I’m looking at StumbleUpon and Reddit as key networks to expand into over the next year. The reason for that is simple: if you’re looking to bring visitors to a website as efficiently as possible, building a viable presence on one or both of those networks is probably a good move. The problem: They require a lot of engagement, and they step on sharing one’s own stuff pretty hard.
This means figuring out how much time you can get by with spending on them and knowing how often to put your own links out there are tricky. I have no idea how either of those networks decide what counts as “affiliation,” and I publish at and promote several blogs I do not own. I don’t want to be demoted before I even get started, and I don’t have a lot of time. So I’m proceeding slowly and cautiously.
But I have been experimenting. I have a StumbleUpon account I don’t use very often and no Reddit account at all. We’ve seen some success with both over the last couple of weeks. I’ll share a few numbers with you today and then explain the differences between these two networks as I understand them.
This spike happened here the weekend of Aug 10. I’ve included the mouseover info for the peak day. This is a good four-day spike from Reddit. It started on Sunday and trailed off on Wednesday. We still got a little from it on Thursday, and continued getting odd views last week.
Most of this traffic went to a Tolkien post and a Batman post that were shared on various subreddits by a friend of mine who is not affiliated with the blog on Sunday, Aug. 9. The Tolkien was shared early and the Batman was shared late. The Batman post generated about 100 views, and they came in over a shorter period of time than the views on the Tolkien post, which brought us visitors for days. I’m assuming the difference is explained by the relative sizes and activity levels of the subrreddits where the posts were shared.
Overall, we received around 240 documented referrals from Reddit from this. That’s two or three days’ worth of traffic for us, depending on time of week and how we’re set for content. So, totally worth the minimal amount of time it took to drop those links.
Just to put those 240 views over a 4-day period into perspective for you. In the last 30 days we’ve received 195 views from the WordPress Reader, 115 from Facebook, and 75 from Twitter. And we’ve only gotten a little over 1,000 from search engines.
As I was putting this post together Friday evening, this happened. These are stats from Part Time Monster. The Friday/Saturday spike represents almost 800 views. A few came from StumbleUpon, but most came from Reddit. The info in the mouseover is for Saturday, which turned into Diana’s best day ever.
This one was a surprise. Diana’s Girls and Gaming post was shared spontaneously on Reddit by a blogger who as far as I know, we’ve never talked to. That post received more than 307 views on Friday and we recorded 168 Reddit referrals that day. I stumbled the post around midnight and it got another 53 views from StumbleUpon between midnight and 2 am on Saturday morning.
The StumbleUpon traffic trailed off, but PTM received another 179 Reddit referrals, and by the end of the day on Saturday, the gaming post had been viewed another 298 times. Out of the total of 780 views at the Monster on these two days, 605 were on the gaming post. We’re sure that 400 of those came from Reddit and StumbleUpon.
Again, just so you have some frame of reference. In the last 30 days, PTM has received 204 views from the reader, 57 from Facebook, 57 from Twitter and 604 from search engines. It’s also worth noting that Part Time Monster’s previous best day was a 400-view day in mid-March, and 85 of those views came from StumbleUpon. Our best day here at Sourcerer is 391 views, and 81 of those came from StumbleUpon. In fact, every time we’ve set a new best-ever record in the last 18 months at either of these blogs, StumbleUpon has been involved.
This is real progress for us for a couple of reasons. We’ve seen handfuls of referrals from Reddit before, but never anything like this, and these numbers are comparable to all the StumbleUpon spikes I’ve ever seen aside from the two or three very best. The 50 views I got for Part Time Monster from StumbleUpon is also the first time I, personally, have had a successful stumble. Up to this point, it’s always been other people stumbling our posts that got the views.
So which is better, Reddit or StumbleUpon? That depends on how you like to play on the internet, and on what you’re looking to get out of it.
Reddit is basically a huge forum with sub-forums (called subreddits) for just about every topic you can think of. People chat and share links related to specific topics. Reddit users can vote things up or down. Enough up votes will land a link on Reddit’s front page. Enough down votes can disappear a link entirely from Reddit.
StumbleUpon is a network for sharing and curating links. Users follow topics (called “Interests”) and can follow up to 100 other Stumblers. StumbleUpon sends content from your interests and from the people you follow into your feed, and you can like/dislike things. StumbleUpon saves all your likes and allows you to build lists of things you like. You can also share pages to StumbleUpon and categorize them for other users to find.
