Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Read me! Read me now!

 

stumbleupon-128x128 Most of you reading this just now will have your own blog. The odds are you're on Facebook and probably Twitter too. I probably read your blog and the blogs of your friends who probably read my blog and each other's blogs too. And those of you who aren't reading blogs are probably twittering away to each other and writing things on each other's walls. It's all the same names, the same faces, the same avatars. We all gather round our virtual water-coolers and pass the time of day.

Don't you find it all a bit claustrophobic?

So, how do you attract new readers and (hopefully) make new friends? It's a problem we all face. We want to be read. Desperately. We think we have something worth reading but how do we rise to the top of the morass of blogs out there? There are a few ways but they all come under the same umbrella: you get nothing for nothing. It feels about time for a chart. So let's have a chart:

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It's a chart showing how many readers I get every day. The total for the month was 3289 so we're talking an average of 110 a day. Not bad. As you'll see some days peak at 200 while others dip down to 50; the highs follow new posts which are back up to two per week and we'll see how long I can keep that up. Let's just review where all those people are coming from:

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It makes interesting reading because it shows that 1252 (38%) of my readers are coming to be via searches on Google. Yahoo makes the Top Ten with 66 visits but the rest barely register: Search (6), MSN (6), Ask (5) and Bing (4). Bing is Microsoft's new search engine in case you've never heard of it.

The next biggie is Stumbleupon and for the few seconds it takes me to log the post the return is well worthwhile – 449 visits. I also log every new post with Digg and Reddit but I couldn't see a single click originating from either site. The thing is, Digg has an Arts and Culture sub-heading. I checked, and the most dugg entry for the last year under that sub-heading, with 13902 diggs, was this photo of a wee kid fist bumping the President of the United States.

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Yes it's cute. I guess it's even artistic but how is my story about a new translation of Kafka's letter to his dad (which, at time of writing, had one digg) going to compete with that?

We now move onto Entrecard which is made up of three entries totalling 473 visits. One of these is iamburaot.com/referral and this puzzled me, especially when I looked because I couldn't see anything pointing to my site. Then I noticed the Entredropper tab. This is a place where you can get a list of sites in batches where you can make quick drops to build up your Entrecard credits. The average time spent on my site from these 229 visits was 23 seconds each. So, although it adds to my stats these are meaningless numbers. I may get fewer hits with Stumbleupon but the quality is higher.

Entrecard, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a blog advertising network where blog owners can exchange advertising on each others web sites. Like many things on the Web it started out as a good idea (and I've made a few good contacts through it) but in recent months I can see people losing interest. We've all found those sites that interest us and have them in our RSS feedreaders so why bother with Entrecard? The icon isn't hurting me so I'll leave it for just now but my days of resolutely clicking on 300 sites a day to try and attract visitors are long gone.

The other two entries of note are friends of mine, Ani Smith (down in me) and Colin McGuire (A Glaswegian Immaturity) both of whom I mention from time to time on my site and both of whom have links on their sites to mine. And there are lots of others that didn't make the Top Ten.

This is what I do when I put up a new post: I log onto Yahoo Buzz, LitMixx, Post on Fire, Reddit, Stumbleupon and Digg (all of which are community-based news article websites) and leave an entry for my site; I bookmark the site with Del.icio.us. I submit articles to the Just Write blog carnival and occasionally the Everything worth Reading carnival; if the post is a book review I'll also submit an article to the Book Review blog carnival. I've also started sending out broadcasts to my 'friends' on BlogCatalog. If the post is poetry related I sometimes drop Ron Silliman an e-mail and he very kindly puts up a link on his site.

I go through that for every post I put up and yet still about 40% of my readers come via search engines. It does make one wonder if all the effort is worth it.

Here's a graph that shows all visits that have originated solely through search engines since I started this blog nearly two years ago:

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It's a slow but steady climb. And I'd like to see that continue.

Here's one last chart:

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This is more comforting. These are figures for people who have clicked on direct links and the amount of time spent on my site. Not surprisingly my post that included the wee video clip of Samuel Beckett talking is the top post and I doubt it'll be toppled although it's gratifying to see just how popular When I was Five I Killed Myself is; it really is a lovely little book. What you have to bear in mind though is that I got 685 visits the day I posted that review and the bulk of them can be attributed to Stumbleupon (464 clicks). I've just discovered a similar site called Dropjack which I'm going to give a go too. It can't hurt.

