Last year my reflection focused on basic lessons I learned as a first-timer. It was too long and posted too late, because I barely survived the 2014 Challenge and it took me a month to get back into my normal routine. This year’s reflection is about things we did right here at Sourcerer, things I’ll do differently if I blog A to Z next year, and what A to Z did for our numbers in April.
April was the best month we’ve ever had here for views, but our unique visits were only in the high normal range. We actually had more visitors in March. Likes and comments were through the roof. More on that below.
Here’s a list of things that totally worked.
- I started planning early – in October – had all the topics assigned by January, and most of the posts written in advance.
- I did everything I could to generate buzz by chattering about #AtoZChallenge on Twitter and sharing from the A to Z blog and Facebook page during March. This made us some friends, and a lot of people had our blogs in feeds and on lists before April 1.
- I offered guest posts to ten bloggers. This was one of the keys to our success because it distributed the work of writing the posts nicely, and because it offered visitors a variety of perspectives.
- I chose about half the topics to fit into our normal content scheme, and I invited bloggers who I thought were best suited to tackle those topics to write about them. Then gave a few more bloggers open invitations to take the ones that were left. This kept our content consistent, so even though we suspended a few features for April, we didn’t take anything away from our regular readers.
- I visited a ton of blogs the first week of the challenge. 35 or 40 the first day, and maybe 200 the first ten days. You’ll see the effect of this volume of visits in our traffic numbers below. The first week of the month was stellar for us.
- We were strict about keeping our posts short. Many of our normal posts run into the 800-1200 word range, so we tried to keep the A to Z posts under 500.
- We did our best to answer all the comments. I am sure we missed some, but we tried. In my opinion, answering comments is one of the most important parts of blogging, because first-time commenters who don’t get a response are not likely to come back.
I’m using “Bad” here just to make the headline work. There was nothing I’d actually call bad in this experience.This is a list of things I could have done better, and things I’ll do differently next year.
- Our plan for this year had too many moving parts.
- I got busy with offline stuff and writing for May, and did not have time to maintain the visits during the second half of the month. I’ve not done much on Twitter aside from #azchat and scheduled tweets for two weeks. We still had an awesome month, but if I’d been able to keep up the engagement, we would have had an even better one.
- Next year, by the time I start planning and seeing who’s interested in A to Z, I intend to have most of an 2016 challenge finished. I’ll either trade some of my posts with contributors or just do a solo challenge here and schedule it around our regular features.
- I didn’t visit enough of our commenters back. I am not sure how to solve this one, really. I just didn’t have the time because our threads were so busy, and I was also busy with work and family stuff for the last two weeks of the month.
I value engagement more than I value traffic, and I knew A to Z would be good for likes and comments, but I did not expect it to be quite this good. We ended the month with 901 comments and 1,446 likes. Just to give you a frame of reference, we normally see 450-600 comments and 700-900 likes in a month when we’re blogging every day for a long stretch.
Here are our monthly views since we started so you can see how April compares to the rest.
4,336 views is our best month ever, and slightly better than Part Time Monster’s best month. Interestingly, we had fewer unique visitors here in April than we did in March, and about the same number we had in January. That means our views per visitor were up (to 2.36). So we got a lot of repeat visits this month.
These are our daily numbers for the past six weeks.
As you can see, April 1 was our best day. April 2 and 7 were almost as good. Our traffic started to tail off the middle of the second week – about the time I stopped with the crazy-efficient visiting. It never came back to the April 1 level, but we still ended the month with excellent daily numbers. The numbers for the week of March 23-29 are representative of our traffic for the last quarter; you can compare it to the last couple of weeks in April and see why I am pleased.
Our most popular posts for April are heavily skewed in favor of posts we published early in the month.
Twitter, Facebook, and search engine referrals are all in line with our quarterly average, and views from the WordPress reader are up a bit. I suspect the WordPress views are up because I spent a lot of time the first week of April giving out WordPress likes like candy on A to Z-related tags from my phone.
Interestingly, we only received 61 referrals from the A to Z Challenge blog. 60 came from the signup list, and only 1 came from the theme reveal linkup. For the year, we’ve seen 92 referrals from A to Z and 10 of those came from the theme reveal list.
It’s my sense that these results are not typical. I’ve got several friends who have been flat this month, and a couple who actually had worse-than-normal months for traffic. I also saw plenty of A to Z blogs with zero to three comments on their threads, even during the first week. Here’s why we got a bump.
- I spent two months generating buzz and more or less cleared my social media schedule the last couple of weeks of March to chatter about A to Z.
- Ten bloggers with the proven ability to deliver doing a month-long daily blogging challenge have a huge advantage over one person posting every day. It spreads the work around and results in a lot of social media shares.
- Our traffic is fairly modest. It’s easier for us to generate an increase with steady promotion and smart networking than it would be if we were averaging 10K or more views per month.
I learned a lot about blogging from the 2014 challenge, and learned even more this year. Here are a few general observations.
- The first week is probably going to be the best. You want your strongest posts to be the first ten, so that people find them before the excitement wears off and fatigue sets in.
- Don’t expect a traffic bonanza. We had a good month here but we also worked hard (perhaps too hard) for it.
- Just writing and posting is not enough. I compared notes with a lot of bloggers during the first two weeks of April. Those of us who had the time to do massive visits and chatter about A to Z on social media beyond the blogs got better than normal traffic in the beginning. Those of us who were too busy to do that didn’t see much difference.
- It pays to do A to Z with friends. Even if you don’t have time to visit one another very much during April, it helps to have people to Tweet with, share info with, and introduce other bloggers to.
- Guest posting is the bomb.
I hope you had as much fun in April as I did. Since the various A to Z lists are up until the 2016 lists go up, I’m, planning to put a little time each week into visiting new blogs from them through the summer and early fall.