Reddit strikes me as easier to use — I find the StumbleUpon interface difficult. Reddit is also probably a more predictable source of traffic if you can learn to share there effectively, but StumbleUpon probably has higher traffic potential. (I’m saying “probably” here because I’m not well-versed enough to be sure). StumbleUpon was one of our top five referrers here in 2014 and brought us almost as many views from two or three lucky stumbles as Facebook did from every link we shared there.
The value of both to bloggers is simple. If you generate enough views on a single post in a short period of time, that helps the post get into Google searches. I’d say 80 percent of the the search traffic we get here is from people finding posts that were put into those searches originally by StumbleUpon.
I plan to eventually use both of these networks, but I am starting with StumbleUpon because I have more friends who use it than use Reddit, and because I already have a StumbleUpon account set up.
What about you? Do you use either of these networks, and do you have any advice for us newbies?
My quarterly stats are past due. The old stats page that I was using to take the simple screenshots and do quick-and-dirty trend analysis went away (thanks a big fuckin’ lot for that, WordPress gods!), and I’ve just not had the time to crunch numbers lately. I’ll discuss how we’ve done here this summer at some point. In general, we’ve taken a traffic hit and our engagement is down since June. That’s mostly because I’ve not been around enough to keep up the chatter.
Today I am more interested in discussing what’s worked here over the last 21 months and why. This is important because we’re one quarter away from our two-year blogiversary, and because I think we need to do more of what’s worked best.
Worked because Luther is one of the most entertaining bloggers around, TWD is very popular, and we timed his reviews to catch people at the right time to offer them a recap of the previous episodes before the next one aired.
Worked because Diana is just plain good at writing about anything involving monsters, has an engaging, easy-to-read style, and picked a winner — a show with a small but engaged audience as it was airing for the first time.
Worked because Marvel is growing in popularity and David’s made good choices about what to focus on. Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy both did very well; and Melissa’s Ant-Man post has also done well.
Work because they’re fun, easy-to-read, entertaining, and are good for capturing the attention of both this blog’s normal audience and the friends/readers of whomever is being interviewed.
A Handful of Blogging-Related and Social Posts
I’m thinking of the Geek and Greet post, some of the A to Z organizational stuff, and a few of my Blogwanking posts. The Geek and Greet worked because I offered to do something for people who joined in and the event was an opportunity for people to get their blogs seen by other bloggers. The rest worked because they grabbed the attention of bloggers who are trying to up their games — and I say this a bit. Whomever else your target audience is, it’s mostly bloggers who read and share blogs.
Will reviewed the latest season here at the same time I was reviewing it at Part Time Monster and Hannah was writing about it at Things Matter. That was a lot of fun, and it didn’t do so poorly that I’d rule out more Doctor Who. But it didn’t do what I expected, even though we timed the posts well. I think that’s because Doctor Who is so well-established that the competition for audience is just too intense for us to handle.
Penny Dreadful Season 2 Reviews
Again, not so poorly that I’d rule out a third go. But it didn’t do what the first season did — especially not with search traffic. Lots of reasons this could be. Penny Dreadful hit us just as we were wrapping up A to Z and neither Diana nor I had time to do much in the way of interacting because of offline stuff. But I think either a lot of people lost interest after the first season, or a lot more people were writing reviews this time around, and so we had a tougher time getting into searches.
Diana and I just plain played this one wrong. Everything about House of Cards says we should be able to work it for traffic. We got the timing wrong and we shouldn’t have done extensive recaps. I think the time to post about a Netflix series is either immmediately after it’s released, or AFTER everyone’s had time to binge on the whole thing. I don’t see episode reviews being an effective way to blog about series that are delivered all-at-once. Because no matter when you choose to publish them you don’t have a weekly timeslot generating internet buzz on a predictable schedule. I think the way to go with these is to do one to three posts per season and publish them either on Mondays or Saturdays.
The performance of these reviews was the biggest surprise to me in all the time I’ve been doing this. I expected them to do way better than they did, because I know a lot of people who love this show, but the audience isn’t absolutely huge. And I don’t think the problem has anything to do with Melissa’s blogging. Everything else she’s published here has done just fine, and she usually gets good comments. I think we timed them wrong. We didn’t have a lot of choice, because we had to work around the UK air date. But Friday morning has always struck me as a bad time to post long-ish, serious posts. That’s why I mostly do music videos on Fridays. I also think we overestimated our ability to compete for searches, and we expected too much, given that Arrow was into its third season before we ever started blogging about it.