When you type When I was Five I Killed Myself into Google my review comes up third which is not bad at all considering Amazon is #1. But why does Revish.com's review come in at #2 with 1771 views? Perhaps it's to do with tags. The tags for their entry are child dark family psychiatric and psychological. The tags for mine are: autism and book review. Would they make that much difference? Or is it simply down the number of hits?

When I first started my blog I read a lot about SEO (search engine optimisation) but the bottom line as far as I can see is that for wee sites like mine this is not an area to become obsessed over and I haven't. Maybe I should take more care choosing titles for my posts and maybe I should use headers more and embolden text and tweak the titles on my pictures but one has to weigh up the pros and cons and I already spend far more time working on my blog than I ever intended.

There have also been a few one-off things that I've done to drive traffic my way like registering with blog catalogues, e.g. britishblogs.co.uk (159), topblogarea.com (68), sitemeter.com (30) and fuelmyblog.com (7). Out of 60,000+ visits that's not a lot but, as the saying goes, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I just discovered a new one, blog-search.com, and registered with them. It took less than a minute and if I only get one visitor I guess that's worth a minute of my time.

I've had a look to see if there are any niche-based social networking sites specifically dedicated to writing and I couldn't find a one. Well, that's not really true. There are a plethora of sites where you can post bits of your own writing, a chapter or two of your novel, and see if anyone reads the thing. I'm talking about sites like CompletelyNovel or Authonomy where loads of newbie authors wait around to see if they're going to be discovered. (And, yes, if you click on the Authonomy link you'll get my page.) There are loads and loads of people out there who want to be read fighting for the attention of a few readers. At least that's what it feels like to me.

Who goes to a site like Authonomy to find something to read? We already have a superabundance of stuff to read. I don't want to have to go searching for new talent, I want it to come looking for me, metaphorically speaking. I want a cute pop-up like I get with Digg telling me about new books, and plays, about film adaptations of novels; I want to know about writers and their lives, about the things they wrote; if there's a new explanation of The Waste Land out there then I want to know about it. So much stuff must be happening out there that if we don't tell each other about it then it'll pass us by. A good example of that was the recent BBC run of poetry programmes. If Rachel Fox hadn't gone on about them continually – continually in a nice way – then a lot of people would have missed out on them. That's the kind of thing I'd like to see in my pop-up!

To my mind the best kind of advertising is the kind you don't need to go looking for, the poster on the bus shelter or the promotional ad on your Mars Bar or the flyer that floats through your letter box. The last two are especially attention-grabbing because you have the thing in you hand.

So I guess I have two questions although there's much of a muchness about them.

What sites, if any, do you visit to search for literary content?

and

What efforts have you found successful in promoting your own site?

Oh, and here's a third question:

If you don't have an answer to either of those questions, could you at least do me the favour of stumbling this post? Just click on the icon below. Thank you very much.

17 comments:

Conda V. Douglas said...

Thanks for all the great info, Jim!

Well, Jim, I visit your site for it's literary content. I visit other sites for that reason as well, Dave's Pics and Poems for example. Some sites I visit for the artwork (Dave's for that too). Some for the "biz" content, like Helen's Straight from Hel. And some just for fun, for the great stories.

As far as promoting my blog, I try to have useful content with useful words in the title. My time is limited as most goes to my "real" writing.

Jim Murdoch said...

You're quite right of course, Conda, content is the most important thing for all of us. I think I manage that but I'm also well aware that the length of my articles can be offputting. I'm sure if someone was going looking for information on, say, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich then my review would be a good place for them to start but would they be inclined to look at any of the other articles or bookmark the site? I doubt it. I do get about 20% of my readers coming back for more but that's 20% of maybe 3500 visits a month. Now, how we we get that up to say 7000 clicks with 25% coming back for more? The audience is there - lets face it there's 6.7 billion people one the planet - but how do I get my ad in their line of vision?

Titles are a problem. I tend to go for quirky titles hoping that these will pique interest. Perhaps I should go more for it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of titles.

Dave King said...

