Technologically, the last week has been shitty for me. It was techno-shit. I blame solar flares. Here is a list of problems the solar flares caused:
The Website Redesign That Fucked Everything Up
In the midst of a redesign, I switched WordPress themes. The Yasmin theme nearly destroyed BilGaines.com. I had to download an FTP client, remove the theme from my server, and start again. So I tried an alternate theme, Virtue. Same thing. I tried a third theme, Isis, and it didn’t destroy BilGaines.com, but it did look like bantha shit, so I deleted that one, too.
The iOS Update That Fucked Everything Up
Updating to iOS 7.0.6 broke my goddamn iPhone. I literally couldn’t even restore it to factory settings. The logic board was fried. It was a hardware issue, and the only replacement hardware was a brand new iPhone. I was left with no option to go to the Verizon store and, since I was a couple months away from my contract renewal, I had to finance a new phone.
The Web Host Domain Shutdown That Fucked Everything Up
A client’s web host just decided that they don’t want to host that domain anymore. We had less than 24 hours to come up with a solution. So, adios, good luck, don’t let the door hit your domain’s ass on the way out. Scramble time. We pulled it off, but it was stressful.
The Domain Expiration That Fucked Everything Up
I received an email about a website outage and, lo and behold, it was still out. Gone. Domain parking webpage instead. Apparently the domain expired. My immediate reaction was, “if I pour coffee all over my laptop, then this expired domain won’t bother me.” But I wanted to drink the coffee, so I had to deal with the problem instead.
The Power Backup Battery That Fucked With My Head All Week
The beeping. The incessant beeping. There was some piece of hardware that beeped for days, and that hardware was located behind a refrigerator. You know the sound – the high-pitched chirp of an electronic device crying pathetically for a new battery. Blend that with the frozen hum of the fridge and you’ve got space madness descending upon you.
Technology, you’ve really dropped the ball lately, and no offense, but I’m going to avoid you this whole weekend.
The good that comes from technology failing: I have a renewed appreciation for the non-digital world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Black Keys’ 2011 album “El Camino.” That album is super-good, but there was always something missing, something mysteriously wrong. I finally figured out what it was: the track order is not what it should be.
Don’t get me wrong: as it is, it’s still a really strong album. But I get the sense that they intentionally front-loaded the best songs because, I don’t know, maybe they thought they’d get more record sales that way? Could be a number of reasons. The track order was clearly chosen carefully.
The main problem is that the best song of the album by a light year is placed fourth. “Little Black Submarines” is so brilliantly amazing that you almost don’t even realize it the first few times you hear it. But it is.
For those that don’t know the album, here’s a quick recap:
“Lonely Boy” – great start to a great album of straight-up rock & roll. Lyrically, it could be sad and mopey, but the driving beat and the steady burn of the guitar take it much faster and higher than the lyrics would have you believe, and you know right away you’re in for more than you bargained for.
“Dead and Gone” – a switch in tone from the previous track, but just as hard-drivin’. Whatever the first track left wanting, the second track picks up.
“Gold On the Ceiling” – the breakout single of this album. A great, great, great rock song. Simple, accessible, but clever enough to switch gears seamlessly multiple times and keep you on your toes. If you listen more closely than your average radio listener, you get even more, because this song is secretly complex and beautiful behind its dirty façade.
“Little Black Submarines” – by far the best song on an album full of great songs. It starts off slow and quiet, evoking both lyrically and musically a picture of a sad, pathetic man at a payphone. A haunting melody from an acoustic guitar leads the way. Then, all of a sudden, halfway through, for a split seconds it stops so completely you can almost hear the smoke clearing. And out of nowhere, the rockingest band since Led Zeppelin shows up and blows you back to the 70’s for a few more minutes of Rock Heaven before releasing you back to the present, back to “El Camino.”
“Money Maker” – Back to the tone of the earlier part of the album, we are now faced with a fine tune, but it’s not strong enough to remove the memory of the track we just listened to.
“Run Right Back” – by the end of the track before, we’re back in the zone and ready for some more hard drivin’, and that’s exactly what we get with this alternate hit single. Interestingly, there’s a pain we can sense by the end of the song, and it’s not resolved at the end. Which leads us into…
“Sister” – one of the album’s more underappreciated tracks, this one takes the lingering whatever of the previous track and spins it into a dangerous-sounding beat. If this song is the soundtrack to your night, you are gonna find some trouble. Or else trouble is gonna find you.
“Hell of a Season” – this track expands on the finghting tone of the previous track, but takes it down a notch from near-anger to near-introspection, and thematically, takes a broader view of time and whatever space the main character of our story inhabits.
“Stop Stop” – lyrically, this song is fit for the poppiest top-40 radio station, but the fuzz and the drums of the Black Keys keep it away. This track also somehow carries the infusion of melancholy from the previous two tracks. At this point, the album is showing us its internal struggle, and we see where the arc may be headed but we don’t know what the outcome will be.
“Nova Baby” – here’s that song that wraps most of it up. With one high note ever present above every sound in the chorus, watching over the Black Keys like some useless angel, this track makes a damn fine last chapter, but leaves plenty of room for an epilogue.
“Mind Eraser” – Our final track here is where the problem always occurred to me. The previous four tracks do a marvelous job of getting the listener ready to be knocked out of his or her own lifetime, but this one does not do that. This one is fit for the middle of the album; it’s a good song on its own, but of this entire album, it may have the most forgettable outro. Thinking about it now, I can’t even remember what it sounds like as it fades out.
