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My First Report Card: What I've Done Right and Wrong During My First 4 Months of BlogginMy First Report Card: What I've Done Right and Wrong During My First 4 Months of Blogging

Starting a blog isn’t as easy as it looks! In this post, I’m taking a look back at my first 4 months of blogging. I grade myself on how I think I’ve done, and give you the dirty details (including the all-important numbers). I take a good look at my pitfalls and spell out a plan for how I need to fix them!

No craft or recipe or coloring page for you guys today. Instead I thought I’d just write a little bit about my first 4 months of blogging and give you a peek behind-the-scenes. I’ve published 26 posts (not including this one). It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would. Here’s my report card, graded by me. I’m being brutally honest here, and very transparent. I’m a bit embarrassed by the numbers, but I thought other beginning bloggers (or bloggers-to-be) might want to see these real numbers. So, here goes!

Putting words to paper… er, screen

Writing the posts has been pretty easy. Once I have my topic picked, I haven’t really had a problem getting the words out. And I haven’t been stuck for topics either. I’d been collecting ideas for a while before launching the blog, so I’m probably good for at least a year! I think I’d give myself a B+ in this area. I think I need to work on focusing my topics more. While everyone says longer posts rank better and cute anecdotes engage your audience, I think it loses some people who are just looking for the quick answers for how to do something or get a recipe.

FYI: I keep my topic idea list in Evernote. I’ve found that app to be one of the most useful apps for capturing ideas on the fly. I have it installed on my desktop, my phone, our iPad, and on the Kindle, so no matter where am I when I get my idea, I can log it (otherwise I will forget it). I can snap a picture of something and log it, or grab a URL or even snapshot of a web page and log it, with notes. Evernote then syncs all of the devices. You can group notes into notebooks, and also add tags for different categories. For example, I have a Blog Topics notebook, and I use tags like Crafts, Sewing, and Recipes. I have another notebook Blog ToDo, with reminders or things to do like finish my About page, and I collect plugins to check out, or SEO tricks to research. I use the free version, which limits you to I think 60MB of uploads a month. Evernote has been a lifesaver (and paper saver)! Not that my desk isn’t still covered in post-its, but at least they aren’t layered a dozen deep anymore.
Pretty pictures

I’ve found the most time consuming part of getting a post published are the images. First, since most of my posts are DIY/craft type posts, I have to capture pictures during the process. So I can’t just write about something I’ve done before. I have to do it again and capture the process in photos, unless I can refer to someone else’s post who has done the same. This is true for recipes too. I have lots of recipes I’d like to share, but just haven’t had the right combination of ingredients, time, and decent lighting to get photos to go with the actual recipes! And once you have the photos, you have to process them: cropping, sharpening, adjusting lighting, watermarking… and narrowing down the ones to use (or worse, trying to pick which of the bad photos you’ll have to use because you didn’t get any good ones). I think I’ll give myself a B for my actual photos, and maybe a B- for my process.

And more pretty pictures

Once the post is written and images processed and added, I’m still not ready to publish. Why? Because I need to create a thumbnail image for the post, plus images to be used for social media. The thumbnail is used on my home page in the list of posts (or in archives), and I’ve also started displaying it at the top of the post. I also create at least one image for Pinterest (sometimes more). Since nearly all of my traffic comes from Pinterest at this point, having a decent pinnable image is crucial. And then there are Facebook and Twitter too. Of course, all of these platforms use different limits and dimensions, so you have to attach multiple versions for use on the different social media platforms.

FYI: To make things a bit easier for creating all of these social media images, I created an Adobe Illustrator template. This template includes 4 art boards: one for Pinterest that has the optimal width and my logo (the colored banner at the bottom), one for Facebook and Twitter with the recommended dimensions, one for the post thumbnail, and one for images used in posts (which I use for resizing photos to the right width, and adding a grayscale watermark when necessary). It’s helpful to have all in the same file. This template has definitely improved the process, and I’m just now becoming more comfortable using Illustrator features, like masks, which makes composite images for round up posts or step by step posts much easier to make.

I think the quality of my recent social images has improved and I’d probably give them a B. I still have to find my style. I look at what other people have for pinnable images, and some are so polished, and there is a certain style that seems to be popular. But I want to stand out, and not necessarily do what everyone else is doing, using the same fonts and colors as everyone else. I think the key for getting recognized is consistency. I still spend way too much time picking fonts and colors and layouts. I need to settle in on just a few and stick with them!

Now let’s share

Okay. Post written? Check. Images added? Check. Social media images done? Check. Publish! Yay! But wait… oh. I’m not done yet. After all that work, I want someone to actually read the post. That means I have to do some marketing. I share the post on Facebook and Twitter. And then pin my main pinnable image to my YetAnotherMomBlog.com Posts board on Pinterest. I do all of this sharing using the actual share buttons on my site so I can actually test how it’ll look when someone else hopefully decides to share my post.

