Archive for February, 2014

February 27, 2014

#74) Ten reasons why nobody’s reading your blog (and the fact that it might just kind of suck is #6)

Does having made a little over thousand dollars from blogging qualify me as an expert on the subject?  No?  Didn’t think so.  Oh well, I’ve never let that stop me before.  Here goes.

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you write at least one blog yourself.  According to Brandon Gaille of wpvirtuoso, there are about 152 million blogs in existence – plenty to go around.  There’s also a pretty good chance, unfortunately, that you are not getting the type of traffic you want.  Here’s why.

#1) You do it too infrequently.  In the early stages of a blog, quantity can sometimes be more important than quality.  Getting your content out there – even if you end up revising it later – is important and if you do it consistently, you will start seeing better results sooner.  According to Gaille, blogs that are updated 20 or more times per month receive an average of 5 times as much traffic as those that only post 4 or fewer times per month.  Of course once you establish a base of readers, you don’t want to over saturate them, but cross that bridge when you come to it.

#2) You have too many opinions.  Expunge me!? You might be thinking.  A blogger telling people not to express their opinions on his site where he does nothing BUT express his opinions?  What gives?  I’m not trying to discourage your freedom of speech, but in my experience, information-oriented blogs tend to rank higher in search engines than those centering around the opinions of the author.   Most of my success (and I do use the term loosely) as a blogger has come from www.nobodyhikesinla.com, in which I provide information about hiking trails in the L.A. area.  NHLA typically gets more traffic in a day than this blog gets in a year and I’m OK with that; it comes with the territory.  Your opinions may be well thought out and skilfully articulated, but nobody cares about them, at least not yet.  You yourself probably google search for information/fact oriented items more often than you do others’ opinions on issues.  If you do actively seek out someone’s opinion, it’s likely because they’ve established themselves as a credible source and have probably paid their dues to get to that point.  You have to be a journalist before you can be a columnist.  You have to be a line cook before you can be a chef.  You have to be a bottom before you can be a….never mind, on to #3.

#3) You aren’t reading enough other blogs.  Reading other peoples’ blogs serves two purposes: it can give you ideas for your own blog and by commenting on, following or “liking” someone else’s blog you increase the chances that they may reciprocate.  Of course you don’t want to be too shameless about plugging your own blog, but if you provide thoughtful, encouraging comments on someone else’s work it’s not unreasonable to expect a little kickback.

#4) You haven’t exchanged enough links.  This can be a great you-scratch-my-back type of situation.  Think about it: most blogs you’ve read probably have a list of links to related sites.  (NHLA does.)  This is not only a valuable resource to your readers but if can funnel traffic to other bloggers, who in turn might see fit to throw a bone back to you by including a link to YOUR site on theirs.  Email bloggers who write about similar subject matter and offer to exchange links.  Most bloggers don’t want their site to be too cluttered with links but if your blog hits home with them, they just might include you.

#4.5) You haven’t embedded enough links.  This can be a good one to keep in mind if your attempts to exchange links with other bloggers aren’t successful.  You can always link to their blogs through your actual posts.  According to www.bluecorona.com, “Google ultimately wants its users to find what they are searching, so when you link to other authoritative and relevant websites, you are providing a great service to Google’s users. This makes your website a more valuable resource, in Google’s beautiful, primary-colored eyes.”

#5) You haven’t registered your domain name.  First things first: I realize that since this blog does not have a registered domain name, I’m not practicing what I preach, but I basically just do this blog for the fun of it.  Most serious blogs have a registered domain name.  Doing so through WordPress is cheap and easy; I’d imagine the process isn’t too difficult for other platforms such as Blogger.  Your own domain name makes your site easier to describe at cocktail parties; it fits better on a business card.  It also appeases the beautiful, primary-colored eyes of Google; since most domain names last for at least a year, it shows that you are committed and Google likes commitment.

#5.5) Google also likes boldface.

