What I learned my first month of blogging

 

Copy of Cats are so independent. Aloof. Sneaky. Selfish. Sanctimonious.
HumansForCats_myFirstMonth (3)
HumansForCats_myFirstMonth (2)
HumansForCats_myFirstMonth (1)

It all began one month ago… well, 34 days ago, on the 26th January, Boxing Day actually. For years, my fiancé Will has hounded me to start a blog. Last summer we finally decided to do something about it. We made a list of everything that I could write about, my niche as they call it in blogging world: food, gardening, my research, coding… our cats?

Inevitably, nothing came of it. There was no blog in summer 2017. Our finances took a huge dive, my work was incredibly busy, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was on (free is still an option even when you’re totally skint!)… then I got sick for three weeks, we had an engagement party, my beautiful 15-year old dog died, anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks again… oh and we decided to move. Despite all this madness going on, somehow, Will had taken on a new part-time job and was spending the other half of his weeks writing. And starting a blog.

A what? A blog?! If there’s one sure-fire way to spur me on, it’s to create a competition or rivalry. As soon as my Christmas break came I started planning. With the hassle of Christmas over, it was go time.


I have learned a lot in this past month. It’s insane. There is so so much going on in blogging world it’s overwhelming. There’s also a load of crap! When I started I was so intimidated by all these people who claim they got ten gazillion views or followers in their first months. These are the kinds of blogs that exist to help newbie bloggers, the blogs that are about blogging. But I call bullshit!

I’m not going to name names, or anything like that. That’s not the point of this post. I just want to say to any new bloggers out there… don’t believe the hype. The myths. Read what people say, carefully. I clicked on one Pin on Pinterest where the blogger claimed to have gotten over 4000 page views in their first month. When I saw it, I took notes because I wanted to learn how on earth I could do that too. This is what I found:

  • 4000 page views
  • Month TWO not one
  • Started with 600 Pinterest followers with 60,000 monthly views
  • Contributes to 56 group Pinterest boards
  • Had at least one other blog through which the new blog was promoted

It’s not entirely untruthful. But it’s hardly attainable for a new blogger who has zero experience or following anywhere. (And who hates social media like it’s a plague…). I find posts like that super frustrating. And often they do that so you’ll buy their $10/20/25 pdf. Err… no.

Anyway, enough of the waffle… onwards!

HumansForCats // What I learned my first month blogging

 This is a long one, follow one of the links below to skip ahead.
A quick summary
What have the posts been like?
That’s very Pinteresting
Instagram
No eBooks, no tutorials, no courses, no money
For the future

A quick summary

I love these monthly update posts on people’s blogs because I’m nosey. I like to read their stats. I want to know if I’m doing okay or not. So here’s an overview of HumansForCats has done in its first month (or 34 days)…

  • Views: 1219
  • Average views per day: 35
  • Visitors: 501
  • Likes: 286
  • Comments: 44
  • Followers: 37

Am I happy with this? Yes and no. The views and visitors are great, it far far exceeds what I expected. It’s really picked up since I’ve been improving my (horrendous) social media game. Though that’s not exactly surprising! Engagement is something that I’m less happy with. At the beginning the likes/comments were higher, it’s starting to really reduce lately. I’m pretty sure a large part of the reason is that the blog is on WordPress.com – it’s harder for people to engage. This is definitely something I have to resolve, but more on that later.

What have the posts been like?

My first posts were, unquestionably, terrible. They were individual pictures. And then some terrible written non-cohesive junk that I’ve since taken down. I have kept some of them as drafts to rework later though. The earliest post now is the first in the blog post series: Cat haikus (written by Will, mostly).

I love the addition of a regular blog feature. It is definitely the sort of thing that keeps people coming back for more. But it has been difficult since I don’t create the actual haikus themselves. Will has been sick and we are preparing to move. There are 8 haikus so far which you can check out here.

On the topic of blog post series… cat science seems super promising. It does require a lot of work, I’ve only managed A scientific (cat) revolution so far. And the views of that page are not even in my top 5. And yet, it’s generating the most engagement of any of my posts. Twitter, Pinterest… it’s creating interest and that’s getting people to the blog itself. Eventually.

That brings me to the top 5 posts. What are they?