And the solution is so clear to me now. The entire journey peaks one third of the way through the album…the thing to do is switch the fourth and eleventh tracks. That would not only solve the problem of the strength of the ending, I believe that would elevate the album from “one of the best of 2011” to “one of the best of all-time.”
See the graph below:
See how you spike early and then the rest, though still good and better than most albums, simply feels like a letdown. Now see the optimized track order:
You can see from scientific evidence that with the optimized track order, “El Camino” would rock its listeners hard for a solid chunk of time, and then, for those who stay with the band for one more track, it would reward its most loyal listeners with an epic song unlike anything heard within a decade, and we’d exit the album on the highest of highs.
Track order matters, everyone. Track. Order. Matters.
If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and check out the official “Little Black Submarines” music video below. Do yourself a favor: turn the volume all the way up.
My digital marketing colleague James Gunn is a father, a fisherman, a gardener, a small business owner, and now a Movember soldier of fortune. I’m here to raise awareness of James Gunn so he can raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer research.
James Gunn likes plenty of the same things I like: fishing, craft beer, fresh vegetables and integrated SEO, to name a few. He apparently dislikes prostate cancer, which also happens to be one of the things I dislike. So he’s growing a mustache and he could use our support.
On a personal note: James is seriously an impressive individual. When I say he’s a gardener, it’s an understatement – he’s more like a farmer. He grows massive vegetables at his place. He also launched his own digital marketing business earlier this year, which is handy for small businesses, beacause he’s very good at what he does, has well over a decade of experience, and he provides services to other small businesses that previously couldn’t get help from someone as talented as him because all that talent tends to work at agencies that only service large businesses. James Gunn is GOOD FOR AMERICA.
James and I have spoken frequently, emailed often, collaborated on numerous SEO campaigns, and still we’ve never met in person. But I’m not letting that stop me from sending money to his Movember campaign, and I suggest you do the same:
Back in December, I was offered a hundred-dollar credit for Google AdWords and I took it, mainly to see how it works & how well I was able to navigate the tools, but partly also to see if I could make a few bucks with it. My plan was to use the $100 credit to see if I made any money selling a book of poetry – since it was just the $100 credit, and no money from my own pocket, it would have been nothing but profit.
Did I make any money? No, I did not. Zeros all the way.
Did I learn a little bit about Google AdWords? Sure, a little bit. And now, for the benefit of the people, here’s everything I’ve learned about Google Adwords in one convenient infographic:
As you can see from the infographic, my usual traffic numbers are among the most pathetic of any blogger out there, and AdWords gave me a boost of like 600%. The trouble is, all of it went to a page that needed to sell my poetry book, and that didn’t happen once. So, while I didn’t make any money off of my free hundred bucks of Google AdWords cash, I did learn the important lesson of how much my landing page sucks for my book. Expect a redesign in the near future…
Of course, I could have saved time and fake money by reading this OMI article on landing page effectiveness:
Instagram is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite social media outlet right now. This may change in the future – that’s just the nature of the future – but for now I am wholly addicted and I can’t go anywhere without my iPhone lest I find myself looking at something interesting and have no cameraphone to capture it. This love of Instagram, combined with my love of search and social media, drove me to painstakingly hand-type three hundred photos’ worth of data into a spreadsheet just to answer a couple questions that we probably already all knew the answers to anyway.
So just in case my drivel is meaningless, I want to provide a few links to useful blog posts regarding Instagram and social media marketing and whatnot.
Before I stop analyzing old data and waxing poetic about this social app, I want to just jot down some final thoughts.
Style matters. Every photo tells a story, and, as anyone who’s ever asked about my tattoo can attest, I’m all about letting people make their own stories using what I offer up. I strive for clarity without context; the human brain does a wonderful job of creating its own context.
Technique matters. It’s true, some photos are better than others in terms of visual appeal. If there’s one piece of advice I have to give other than “use hashtags,” it’s make sure that horizon is straight. Nothing distracts me more than a slightly off-kilter line of sight. I try my best, but I don’t always succeed, and the follower engagement definitely dwindles the shittier my photos get.
Location matters. I’ve never understood the appeal of geotagging Facebook status updates or Twitter updates, but Instagram pictures? Absolutely. It’s nice to be able to look at a map and see what that spot looks like through the eyes of a human being, using the imaginative photo effects Instagram provides. Because the filter you use helps determine the kind of story your photo tells.
So now that I am so friggin’ smart about Instagram and stuff, what will I do, you ask? I’m not a company, I’m just some guy, so “marketing” isn’t going to do me any good other than feed my insatiable narcissism.
Glad you asked. As it just so happens, I do have something to sell. More on this later.
Lastly: if anyone is planning on writing a blog post about Instagram, here is a word cloud created from keyword research. Hope you find it useful!
UPDATE: Massive editing failure has been corrected.
Do more hashtags yield more followers on Instagram?
LET ME BE CLEAR UP FRONT: For this post, I may talk about follower “quality.” This is only in terms of trackable data. Believe me, I appreciate each and every single follower I have on Instagram. You guys make me feel talented and awesome, and that means that YOU are talented and awesome.
For the second installment in this non-sequential series, I wanted to focus on Instagram followers rather than Instagram likes. There’s a clear correlation between Instagram hashtags and likes, and likes are something that show engagement from those who view your photos. Followers are slightly more elusive.
Again, whether you’re a brand or just a person, you’ll have to know your exact reasons for wanting likes or followers on Instagram. If you’re a brand, it’s most likely for marketing and sales purposes. If you’re just a person, and your reason is vanity or fame, that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I’d just ask that you not be obnoxious.