But effective marketing means getting out there in people’s faces A LOT. (This is the part I hate.) You can’t just post to Twitter once. Or to Pinterest just once. Depending on the platform, you want to post multiple times a day (for Twitter), multiple boards (on Pinterest) and multiple times a week, for up to a month for a single post! Plus you’ll want to revive older posts by putting out new references to them every once in a while. I haven’t been doing a very good job with any of this, but I hope to change that.

The most recent app I’ve added to my toolbox to help with all this is Hootsuite. I’ve read lots of good reviews about this tool. I’m still just learning it, but I can see how this is going to be really valuable. I can schedule tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook, and pins on Pinterest. I can pin to different boards, try out different images, different text, and schedule them for different times of the day. Hootsuite can also help you share other’s content. For example, if I’m surfing Pinterest and find a bunch of stuff I want to pin, I can schedule those pins with Hootsuite so I stagger them throughout the day or next couple of days instead of having them appear all at once.

As I said, I haven’t been doing a very good job with the sharing part (I’d give myself a C-), so this is where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next couple of months.

What’s your reach?

You can share to all of your social media accounts every 10 minutes and still only be sharing with yourself. How many followers do you have? That’s a very important number to grow! When I started the blog, I had 0 Twitter followers (I’d created the account a couple of years ago and never used it), 0 Facebook followers (I created a new Facebook page instead of using my personal account), and maybe at most 40ish people following me on Pinterest (I wish I’d recorded that number). In the case of Pinterest, I decided to convert my existing personal account to a business account basically so I could start with some followers!

Twitter

My Twitter number is now up to 47. I know that sounds pitiful. But I really haven’t focused much on Twitter, since I really don’t like that platform. I’ve been getting a handful of new followers a week, and I’ve had a few retweets. I need to build the list of people I follow in hopes they’ll follow back. I also need to retweet their stuff more, so they’ll want to keep following me. And of course I need to tweet about my posts (and other stuff too) lots more so I can get more retweets, which gives me more exposure. I’d definitely give myself a D for Twitter.

Facebook

My Facebook number is even more pitiful at 11. I’m giving myself a D- grade for Facebook. I have been hesitating sharing my posts on my personal Facebook account. I guess part of it is that I’m a bit nervous about everyone I know seeing what I’m doing. And I’ve always been more of a lurker than sharer, so suddenly sharing a lot might turn off some of my friends. I think now that I’m more established I might gather the courage to start sharing with a subset of friends… maybe. I know other people blast out to all their Facebook friends “follow me over here!” but that isn’t my style. It’s also harder now that Facebook changed their policies with business pages, so even if I posted more, it won’t necessarily be seen by many in their feeds. I might consider some kind of promotion in the future. I’m not convinced that building a Facebook following helps me a lot anyway, so I don’t know how much effort I will or should put into growing it right now.

Pinterest

My Pinterest numbers are much better, and that is where I have been focusing my limited energies. I’m up to 355 followers, adding at least a few every day over the last month. I credit most of this to rich pins and especially promoted pins, and picking a hot topic. You may have noticed I have a lot of posts with coloring pages. I started out with a post about coloring books for adults, and then decided to create a coloring page of my own to share for fun. Right after doing this, the adult coloring industry exploded because of a segment on NBC Nightly News. I used this opportunity to actually spend some money to promote my blog. I chose a coloring page and promoted it for about 3 weeks (in May). I think I bid up to $.50, max $5 a day. Then I promoted my first coloring book post for 2 weeks, with a $.10 bid, max $5 a day. I spent $185 total. My average daily impressions/viewers went from around 20/18 (that’s not a typo) to 19,000/14,000! Several times over those weeks I hit my daily budget, so I could have spent more to get more hits. Even though I stopped paying to promote my pins (so my impressions/viewers have dropped off to about 6000/5000), it is continuing to pay off, as people repin what others repin (and they told two friends, and so on, and so on…). I’m up to nearly 2000 clicks on that coloring page, with about 1000 repins/likes, and that number is growing a couple dozen a day just on those posts. I’m pretty happy with those numbers. I have to decide if I want to spend more money doing promotions on other posts. The ol’ saying, “it takes money to make money…” is so true. But I think I’ll wait a little bit before my next promotion (I’ll explain why below.) I think I’ll give myself a B- for Pinterest, only because I know I haven’t had much time to pin others’ content lately, and I haven’t pinned my own stuff enough times. Also, I need to find some group boards where I can pin my content to increase my reach.

Google Analytics & other outlets

According to Google Analytics, I’ve had about 3500 sessions over the last month, more than half of them coming from Social platforms (for me, nearly all Pinterest). Most of the other traffic is junk. When I did my promoted pins back in May, my numbers spiked up from an average of barely 20 new users a day to nearly 200 a day. They dropped when the promotion ended, but I’ve seen a steady, but slight, rising trend. I’ve been averaging about 120 new users a day over the last couple of weeks.

Now, how important are these numbers? Are they good or bad? I was reading an article over at Entrepreneurs Journey earlier that said that most blogs never get to 1000 visitors a day. I’m only a fraction of the way there, but I’m only 4 months old and really haven’t expended that much time or energy into promoting it. He also says numbers don’t really matter, as long as you are attracting the right people and keeping them as repeat visitors, and getting them to buy your offerings (assuming you have some). However, if you are relying on advertising income, these numbers are not going to get you anywhere. So, since I am trying to monetize my blog, I guess I either need to get that number higher or offer some really great products or services to sell!

