No, this is not another blog post about me going to the gym, experimenting with a new 4 Hour Body recipe or anything else you are probably guessing. This is about how I’m trying to make the experience on my site better for both of us.
I spent the better part of my last two evenings optimizing this site. Seems like I spend a ton of time helping clients and friends do this sort of stuff, meanwhile I have been neglecting my own site. This is what happens when you start to do what you love as a means of income; when you’re not getting paid to do it, it’s the last thing you want to do!
While this post is about what I did to my site, many of my choices are relevant to anyone that wants to take blogging seriously. I touch on how I’m speeding up my blog, to making money off of my original content and encouraging others to engage with my posts.
I hope this proves to be helpful for the both those who have just started blogging as well as those veterans who may simply have forgotten, or never knew, these tips to get the most out of your blog. So without further adieu, here’s a totally inside baseball look at what I’ve been up to.
Monetizing my Content
For the longest time I didn’t have any ads on my site. However, since moving to San Francisco where life is exponentially more expensive, I feel the need to make money wherever I can! For the last year or so I’ve run narrow banner ads within the text on the frontpage. However after some research, this likely wasn’t the best use of my real estate.
I’m now experimenting with what is called a “link unit” on the top right of my sidebar. This lists three ad links that are relevant to the content on the site. I cleared out a few other items I had on the sidebar to make room for the ad. Further down there is a medium square advertisement. The third ad on the site is a leader board at the very bottom. I expect this will get the least amount of views but we’re just experimenting right now, who knows what I’ll end up in the end. Probably a second medium square below the first one.
Google limits you to three of each ad type per page; three content units, up to three link units and two search boxes. So I took out the banner ads from the home page. These will now only be seen on post pages. I might add a small link unit to the top of each post in place of one of the banner ads. We shall see.
I’m using Adsense Widget to put ads on my sidebar and footer and All in One Adsense and YPN to handle the post advertisements. This has been the best combination of plugins for me but there are dozens to choose from.
Page Speed and Performance
Next up for me is to do what I can to decrease the time it takes for my site to load and thus increase the Google PageSpeed ranking. This, in theory, dramatically impacts my Page Rank as Google has begun to push faster sites higher up in search results. At the very least it makes for a better browsing experience for my visitors.
Probably the best way to speed up your site is to use scaled images and to utilize caching.
A web cache is a mechanism for the temporary storage (caching) of web documents, such as HTML pages and images, to reduce bandwidth usage, server load, and perceived lag. A web cache stores copies of documents passing through it; subsequent requests may be satisfied from the cache if certain conditions are met. (source)
I’ve used just about every major caching plugin out there with varying results. Until tonight I used Quick Cache as an experiement with a dead simple caching plugin. It got me a score of 82 which is OK but nothing to write home about.
I am now using WP Super Cache which boosted my score 5 points to 87 but I might switch to W3 Total Cache. I used it about a year ago with great success before by combining it with Cloudflare and the Amazon EC2 service. Unfortunately that all hit the fan and trashed my site for about a week when my host started blocking Cloudflare’s IP addresses and W3 Total Cache broke all of my Amazon EC2 content links. It was a mess. To top it all off, W3 Total Cache tried to cache my database nearly corrupting it. If I go back to it, I’ll definitely pay the $100 custom installation charge.
Next up, I’ve gotten rid of the ShareThis plugin from my site. I had a conversation with my friend Christopher Kennedy about how so many of these sharing plugins really suck. They break the site design, aren’t especially effective and can cause all sorts of other issues. I have actually had some pretty great success with ShareThis but I took what he said to heart and made a slight change.
I no longer have nine share buttons at the bottom of every post on the home page posts and full posts. I simplified it using the Digg Digg plugin to have a small Facebook and Twitter share button on the top left of every post on the home page. On each post there is now a hovering share bar with just the essential sharing networks. This shortens the length of a post by a significant margin and speeds it up.
I know Chris would advocate that I get rid of all sharing buttons but I don’t see that happening any time soon for me. I still rely heavily on Twitter, Facebook and StumbleUpon to bring readers to my site. If the hover bar doesn’t seem to be doing the job, I’ll probably simplify things further by using the Facebook and Twitter buttons exclusively. We shall see.
Suggested Content to Reduce Bounces
A very important measure of site analytics to nerds like me is the bounce rate. A bounce means someone enters your site clicks a link and leaves your site instead of continuing on to another page. Ideally people will stay on your site forever and ever amen. However, unless you’re Facebook, you’re probably not going to have that sort of luxury.
One way to to keep people from bouncing out of your site is to provide them easy access to more of your great content! This assumes your content is great to begin with (a lot of my old posts are notably un-notable). Previously I used LinkWithin to provide suggested content buttons at the bottom of each post.
However, a few weeks ago I got an email from the people at nRelate. They noticed I was using LinkWithin and shared with me how their suggested content links actually work. Turns out that instead of redirecting traffic through your site, visitors are first sent to LinkWithin and then back to your site with a HTTP 301 redirect code. Not cool and not good for SEO (search engine optimization). nRelate does not do this and so far I’m liking their implementation better all the way around. Plus it’s a native WordPress plugin.
Cleaning up the Database
This site is, in blogging terms, super old. It started out at Xanga then went to MoveableType, then TypePad and finally to WordPress. All of those migrations, post revisions and just general life added a lot of shit to my database. I found this great plugin that analyzes your WordPress database and finds all sorts of extraneous fluff that can be deleted. I installed it, ran it and discovered that there were thousands of post revisions, unused tags, categories, slugs and more clogging up my database.
I wish I could remember the plugin to share it with you. I only really needed to use it the one time and subsequentally uninstalled it. I’ll try to figure it out so I can share it with you. The speed increase it gave me on the back end of my site is incredible, not to mention that my database, and database backups, are significantly smaller.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Oh wait, how could I forget?
Commenting with Livefyre 3 Beta
Talk about burying the lead! Last week the great people at LiveFyre gave me, and others, access to the beta of their next generation commenting system. I’ve been a fan of Livefyre for quite a while now. It allows you all to leave comments using your preferred social network account instead of signing up for an account here.
But the coolest thing it does is pull in the comment streams from Twitter and Facebook. So if I tweet a link to a blog post and you respond to that tweet with a comment about the post, your tweet will actually get pulled into my blog as a comment! It’s brilliant for encouraging comments and capturing conversations. Plus all of this extra comment content is optimized for discovery by search engines.
The new version of the service allows rich text editing as well as image embeds. Give it a try! It’s a beta and it isn’t bug free. For a while it was redirecting elements of my site to https instead of http which got my site flagged by Google’s malware protection service and there are a few pages that are mysteriously broken but I’m confident this will all be worked out by the time it is released.
Ok, so now I’m done with this behind-the-scenes technical look at what it means to actually care about blogging. Most blogs I’ve come across don’t seem to care about most of this sort of stuff, or even know that they should care.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about securing your site, perhaps that will be my next insider story. If you’re interested in how I backup my site, I wrote that post a while back. This is something all bloggers should be doing.