#6) Your blog might just kind of suck.  No one likes to hear that they have an ugly baby, but sometimes it just needs to be said.  How are your punctuation, grammar and spelling?  Do you read your blog out loud to yourself before you post?  How well thought out and substantiated are your opinions?  I don’t mean to sound like a middle school teacher but if you’re going to expect people to take you seriously, you have to take your work seriously.  Don’t be like the state of California which recently informed a friend of mine that his business address was invalid by sending a letter to his business address.

#7) You haven’t found the right subject matter.  This is easier said than done: it’s a balancing act.  Blog about the Kardashians and you’ll have a lot of competition; blog about Taylor Grey Meyer and your audience may be a little more limited.  Topical subjects might give your traffic a short term bump but not much else.  It takes a while to figure out which topics are the best match between your writing style and your audience (I’ll let you know when I get there myself.)

#8) Excessive monetization attempts.  While there’s no precise rule regarding this, it’s generally understood that the amount of advertising/donation solicitations/product pitches/etc readers will accept on a website is commensurate with the quality of the content on said site.  To put it in English, if readers find your blog to be valuable and enjoyable they won’t mind  if you’re trying to make a buck or two from it; they may even contribute.  If, however, they just get bombarded by ads, they’ll stay clear.  Learn from the rise and fall of Myspace, which as Wesley Verhoeve eloquently put it, “monetized [itself] into oblivion.”

#9) It doesn’t look good on a mobile device.   How does your blog look on an iPhone, iPad or Droid?  Are the pictures formatted correctly?  Are the links visible and easily accessible?  It’s been often said that people have plenty of information and not enough time to absorb it.  Mobile devices allow readers to catch up on their favorite blogs while they’re on the run.  You never know who your readers might be: busy salespeople in between (or during) meetings; customers battling checkout lines at Costco; funeral guests stuck at an endless eulogy.  Hell, according to a recent survey, 12 percent of moms use their phone during sex.

#10) There’s no story.  You probably tell stories on your blog but does the blog itself tell a story?  Does the blog as a whole, as a brand if you will, provide a reason for readers to return?  When Julie Powell started the blog that would eventually become the book and movie “Julie & Julia”, her goal was to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” within a year.  Would she do it?  You had to read her blog to find out.  My fellow hiking blogger Jeremy Jacobus did a similar thing with his hiking blog–in which he set a goal of hiking a thousand trails in a thousand days.  “Meta” stories such as these can be compelling to a reader and make them want to come back – and tell friends.

That’s all for now – happy blogging and may your traffic be good and plentiful.

texting during sex

February 26, 2014

#73) The best baseball game you’ve never heard of

We already know that Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was the greatest game of baseball ever played, but in this post – with a fresh new season of America’s Pastime about to get underway – we’ll look at a game played more than 50 years ago that, despite the winning team’s dramatic comeback, has been surprisingly overlooked in Greatest Game Ever Played discussions.

I speak of the second playoff game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves to decide the 1959 National League Pennant.  Until recently I wasn’t aware that there had even been a best-of-three playoff to decide the ’59 NL race, much less that the Dodgers won the second game and the pennant with a three-run ninth inning rally and another run in the twelfth.   I’m not the only baseball fan who’s been unaware of or has overlooked this game: in Bert Randolph Sugar’s “Baseball’s 50 Greatest Games”, the book to which I attribute more than any other my baseball history geekery, he passes this one over.  The game is also not mentioned on the Baseball Moments page of Major League Baseball’s official website.

Why has this game languished in obscurity?

The biggest reason may be that it wasn’t a decisive game, unlike the playoff games the Dodgers lost to the Giants in 1951 and 1962, or the famous American League East one-game playoff in 1978.  The Dodgers had beaten the Braves in Milwaukee and were not in a must-win situation when they faced Lew Burdette in the L.A. Coliseum for the second game.  The Dodgers’ comeback in the bottom of the 9th lacked a dramatic home run; they scored three runs on four singles and a sacrifice fly, and their winning tally in the 12th was the result of a throwing error.

Another factor may have been timing.  The 1959 Dodgers were a team in transition, posting a rather forgettable 86-68 record.  They still had a few mainstays from their glory years in Brooklyn – Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo to name a few – but PeeWee Reese, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson were gone and it would be a few years before Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax would reach their primes, leading the team to two championships in the ’60s.