Right now I don’t have any products or services of my own to sell. So I need to increase my followers so I can attract advertisers.  Many advertising programs won’t even consider a blog as tiny as mine. I did start with Google AdWords about a month ago. I think I’ve made almost $3. And I am using the Amazon Affiliate program when I recommend products within my posts, and I’ve made about $20 in the last month from that front. Not much, but it’s a start!

What can I do to increase these traffic numbers? Well, in addition to all of the social media outlets I’ve already discussed, I need to get myself out there on other blogs. I read lots of other people’s blogs, but I almost never comment. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been a lurker and I’ve never commented, even when I thought I had something to contribute. Big mistake! I need to start leaving useful comments. This helps with backlinks to my site, gets my name out there, and hopefully leads to new followers. If I’m lucky, it will also lead to mentions in their posts (e.g., if they refer to one of my projects).

I could also join link parties, where a group of bloggers help each other out by linking to each other’s posts, or find a “tribe” which is a group of new bloggers who help to promote each other by liking and sharing and retweeting each other’s stuff.

Notice I didn’t even mention SEO. I’m not sure how important it really is. Yes, if someone is doing a search for a recipe or a craft, I’d like to show up. But the competition is so fierce. I just don’t think the tedious, time-consuming task of the research to find the perfect keywords or long tail phrases and trying to rework my posts for it is worth it at this time. Yes, it should be done, I guess, but right now I don’t think the benefit outweighs the cost (of my time).

I’m giving myself an F in this whole area, because I haven’t done anything I should be doing. Shame on me.

Overall thoughts

It’s been a lot more work than expected, but I’ve learned so much, so even if I stopped blogging today, I’d have said it was worth it!  Around the 2nd month, I was getting really discouraged, because I had NO traffic. It’s very difficult to keep your spirits up when you put so much into a post that isn’t being seen. But I kept going! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are most blogs. When you see the success stories out there about people getting 100,000 hits by their 2nd month and making $15K/month after 3 months, you have to realize that those are the exceptions. Many of those people had a huge following already from a previous blog or being a leader in their niche. Or they are pouring money into promoting their blog. And when you look at their income claims, most are including income they get from side jobs too, like freelancing or ebooks. So you can’t keep comparing your progress to theirs!

Truthfully, when I started I thought I’d be further ahead than this by now, but now looking back, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished and I think I’m doing okay considering the amount of effort I’ve been able to give to it. I have a pretty good handle on what is working, what isn’t, and what I need to do going forward, so I just need to execute my plan!

What’s next?

My mind is racing with all of the ideas I have for the blog and other ventures! It’s a matter of finding the time! When I started the blog, I was spending LOTS of my time working on the infrastructure, meaning mainly the WordPress template and finding plugins. I started with a template which I then hacked to death, from the stylesheet to the actual code. I’ve learned tons about WordPress, and I think I could code my own template from scratch now (I do have a programming background), which would make the site more efficient and easier to maintain, but that’s on the back burner for now. The other part of my available time was spent learning about blogging and how to promote posts, and the tools to use. And, as mentioned earlier, it took a while to get a system for putting a post together start to finish. Now I know what I have to do, I just have to actually do it! Of course now my daughter is home with me for the summer, so my time is even more limited. I’ve been putting my posts together in the wee hours for the last few weeks. And have had no time for the marketing part.

My off evenings have been spent working on coloring pages. I’ve had a fantastic response to my work, not just gauged by Pinterest, but by some Facebook coloring groups I belong to. Several people have asked if I sell my work. So I’ve decided that I should! I’ll be opening an Etsy shop very soon. At first I’ll sell individual coloring pages, but I hope to put together a book in the fall, and add some other coloring items as well. I also have two other ventures I’m pursuing to make and sell some items, one of which is with a friend. It’s still in the early stages, but stay tuned! I may also offer my web site development and programming services on the blog. I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years now as part of my hubby’s business (Geekz, Inc.), with most of my clients coming from referrals from his IT clients. But ever since Em was born, I haven’t actively pursued new clients because I’ve been so busy with her and helping to run Geekz (I’m the office manager, CFO, and marketing VP).

As for growing the blog, that is still very much a priority, but I won’t be able to put much more effort into it than I already am until my daughter goes back to school. Until then, don’t come by my house. I haven’t cleaned it since, well… hmmm… not sure when. I guess my short-term goal should be to make at least enough money to hire a cleaning service!

 

Are you a new blogger too? I’d love to hear your story! Let me know if you’d like to partner up to help each other out!My First Report Card: What I've Done Right and Wrong During My First 4 Months of Blogging

Comments

— 1 Comment

  1. This has been very helpful. I’m thinking seriously about starting a blog, and this has absolutely given me some tips on what areas, other than the words, that I hadn’t thought about. Thanks

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