So anyway – followers. There are varying degrees of follower quality: human followers who know you in real life, human followers who don’t know you, and spam followers who don’t know you but want something from you.
Human followers are always preferable, because those are the followers who don’t tend to leave when you don’t reciprocate the follow, and by and large they tend to “like” your photos more than those that don’t. Also, they will do this more than just once, usually, so in all ways, they are preferable. See the manic chart below – clearly, the numbers tend to favor actual followers.
When just starting out on Instagram, the followers who know you will tend to like your photos more than the ones that don’t – this has been my experience, anyway. For the first 300 photos I posted on Instagram, I received a total of 961 likes, 577 of which were from followers and 384 were from non-followers. That’s a ratio of about 60-40. According to my data, of those 577 likes from followers, only four likes came from followers I don’t know in real life.
Using hashtags is a great way to get people who don’t know you to follow you, though, and though they are lower “quality” followers (in a strictly-data kind of way), higher quantity of followers of any kind will tend to yield more likes.
As is the natural order of things, more followers come with time. Without any hard data to prove this, I can (at a quick glance) see with the naked eye that more and more likes are coming from followers I don’t know since collecting that information on the first 300 photos. The obvious point is that I do indeed have more followers than before.
More followers leads to more likes. Followers on Instagram are a very, very good thing.
The obvious marketing advice is to ask people to follow your feed. Your profile might be a good place to do this, or perhaps the comments of the photo would do. This, of course, is tacky as hell, and I hate it. I might have more followers if I had less shame.
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of photo quality. Innovative, interesting, well-framed, in-focus, and clear artistic voice are what really get you followers. There is a lot of good competition on Instagram. Hashtags are your foot in the door, but your photos are what will sell it.
Sometimes you just have to pull up Microsoft Excel and hand-type some data sets for no good reason whatsoever. This is one of those times.
I decided to answer some burning questions I had about Instagram – namely, what’s the deal with likes and followers?
More specifically: how does one optimize one’s Instagram feed for likes and followers?
How a company can use Instagram to improve their business is something that will vary from company to company, so I thought I’d stick to general but universal advice.
What Instagram data was used?
When I created my data set, I used the first three hundred photos I posted on Instagram. I broke out the photo content by category, so I had subjects like cats, books, coffee, wine, nature, Aliena (my adorable baby) and so on. I also marked how many hashtags were used, and I broke down the hashtags by category as well. Finally, I marked how many likes and comments I received on those photos, and I broke those down by real-life friends who follow me vs. strangers who follow me on Instagram vs. people who liked my photo but don’t follow me at all.
Once I had this data set, it was relatively easy and relatively fun to create charts and averages and all kinds of crazy insights based on the data at hand.
Wait, back up – who the hell are you, anyway, and why do this?
I’m just some guy. I have less than 80 followers on Instagram at the time of this blog post, so I’m relatively inconsequential, and more importantly, I’m hardly an indication of what can be accomplished on Instagram. So, as a case study, my own Instagram feed may not be very useful, but the data is pure and accurate. This data is entirely centered on me and my followers and likes and my photo feed alone.
It’s completely narcissistic, but the better reason for doing this was that the insights gained from this little project will still have value because they’ll be as universal as I can present them. We’ll get to those momentarily, just keep reading.
Okay, so…Do More Hashtags Yield More Likes?
The short answer is yes. I didn’t want to bore everyone with Excel’s lame-ass data charts, so I drew my own on my clunky iPad in order to achieve “more character.” See below.
The longer answer is not necessarily, but pretty much, yeah.
Hashtags on Instagram are like hashtags on Twitter. They provide groupings of different posts from different users’ feeds into one easy-to-see stream. It’s genius.
So then, the point of leaving hashtags on your own photos is to get those photos into different groups. On Instagram, you can have up to thirty (30) hashtags per photo. Each unique hashtag creates its own unique grouping, so singular and plural forms of the same root word will yield two separate groups.
Ergo, the more hashtags you use, the more opportunities your photos have to be seen by others. If they see your photos and like them, they may choose to “like” your photo on your feed. Furthermore, there’s no real penalty for using as many hashtags as you can think of. So theoretically, more hashtags should provide more opportunities for likes.
Is this the case in reality?
The data shows that higher counts of hashtags on the photos gets a higher average of likes. This data set is somewhat incomplete, in that I didn’t really get into the hashtags game until close to the 300 mark, so most of this data comes from my early days of Instagram when I wasn’t curious about the data.
Here, I removed clear outliers and worked with averages, meaning six hashtags tends to average the same amount of likes as the photos with nine hashtags. These are averages, and the general tendency is an upward slope from one to ten. Except that I’m so awesome that this graph goes to eleven.
The tendency shows a confirmation of the idea that more hashtags gets more likes. I am confident that if we experimented with even more hashtags and photos, and then zoomed out, we’d see a nice, upward slant on that graph.
Of course, what I expected was that it would be more directly upward with no dips, but the reality is that in my averages, dips are there.
The dips in average likes – for example, two hashtags yielding fewer average likes than one and six yielding fewer than five – can be explained by a lot of things that I don’t have any data for. Primarily, timing and photo quality. I don’t have data for timing because Instagram doesn’t show me exactly what time of what day of the week I made those posts, so I can’t speak to the exact science of timing for optimum likes. I also don’t have any data on photo quality, because that’s an intangible. I also didn’t record my subjective opinion of those three hundred photos, because I’m not getting paid to do any of this, so the hell with that.