Actual Music Blogging
I’m not talking about the posts where I share a YouTube video and write a paragraph or a personal note about what it means to me. Both David and I have tried serious music blogging, and it’s just never worked for us. Could be that we’d need to blog about music once a week for a year to gain the traction to make it worthwhile. It could be that music blogging is just not a good fit here, or that people who like our comics and tv posts have different taste in music than we do, so aren’t interested in what David or I have to say about music.
Everything else has been within the bounds of my expectations. I don’t always make content decisions based on the traffic I think it’s worth. Sometimes I approve things for the fun and the mischief value. Sometimes I just want to give another blogger the chance to step onto the stage here and try to find a few new readers, which is a game of ones and twos no matter how you go about it. But I always have some idea what I think a series of posts should do, traffic-wise. I don’t approve things that have no chance of getting read, and when a post does exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, I try to figure out why.
Consistency, not Content, is King
Content quality and topic selection are vital, but the most important consideration, if you are trying to build an interest-based audience, is to offer the quality content on a schedule and do it so consistently that people just come to expect it. The most successful thing we’ve done here is comics, and we blogged about Batman every Wednesday for the better part of a year, then once the Batman run was done, we moved into Marvel without missing a beat just as the MCU was getting crazy-good. There’s no coincidence here.
Timing is as Important as Topic
It’s true that you have to write about things people are interested in if you want readers. But you also have to publish when people are looking for it. This is the lesson of The Walking Dead, Penny Dreadful, Arrow, and House of Cards.
Consider the Competition
If only a handful of big sites are writing about something, it’s possible for a blog the size of Sourcerer to get a slice of the search traffic (see Penny Dreadful above). But if everyone from io9 to the New York Times entertainment section is writing about a thing, best make sure you’re getting a lot of personal enjoyment out of your own writing, or bring friends along (see Doctor Who above).
Multiple Voices are More Compelling Than One on an Everyday Blog
If I had to, I could shut down my personal blog and run Sourcerer by myself. I could even keep the focus on pop culture and do comics every Wednesday. But if only I had been blogging here these past two years, I’d not have seen even the modest success we’ve achieved by publishing contributions from 12 to 15 bloggers.
What’s Next for Sourcerer?
Tl;dr version: Do more of what’s worked and less of what hasn’t.
Comics is obviously the core interest at this point. Maintaining the quality of our Wednesday posts and finding ways to expand our comics offerings are the smartest things we can do for this blog over the next year. Since both comics and significant content from me are essential, it makes sense that I should find a way into comics. I’ve not written much about them here to this point because we’ve had so many contributors here who are better-versed and better at writing about the comics than me. That’s gotta change.
I’d like to move away from blogging tv shows just because we like them. The time to blog about a tv series, honestly, is during its first season, unless you have a lot of advantages to work with (like we have with The Walking Dead). This means, for example, that while I might blog the next season of Doctor Who, I’m not twisting myself in knots to give it a prime posting slot, I’m looking at as a “just for fun” series, and I’m not asking anyone else to do it (though I’d certainly consider volunteers, because if someone else blogs Doctor Who here, that frees me up to do the same at Part Time Monster and we can link to one another in our posts).
I think we need to concentrate on Marvel Cinematic Universe series and promising new series (see what I said about Agent Carter and Guardians of the Galaxy above), and we need to figure out how to blog Netflix effectively. TV viewers who also read blogs are moving decisively to a “binge on instant video when you can find the time” way of interacting with television as opposed to the old “drop what you are doing and watch at the same time every week” pattern.
I’m thinking the way we’ve been blogging tv is eventually not going to be a sound scheduling strategy, no matter how well we do it. We’re approaching the point where the behavior of our tv audience has changed so much that posting a review the day after a tv episode runs, in and of itself, doesn’t get us anything we couldn’t get on our own by sharing on Twitter and Facebook.
Our book blogging has always been sporadic, but given that we’ve never done it consistently, it’s been successful. Some of our most popular posts in 2014 were book lists written by a variety of contributors. Rebecca Bradley’s reviews did well here, and the fact that our first few Sourcerer’s 11 interviews were author interviews timed to coincide with releases has helped that feature a lot. All this tells me that people who read and follow this blog are interested in books — and interested in the same sorts of books we are. This is our easiest and most promising area for real growth. There’s traffic here to be had for the asking, and we’ve not fully tapped into it yet.
