Seventeen Ways To Improve Your Blog - Case Study
Can you still succeed at blogging?
Blogging is tough these days. Its a crowded realm with a staggering amount of people in the game. According to Pingdom, by the end of 2011 there were:
70 million WordPress blogs
39 million Tumblr blogs
555 million total websites
SEVENTY MILLION WordPress blogs.
Sure, some of them might be your link networks or small micro-sites - but let's cut that number in half, and you get 35 million. Even that number means for every 100 people in the US, 8 of them blog. That's crazy.
What's left to do but...
But... NO! Don't give up! Some writers among us has achieved that success - and you can, too! You just need to know how to go about blogging in today's landscape.
You COULD be successful with blogging
You could be. But you've got to get it right. (And you may want to continue reading... *cough*) You've got to create the right mix of elements and put in the time, dedication, passion, and effort. But don't let anyone tell you it can't be done.
There are still bloggers, new bloggers, who start from scratch (in the past 12-24 months) and achieve success that looks like this:
Yep - that's 90 linking root domains to one single post and 14,900 facebook shares.
In this post, we're going to look at an exciting case study to show you how to improve your chances for success with blogging.
We're going to break it into a few pieces;
Table of Contents - Seventeen Ways to Improve Your Blog
Meet the blogger
Eight past ingredients of success
Three SEO challenges and solutions
Six recommendations to take it to the next level
8 + 3 + 6 = 17 Ways :-)
Meet the blogger behind NoahsDad.com
If you've been hanging around the Moz community long enough, you may have noticed a cute little child commenting on posts or asking questions in Q&A:
Smart kid! Ok, ok... I'm playing around of course. Little Noah hasn't learned to type. That's Rick Smith, aka Noah's Dad.
I first came to know Rick through the Moz community. I then noticed this Q&A Discussion (which by the way is the most thumbed up of all time). In it, Rand suggested he do a case study about noahsdad.com. I know Rand's a busy guy, so I offered to do the case study instead. So, here we are :)
Oh, right, back to Rick...
Besides being a welcome member of the Moz community, Rick has been achieving a special kind of success with his blog noahsdad.com. His son Noah was born with Down Syndrome December 15th, 2010 and Rick has been documenting their journey as a family since May 2011.
There have been some particularly interesting SEO challenges for the blog along the way and with his success, there is always an underlying question: what can Rick do (really, what can ANY blogger do) to take this success further?
Eight ingredients of success for NoahsDad.com
In essence, this is a case study for all bloggers who want to grow their blog and achieve more success.
Although Rick is not a professional writer and has only been blogging on noahsdad.com for about 15 months, he's achieved a noteworthy degree of success. They've been featured or mentioned on Time.com, ABC News, The Huffington Post, FOX News, and more. Average monthly visits are now in the 5-digits.
And, how would you like these kinds of metrics for a single post?
What has Rick done so far to achieve this success? What can you do and learn from and apply to your own personal blog?
1. Theme your blog with one concrete topic/have a purpose
I don't think anyone would question what Rick's blog is "about." Its about Noah, Rick's son, who has Down Syndrome. This is concrete. It anchors the purpose and meaning of the blog into something tangible.
I can think of a good example in the SEO world. Jon Cooper didn't just make an SEO blog, he made a link building blog. Specifics matter.
Takeaway: How can you hone in on a more concrete topic for your blog? Or, if you're thinking of starting a new blog, how can you focus your topic more?
2. Use Random Affinities
I completely, 100% took that from Ian Laurie's post (as you can see in the link). However, Rick has basically nailed this instinctively. Just about every time he uses a random affinity in a post, it's wildly successful.
For example, look at the post he wrote about a Target advertisement which discretely uses a child with Down Syndrome. According to Open Site Explorer, it received 90 LRDs and 14,900 facebook shares. It got linked to by the Huffington Post, ABC News, and many more quality sites. Rick combined the topic of Down Syndrome, with the department store Target and its advertising message.
By tying together the theme's of Target, Advertising, Special Needs, and Down Syndrome, Rick tapped into a much larger audience.
