A Year Goes By

Can you hear that? It’s the sound of tumbleweeds tumbling in the wind. Mea culpa.

It’s been almost a year and I have done almost nothing about my blogs. It’s the Big Curse I suffer from: I have no time and energy to focus on blogging as a side activity. Most of my time is spent at work, and then I have other things to worry about as well. Family, friends…

But it’s not quite true that I did not blog at all. I have kept my worldbuilding blog reasonably up to date, I have posted a few times on Geek Worker, and I finally started something I always wanted to do, a Let’s Play Youtube channel. Yes, just for kicks, not for the money. (I allow advertisement anyway, of course.)

Working on blogs and writing is still something I really want to do, though, and so lately I have been revisiting and consolidating what I have.

  • I created Facebook pages for two blogs and the Youtube channel
  • I created a Google+ page for the channel
  • Added advertisement to the worldbuilding blog
  • Managed to get the Youtube channel onto a weekly schedule – it has 28 subs now
  • Fixed a lot of problems with analytis which crept in

The site I was actually going to build as the subject for this experiment won’t happen, because the product I was going to write about was delayed and there are good, entrenched sites that I can’t hope to compete with.

Finances

The surprising thing is that I actually do make money from my sites. Very little money, not even enough to buy lunch – For example, June earned me 1.28 Euro plus 10 Cents from the Youtube Channel. It’s a start.

So… What’s Next?

I will keep this blog updated again. No point in running an experiment if one doesn’t document it.

I will make sure to keep both the worldbuilding site and the youtube channel up to date, and ideally keep to a regular schedule. They are both things I am passionate about, so it should be easier to do. Both have very low income potential, but that’s okay.

In addition to this, I will keep posting on Geek Worker whenever I find a solution to a problem I am experiencing. The way I see it, writing them up is not a lot of work, and the more material I collect on the site, the more Google hits I will reap when people search for the problem I write about – that is, the content doesn’t really become irrelevant over time. And the CPC seems to be fairly high for some of the ads that get displayed on the site.

Finally, I will think about ONE additional site to start, as a replacement for the one I intended to work on. I will take my time to come up with a Good Idea, however.

Step Five: Pages and Legalities

I added an About page, a Contact form and an Impressum. The later is a legal requirement in Germany, where I am located.

Speaking of legal requirements, it is also necessary to deal with data protection. For a long time, Google Analytics was in a legal gray zone here in Europe (at best – a lot of people even argued that using it was illegal), but in 2011 the data protection officer of the Hamburg government came to an agreement with Google on how to comply with Germany and European law. [Link in German]

Consequently, I’ve added the code necessary to enable IP Masking in Google Analytics. This I have done by adding code to the Google Analyticator plugin:

Google Analytics IP Masking

In the Analytics settings, I disabled sharing of data with third parties as well:

Google Analytics Data Sharing

I’ve also provided a link to the Google Analytics Opt-Out plugin on the Impressum page. I’d like to place this more prominently, but my header menu hasn’t got much space left. In an ideal world, I’d like for a warning to pop out for first-time visitors, which they can then dismiss permanently.

This should meet the legal requirements, but of course I am not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice.

Step Four: Comments

This is a minor step, really. Now that I have two comments on the site, I’ve integrated the following:

  • Added the “Recent Comments” Widget in the sidebar
  • Added the Comments feed in the RSS Feed Widget
  • Also added and redirected the Comments RSS Feed to Feedburner

I did not add these earlier because I did not want to have empty sections – this is probably a minor point but then I did not expect for anybody to comment so soon. However,  WordPress returned a 404 instead of an “empty” RSS feed for the comments, preventing me from actually adding it to Feedburner.

Step Three (b): Bing and its SEO

Rolf (the first person to comment on this blog – that was much faster thank I expected!) remarked that my site was indexed in Google, but not Bing. I honestly did not really think about Bing, considering it instead to be a niche product. This is not really surprising; it was known as Microsoft Live Search until May 2009. And Live Search… well. I don’t think I know anybody who used that.

Microsoft’s fortunes seem to have changed since then. Their market share – including Yahoo! and all other partners powered by the Bing engine – is just under 26%. That’s not too shabby, and certainly far from irrelevant. Obviously, ignoring a quarter of your potential audience is a very bad idea.

Bing’s SEO Feedback

I can’t say anything about the quality of their search results – a very, very superficial test did not return any obvious garbage – but surely it must work alright or it wouldn’t be able to capture 25% market share. The interface is quite okay as well – I love their daily changing picture, for example. And their webmaster tools seem quite clean as well. In fact, they have a SEO tool which gave me some basic advice:

Nothing too bad, it seems, but since I want to “do it right”, I should deal with these.

