Monday, November 14, 2005

How To Be A Popular Blogger: Episode 1

I know I've been droning on about writing, as I have a tendency to do, so to all of you who don't have very much interest in writing, I apologize. This new feature which, hopefully, will end up being semi-regular should be of interest to everyone.

Because the easiest way to become popular is to scrutinize the cool kids and see exactly what it is they're doing that's so special, I've decided to interview popular bloggers in order to see if they can pass on some advice to us also-rans.

Today's interview is with Dave of Blogography.

Q1: First things first - how popular are you, exactly? How many hits do you get on a typical day and where do they come from?

A: That's a hard question to answer, because it all depends on how you want to analyze it. I don't really keep track (except when my bandwidth limit is exceeded), but a quick look at my stats shows that Blogography currently gets around 150,000 hits a day. Once you get down to page visits only, it's about 10,000 hits a day. Once you whittle that down to "unique visitors" I'm down to 4,500 a day. If you knock off the random hits from Google referrals and image searches, it's more like 2,000 per day. How many of those hits are regular (or semi-regular) readers is anybody's guess. The numbers keep going up each month, so I haven't spent much time trying to sort it out. I suppose if my readership drops, and I suddenly start caring about the numbers, then I'll try to find a way to track that.

As to where readers come from or how they find me, I don't really have a way of figuring that out. I think most of it is word-of-mouth. Other bloggers stumble upon something they like and link to an entry. Or, if they really like me, they'll put me on their blogroll or something. If people following these links happen to hit my blog on a day that I write something they like, then maybe they will keep coming back. It's something I am curious about myself.

Q2: All the articles on blogging I see these days tell people to write for a niche group. Your blog is pretty general and ranges from one topic to another. Do you see that as a help or a hindrance to your blog's popularity?

A: In theory, I'd have to agree that writing for a niche group is probably the way to go if you are trying to become popular. The problem with having a blog that lacks focus (like mine) is that you are inevitably going to write about things that your readers have zero interest in. I'm pretty sure that most of my readers don't care about Macintosh computers. But it's my blog and I am a Mac-lover, so if something Mac-like comes up in my life... well, I will be writing about it. Do this often enough, and Mac-indifferent readers will leave. If they wanted to read about a Mac zombie, they'd read a Mac blog. On the flip-side, Mac-lovers won't find my blog Mac enough and leave as well.

But even though what I write about changes from day to day, I would argue that ultimately Blogography does have a single niche topic: me. Most every entry is either about me or my reaction to something. For reasons I can never hope to understand, there are people out there who are actually entertained by that. So even though the topic changes, ultimately I am the "real" topic of every entry. Is that a hinderance to my blog? Probably. :-)

Q3: People tend to pay less attention to blogs that are designed with templates (ie. blogger). Do you think having a unique blog design has any impact on your blog's popularity?

A: I agree that casual surfers might tend to skip a blog that uses a standard template. But having a unique design only gets you noticed. It doesn't matter how pretty your blog is... if your content is crap, people won't be sticking around.

That being said, getting noticed in a sea of blogs is half the battle. So I guess my answer would be yes, I do think that my unique blog design has an impact on popularity... even though it's probably a small one. Maybe there's that one person who stumbles upon Blogography, sees a cartoon at the top, and decides to stick around. Maybe they wouldn't have stayed if that cartoon weren't there. I don't know for sure, but it probably hasn't hurt my readership. Anything that makes you stand-out from the crowd is probably a good thing (even if it is crappy, badly-drawn cartoons!).

Q4: How did Blogography get its start and what was its original audience like? How do you think you built up a following?

A: I travel a lot which makes keeping up with my friends and family difficult. I created a blog as a way to keep people I know informed as to where I'm at and what I'm up to. It's far easier than having to answer the same thing over and over again when people write and say "hey, what's happening with you?" And that was my initial audience... people who know me. Unfortunately, blogging sounds easier than it actually is, and my first two blogs died from neglect. Eventually, I decided to try one last time. But to ensure I was more vested in the project, I decided to buy a domain name for it and make a commitment to writing in it every single day. It took a while to get in the daily habit but, once I got there, Blogography was born.