Takeaway: Read Ian's post :)
3. Create content the media would be likely to cite
Focus on creating a resource that does the job of a reporter to make their lives easier. Reporters are more likely to use your post to explain a facet of what they're reporting on if they can simply point to your article.
That's exactly what this reporter from the Huffington Post did when he linked to an article on noahsdad.com:
Takeaway: Find news articles in your niche. Study the types of resources they are linking to. Analyze what makes them linkable. Create your own content with the traits you find in mind.
4. Be consistent and post daily
Since day one, Rick has been posting content on almost a daily basis. But honestly, the consistency part of this is most important. Look at the success of Whiteboard Friday!
If finding time to write on a regular basis is a challenge for you, make use of the scheduling feature in WordPress or your CMS.
Takeaway: Choose a publishing schedule that is realistic for your schedule and that fits your audience. It might be once a week, everyday, etc. Whatever you decide, make use of scheduling features in WordPress or your CMS and publish content consistently.
5. Drive traffic with social media
It's analytics time. Tell me Rick's traffic is not tied to social... this is the all traffic segment and social media traffic segment (more on how I made that chart later).
You can see that social media is absolutely driving those peaks and valleys of traffic.
Takeaway: Social media can be overwhelming. I always recommend to choose one or two platforms and do those really well. Don't try to be on all of the social media platforms, at least not right away. Choose the 1-2 where your audience is most likely to be and start engaging.
6. Use personal and intimate images that tell a story
Maybe it's because this piece takes an extra bit of effort, but so many bloggers don't use images well or at all. Rick does, and he does it extremely well. A few examples:
Not only is Noah adorable - you see family. You get the "moment." You feel like you know Rick and his wife. You make a connection.
This is Rick, with baby Noah, finding out about the hole in Noah's heart. If that isn't an intimate and touching photo, I'm not sure what is.
Rick uses these consistently on noahsdad.com. Images make a huge difference in audience interaction.
Takeaway: In a way, you always have to curate your own photos or graphics along the way. Make sure you have personal, engaging photos to go along with your posts.
7. Video! Video! Video!
The guys from Distilled have been recommending video for a while now. Moz arguably built its blogging success in part to the Whiteboard Friday video series. Rick has been posting little short videos of Noah - "A Window Into Their Lives" - and he does them on a very regular basis.
Just check out his YouTube page. 185,958 video views to date!
Takeaway: Similar to photos, you almost have to always be ready to capture something (if your blog is about events). Also, if you're at a loss for something of higher quality than just your iPhone or smartphone - follow Mike King. He's an SEO but as been focusing more on video these days, and he shares good tips about equipment, lighting, etc.
8. Do #RWS - Real WORLD Shit
What's #RWS? A small takeoff on Wil Reynolds #RCS (or Real Company Shit). noahsdad.com isn't a company so I'll call it "Real WORLD Shit" - #RWS.
Many of the topics Rick writes about, by nature, comes from real things that happen in the real world. Bring the offline online. Things that make a difference and matter will help your audience connect.
Like the post "An Update And History On Noah's Heart Conditions." Rick doesn't just write an endless sea of prose after the fact. He brings you there with him. There's photos. There's drawings of Noah's heart. And there's actual medical information.
Takeaway: Want to incorporate more #RCS or #RWS into your blog? Watch Wil's session from Mozcon (which Moz released for free!)
Three SEO challenges and solutions
Rick and I had the chance to speak on the phone a few times, and I got to learn a little bit about some of the challenges he was facing. This case study is a perfect opportunity to share my recommendations with everyone.
Challenge one: how should I categorize the content on my blog?
Even for a seemingly simple blog, site architecture, content categorization, and menu structure can be elusive. That's often because there are different ways to bucket content, depending upon what point of view you're looking from.
For WordPress specific info on how to utilize categories vs tags, check out my post on WordPress.
For the simplicity sake of this post, we're simply going to focus on the menu. We're going to assume the underlying architecture and URL structure makes sense. So, yes, I suppose this is a little bit of UX (Is it really that different from SEO?)
Here's the current structure of noahsdad.com:
Its pretty good, but Rick asked for some suggestions to make it better. Rather than just show you want my suggestions are, I want to walk through the process.
Step one: List the types of people in priority order of who you most want to find your content.