But there’s something that needs to be said: quality matters. It’s nearly impossible to quantify how good one’s photos are, but if you appreciate photography, then you know what’s good and what’s bad. It’s not hard.
Something that’s trickier is hashtag quality. There are so many factors involved there that I couldn’t even contemplate investigating the various factors for three hundred photos and typing in numbers. So we all miss out, but I’m okay with that.
I’ve been noticing since the initial gathering of the data that timing DOES affect the likes each photo gets. I’ve also noticed that hashtags are good in quantity, but you have to be smart with what hashtags you use. Without actual data, insights have still been made that would be extremely difficult to refute using data, so I will happily record the insights here.
And now, the list…
Hashtags provide the opportunity for people to see and like your photos, and potentially follow your feed. Whether your business is more interested in likes than followers (or something else entirely) is up to you. Followers show brand loyalty, but likes show human engagement. The important thing is that using more hashtags will tend to yield more likes.
Timing matters. I’ve found that around laying out hashtags at around 7:45 PM local time is pretty effective. Further experimentation might reveal a more optimal time to post those hashtags, but further experimentation might also detract from my quality of life.
Hashtags can be added later. You can post your photos any time, and whether you add the hashtags immediately or much later doesn’t matter. The photo gets added to the top of the hashtag grouping when you add the hashtag, plain and simple. It doesn’t automatically get pushed down the feed just because you added the photo hours (or days) prior. So, because timing matters, and especially because of the new “maps” feature, I’ve taken to adding the photo where I take it and waiting till about a quarter to eight to tag it. More on this in a later blog post.
The quality of hashtags matters. Some of the most likeable hashtags I’ve found are #cloudporn and #skyporn – photos of clouds in the sky, or clear skies, or whatever. People LOVE those shots. Other hashtags like #instafood are incredibly popular but don’t automatically produce a bunch of likes. Likes for food shots are incredibly competitive. However, in fairness, food shots are regularly taken in dark restaurants, so higher-quality food photos are rarer than high-quality sky shots. Sky shots look great on smartphones. And this leads me to the most important takeaway of all…
The quality of photos matters. This is the primary lesson of Instagram at work: post high-quality photos. If your photos are crappy, hashtags may get you SOME likes, but if your photos are seriously kick-ass – and if your hashtags are appropriate and well-timed – then yeah, you’ll get plenty of likes.
This feels like kind of a long blog post just to confirm the obvious with half-assed data, but if you read the list above, I’m happy. There will be a few more posts about this data, and if you don’t like my drivel, just look for the list of important insights. When it’s all done, I’ll have one final post of nothing but a list of all the insights together. Then…I guess I’ll move on. Right? Probably.
Maybe. We’ll see.
@BilGaines on Instagram – Follow my feed! See these insights put into practice!
Don’t have a smartphone? Desktop Instagram here.
Earlier this year I announced that BilGaines.com would be dedicated primarily to Sharkblog.
I was wrong.
I wasn’t wrong at the time. I really meant it. But through the course of events in the largest break between blog posts in BilGaines.com’s history, the only real objective Sharkblog ever had was achieved. I have started a career as in the glorious field of search engine optimization. That was what Sharkblog really was. The fun surface skin of shark hybrid monster studies was, as I mentioned repeatedly, nothing more than a veiled attempt at self-education. I simply chose shark monsters as a subject for consistency and control for the course of various experiments in monitoring traffic, garnering traffic from strangers across the web, putting things I read into practice, and so on.
And now here’s the thing. I have the job I wanted Sharkblog to get me. The job I have is like a crash course in hands-on optimization tools and techniques. I already know more in just a few months than I was able to teach myself in over a year on my own, because I’m using real tools to help real businesses. I also have actual humans teaching me things. It’s like grad school, where the things you publish get seen by real people who matter. Except they’re paying me, not the other way around.
And there is SO much I want to use BilGaines.com for that I had to make some tough decisions about Sharkblog. I really did enjoy it, and I am still planning to write those Orsonsharktopus screenplays at some point. But I am revoking all urgency and importance of Sharkblog as far as BilGaines.com is concerned. This doesn’t mean it’s going away entirely, it just means I won’t really be pretending to be shark-focused anymore, and any time I blog about SEO, it won’t necessarily involve shark hybrids.
I had wanted to give one final post about exactly what I’d learned from Sharkblog, but I’ve actually been away from it for so long and I’ve learned so much SINCE the last Sharkblog post that I don’t remember where the self-education ends and where the professional education begins.
However, I’d definitely like to thank each and every reader who followed Sharkblog with even the smallest interest. One thing I know that Sharkblog taught me was optimization, shmoptimization – if you don’t write posts that people enjoy reading, you’re wasting everyone’s time. So, thanks, all of you. This is the end. I’m breaking up with Sharkblog.
We’ll still be friends.
…Here’s the good news: the Hideous Hybrid Menagerie is officially up and running. This is a lovely little part of BilGaines.om where I send visitors far, far away. It’s not good business, but hey, I’m just some guy, not a business, so it’s okay. The Menagerie is a benevolent hub of links where you can read much, much more about your favorite shark monsters. And it will remain open for ever and ever. I can add to it over time as I receive information and requests for information. I am not anticipating many requests, so I don’t think this will be a great time hinderance.