Missing an alt tag on an image is, in my humble opinion, actually the worst offender on the list – not so much because of SEO (although I guess that does make sense too; computers are still fairly bad at interpreting arbitrary pictures), but also because of accessibility. I am colorblind, myself, and while that is a far cry from actually being blind, it does mean I can at times experience first hand what it is like to be disabled. For example, there’s no way I will ever paint colorful pictures – I will get everything “wrong”. And I everything that is color-coded is posing a problem to me.

Consequently, I always make sure that images I post have an alt tag. The header image should have the site name and perhaps the motto / tagline as an alt tag. Modifying the theme is trivial, and I’ll look into whether it is possible to submit a patch to the WordPress guys for this.

I’ll have to look into the missing description in the header section issue. Unless I missed something, WordPress doesn’t have any option to add one by itself, but the SEO Ultimate plugin I use can add such a description. However, the “Meta Descriptions Module” also affects a lot of other stuff and I don’t want to enable it and change settings blindly.

Last but not least – multiple <H1> tags on the page. This is an issue I never saw or heard about. As far as I know, there is no definition on whether or not a H1 header should only be used once – as a document headline – or multiple times. Bing recommends against it, and if they keep their advice consistent with their own algorithms, the question becomes whether Google will rank  “one H1” worse than “multiple H1”. Opinions differ, but it seems that it doesn’t matter that much. I’ll probably just pay attention to it the next time I select a WordPress theme and err on the side of caution (that is, keep Bing happy).

Can’t wait for Bing to index my sites to see what else it discovers…

 

Feedburner RSS Feed Stats for my sites

Google is showing a day’s worth of statistics since I moved my RSS Feeds to Feedburner. Obviously this website is still unknown and unread, but my worldbuilding site has been around for a few years. Here are its stats, just to show what Feedburner offers you:

Enderra.com Subscribers - Pie Chart

Feedburner makes a difference between humans (actual subscribers) and bots of various descriptions. Among humans, Google Feedfetcher seems to be by far the most commonly used:

Enderra.com Human Subscribers

The “Web Browsers” category is people who clicked on the feed directly – that was probably me testing the feed.

For the Bots, the most popular by far is SimplePie, a PHP feed fetcher library. I am absolutely certain that’s the RPGBA polling my site although Google states that they factor unique IP addresses into these stats. It’s also possible that these are various spammers who subscribe to feeds in order to get posts for comment and backtrack spams.

Enderra.com Bot Subscribers

Note that I did not enable any of the advanced statistics – Feedburner can modify the links in the RSS feed so that it can tell you how much click-through you are getting on each article. I will probably enable that for a blog that I am attempting to optimize; Enderra.com is just a hobby and its key words so diffuse it will never rank very high on any search engine for anything.

Even with just the basic statistics though, I am already glad that I started using Feedburner. I learned somthing I did not know before – the blogging experiment is starting to bear (small) fruit.

Step Three: Setting Up RSS Feed, Analytics, Webmaster Tools

Now that I have a layout of sorts, it’s time to make this site ready for the public (and Google).

In order to get some additional functionality – for example, knowing how many people, if any, subscribe to it – I am running the RSS feed for this site through Feedburner. Feedburner not only gives you statistics, but also the ability to embed ads in your feeds. I use the FD Feedburner plugin to redirect WordPress Feed URLs to Feedburner. I also added the Jetpack RSS Button widget to the sidebar since the WordPress theme Twenty Eleven doesn’t have “built in” links for that.

I’ve also added Analytics to this site. For this, I like the Google Analyticator plugin. As an aside, I also use the Google Ad Wrap plugin – even though FromTheOfficeToTheBeach does not contain any advertisement right now. The Ad Wrap plugin wraps the actual content of my posts in HTML comments:

<!-- google_ad_section_start -->

<!-- google_ad_section_end -->

These comments are used by Google to determine what part of the web page is actual content as opposed to supporting structure. My theory and hope is that Google will still pick up on this even when no advertisement is used, at any rate it shouldn’t hurt to have these.

To prevent content from being indexed multiple times, I’ve edited my robots.txt file to add /category/ and /tag/ to the list of directories crawlers should ignore. I use SEO Ultimate, but for this experiment I turned everything off except the File Editor module.

I’ve registered this webpage in my Google Webmaster tools account. I like Google Webmaster tools because of the statistics and “health checks” it offers. I am also submitting my XML sitemap to Google; it is being automagically created by the XML & Google News Sitemap Feeds plugin for WordPress. This will cause Google to index the site but as I write this post that hasn’t happened yet.