You simply have to understand the different people who you are trying to attract to your blog.
Step two: Break the list down into its most simple elements. This gives you a basic map for the informational space you're playing with.
These are the four most distinct and simple buckets of content I can think of surrounding a blog about a son who has down syndrome:
I advise all bloggers to do the same. How many categories can you elegantly break down your blog into?
Step three: Using steps one and two, create variations of this simple question: who is looking for what and why?
A few examples;
A parent of a child with down syndrome (who) is looking for a community (what) for emotional support (why).
An expectant parent just diagnosed (who) is looking for useful and compelling information (what) to help decide if they should keep the child (why).
A medical student (who) is looking for medical facts and information (what) to use for a study in school (what).
We could come up with many more variations, but you see how aligning the people with the content and their reasons to search for it starts to give you a vivid picture of how to structure the categories.
This process helps me wrap my head around the topics and give them context. I am understanding the topic at hand as well as the people.
Step four: Structure the menu for people. In this particular instance, I want to help Rick set up his menus to anticipate the needs people will have when they arrive on the site. You can understand the needs by understanding what specific circumstance they're in - which is where steps 1-3 got us.
Arrange the menu in a way that requires the least thinking possible, and makes people think, "Wow, Noah's Dad read my mind and knows where I'm coming from!"
Although Rick might want to change around the particular wording a little or move a few things around, I think this is headed in the right direction. The menu is designed more user-centered rather than perhaps just topic-centered.
Tip: When structuring your content, don't reinvent the wheel! This resource about Down Syndrome was very useful when coming up with the menu.
Challenge two: should I rank for misspellings?
This was another interesting challenge. Although the appropriate spelling of Down Syndrome is "Down" and not "Down's" or "Downs", many people still spell it and search for it improperly. The question than became: should Rick try to rank for "Down's Syndrome?" The problem is, anyone who knows what the proper spelling is, would possibly believe that Rick is being disrespectful or simply incorrect.
The fact is, its not so easily to tell at face value if you should target a misspelling. So I made a little flowchart.
Flowchart - Is it worth targeting that misspelling?
Let's walk through that process for the keyword "down's syndrome."
Does it get good search volume? I'd say arguably yes, although it gets less than the correct spelling, it still gets enough they are showing it in the AdWords KW Tool
This was odd to me - being curious I wanted to know why... Wikipedia uses both versions.
OK, found it. Apparently the UK will still use Down's
This is getting tricky, and already throwing off our flowchart! One last screencap before we get back on course. Does the UK have search volume for "down's?"
Yes, they do, but still not a significant amount more than the US.
Secondly - are the SERPs much different for Down vs Down's?
As I found out, they are a little different, but Google still seems to treat down's like down, as you can see with the bolding.
At this point (we haven't even gotten to step three), I'm thinking it probably doesn't make sense to try and rank for "down's" on its own. But what about something else?
Rick should create a little resource explaining why its Down in favor of Down's.
Besides Wikipedia, the only other relevant results are out of date. Time to put something new up there, Rick!
So, in this case, we came to an alternative strategy. Don't target just Down's but create a resource explaining the difference between Down and Down's.
Challenge three: what do I write about?
Another challenge Rick brought up to me (which I think any blogger faces trying to create daily content) is how to continuously come up with ideas. Not jus any idea. Topics that people will actually care about. How do you do it? Obviously, you've got tools. We all know about them:
AdWords KW Tool
Your own Analytics / Webmaster Tools Data
But you see that one mixed in... your brain? Often forgotten about, we look for tools to do this work for us. It's amazing how can we apply some creative thinking to squeeze more out of the tools we have.
Start Asking Ubersuggest and Soovle Questions - Everyone knows how to use Ubersuggest "normally," but we can still get more creative with it. Wil Reynolds has been talking about this. Like this formula:
[Question words] + keyword.
Question words - try;
Also, we all know to use "vs" - like in eCommerce - "nike vs ...." Try "the difference between [keyword] and.... "
(By the way, this does work for eCommerce - and you may get different ideas, or another set of keywords to target.)
Go nuts with those, but remember that this is only what Google suggests. What about Bing, Yahoo, Amazon, EBay, YouTube, and others? Enter Soovle.