Here I am, in the future! You’ve all aged about five months, but not a single second seems to have gone by for me…
Just kidding. I know this blog has been sorely neglected for five months, or at least it would seem that way. I don’t apologize for not blogging. If anyone needed an apology, chances are someone would have said within the last five months, “Hey, why haven’t you posted on your blog lately?” So the hell with apologies. The hell with excuses, too.
But interesting things have indeed been happening, and they have indeed been time-consuming. I suspect no one’s noticed that BilGaines.com has not been updated for five months because we had, you know, the Olympics and the whole election thing to distract us. I hadn’t even noticed myself until just now.
In brief: In February I was hired part-time as an SEO specialist for a very cool company called Intrapromote. This meant that in addition to commuting 50 miles each way from Oxnard to Santa Monica and back every single day to work at Edmunds.com as an account manager, I was also donating eight hours of time and energy to a second gig. That was nine hours in Santa Monica, three hours total on the road, and two hours of SEO after putting the baby to sleep. That was my typical workday. I don’t remember what I did on weekends during that period.
In May, I started full-time for Intrapromote, which meant that although I loved my Edmunds co-workers dearly, I left them behind to work at home and adopt new, seemingly robotic co-workers. They only seemed robotic, though, because I “met” them all over the internet. Mostly over Yammer, but some IM me and I do hear a few voices on the occasional phone call. I know our HR director from our mutual time spent in the Chicago theatre scene and I met the president in person when he flew out to L.A. to give some presentations to a Southern California-based client. We ate at the best pizza joint in Hollywood and he remembered the bartender from, like, four years ago. And the bartender remembered him, too, because they were both from Indiana and people from Indiana never forget each other.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of parenting, travelling, and exploring the area I actually live in, i.e. Ventura County. I’ve seen very few people I know, but I’ve seen a lot of them, and it’s been great.
Also, as it turns out, my new remote coworkers are amazingly hip and groovy and cool and all kinds of other positive adjectives. And my new job is super-sweet. I’m doing something that keeps me interested ALL DAY LONG (usually) and I get to work from home. This means more time with my daughter Alie and my wife Devon.
With this new job, I actually HAVE been blogging, just not on BilGaines.com. I blog regularly for Intrapromote and I do a good amount of ghost blogging for clients. It’s awesome. This makes me a professional blogger, technically, but I will never describe myself to another as “professional blogger,” because every time I see someone call themselves a “professional blogger,” I instantly lose respect for them. I don’t know why, it just happens.
So, why start up again with BilGaines.com?
Many reasons, but mainly:
You should always warm up. This self-re-introductory post is a warm-up.
Small changes have been made – not important enough to call attention to, but a fresh blog post gets better PageRank on Google, and I want the new changes to be seen by strangers.
This is a teaser. Consider yourself teased. I am (again) changing course regarding SharkBlog (major DEmotion this time) and will probably meander a bit until I find a proper focus for the site, but know this: I have a small series planned regarding Instagram optimization. I will have data that I pulled myself on my very own Excel spreadsheet, and I will have my very own hand-drawn infographics.
I aim to sell you something.
Stay tuned. I will go ahead and publish this article right now, on Sunday night, the WORST TIME TO PUBLISH A BLOG, because I frankly don’t care about this particular article. This is not the one I want everybody to read. (If you are reading it, thanks! You’re awesome.)
But it’s good to be blogging on my own little website once again. I can say “fuck” as much as I want to.
…So too do I find the art and science of search engine optimization equally enjoyable and intriguing, and in fact have made strides to make money doing it. Do what you love, they say. Check.
I have been working only a couple days now on my first professional SEO assignment, and already I find I’m writing more fiction. During my last couple of lunch hours at Edmunds.com, I’ve written a sizable chunk of a short story I’d started and stopped. After several months of writing small pieces here and there, and another month and a half of not writing anything at all in this story, I’ve resumed with a fervor and a straight line to the finish. This new output may have everything to do with the new gig, or it may have nothing to do with it, but I like to think that this is a good sign of things to come.
When your professional life keeps you inspired and thinking and moving, the rest of your life has a tendency to follow.
Of course, working two jobs comes at the expense of writing more for this blog. But no one has complained yet.
At any rate: I encourage anyone with a passion in a field that makes no money (such as theatre or poetry) to read this article. You may find justification for your life. You may find inspiration to change it. Whatever — read up. This is important.
I have landed a part-time gig as a Search Engine Optimization Specialist. The words are capitalized because that’s the official title. I’ll give plenty of detail, I’m sure, on the company itself and all the amazing goings on that occur on a daily basis just as soon as full-time work is written in stone with these folks. We’re expecting sometime in the spring. But for now, I’ll just let the world know I’ve got up to eight hours a week of SEO work, and that is what I’ve been after.
To become really good at something (such as SEO), one needs not only theory but also practice and mentorship. With Sharkblog, I’ve been giving myself a very small amount of practice, and there has been no mentorship. This SEO gig should cover all three areas, and I aim to improve my skills dramatically in a short time. The more SEO work I produce, the more powerful I shall become.
It’ll be rough until I can do it full-time. In the meantime, I’ll still be working at Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, a 50-mile commute each way from my place in Oxnard. So this new work will be on top of that.
But it will be worth it, because if I can prove I don’t suck at life and actually get hired on with this company, I will transition from working 50 miles away to working at home. My commute will be upstairs.
Even better than the non-commute, however, will be the work itself. I’ve got no particular complaints with being an account manager for an automotive advertising & lead company, but account-managing has never been a passion of mine. And the life-after-account-management career path is both vague and uninteresting. The places I can go after being an SEO peon are way more attractive to a personality like mine.
