, and the posts I’ve written about those changes.

The ChangeBlog is modeled after the changelogs that software developers use to record the history of bug fixes and feature additions for their software packages.

A version number and a release date mark each entry in the ChangeBlog. The version number has three digits indicating (from left to right):

  1. Major release – When this number changes to “1” it will mean the blog has all the basic features and functionality that I think are necessary for a proper blog launch. If I were to start a new blog, this is how I’d want it to look and function from day one.
  2. Incremental update – A change in this number usually means that I’ve added a significant feature or design change.
  3. Minor modification – Marks a minor design tweak or change to an existing feature.

The most recent changes are listed at the top, and continue down in reverse chronological order all the way back in time to the blog’s launch.

My goal is for the ChangeBlog to serve as a recipe for building your blog. Now, you might be looking at the release dates and thinking, “Holy cow! Is it going to take me that long to get my blog up and running?”

And I’d say, “Of course not!” I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research to inform my design choices. If you just follow the ChangeBlog, you won’t have go through all that effort. You can have a great blog in a few days; depending on how much time you’re devoting to it.

A Basic Sitemap

A Sitemap is essentially a list of links to all the pages on your website. It’s important to have one because it helps search engines index your content, and gives your readers another way to explore your site. (Thanks to Dmitry Kirsanov for the suggestion).

For now the ChangeBlog will serve as my sitemap, though it’s by no means comprehensive. It links to most, but not all of my posts.

So check out the ChangeBlog and let me know what you think in the comments.

Bouncing, Bouncing, Bouncing Along Without Site Navigation

Yesterday I started to worry about the complete lack of any site navigation on The Hobby Blogger. Besides scrolling down my long homepage, there’s no other way for readers to easily discover THB’s content.

This obstacle to exploring site content is probably not helping my bounce rate—the number of single-page visits. Of course, how would I know for sure? I haven’t been measuring my bounce rate, so I have no idea how bad it really is.

I’ll get back to that issue in a minute.

Links to popular posts

To address the lack of navigation, I added a Links widget to my sidebar containing links to the blog’s most popular articles. I’m not doing anything fancy. I’m just listing the four posts with the most page views this month as reported by my AWStats logs.

Alternatively, I could have assessed popularity based on the number of post comments, but I don’t get enough comments yet for that metric to be an accurate measure of post popularity.

If I wanted to look into it more thoroughly, I could install a plugin like WordPress Popular Posts to do this automatically. But, the Popular Posts links are only a stopgap measure until I update the blog with more comprehensive site navigation. I don’t want to spend too much time perfecting Popular Posts until I’m certain it’ll be a permanent feature.

At this point, it’s more important to just get something up so that visitors will hopefully dig a little deeper into my content.

Back to bounce rate

Because I have no idea what my bounce rate is, I used this as an opportunity to install Google Analytics to start tracking bounce rate, as well as getting familiar with the rest of GA. This is where I’ll start.

It’s too bad I didn’t already have Google Analytics running before adding the Popular Posts section. It would have been easier to tell if the Popular Posts links were improving bounce rates.

Lessons learned:

  • Make sure readers can easily browse your content.
  • Install Google Analytics as early as possible.

 

How do you reduce your bounce rates?

Don’t Let Congress Allow Internet Censorship – Stop Internet Blacklist Legislation [Updated]

You need to stop what you’re doing right now, and read this post. The free exchange of ideas that takes place on the internet everyday could begin to vanish as soon as this Wednesday.

House Bill 3261 (Stop Online Piracy Act) and Senate Bill 968 (Protect IP Act), collectively known as the Internet Blacklist Legislation, are two bills currently making their way though the United States Congress under the guise of combating online piracy.

However, the passage either of these clumsily written bills would usher in an era of intimidation and censorship that would drastically alter the open landscape of our information highways.

I know this sounds alarmist, but I’ve already read too much about this issue to sit idly by and not get involved.

No due process

I’ll give you some links to read below, but here’s the gist. As a result of this legislation, your site could be shut down simply for linking to a site that has been suspected of copyright infringement—not proven and convicted, but simply suspected.

What’s more, even if your site isn’t shut down, your payment processors and advertisers would be required to cut you off, without a court order, in order to avoid any liability.

Think it’s too far fetched? Here’s a simple scenario, as I understand it.

Say someone, for whatever reason, creates a website and copies some of your content to it. Under this legislation, all that person would have to do is accuse you of copying their content. While you two fight out it in court, your source of revenue gets cut off. In the worst case, Google removes your pages from its search results, and your ISP takes your site down altogether.

If you’re not a blogger, you should still be concerned because these two bills make it far too easy censor a website simply by filing a copyright complaint that results in shutting down the site.

I’m all for protecting intellectual property. But these two bills are like using a jackhammer to perform brain surgery.

Read the links below, and if you’re at all concerned, call and mail postcards to your Senators and Representative and tell them to oppose the bills. At the very least, Electronic Frontier Foundation will automatically create and send an email to them for you.

Update: Several news outlets reported early Tuesday morning that the House Judiciary Committee cancelled today’s hearing to vote on whether to bring the bill to the floor of the House. It looks like the hearing will take place in early January. PIPA has already been moved to a Senate vote in January.

So we have some more time. Please spread the word and keep pressuring your politicians to oppose the bills.

 

Further Reading

The Mac Observer – SOPA Vote Hit with Surprise Delay – A good, short synopsis of SOPA (the House bill).

Wired – Stop Online Piracy Act Vote Delayed – More details about SOPA.

TechCrunch – Kill Switch – In-depth look at the Senate bill (IP Protection Act).

An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the U.S. Congress – An open letter signed by 83 prominent Internet inventors and engineers opposing SOPA and PIPA.

Wikipedia – Stop Online Piracy Act

Wikipedia – PROTECT IP Act

GovTrack.us – Text of H.R. 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act

GovTrack.us – Text of S. 968: Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011