Marvel Movies, Please
It’s just essential for this blog that we review every Marvel movie from here on out within a week of its release, publish those reviews at a prime time, and share them around, for as long as we continue to hang together. Absolutely essential.
More Collaborative Posts.
See the Hannah-Melissa collaborative review of Age of Ultron. That’s a sweet post — quality-wise, one of the best we’ve offered to date. And this is something we can do that very few blogs can. We’ve got a dozen contributors, easy ways of communicating with one another behind the scenes, and this blog to post on. Collaborative posts could be a thing for us, and I think readers will love them. This is a genuine advantage. It’s something we have that almost no one else does, and it’s compelling.
Sourcerer’s 11 Reorganization
Eventually, I want to have more than one interview per month. For now, though, I just want to keep them going. They’re good, but the “tag, you’re it!” model just isn’t going to work for a feature that comes around once a month. We set these up from the beginning so we could not only interview authors to coincide with book releases, but could also sometimes interview interesting bloggers who don’t have books publishing. I’m starting the blogger interview thread of these next month.
What we need for this is a pool of contributors who like to do these interviews, and we need to have a once-a-month discussion about who’s doing the next one and who they are interviewing. If, on occasion, I want to offer people we’ve interviewed an opportunity to interview someone else, I will. But just not something we can do with every interview, because it puts too many constraints on the schedule and limits the pool of potential interviewees.
Not a lot more, but a couple. People come and go here. We’re in a phase now where a lot of the people who have contributed over the last year are ending runs and have other projects they need to prioritize. We have a rule that contributors come and go as they please, and that once you’re to the point where I trust you to schedule a post, you’re free to pitch future contributions to me at any time — a week from now, six months from now, doesn’t matter. We’re ok to get through the fall as we are, but I’d be a lot more comfortable if we had another blogger or two in the mix here.
And that’s it. This is where I think this blog is, and this is my vision/direction statement for the next phase. I thought I needed to do this today, because we’re certainly moving into the next phase.
Normally, I’d share stats today, but I need to think more . . . globally right now. We’ve had a great quarter but a not-so-great month. April and May saved us, thanks to all the people who contributed a volume of posts that allowed us to publish every day while I spent most of my internet time working for traffic.
I think the poor June is partly about the time of year, but is mostly due to my absence from the Internet. When I’m not religiously answering threads, our engagement suffers. When I’m not tweeting consistently, our referrals suffer. When I’m not in a position to guarantee a post per day, we live entirely on search traffic. Etc.
I’ve seen this effect before on more than one blog, and it’s predictable. It’s not a cause for concern, and I’m not even thinking of it as a setback. It happens. Moving right along.
It’s the July 4 weekend. Last year I overextended myself engineering a good July to the point that we tanked in August and didn’t really recover until late September. Not doing that this year. Of course I’ll maintain communication with all our contributors and do my best to make sure we have a post per day, but for the next two quarters, we get what we get while I reorganize a bit and figure out what 2016 looks like.
If you read my #WeekendCoffeeShare post last weekend, you may have noted that I used the word “monetize” in a positive way. And that I said Sourcerer will be just what it is — a noncommercial WordPress.com blog that thrives on contributions — for as long as it remains in operation. The rest of this builds directly from that post.
Periodically, I take a look at all my social media, evaluate it, and re-prioritize my Internet time to shore up the most valuable ones when they need it. This is a requirement for me, because I’m always experimenting, looking for new friends in out-of-the-way places, and goofing around on networks where I’m weak to figure out how they work. This blog is the most valuable social media space I own, and it’s not in terrible shape, but it needs some shoring up.
I’ve poured a ridiculous amount of time and energy into building Sourcerer. Almost two years in, I am ok with that, because it pays dividends for me and for others. Here are some of the dividends it pays.
It’s a safe, welcoming place for a diverse group of bloggers to publish about things that they’re interested in but that doesn’t necessarily fit on their blogs, to mingle, and to form friendships with other bloggers who share their interests.
It’s capable of generating crazy-good engagement for its size when circumstances are right.
It’s supported by a Twitter account that’s valuable for introducing people, generous about sharing links to other blogs, and positioned to grow.
It’s a key part of a much larger social network that is good for generating project ideas, though the brainstorming rarely happens on the blog itself these days.