Then something unexpected happened. People who don't know me started reading. I am still completely mystified as to why. Outside of a few interesting trips here and there, I don't really consider myself to be a very interesting guy. Furthermore, the most interesting things in my life (friends, family, work, relationships, and other personal stuff) never appear in my blog. Maybe I am so dysfunctional that people find me entertaining? Maybe my sarcastic, cynical, quirky way of looking at life is appealing to people? I honestly don't know.

Ultimately, I think the fact that I blog every single day goes a long way towards keeping people coming back. But building up a following is something entirely different. I don't think I even had a following until I enabled comments on my entries. Suddenly, people weren't just reading, they were participating. This not only provided material for me to write about in future entries, but it also took the conversation in entirely different (and often far more entertaining) directions. Now THIS was fun! I retroactively turned on comments for all my entries, and started writing in a way that invited feedback.

It turned out that those who commented regularly are as much Blogography writers as I am. Soon we're all commenting and participating on each other's blogs and a community was built. I can't take credit for it, but I love being a part of it. And since new people keep jumping in, it's a thriving community. These are no longer strangers, but friends. So calling my friends "a following" is not really accurate because it implies that I'm leading them somewhere... in reality, it's quite the opposite.

Q5: A brief scroll down the current front-page of your blog shows a couple of your groovy cartoons, tasty pizza, a couple of attractive women and a picture of David Hasselhoff so disturbing that I had to gouge one of my eyes out with a fork. Do pictures make a blog more enjoyable to read?

A: It depends on your skills as a writer. Many of the blogs I enjoy rarely have graphics because they are entertaining enough without them. I, on the other hand, barely have skill enough to string two sentences together. As a visual-type person, I compensate for this by using cartoons, photos, and such to get my point across.

As to whether pictures make a blog more enjoyable to read... it depends on the blog. If you are a stunning writer, then pictures can be a distraction. If you are a photographer or a cartoonist or designer, or whatnot, then images help you to communicate. There's a balance every blogger needs to figure out for themselves, and I think blogs can be equally enjoyable with or without pictures. Whatever you are most comfortable using to share your thoughts, you should do that.

Q6: What's the most enjoyable thing about blogging, aside from the ability to mock others in a public forum?

A: Hands down it's the people I meet from having a blog.

Well, not so much the ones who write me hate mail, but hey... even they cared enough to write!

Thanks to Dave for taking time to do this interview. I think it merits a few cool points. Be sure to head on over to Blogography - maybe some of his coolness will rub off on you.

(Interested in participating? Click here.)


Jawahara Saidullah said...

Great information. As a fairly new blogger I found this invaluable. Will be bookmarking this page.

11:11 AM  
Dave2 said...

Enough cool points that I can send them in for a swimming pool?

3:56 PM  
Cavan said...

Ha! Of course not. Everyone knows that the amount of cool points needed to get a prize are entirely disproportionate to the actual quality of the prize.

At this point, you might have enough to get a beach ball or a frisbee.

4:08 PM  
Gone Away said...

Really interesting interview, Cavan. I am sorely tempted to visit the guy's blog and that's saying something (I have too many blogs to visit every day as it is)!

6:31 PM  
kazza said...

For what it's worth, Blogography is my favouritest ever blog :)

6:58 PM  
Belinda said...

Dave's site is a favorite of mine for lots of reasons. What really "hooked" me was the layout. I love those tabs at the top, and I feel so cool and hip every time I click "FRESH."

The content, of course, is the big draw, because Dave, maybe due to all his traveling, has perspective. While he can discuss serious, or sad, things with wisdom and weight, he knows when NOT to take himself too seriously. And come on--anyone who'd lay out that pitiful little asploded Hot-Pocket/radioactive Kool-Aid dinner for the world to see has a real sense of himself in the great scheme of things.

LOVE the headshots that are on some seemingly random loop, showing various expressions, all of which seem to somehow convey some degree of consternation. I could place Dave easily as a character in an early Larry McMurtry novel.

And the cartoons are divine. Sometimes I force myself to write an inane comment, just so I can see cute little Leprechaun-Dave pop up and tell me how much my comments mean to him.

And then there's merchandise. I mean, come on, folks--he gives and he gives, and we just keep taking. Buy a Bad Monkey shirt and post a picture of your boobs in it. Why not? There should be more Bad Monkey.

2:12 AM  
Peggy Archer said...

Wow, Dave..

You're important.

I'm impressed!

And I still love Blogography!

11:39 PM  

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