What’s more, there’ll be more time at home to spend with my super-awesome baby girl Aliena. I can’t even describe what a relief that is for the Parenting Department. I can’t. Even. Describe. (See: Harry Chapin – Cat’s in the Cradle)
I’m also anticipating a slight increase in productivity as far as personal writing projects goes. In my current situation, I have very little time and even less energy to devote to the pile of StuffIAmWorkingOn. By telecommuting, I open up about three hours each day. And by not wearing myself down with driving those three hours, my brain, I expect, will be more useful. So maybe I can finally complete 1) the adaptation of a play I’ve written into a screenplay, 2) a short story I started that gets longer and longer the more I write it, 3) a refresh of the novel I completed a draft for last year, 4) that book of poetry with those sketches I’ve been drawing, and 5) everything else that I’ve been planning to start but haven’t because of the previous four.
And the wonderful thing here, the truly wonderful thing here, is that I’ll be happy with my day job. It won’t be just a day job. It’ll be a day career. It’ll actually be an inspiration to the personal projects instead of a hindrance. I’ll be happy to do the work, I’ll aspire to go further, I’ll be proud to describe what I do. More on this topic later. As I write this, I’m actually at the office in Santa Monica. I should get back to work.
Over the weekend I bummed around the back side of the San Gabriel Mountains with my parents. I explored Devil’s Punchbowl, which you can read about here. I got up close and personal with some yucca plants, which you can read about here (presuming Wikipedia isn’t still blacked out to protest SOPA & PIPA).
By the way, if you were ever confused about the relationship between Joshua trees and the other yuccas you see in the high desert, it’s this: Yucca is the genus, not the species. So Joshua trees are yuccas. I FUCKING KNEW IT.
Anyway, I took my camera around with me this weekend and had a good old-fashioned photo exploration tour. I hadn’t done that in a while. So when I wasn’t hanging with my folks, adapting a stageplay into a screenplay, or enjoying the midday one-man karaoke show at the combo espresso shop/wine tasting cellar in downtown Wrightwood, I was busy editing photos.
And because the Facebook photo uploader blows, the majority of the good stuff is here at BilGaines.com instead of Facebook.
While uploading, I remembered that I’ve been totally ignoring the ALT attribute. My photo uploader has a convenient ALT attribute field I can fill in. I recall long ago reading why the ALT attribute matters for Image SEO purposes — something for search engine spiders to crawl, because they are blind — but at the time it seemed like a lot of bother, and anyway my main concern was just getting up and running.
But now I’m up and running, and Sharkblog is my ongoing SEO experiment. Things are at a point now where there’s plenty of Sharkblog imagery and plenty more non-Sharkblog imagery.
And Sharkblog is an experiment, right? And any good experiment needs a good control group. So, in the interest of not creating more work for myself, I hereby declare all non-Sharkblog images the control group, and I will continue to NOT add any ALT attributes. For Sharkblog’s images, moving forward, I will try to add some ALTs. That’s a minimal investment of time, and now that I have the ability to track incoming visitors by search engine type, I can see how many suckers were brought here by an image search.
Finding myself alone for ten days while my wife & our baby spend some time out of state visiting relatives, I figure this would be the ideal time to catch up on my shark monster movies. Alas, my spare mailbox key does not work, so the Netflix queue I so carefully put together will have to wait until Devon gets home with our real key so I can get the DVDs. And then I have to wait until she leaves again, because for some reason, she doesn’t want to watch “Dinoshark.”
Whatever. No biggie, I can still start building the next important part of Sharkblog: the Hideous Hybrid Menagerie. It’ll be a place where I can run the following scientific experiment:
HYPOTHESIS: An online reference library of monstrous hybrids of fiction both realized and not-yet-realized will be a source of greater organic search traffic. Based on the experience of the past, and the continually revised algorithms powering search results, I expect to see an increase in visitors to this well-organized and keyword-rich hub of hybrid monster information.
EXECUTION AND MEASUREMENT: I shall build one page with a list of the names of each beast, and, where possible, reference links to more detailed websites for each. For each as-yet-unrealized beast that I invent (e.g. Barry Manilodon) I will create a more detailed page, hosted on this website, with links back to the main list and any BilGaines.com blog posts that reference the beast in question. I shall measure the increase from all dates prior to the publication of the very first page, and segment the growth between publications of each new page. This experiment will be ongoing, but expect a report on findings sometime in Q2 of this year.
ANALYSIS: I will utilize Google Analytics & their new visitor flow chart to determine if organic search results lead more directly to Sharkblog-related pages and posts. I will keep track of time spent on the site, amount of visitors each day, bounce rate/drop-off rate, and number of pages viewed per visit.
The idea for the Hideous Hybrid Menagerie stems from the fact that a post from last March is still the #1 page viewed by organic search traffic. (Eagle Vs. Shark Vs. EagleShark, if you’re curious.) I realize there’s lots of information about hybrid monsters out there, and people need a central location where they can easily find resources to research these creatures. It’s library science…sort of.
This experiment is part of a new content marketing strategy I’m devising. It’s “marketing” in the sense that I want to attract an audience and see if they are able to guide themselves around the website, which will indicate interest, which in the real world would mean a sales lead. I have nothing to sell, but if BilGaines.com were a brick-and-mortar store, I’d want people browsing the Sharkblog aisle. If I can demonstrate an ability to guide users to a certain section of a website and stay interested, well…bingo, that makes me a marketer. And I’d rather be a marketer than an account manager.