Finally, my “Just do it” friend commented that I should add a Facebook “Like” button. The social media sharing buttons did include a Facebook button, but it did not look like the normal “Like” button. I looked into it and it turns out that Jetpack’s sharing module allows you to the sharing buttons to “official” styles. I did that, figuring less confusion on the function of these buttons is absolutely essential in the long run. I’ve also enabled the Open Graph Pro plugin to provide metadata to social media sites in the event someone shares an URL with them.

That pretty much covers all the basics, I think. Now that I have a functional site I can tackle some actual content – next time.

Step Two: Improving the Blog’s Design

So, now that I have decided on the basic theme and have a real domain name, I can make this website a little nicer to look at.

  • I’m using an image I took in Thailand as the header background, because it’s one of the better beach images I have (and since I own the copyright, I can use it freely and for free).
  • I switched the WordPress Theme to Twenty Eleven, because the original theme would not allow me to remove the text line from the header.
  • I made the background a light blue-green-gray sort of color. I hope – I am colorblind.
  • I’ve enabled social media sharing via the WordPress Jetpack plugin.
  • I’ve removed the “recent posts” and “search” widgets, and I temporarily removed the “recent comments” plugin – since nobody is reading this and there are no comments, it felt redundant.

The theme has one shortcoming that I can see: For a page or article that is displayed on its own, it does not provide any sidebar. This is a problem because it gives me less opportunity to offer links to other articles or even advertisements. For now, this is a minor problem but in the long run I will either want to modify the theme, or get another theme.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a screenshot before the changes, but this very close:

The Old Layout

The Old Layout

I think the current layout is quite an improvement.

The New Layout

The New Layout

Either way, if I start disliking any of this over time, I can just change it.

Step One: Finding a Good Domain Name

My first step – before I really do anything else – is to find a good domain name for this blog. I do not want to create a lot of material before switching to a better domain name.

Finding a good domain name is hard these days. Cybersquatters and domain resellers grab everything they can. I’ve never been a fan of that, but I naturally realize you can’t stop people from trying to make a profit on any resource, especially if the resource is more or less finite as the domain name space is.

That said, there are some basic rules I will follow:

  • Shorter is better
  • .com, .org, .net only – plus .de if I ever decide to do anything in German
  • I will consider buying a second-hand domain name if it’s cheap and from a reputable reseller
  • Keywords in domain names are good if you’re going after search engine traffic

These are not based on any deeper knowledge on my part, just what I consider “common sense”. For example, shorter domain names are probably easier to remember; .com makes sense for branding reasons, and so on.

So – What does this blog focus on?

It will be an “as I do it” log of my experiences in creating websites that generate income, with the faint hope of giving up my “9 to 5 job” some day.

Back when I was working for a German airline corporation, I was telling a co-worker that my dream goal would be to do what I am doing, but from a beach somewhere. I argued that 95% of my job could be done on-line, via VPN, so why not fly to the south seas, sit in the shade, and sip on a cool drink while working?

Internet connectivity was just not “there” in many parts of the world, plus the company was not very open to the “home office” concept.

Nowadays – six or seven years later – things are very different. The Internet is finally ubiquitous; broadband is cheap, and since this is about building something for myself, I can assure you that the boss loves the idea of home offices.

So, since I couldn’t actually come up with something that had valid keywords and sounded nice and was still available, I decided to go with “FromTheOfficeToTheBeach.com”. Yeah, I know. It’s too long, it’s just a little silly, but it does evoke that dream so many people have – and it does allow me to use beach imagery in branding this weblog.

The domain’s ordered and I will switch this blog to it as soon as I the domain’s available.

My Blogging Experiment

Several years ago I was running a few web blogs. Nothing big or well known, but they made me some money. The peak months were about 90€ or so. Not enough to live off of, but still fairly decent. My interests changed, I switched jobs, had a new girlfriend, and I eventually decided not to pursue blogging anymore, and rather than spend the time to maintain my blogs I eventually archived them and shut them down.

Except that always nagged me. It seemed like I should have pursued the matter instead. After all, if you can earn 90€ with a blog, why not 150€, or 200€, or more.

I did start blogging again with my Worldbuilding site, enderra.com. The aim of that site is not to generate income directly, however, so there are no ads. I have been fairly successful in increasing traffic to it, though; from about 1700 page views in July ’11 to 3700 page views in July ’12.

In recent months, I have been contemplating my life and career, and I realized I needed to change the way I do things; while my income is OK and I have no trouble supporting myself, it also seems like I am treading in place, and I never seem to have enough time to do things I actually want to do.

That, in turn, brought me back to the subject of websites. If you can earn 90€ a month with a blog, why not more?

Today I talked to a friend of mine who encouraged me to just go for it. He is right, of course, and here I am – ready for a grand experiment.