It’s possible too that the baseball world didn’t yet take the Los Angeles Dodgers fully seriously; perhaps the team was still dealing with the backlash from having moved to L.A. the year before.  While the franchise would go on to win a total of five titles in L.A. with Koufax, Drysdale, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson and Tommy Lasorda all becoming household names along the way, in 1959, baseball in So Cal might have felt like the proverbial round peg in a square hole.  The L.A. Memorial Coliseum, where the team played through the 1961 season, wasn’t meant for baseball, as evidenced by the awkward playing field dimensions.

Still, one would think that a game that so perfectly illustrates what everyone loves about baseball – the unpredictability, the lack of a clock – would be better known.  If anything, the Braves, then two-time defending NL champs and boasting the bats of Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews and the arms of Warren Spahn (who won more games than any other lefty in baseball history) and 20-game winner Lew Burdette, should have given this game some cache.

Baseball fans can be guilty of selective memory.  Why did the Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series?  Because they blew two leads in Game 6, allowing the Mets to force extra innings, then after scoring two more gave up three runs in the bottom of the 10th.  They also blew a three run lead in Game 7. Bill Buckner.  When you Google search for George Brett, what comes up in the search bar?  Why, his .390 average in 1980 and his championship with the Royals in 1985, of course.  Just kidding; pine tar.  It’s ironic that in a sport that cherishes history perhaps more than any other, great moments remain overlooked.  Perhaps comparing this game to legendary contests such as the ’51 Giants/Dodgers playoff or Game 6 of the 1975 (or 1986 or 2011) World Series is a stretch, but there have been plenty of less dramatic games that have gotten more attention.

The Dodgers would go on to beat the “Go Go” White Sox in a six-game World Series.  The playoff proved to be the end of an era for the Braves, who would move to Atlanta in 1966.

February 25, 2014

#72) How not to complain, #2: An open letter to Lynn Shepherd

Dear Ms. Shepherd,

I’m sorry that your recent pitch to get J.K. Rowling to stop writing hasn’t worked.  I dare say it backfired; in addition to the hate mail you’ve received, you’ve probably helped her sell a few more books.

But I’m not here to add to the hate.  I myself absolutely love complaining and it saddens me when people such as yourself or Samantha Brick don’t realize the potential of this high art form.

Many of your feelings about Rowling echo my thoughts about the current state of the music business.  Why does Coldplay still exist?  Why is Gotye set for life from one song while I have to deal with talent buyers who think I should be happy playing for “exposure?”  Why do people insist on taking Rod Stewart seriously as a jazz singer?  Much as I would love answers to these questions, I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s more productive to focus on my own music (and writing) than speculate about how Justin Bieber sleeps at night.*

But this isn’t about me.

It’s about giving a voice to the millions of struggling writers who, as you put it, are denied exposure because the world wants more J.K. Rowling.  That is your goal and it’s a good one, but you won’t achieve it by:

  • Bad-mouthing Rowling’s work without giving specific examples of why it sucks.  In this rant about “Twilight”, the author makes clear what she hates about the series; agree with her or not, her opinions and arguments are plainly laid out.  Right now you are using the “if it’s popular, it’s wrong” principle, which is usually a flimsy premise**; not unlike comparing someone you don’t like to Hitler or yourself to Rosa Parks.
  • Not presenting examples of under-appreciated writers who should be getting the shelf space monopolized by Rowling.  Who should we be reading instead of her?
  • Being too serious.  No matter how passionately you care about an issue, lecturing others usually won’t convert them to your side. Humor can be much more effective, as comedian Owen Benjamin shows in this video explaining the banality of pop music.
  • Not establishing your own credentials.  Yes, I just told you to not be so serious, but you also need to provide your readers a reason to care about your opinion.  More people love to rant than love listening to rants.  Speaker’s Corner in London always draws a crowd, but it’s still more of a curiosity than a major attraction.