Just in time for the Detroit Auto Show, I am ready to unveil the all-new 2012 BilGaines.com – now with more Sharkblog!
Sharkblog is not only here permanently, but is now a much bigger priority, largely thanks to my friendly wife who occasionally reminds me that I lack focus and really shouldn’t bounce from project to project when I haven’t fully exhausted the potential of the first one I started.
Hence: rather than start a new project involving all the things I left out of Sharkblog last year, I’ll instead keep on Sharkblogging and go ahead & implement the things. All the things. And I’ll track it all using both Google Analytics and the new site stats that come with installing Jetpack for WordPress. (Tracking things is very important.)
The very nature of Sharkblog displays my natural tendency to split focus. It’s a two-fold project: blog about shark monsters, mainly shark hybrid beasts, and also blog about the SEO results of the blog about shark hybrids and monsters. It’s like having a two-person play where the other person is the actor’s reflection in a mirror.
So my New Year’s resolution this year is not a list of benchmarks to check off. It is one word: focus.
And I’ve decided that Sharkblog is worth my time and energy, so BilGaines.com is now more devoted to high-quality shark monster hybrid content than ever before. The site has been redesigned to be more Sharkblog-centric.
On a related note, I’m also more devoted to getting a better day career than “account manager,” so I’m going to really boost the efforts to bring in more high-quality traffic with Sharkblog. I’m going to do one thing at a time, and do it well, and make sure I can show measurable improvements. I’m going to establish a definable Sharkblog universe. I’m going to track the progress and analyze every single little move. I’m going to focus the hell out of this portion of the website.
And I’ll still post about other random shit from time to time. Don’t you worry about that, no sir.
And luckily for everyone out there, I’ve made the switch from creating a new blog post from every tweet to simply having a Twitter sidebar widget (to your left), so you can subscribe by email & your inbox won’t get blasted with constant nonsense. You’ll just get the solid and the polished.
To sum up: a brand new direction for BilGaines.com, and a bigger and brighter future for Sharkblog. More focus. More sharks. More better.
It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time to jerk my head out of the sand and face the analytics.
Thanks to Sharkblog’s SEO experiments, I’m much more experienced than I was at the beginning of the year. And my site has much better search placement than it would have had without the Sharkblogging experiment. Unfortunately, good search placement on certain random keywords doesn’t guarantee lots of high-quality traffic. My site traffic is pretty pathetic, and looking at the entire existence of the website from early February to late December, it’s obvious that there has been very little growth when it comes to visitors.
And I have to let that be okay. I have had no tangible goals, and so any growth in traffic would be a victory for vanity only. I have no product to sell, and thus no immediate need for growth. I have future plans to leverage site traffic, but “future plans to leverage site traffic” is no kind of reason to visit a website. It’s literally been SEO for SEO’s sake.
Also, I’ve spent all year NOT doing very specific things that I know I would have to do in order to produce an increase in quality traffic. I specifically didn’t create a Facebook page for Sharkblog (or any other part of my website), nor for Google+ or any other social outlet. I have not actively encouraged sharing links to my website, I have not incentivized sharing links or participating in any way, I have not reached out to the online community directly, and I have not engaged in dialogue with total strangers. All these things can help grow traffic, and I have been hesitating for many reasons, but mostly the time committment.
Furthermore: content is king, and let’s face it, my content could be better. It could always be better.
To be fair, I’ve had a hell of a year OUTSIDE of Sharkblog, so I’ll cut myself some slack.
And frankly, some of my numbers are, in fact, pretty darn good. Look at that graphic. It’s not all sour grapes. New visitors to returning visitors is nearly 60/40, which is great.
Right. You bet.
But now, on the verge of 2012, I find myself at a tipping point. Do I relaunch Sharkblog with a renewed vigor, or do I retire Sharkblog in favor of a newer, bolder endeavor? Do I leave Sharkblog behind and take with me the knowledge gained from the experiment, creating something even more personal and more focused on the content itself than on the analytics? I’ll admit, there is something I’ve been meaning to get to for longer than this website has been around. And honestly, the only point in continuing Sharkblog would be to test out in 2012 the things I never tested out in 2011.
That’s not to say I don’t love Sharkblog. It’s been kind of a blast. But moving forward, it’s either pointless or else it’s a bigger time investment. Can’t have both, can’t have neither.
It’s a pretty tough decision. I can’t make that call right now, but I ought to make the call before January 1st.
Check back in the new year, I’ll have an answer for us all by then.
Final message for this, the final post of 2011:
Thank you all. If you’re reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are the high-quality traffic. You’re part of the grand experiment, and you’re more valuable to me than you’ll ever know. Thank you times infinity.
WordPress recently came out with a new update, bringing us all up to 3.3 – “Sonny.” The difference isn’t noticeable on my outward-facing website, but my dashboard and navigation menus for updates are all cleaner, and there are several other convenient little updates. It’s not a huge redesign or anything, but it feels like slightly more than a baby step.
…Which is interesting timing. I have been thinking about necessary updates to my website in terms of design and navigation. After thinking long and hard about advantages & disadvantages to a whole redesign (including a whole new WordPress theme), I’ve concluded that baby steps are what I need to stick to. But baby steps are hard to stick to when you have available tools to make giant leaps. So I’m trying to self-discipline and stick to small, trackable changes, and I’m trying to give it all time to monitor the differences.
It’s hard. There’s so much out there to fiddle around with, and it only gets easier and more tempting. It’s like not playing with a jetpack that you find on your doorstep when you know you have to stay inside and do the proper research on how to fly.