A really useful post with a lot of valuable info', I am sure - though I will need more time to inwardly digest and think about what you say. My chart looks a lot like yours in that it, too, peaks after a post, as you would expect, and dips to fiftyish after a few days. The difference is that it has never risen to 200. Somewhere around 150 is my all-time best. But then I do not do nearly as much to promote the blog as you. I tend to rely on Entrecard and my own browsing. You have made me think, but I guess the crunch question will be how much time (or cash!) can I afford to spend on promotion. Many thanks.

Art Durkee said...

It's interesting to see such charts and summaries. (How does one generate them? Are there existing tools on blogspot, or did you go hunting?)

It's hard not to be passive about much of this, rather than active. When I've been active in self-promoting, it hasn't seemed to make much difference: a loud lack of response has been the norm, regardless of what I do. So it's tempting to just keep doing what I do, and have no expectations that anybody cares, or should. It can feel like shouting down a well, sometimes, and getting no echoes back. You and I have a bit of an ongoing dialogue, here and there, for which I am pleased and grateful. I'm always grateful to NOT feel ignored—but I expect to be ignored. There are a lot of fish in the pond, and it's very hard to get noticed, much less responded to. (That's why I'm curious about the charts. I have no real idea who actually visits my own blog, or where from.)

So I agree that content is what matters most. It may be ALL that matters. One can write, and build a slow following, just over time, as long as one strives to keep a high quality in one's content. One can keep doing the work, without a lot of expectations, and focus one's energies on the writing itself, rather than on whether or not it gets noticed.

That's what I try to do. When I do get responses, I treasure them.

Of course, I would never turn down riches and fame! LOL

Jennifer said...

At this point, I find all the promotion somewhat exhausting, especially since I have so little to promote. Perhaps if I had a book to sell that would be different. If I did have a book to sell, I'm not sure my current blog would be the place to do it. And now that I've decided to give freelance food writing a good go, I really don't think my blog is the place to promote myself. But I like my little blog and my little blogging friends and I don't want to give it up completely.

That said, this is a very useful list, well worth stumbling. I have one post that has gotten tons of StumbleUpon traffic: When Are You Due? Not sure how I feel about that one.

Jim Murdoch said...

First of all, Dave, I've never explored any paid options when it comes to promoting my blog. I have my doubts about whether the money would be well spent considering what I've read. Secondly, the underlying theme to the post is that, for all my efforts, there is very little return for my time apart from two sources, Stumbleupon and Ron Silliman and, of course, Ron is only interested in posts concerning poetry. It's not that I get no feedback from all my other efforts it's just that I question whether the ratio of time to visits is worthwhile. Which brings me to my questions at the end, basically, What the hell does one have to do to get read around here?

I am surprised you've never hit 200 visits in a day. You certainly get a lot of comments which leads me to believe that you have a greater proportion of 'real' readers as opposed to itinerant clickers who you might never see again. It's certainly a challenge. I don't see Entrecard as being a source of quality readers. In fact, and I've talked about this before, I seriously wonder how many stay on the site any longer than it takes them to locate my widget and click on it. It seemed like a good idea at the time but I think it may well have had its day.

Art, I can really understand your attitude. I feel particularly aggrieved on your behalf because you have an awful lot that is very interesting to read and I cannot believe more people have not run into your site by now. I have a blog coming up where I talk about one of your photos and the poetry it inspired again taking the opportunity to highlight your site but I can only do so much.

The charts and graphs all came via Google Analytics. There are other sites out there that provide statistical data but this is the one I've stuck with although I do check my Alexa ranking quite regularly too.

You are quite right – and everyone agrees – and content is king but it's how to attract people in the first place that's my question. Once they're there hopefully they will subscribe and your content will keep them there but content on its own will not attract them. That is my point. I never check what's on at the movies. I expect to be told what's on, usually by an ad on the TV but increasingly by ads on my PC. I need to get my site in front of people's faces but where are the kinds of people who would want to read my site looking? That's the $64,000 question.