Here’s something to note about these dividends: they are all social. I’ve privileged the formation of meaningful relationships over other benefits from the beginning, and that has worked well. As long as we can maintain a contributor base and keep bringing the content, Sourcerer is just too good a blog to let go of, or to move to a self-hosted model. It stands or falls on WordPress.com. Its purpose is to get bloggers other than me read.
Here’s the problem. I’m maxed out on the ability to keep growing by putting in more time and energy. It’s taken a lot of luck along with help from many of other bloggers to build it to this point. I am happy to be here and believe I can maintain this blog over time, but I think growth, in terms of increasing page views, will be be slow from here on out.
That has two consequences. I have to get more efficient with my internet time, and I need a source of revenue to spend on marketing. Since I’ve ruled out monetizing this blog, and I can’t build another one on the Sourcerer model without a LOT of administrative and editorial help (because who could run two blogs, each with this many contributors?), I need something completely different.
So, I’m in the process of transitioning all my activities on WordPress to Sourcerer and to the blogs I contribute to and guest post for. Just Gene’O hasn’t performed in a while and there must be better options for a personal website — options that allow third-party ads and are more friendly to affiliate links. Also: options that provide better analytics. So, here is my new-and-improved long-term plan.
1. Phase out Just Gene’O over time. No project I’m supporting with that blog requires it for support at this point. #WeekendCoffeeShare will be just fine without it as long as I have someplace else to publish those posts. The Feminist Friday Project has the infrastructure now to keep right on rolling, provided I continue to coordinate it and find someplace else to archive the public schedule, to index the links and to publish my own contributions. I just don’t know yet what this new personal site looks like, nor where it will be hosted.
2. I need a better personal brand and I need site I can use to get a lot more traffic with one or two updates per week than I’m getting from Just Gene’O at that frequency. If I can generate even $15 per month that isn’t coming out of my (very modest) family income, I can use it as a development fund for the larger project. The question at the moment is how I get there.
3. While I’m figuring that out, keep doing the coffee posts and feminst posts at Just Gene’O and pour more attention into Sourcerer and @Sourcererblog.
4. Make smarter choices about how I structure the next site I build, what I commit to doing with it, and where it’s hosted.
5. Keep making friends.
6. Get lucky one more time.
7. Keep Sourcerer posting, maintain my contributions to the other blogs I post at, and be primed to explode from the starting blocks again in January, the same way we have for the last two years.
That’s it. All my thoughts for today. World domination is still very much on. I just need to find more resources to work with.
Just hammering out an update on the scheduling madness. If you you got a link in for the blog party before I left the comment saying I was visiting and did not receive a comment from me, let me know. Seriously I did my best to visit them all, but I was in the zone and might have made a random oversight, and I am trying to get better at this thing. I’ve scheduled Tweets of all the links to go out between now and Wednesday and tagged authors if I could find Twitter accounts for them.
Just looking at what I got this week from Twitter. Twelve scheduled tweets a day isn’t worth the work that goes into maintaining that pace, until I get a lot better at composing Tweets, so I’ve easing off.
The new schedule:
Monday-Friday: Four afternoon tweets at two hour intervals between 1 pm and 7 pm Eastern.
Saturdays: Six tweets beginning at 10 am Eastern and ending around 7 pm.
Sundays: Six tweets beginning at 5 am Eastern and ending around 7 pm.
Sometimes, the links come to this blog. Sometimes they go to everyone else. Boom or bust.
With the number of tweets I still have piled up, I should be able to maintain this schedule indefinitely. I’ve got @Sourcererblog scheduled through Friday, June 5 as of this minute. It’s a mixture of links, photos, videos, shoutouts, and random stuff like Twitter-wanking and quotes from the TV Tropes Evil Overlord List.
Something I am finding: referrals go up when you get on Twitter and engage with people. We’ve done better here this week for Twitter referrals than we’ve done in a while, but not so much better for me to justify managing an around-the clock queue, and the referrals are really only up during the times I’ve actually been active on Twitter.
I’ve got my unfollowers cleaned up and am planning to delete my lists and revamp the Tweetdeck setup so I’m tweeting entirely from mentions, notifications, and hashtags soon. I know a prodigious number of good hashtags at this point, and nearly everyone who’s really interacting with me on Twitter has at least one they use often, so I can probably just keep up with most of you that way and with a couple of private lists I have for close friends and contributors.
This is an ongoing process, so will take a while, but eventually I’ll have a lighter schedule for @justgeneo and it will be for tweeting #weekendcoffeeshare, #1000Speak, and #atozchallenge links to various other hashtags.