In conclusion, I genuinely wish you well in your career as a writer.  Hopefully someday you will occupy an amount of shelf space that meets your satisfaction.  If you ever do achieve the success of Rowling and are besieged by struggling writers expressing their resentment, remember to go easy on ’em.

* I know it’s more productive but that doesn’t mean that I do it.

** That doesn’t stop me from using the argument myself.

February 13, 2014

#71) How do you know?

How do you know?

I mean, seriously, how the fuck do you know?

This simple, timeless question was recently brought home to me by a TV commercial.  Like any good commercial, it failed to actually instill the name of the product in my head, but its message resonated with me nevertheless.  An adult is shown some fancy new product he’s supposed to buy and hesitates.  During his hesitation we see him flash black to junior high, when he dumps a tubby blonde girl: “Sorry, Brooklyn, it’s just not working out.”  In another flashback, now at college age, he declines investing in his friend’s startup: “What can you do with just 140 characters?” Which brings us to the present; the implication being that he doesn’t want to pass on yet another thing that will end up being huge.

Apart from its amusing storyline, the commercial has hit home for me on a personal level.  Since starting my hiking blog, www.nobodyhikesinla.com, I have been fortunate to keep the company of dozens of blogging experts.  Counsel that has been given to me about how to successfully monetize the blog includes T-shirts and other swag; creating a mobile phone application; eBooks about the hikes, branching out to other cities (coming soon: http://www.nobodyhikesinwichita.com).

With demeanor ranging from polite to borderline hostile, depending on the intensity of my expert’s pitch to me, I have invariably rejected most of these ideas, not because I want to be difficult, stubborn or ungrateful, but just because in most cases, I don’t feel that the potential for revenue justifies the effort and expense of, say, hiring an app developer or handling (gulp!) physical inventory, that bane of the existence of anyone who has ever tried to develop an online revenue stream.  My hesitation to endorse these ideas is based on information I’ve gathered about my site traffic, link clicks, etc (I have been known to spend hours a few minutes here and there perusing statistics related to my blogs).  While the revenue the site has earned – mainly through advertising; also through affiliation sales, the Nobody Hikes in LA Guidebook and donations – is a little bit short of Fortune 500 status, by breaking the three-digit income threshold, NHLA stands apart from at least 81% of the blogs out there, according to Infographic.

That being said, a part of me has to ask: what if I am wrong?  Are eBooks based on hike writeups the wave of the future?  By passing on these opportunities, will I become the next Nolan Bushnell?  (In the mid ’70s, after founding Atari, Busnhell had an opportunity to invest in a startup created by one of his employees: a certain Steven Paul Jobs.)

History abounds, of course, with stories like this: numerous record producers rejecting the Beatles; board game makers  passing on Monopoly; the Portland Trailblazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.  Hell, there’s even one from my own family: in the mid 1960s in New York, my dad and uncle Joe were involved with the city’s thriving folk music scene.  One of the misfits hanging around the fringes was a scruffy kid from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman, whose presence was a nuisance to everyone, be they veteran musicians who didn’t want him fucking up the songs or young women whom he was trying to bed.  One of the latter category was waiting for my uncle Joe to meet her at a cafe and when he showed up, she was laughing.  “This homeless looking kid tried to hit on me,” she said.  “When I brushed him off, he said, ‘But I’m Bob Dylan!’  I said, ‘Well, I’m here waiting for Joe Lockeretz.'”

To bring it back to my original question, strictly speaking, no, you DON’T know.  You can, however, make sound decisions based on odds and information.  I consider the fear of passing on a great opportunity to be the converse of fears such as being struck by lightning, being attacked by a shark or being in a plane crash.  Just as plane crashes make the news because of how rare they are, stories such as the Beatles’ early rejections make history because of their infrequency.  Yes, it’s inspirational to hear these kinds of tales and their positive messages shouldn’t just be dismissed.  It should just be noted, however, that these events are the exception and should have limited influence on your decisions, investment and otherwise.  And if you do end up on the wrong side of history?  At least you’ll have some good stories for the grandkids.