And, Jennifer, yes, the selling of books. That's a whole other issue. The primary reason for setting up my blog in the first place was to promote my writing but the number of books I've sold has been dire. I also monitor the clicks on my website and I average no more than 2 a day. 6 was my maximum which means that many days I have no visitors at all. Again, how does one persuade people to investigate your writing further, people who already have too much to read? I don't have the answer. I have my second book coming out in a few weeks – late I know – but it's hard to be excited about it because the only market will be those who have read the first one. Maybe I'll get someone who'll but both books IF I have a special offer but books are expensive. I don't buy new books. There are too many on Amazon Marketplace for 1p + postage that I've not read.

I can see why 'When are you due?' was popular. And that's the key word – popular. To get visitors you need to write about what people are interested in. I'm sure a post on the quality of Michael Jackson's lyrics would get me a few extra clicks right now but I wouldn't know where to start.

What I hope is that we all start stumbling each other's posts. The more we promote each other the more chance we will attract readers ourselves. The bottom line is that marketing is a part of the life of the 21st century author whether he's traditionally published, self-published or just scribbling away on the Net. No one is going to read us if they don't know about us.

Sorlil said...

I would have thought the best way to gain 'real' readers would be for you to continue to search out similar literary blogs and comment on them. I not sure all the advertising is going to get you many of the kind of readers you're looking for. I know the poetry world's a lot smaller but I tend to read new blogs that have been linked to by poetry blogs I already read.
You don't have a huge blog link list on your sidebar, if you link more people they tend to respond in kind.

Jim Murdoch said...

You're quite right, Sorlil, and I do that. Not as much as I used to do I admit. And there's a reason for that. I got tired trawling through blogs where all they wanted to talk about were they day-to-day lives. Not that a bit of that isn't interesting but that's not what I'm looking for. Maybe I'm a bit of a snob in that regard which is why my blog link list isn't longer. I've been to sites where there are dozens upon dozens of links and who has time to click on them all? Better to have a few quality links and that's what I have.

The real point to this article is not to recommend all the things I do but to point out - and maybe I could have said this more blatantly - that there are no easy (or quick) ways to get an audience. Stumbleupon does have a measureable effect but I have no way of knowing how many come back for more. The same goes for Ron Silliman's blog. I've had nearly 300 readers come via his site this month. I know for a fact that one has become a subscriber because she told me so. That's worth the time it took to e-mail the guy. I just don't want to take advantage of his good nature.

Dick said...

Absolutely fascinating, Jim. The science of blogging. But where do you find the time for such focussed activity alongside the encyclopaedic posts?

Jim Murdoch said...

To be totally honest, Dick, most of my time was spent in trying to find out about sites like these. What I'm starting to realise - and this is the real point I'm trying to underline - is that most of these are hardly worth the investment the return is so small. There are too many people hawking their goods out there that no one is wading through blog directories looking for that gem of a site they just know is out there.

When I began all of this I spent weeks (literally!) going through blogrolls convinced that there were tons of great literary sites out there for the finding and I was so gutted when I realised that there aren't nearly as many as I imagined or if there are then I've managed to step over most of 'em.

As for the time I spend promoting my blog I have things set up so that I can have it done in about a half hour.

I am serious though, Stumbleupon does seem to be the only place out there that makes an immediate difference in the stats.

Ani Smith said...

I think it's really funny that I'm on your list at all, Jim. I don't use StumbleUpon or Reddit or any of those sites (I used delicious for awhile and quickly got bored of it). In fact, I think looking at blogstats just creates needless anxiety. You were going to write what you were going to write anyway, right?

I honestly don't care who reads, just that someone is reading, I think. The only way of finding people to connect with I've ever felt worthwhile is word of mouth (or the online equivalent: clicking links from people I already know and value). Blog catalogs and search engines rarely provide meaningful connection of the human variety, just numbers. The sites I like you'll find me linking to (a lot of the time on Tumblr). Just that simple and no more time consuming than it would be otherwise.

BURAOT said...

hi jim, actually i am a regular reader albeit a lurker in your site since i discovered it from entrecard.

so when i decided to build my own entredropper script, i added your site on the list, hence the traffic. but unfortunately so as the bounce rate. but the bounce rate is kind of endemic to entrecard.

there are lots of ways on promoting a blog. still, like what i have found in yours, content will still be king.

cheers.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have to say, Ani, I too was surprised to see you on the list. Obviously you have a link or two to my site and maybe you have have more readers than you realise.

