As the year winds to a close Field Notes From Fatherhood approaches its 6th month of existence, and like any newborn baby we’ve been learning a lot along the way. Here are some things we’ve picked up, in no particular order.
1. Blogging is more time-consuming than you originally imagine. Doing a bit of background research, investigating and adding links, finding and formatting photos – all of these things take time, and when you’re snatching what hours you can during kids’ naps or in the evenings or whenever, it can be disheartening to see how little you get done.
2. What the post looks like in your dashboard is nothing like how it will appear once it’s been published. In the beginning I spent many fruitless and frustrating hours trying to format photos – centered, right, larger, smaller – in the dashboard while text got fragmented and repeatedly pushed around and the veins in my forehead began the Stressed Eric throb (below). That’s what the ‘Preview’ button is for. After a while you figure out what works, and it becomes much, much easier.
3. Getting ‘Freshly Pressed’ is hugely advantageous. I was less than a month into blogging and the nooks and crannies of WordPress were as yet unexplored, so I had no idea ‘FP’ even existed. I was getting maybe 30-40 views a day. Then I published an article about techniques for photographing your family, and the next day I opened my email inbox and there were literally hundreds of notifications. I was pleased, but deeply confused. What the hell was going on? Then it clicked. On that one day I got over 12,200 views – more than a quarter of my all-time views to date. It was an amazing boost, but there’s a dark side, which leads me to…
4. You’ve been Freshly Pressed, your views are through the roof, and you’re thinking, ‘YEAH, Baby, I’ve hit the big time now!’ You do a dorky MC Hammer happy dance around the living room in your underwear, shouting “You can’t TOUCH THIS!” Then you watch your numbers begin to dip, then slide like a greased weasel in a laundry chute (what, you’ve never greased a weasel and hucked him down a laundry chute?) and ultimately plummet into a fathomless pit of has-beens where you find yourself in the company of yes, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. You pine for the magic to happen once more. You think time and again, “Well, this is a very pressable post,” but then nothing. And again nothing. In time, though, you stop worrying about it and just keep writing, and happily you see your views slowly but steadily climb. But you still want to be FP’d.
5. No matter what you might say about being unconcerned about readership, that you blog just for yourself, for the chance to write, it’s bullshit. You want people to read your stuff. You want to be popular. If you didn’t care about people reading, using, sharing, or commenting upon your writing you wouldn’t be maintaining a blog – you’d be keeping a diary. You love it when people comment on your posts. You feel gratified when they say it was useful, or funny, or touching. Of course you do. You get giddy when you see the ‘likes’ pile up. And you should. Affirmation is a good thing.
6. Relatedly, you get miffed when you find that someone’s post consisting of two photos and three sentences gets 186 ‘likes,’ and your well-researched and time-consuming 1,300-word piece on identifying owl species by peculiarities in their scat receives only two. ‘Likes’ are largely a function of the number of followers a blog has and a post’s readability and accessibility. Most of my posts are longish. I know that. I know I’m a verbose and tedious bastard. This post is probably going to be too long. I’d say that if you think you’re producing high-quality writing, don’t worry so much about people clicking that little button. If your stuff is good people will appreciate it. Even if it’s not that many people.
7. The posts you think are your best aren’t necessarily the ones that will be most popular. Some of the pieces that I think contain some of my strongest writing are the least popular. I wrote an account of a pig killing we attended, and while I was pleased with the result, pretty much nobody else has been. Just because you love it doesn’t mean anyone else will – get used to it.
8. Sex sells. The article I wrote about getting busted by our son in, ahem, compromising circumstances has gotten almost as many all-time views as the one that got Freshly Pressed. If a post is a bit racy, or even better humorous and racy, folks are going to have a look.
9. Slipping a link to one of your posts in your comments on another website can get you a lot of traffic. My wife left a comment on a Baby Center.com community forum that included a link to the aforementioned article, and within the next few days about 150 people had clicked on over.
10. People out there are doing Google searches for some truly bizarro stuff. If you ever check out the search terms in your stats you know what I’m talking about. Approximately 12% of the traffic on the site comes from search engines – about 65% of those are image searches. The most popular search leading people to FNFF by a wide, wide margin? Sadly, variations on “kids having sex.” Other interesting searches: “photoshop of a dead body in the cemetery; newborn baby poop name; Budapest girls silicone; grasses children poke; tickle torture; wail i slov; piglet has a big stick; I want to soften vegetables.” I’ve done some of these searches, and how these people ended up on our site is beyond me.
11. You will probably develop a core of regulars who read and comment on your posts. These people are your fans, your friends. Treat them well and take the time to respond to their comments and to check out what they’re writing. The blog currently has about 800 followers. So even if only a quarter of those followers read a new post, that should be 200 readers/post. Right? Wrong. Of those 800 only 4 (4!) are email followers, meaning that they receive an email notice when a new post is published. You can’t expect the number of followers your site has to automatically correspond to lots of views.
12. In the same vein, having a core following is rewarding as you develop relationships with other bloggers. I once hired a friend through Fiverr to promote the blog, paying $5 for 5,000 guaranteed views through his vast network of contacts and websites. About 98% of those views were ‘bounces’ off the homepage – people who clicked on the site then immediately navigated away as though the blog would give them scabies. As my friend explained, they didn’t find boobs, kittens, or anything they could consume in under 20 seconds. I probably picked up a couple of new readers from that 5000, and I’m not sorry I did the promotional campaign, but it’s a lot nicer to have people actually read the articles on which you’ve expended so much care.
13. Some days views come from unexpected places. Most of our hits come from the US, the UK, Canada, India, and Australia – understandable for an English-language blog. But there are some days when there will be a spate of views from, say, Latvia, or Denmark will top the daily list. Not sure what’s going on there, but it obviously has to do with social networks and other connections. There are also some surprises in overall views: The Philippines comes in a solid 8th place, even though I’ve never written about it; Ireland beats out Indonesia, but gets crushed by Singapore; Slovenia’s 2 million people have more views than Spain’s 47 million; and the Isle of Man ties Lesotho at one view apiece.
14. I’ve never known the etiquette here, but I’ve always called bloggers by their Gravatar names. Bloggers seem to go by their WordPress handles like they’re big rig truckers, so I write things like, “Thanks, skinnywench,” or “Great post, Cuttlefish,” or “Keep it up, LTPM,” even though I know the names of these people. It’s like you don’t want to expose their secret superhero identities. Had I known this from the beginning, I probably would have gone with a cool handle like “Badass Daddy” or something, but alas I’m stuck with the cumbersome Field Notes From Fatherhood (FNFF) and shall forevermore be known as effineffeff.
So those are many (but not all) of the things I’ve learned about blogging. I’ve discovered that there’s a whole world of talented, passionate people out there doing great work on their own initiative, getting little or nothing in return but the satisfaction of sharing what they know and being a part of a world that’s much, much larger than they could have imagined.