So then imagine my eyebrows when I see on my newly-refreshed dashboard a link to a newly updated WordPress plugin, previously only available to WordPress.com-hosted sites. Mine is hosted on TierraNet, so this is indeed new to me.
If you don’t want to read up on this boring old WordPress plugin, let me break down what interests me about it…
– WordPress.com stats.
– Consolidated sharing functionality.
– Enhanced distribution to search engines.
– Twitter sidebar widget.
There’s plenty more that comes with the plugin, but these four items are what are drawing me to it.
The WordPress.com stats will undoubtedly bring more insight than Google Analytics alone; I am really curious to see what data they show differently, and what different data the WP stats offer. Speaking of updates, Google Analytics recently launched a redesign, and the tool is much more useful to me personally now than it was before, so I say, bring on the games! Let the battle of the analytics tools begin.
The sharing functionality might be nice in terms of clean-up for me on the backend. I have more than one sharing plugin operating right now, and more than one is (x-1) too many. This’ll help me get rid of the clutter.
I always like the sound of enhanced distribution to search engines. I know the Feed Me Seymore theme I have rolling right now claims to offer this type of function, though to what extent I do not know. But I figure, if there is no additional burden to me, the webmaster, then there is no downside to distributing new content to search engines. NOT distributing means I have to wait for spiders to find their way back to this site, re-crawl it, and have it fit into their algorithms. That can take up to six months. I want search engine rankings now, dammit.
The Twitter sidebar widget – I’m sure I could have gotten one previously, but it would have been redundant since I decided to activate a feature from another plugin to create new blog posts of all my tweets. This is good for SEO, but it clutters up the homepage, which I don’t like. And the organic traffic it generates, I have noticed, has 100% bounce rate and an average of less than 10 seconds on the site. So I think I’ll drop that feature and go with Jetpack’s sidebar widget.
And the math. Well. Math is beautiful. Math is art. I want that math feature.
It’s getting near the end of the year now, and that’ll be a perfect time to not only consider some site design refreshes, but also reflect on nearly a year of Sharkblogging, what I’ve learned about SEO, so on. And the timing here is nice, since I’ll have all through the holidays to plan any changes to implement after the new year.
Baby steps. Grit my teeth and just take baby steps.
Check it out, peeps: bastion of marketing awesomeness Hubspot has a free tool called the Twitter Grader. It’s exactly what it sounds like: it grades your Twitter feed. It gives you your rank among all of Twitter. All of it.
However, I went to see what I could do better and it appears I’m doing everything perfectly. Or so they say.
As I discovered via Visual.ly‘s Twitter-scoring tool, I suck at Twitter. I like their tool better in that it’s more honest and it comes with a fun visual. (As you can see, Visual.ly has me cast as some shoeless hipster who complains about everything.)
Hubspot pegged me somewhere in the 2 million-somethingth ranking. That sounds about right.
But no suggestions on how to improve that ranking? Surely I can do something better. Next quarter, I want to see my score in the 1.9 million range.
What’s so damned important about Twitter?
Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.
Specifically: I hope to leverage a following to earn a living as a writer of fictional things. Twitter is one avenue for building said following. If I show up to a publisher or agent or, really, anyone who can pay me for what I write, and I say, here’s this finished manuscript, it’s hey-great-good-for-you-get-in-line. But if I show up with a finished manuscript and a healthy string of almost-guaranteed sales, then it’s hey-step-inside-let’s-talk.
So I guess I can start now. I’ll try the old “ask” trick. Do me a favor? If you’re still reading this, can you let your friends know about this site? Share on Twitter or Facebook or StumbleUpon or whatever your preferred social medium is.
What’s in it for you? I’ll tell you.
Your incentive is this: send me a screenshot of you telling your friends about this website and you’ll get a discount on my pending venture into the brutal underground world of self-publication and self-sales. I have a short story in the works and should have it for sale within a month or two. You can get it cheaper than anybody else. This offer expires as soon as I get that story officially up for sale. It’s not a huge incentive, but then again, it’s not a huge amount of work to share the BilGaines.com link. I hope this sounds reasonable. (Note: this’ll probably be digital-only, at least at first, so you’ll need a Nook or a Kindle or an iPad or something.)
And because I am aiming to rank better than 2 million on my Twitter score from Hubspot by next quarter, I’m hoping for more Twitter followers who aren’t spambots or porn. Good luck to all of us.
Are you excited? I am excited. The Visual.ly Blog is here.
This excites me because I’ve been waiting for this site to really get going. Even as I type, their library of infographics is becoming larger and stronger. The addition of the blog will surely pull in more creative types who will use (and/or contribute to) the library.
I encourage folks to use this site as much as possible. More than anything, I want this site to succeed because I want their “labs” to come online for me. I expect a powerful graphic-creation tool. I want it now. I drool for this tool. I dream about it. I CAN. NOT. WAIT.
In the meantime, I will continue to quietly gather data on sharks and shark hybrid monstrosities as they relate to my own web traffic. It’s all in the interest of learning, I swear. It’s only partly about the fame. Don’t want to get stuck in my current job forever, you know, gotta learn my own ropes before I manage someone else’s.
In other news, I heard StumbleUpon got a nifty new redesign. I haven’t looked at it. I’m not a Stumbler myself, but I’ve heard good things, so I decided to help myself and StumbleUpon at the same time. Now you have an icon down below. Share away.
I also added Tumblr, because it rhymes with stumbler.