Do I care who reads what I write? Yes and no. I would like what I write to be read by the kind of people I have in my head when I'm doing the writing. I was desperate when a young poet to connect with others but I was also very backward about going forward. I think the Internet is the greatest thing since sliced bread but it's not perfect. Just because I write great content (and, yes, I do agree that content is king) that is no guarentee that I will connect with the right readers. So I use every method at my disposal. Bit by bit I'm making decent connects but it has taken me a lot longer than I expected.

Talking about "the kind of people", the whole point to this post was to highlight to people out there with blogs they want to promote what I've gone through and what I've learned. I'm no expert but I have more experience than many in this area and so we pass it on. That's what we do. We share.

And, Buraot, thanks for the feedback and for all the traffic. I know I've not been too kind to Entrecard in this article but the fact is I have made some decent connections through it. And I still check out the new Writing and Book blogs every now and then to see if some quality site has decided to give it a go but it's been a while since I've got very excited over anything. But we live in hope. It was a good idea but people will be people. We all want people to read what we've written (hence the title of this post) without necessarily reciprocating. But that's not how it works unless you're someone like Ron Silliman.

Scattercat said...

I've tried some lackluster efforts at self-promotion, personally, but I always feel a bit silly when I do. I mean, my little writing exercise (it's not even properly a blog) is by my own admission a niche product of dubious quality. If I thought I had Deep and Worthwhile Insights I might be a bit more aggressive. All I have is some nanofiction that's a bit too precious for its own good.

I have to question the utility of a lot of those social networking sites. It seems like they mostly work when they're smaller, when everyone involved in them is buying into the concept. Once they get big enough to attract notice, they end up flooded with would-be hotshot marketers desperately trying to achieve the next slam-dunk viral success story. The signal-to-noise ratio increases until anything useful they could produce is drowned in the flood. That may just be my inner introvert/misanthrope talking, though.

I was struck by the similarity between sites of the flow of ups and downs in traffic patterns, even to the very jagged swings back and forth. Mind you, my Google Analytics page averages 12 visits a day rather than 110. I wonder if there are any studies about the days most people visit blogs...

Jim Murdoch said...

The thing is, Scattercat, there is a market for every product. I read two of you flash pieces today – the one about the angel and the one about the birds – and that was enough for me to immediately subscribe to your blog. You now will have weeks, if not months, to keep my interest before I'll think about cancelling my subscription. And that's all it takes. How did I find you? I didn't. You promoted yourself by probably the most effective means as far as I can tell, you made an interesting comment on my blog. The fact is, and I imagine this is true throughout the blogosphere, as soon as we see a new name appear in our comments we click on it. And from that moment your blog is auditioning. I always check several posts before I subscribe but the point is you've snagged my attention. If I hated flash fiction with a vengeance then there is no way you're going to keep me but then you're not looking for people who aren't interested, you're looking for those who are.

Your point about social networks is well taken and accurate. With most their net is too wide but they do yield some readers. As do the blog directories. It's a question of determining what the return is in proportion to the time invested. I devote 30 minutes to each blog. I have a routine established and that's it. It wasn't that long ago I was delirious if I had 12 visitors believe you me but probably the most important figure that Google Analytics provides me with is the percentage of return visits. That's creeping up bit by bit. That's what I'm looking for.

Oh, and to save me having to make a separate comment on your blog, I really meant what I said about that bird story and I don't think my reading is that sheltered. I'll be interested to see what you come up with over the next wee while.

Brady said...

Good write-up! I stumbled you, Jim. The best part about this post is that it has a very personal tone to it. You tell us what you know and what you aren't too sure about. This isn't a road map, but a tale of your own personal journey and I find that so much more interesting to read. Is it because we've known each other now for over a year, and because I want you to succeed as much as I would like to, if not more so?

I'm not sure. What I do know is that I find myself much more interested when I see a bit of the writer in the post. You were there, Jim, and I thank you for that.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you for the stumble, Brady, all stumbles gratefully received. Yes, you're quite right, who am I to tell anyone what to do? All I can do is show what I've done and where it has worked for me. I visit a lot of good sites and I know for a fact they're hardly being read and the simple fact is that you could stumble around for your whole life and never run into any of these sites unless someone, somewhere along the line pointed you in the right direction.

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