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:
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:
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.
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:
It's a slow but steady climb. And I'd like to see that continue.
Here's one last chart:
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?
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.