Well said indeed! I want to show you a quick example of how Soovle can generate some different ideas than Google depending on your niche.
Pretty cool, eh?
By now, your brain is startin' to fire up, I hope. Don't just use the examples I gave. What creative ways of using Ubersuggest and Soovle can you come up with?
Let's keep talking about your brain. Highly underrated in SEO.
Now, what I would do is this. Remember the hierarchy of potential visitors? You can call them personas or keyword level demographics. And we don't have to get as intensely technical as Mike's post. The point is to just put yourself in someone else's shoes and brainstorm (keyword: brain. storms work too though) - what's important to them?
Let's cover the two top most potential visitors in our hierarchy: expectant parents or parents of newly born child with Down Syndrome, and they just received the diagnosis. What would you be feeling, thinking, wondering, hoping?
I don't have kids and I don't know about you, but I'd want to know the following:
What's it like raising a child with down syndrome?
How does it differ from raising a "normal" child?
Do they face challenges in life?
Can it be "cured" or managed?
Do they go to school? Get married? Get jobs? Have kids of their own?
In a nutshell, I'd be wanting to know two things: what their quality of life going to be, and what's my family's quality of life going to be like.
Start searching Google as if you are that person who just received a diagnosis your child has Down Syndrome.
Don't forget to go to the bottom...
Then, start bucketing your keywords into categories in a spreadsheet. It doesn't have to be super complicated. Just devise a way to remember your ideas but also start to organize them. This chart is not even a far cry from complete, but you can see how I begin the process. I would continue to tag and categorize them, and then start running some metrics like search volume, rankings, impressions, traffic etc.
Keep a curation of keywords and ideas going like this for each persona and you'll never run out of topics (and never forget them too, I hope).
The best part, of course, is that now you know these ideas are going to help people because they are actually searching for these things.
Six ideas and recommendations
OK... we're just getting started! Above there were eight things noahsdad.com is doing well, three ways to overcome some challenges, and now we've got six recommendations for Rick to take his blog further. Remember? Seventeen ways to improve your blog.
And again, these are things that can help all bloggers.
1. Set blogging goals
Rick's site obviously doesn't sell anything, and he's not focused on selling advertising as a primary goal, either. But for every site (yes, even your blog about cooking or running or music production), you can still come up with something to measure.
Rick and I spoke about this, and came up with a few key goals he wanted to measure;
RSS Email Signups
Increase in Social Followers
Commenting / Engagement
Traffic For Specific Keywords, especially related to new parents or expecting parents
Brand vs Non-Brand Traffic (I added this one in myself Rick, in case you were wondering)
Perfect, now we know what to measure... let's get to the how!
2. Measuring goals
In the scope of this case study, we can't cover every detail of measuring these goals. But I will show you a few in particular which I set up for Rick, and you should do the same for your blog.
Events: Are there links on your site, which send a person somewhere externally, but fulfill a goal? Like an RSS button or a link to your Twitter Profile? You should track as many of those as you can with events.
Choose the link or button you want to track.
Add the event tracking code to the <a> tag:
I can't cover this in detail here, but the code I used was:
Just do this search and you'll be set.
Add these to all links you feel it would be worthwhile to track - like an RSS email subscription at the top of the page:
Fortunately, the widget Rick is using has the analytics tracking option built in:
Goals - Then, turn your events into goals.
Here's what I did for his social media profile clicks:
Again, more here in this search if you need it.
Custom Reports: Now that your events are being tracked as goals, you can create a super useful custom report.
Here's what the final report will look like:
Brand vs Non-Brand Search Traffic: This is huge! If you guys aren't doing this, you are really missing out. Brand traffic can often be a challenge to segment because of misspellings. But I've got a pretty good method for you.
This assumes you have a list of all the possible spelling/variations of your brand. But basically, it comes down to a simple RegEx:
FYI - ^ means "begins with" and | means "or"
Remember to create a segment for Non-brand search traffic (so you're filtering out brand terms):
Social Media Advanced Segment: Google Analytics currently gives you a Social Media section, but I don't find it all that useful. That's why we're going to create an advanced segment to measure social media traffic better.
