As I sit reflecting on my new life (i.e. retirement) I realise that in all the many, many years I played cricket I never scored a hundred or anywhere near. After just six months of blogging I have clocked up one hundred blogs of various sorts. Pretty good in one way because, as my blog target / commitment was simply to write one a week, I should have a total of somewhere round about 25 or 30 blogs by now. With each blog averaging 800 – 1000 words, that’s 80,000 to 100,000 words, enough for a proper book. Just like a proper author. So, by this quantitative measure alone, things have gone pretty well. I’m pleased with myself that I can keep writing stuff on a regular basis – 2 or 3 every week. I’ve covered a wide range of topics as you can see if you care to look at my categories, not all of them directly related to retirement but that’s OK, I had always intended the blog to be only very broadly about retirement. Mostly I’ve achieved my twin goals of amusing and informative, I think.
Qualitative measures are another matter of course. Is what I have written any good? My honest answer (which is not the same as an objective truth) is that, so far, my blogs have been like the curate’s egg – good in parts. I’ve written some I am rather proud of, some serious and some that have made me laugh. Mrs Summerhouse remains my number one, some might say only, fan and she thinks everything I write is brill. Bless. Elsewhere I’ve had comments that suggest a few people enjoy what I write but, and here’s the rub, comments, of any kind, are thin on the ground.
Once or twice I’ve written something a bit radical expecting a response one way or another – positive or negative, it wouldn’t have mattered really. But, no, nothing, zilch, nada, rien. There are times when writing a blog feels like shouting into a void (or pissing out of an open window as somebody elegantly put it). Of course I told myself when I first started that this would not matter, I would be writing for myself even if somebody else once said that writing for yourself was like dancing with your sister. I really couldn’t comment as I don’t have a sister and hate dancing anyway, so the comparison is not an altogether helpful one.
I am learning stuff though and that was a retirement goal. If you had asked me what SEO stood for a few months ago I would have said a boss of something or other but I’d have been wrong. It stands for Search Engine Optimisation, in simple terms how high up Google’s ranking you are (the higher you are the more likely random searchers for say retirement blogs, will find you). This by virtue of a number of strategies – having your key word – retirement – in first (see the first and last sentence) and last sentence of your blog, putting in links to other sites and to your own posts. So far so good, I can do this and still feel I have some credibility but other strategies like key word density means you’ve got to put your key words – in my case, as I said, retirement blog all through the blog you’re writing. This looks ridiculous and I don’t do it which is why I’m not in the top 20 pages of retirement blogs. I may not even be in the top 5,000, I don’t know because I gave up after 20 pages. I will not prostitute my art just to get higher Google rankings, at least not yet. I will try other less tacky approaches, whatever they may be.
In the absence of any ‘proper’ feedback a blogger is thrown into the mysterious and probably misleading world of Google Analytics. Checking your number of unique visitors over a given period (a month in my case) can be addictive especially when it’s the only measure of success you have. One problem is that I, and probably every other blog owner, do get comments but not the kind you want – you get spam, dozens and dozens of spam ‘comments’ from people and organisations trying to increase their SEO rating by sending messages to blogs that they have never read. So they’re not actually comments at all. Some of them try and make it seem like they have actually read your stuff, others don’t even bother trying to pretend. They used to come through as email messages, filling up my inbox and then I had to go through dozens of them and delete them – a balls ache if ever there was one. Fortunately I discovered a wonderful bit of software called Akismet which stops all the crap and it’s free. You do still have to go through their files periodically and clear the backlog but this is infinitely preferable to getting all that bollocks in your email. Last time I looked Akismet claimed to have blocked 650 spam ‘comments’ in about two months. I do scan them before deleting them because you never know a genuine comment may have been put in the waste basket. And the language in some of them (those not in Russian, Chinese etc. i.e. the unreadables), is hilarious. For example “you know therefore considerably when it comes to this subject – always maintain it up.” Wow, well, gosh, I’ll certainly try to, thank you – I think. Worth the money I think you’ll agree.
In the days when I had more faith in Google Analytics I looked at the demographics of my visitors. What a cool thing to do, I thought. I asked my IT guy how Google could know the age, location, interests, gender of my visitors. Ahh, they know everything, he replied, followed by, it’s just a big pipe connected to America. My mind went briefly over the articles and reports about privacy issues. I allowed myself a degree of discomfort and moved on. How could I use this dubious data? Well, according to the demographics, they seem to have an interest in sports, so I will write some sports blogs and I did. Nothing exciting happened alas.
Then it began to dawn on me that all this data was bollocks. Perhaps I should have spotted this sooner. Why, for example, should a blog about retirement be being read by predominantly teenagers and people in their 20s? Incidentally, I put an advert in The Oldie magazine – the one for old gits – paid £150 but the results weren’t staggering so I haven’t repeated the exercise. Anyway I ignored these worrying signs about who my audience is, false data is better than no data, right? Well, no, you see I have two websites, a professional one and this blog and you know what, the demographics data was exactly the same for both sites. Now I’m no IT wizard but it seemed to me that this was wrong, horribly wrong. I think it’s just a default setting I’m getting. I’ve taken action about this but too early to see any results, if there are any.
So if one set of Google Analytics data is unreliable, to put it mildly, then what about the rest of GA’s data. The more important, number of visits, unique visitors, new visitors compared with returning ones and bounce rate (how many people come and leave the site without reading anything) data, how accurate is that? Just recently I’ve been getting more new visitors but a much higher bounce rate. Which is a real mixed blessing as, to my simple mind, it seems to indicate that more people are coming to my site but then finding it’s not what they wanted and leaving without reading any of it. Quite frustrating.But, despite these challenges, I continue, trying new things. For example, a couple of things I’m trying are Shareaholic and Google + (much recommended by the lady who ran the Podcast course last weekend as a way of getting your stuff out there). I took a look and wasn’t immediately impressed – at all – all the retirement section or more properly circle or community, seemed to be about finances et al or just plain naked advertising of their businesses – no I don’t mean they were unclothed. But after using Shareaholic my unique visits according to the unreliable GA went up quite a bit (20 in one day, is big stuff for me), so I will give them another try in my obsessive hunt for readers. Yes, I should get out more.
So there we are a summary of my retirement blog, which is about retirement and how retired people behaved when they’re retired and in retirement. Can you spot the key word density strategy there. That’s what the whole blog, which is about retirement, would look like if I pandered completely to getting an audience. So I’m pure but largely ignored – in retirement.