Plus, analytics includes WordPress as social...yeah, ok maybe. Creating your own segment gives you absolute control over the sources you want to include.
In this case I'm choosing sources I know Rick is most actively promoting.
Yes, yes, yes... you can do that with RegEx as well. This post shows you how if you want to do that. Although a little outdated, Avinash has a superb post on advanced segments, including one for social media.
3. Building your community? Start a forum!
When Rick and I spoke, he mentioned wanting to somehow connect his audience. In other words, he's looking to grow a platform for his community.
Start a forum!
He might know something I don't, but all the ones I could find were either outdated, low traffic, or poor quality.
There is definitely an opportunity in the space here. And he already has a crowd of followers to help seed content and get it going. Plus, long-tail traffic and building your domain authority by maintaining control of the content on noahsdad.com
Just a fair warning though: forums require close moderation. But I feel, in this case, a forum may provide more benefit than negatives.
You have some options for software:
vBulletin - The standard one everyone knows
Xenforo - A client of mine just started trying this. We're not out of testing, but it looks very promising.
Mingle WordPress Plugin - this looks like a good plugin for WordPress. Haven't tried it myself though.
How about anyone else? Does anyone have recommendations for forum software for Rick?
4. Host Google Hangouts
Rick also mentioned wanting to bring more of his audience to Google Plus. The demographics of visitors to noahsdad.com fit mommy bloggers more than anything else. And they are not on Google Plus.
So you need a unique selling proposition for why they should be on Google Plus.
What can Google Plus do no other network can? Hangouts. Try it! It may take a few tries, but I bet you'll start pulling some momentum if that idea sounds exciting to you.
Schedule it. Send invitations. Bring your audience there and show them how fun it can be. Try it at least 4-5 times on a regular schedule and see if it can get you some traction in G+.
More stuff here.
5. Start a podcast
OK. So this may take more time. And more resources. And just more work. But it could bring you to an entirely new level.
There's one small catch. I was looking around for existing Down Syndrome podcasts.
Most of them were really old... like this...
This was the only current one I could find. Just got started this past summer. However, the audio quality is shaky, they seem to run very long, and the engagement on their website is low.
In other words: I think Rick could do better. Just speaking with him on the phone and I think he would make a perfect host. He's personable, speaks well, and is very engaging to interact with.
He might even know this person. Who knows? So if he pursues it, he should obviously not "step on anyone's toes" but I think there's a fantastic opportunity here if done right.
I see some good resources on this search to start...
6. Create An App
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income created an app for his blog. It does nothing more than allow people to:
Read his latest posts
Listen to his latest Podcasts
Read his latest tweets
Share his content
Find his facebook page
That's it! But he knows people are increasingly mobile. You can get all that stuff on your mobile device, but now with his app they're all in one place. And...he's discoverable in the iTunes Store.
Here's a sample of what it looks like:
There's obviously more you can do with Apps, but this shows you even a simple app could be worthwhile to get you in front of a new audience and allow people to consume and share your content more easily.
Yes - to conclude. Where do we finish? Rick's obviously doing a lot right on his blog - and I hope this gave him and you some ideas for taking your blogs further.
There may be 70 million WordPress blogs out there, but out of those 70 million - I'd like to know how many people keep going. I'd like to know how many of those use vivid and intimate images, how many use video, how many of them talk about something real? Real World Shit. #RWS!
I'd be willing to bet the answer to those questions are "not many." There's always going to be a high noise ratio of content on the web, and it's only going to increase. But Rick proves to us that if you're passionate, dedicated, personal, take risks, and be real, you still can achieve success.
And time... time is the ultimate filter of signal vs noise. Five years from now, I'll remember Rick and Noah and their blog. What blogs or content will you remember 5, 10, 20 years from now?
Let's help each other out
With all this blog talk, I'm up for a discussion...open to anything, of course. But let's help each other out.
Where are you at with your blog?
Is it a company blog?
A personal blog?
What tips in this post do you find challenging?
What do you struggle with? Coming up with content? Making it "quality?" Getting traffic? Getting comments?
I'll start. But in the comments as soon as this posts tomorrow... see you in the discussion!!