16 priceless cat pictures: the alternative cone of shame  // 106 views
500+ pics of celebs with cats that will make you love them even more // 92 views
Haiku #3: Kitten love // 47 views
DAY 1: 6 six-word cat stories (tails) // 46 views
I live in a madhouse // 33 views

It’s easy to see a theme. List posts = views. Series posts = views. I’m super glad that the 500+ pictures of celebs are generating traffic as that post took so long. I had to find all the pictures, their original sources, who the person is, what they do, check the metadata, touch up the images, resize them, and then finally, write the post. Right now, I doubt the work involved has been worth it. But long-term? I think it will generate consistent traffic. It’s certainly gets Pinned a fair few times on the weekends on Pinterest!

That’s very Pinteresting

I’ve mentioned Pinterest quite a lot. I do love Pinterest. I always have. I’ve been using Pinterest for years (on and off) and have multiple accounts. I created one account for my love of architecture and Huf Haus’ which generated a large following and lots of engagement without me paying any attention to it at all. Suffice to say, I thought I knew Pinterest. WRONG!

Pinterest is advertising and traffic to your blog. It’s great, and I could sing and dance about it forever. I am going to write another post on Pinterest once I hit the one-month mark there (still a week to go). But until then, here are four super useful things I have learned in this past month:

1) Hidden pins.

Hide pins in your posts. …why? Most importantly, Pinterest likes long vertical pins of high quality. But they look like utter crap in your blog posts. It’s something I’ve always hated on blogs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have images, this just gives you more freedom, you are less obligated. It also lets you create multiple advertising pins for a single post. For example, try pinning in this post, you’ll see loads of potential Pins!

It’s super simple, go into HTML mode, and type:Picture1

2) Get a business account.

Pinterest for Business. Turn. It. On. Change a personal account to Business. Takes a few minutes to sort out. It’s free. Why? Analytics! You are going to need to understand your numbers if you want to take the Pinterest game seriously. Granted, Pinterest analytics is incredibly slow to build up its information, and it always lags behind a couple of days, but it is invaluable for knowing how many viewers, impressions, saves and clicks you are getting. Sort it out!

3) Pin scheduling: Tailwind and Boardbooster

Pin scheduling. I am not 100% okay with this as it seems a bit too much like using bots. What do I mean? Some people use certain websites to find and auto-pin content for them. This inevitably generates follows and repins. Until Friday, I wasn’t happy using any of these kinds of tools. I like Pinterest, I like finding Pins and curating my boards.

Everyone raves about pin scheduling tools in the ‘blogosphere’ though. It’s Tailwind this and Boardbooster that… I’ve tried both (briefly). It was free after all. I went for Boardbooster first and it just look terrible. The UI is horrendous and I was not happy with it logging in to my account at all. No siree Bob.

Tailwind? The scheduling part is pretty meh. But I don’t think that’s really the big selling point of Tailwind anyone. It’s the Tribes that everyone talks about. But I have NO idea why. The options I see when I check it out are extremely small-time, and no one ever says how you get an invite into the exclusive private club of super-special-awesome tribes. I tried my five tribes, uploaded my own pins to the tribes etc., used my free scheduled pins on them. Pointless. The lack of engagement was so disappointing. From what I saw, Tribes are for the Lifestyle bloggers and those who are blogging about blogging… it does not seem to be of any benefit when your blog is in an actual niche. These other bloggers do not want to share things that don’t have anything to do with their area of expertise, and why would they!

So now I’m on Boardbooster. I refused to use it when I joined for the free trial, so I never got to use it. But I liked its feature of looping pins (old pins that people might not have seen). I took the plunge two days ago and spent the $5. Then I went a bit trigger happy… suffice to say I am now in love with Boardbooster. I could write a whole post about it. In fact, I sort of will, in my Pinterest One-Month Update (coming next week).

4) Find and join group boards

One final pinnie thing. Group boards. Doesn’t everyone rave about them? Find group boards, pin peoples stuff, they’ll pin yours, we all benefit from the shared followers. Hooray. …but how are you meant to find them? I mean, sure, you stumble across some. But what else are you meant to do?! I found the answer while I was snooping about a blogging Facebook group (which I also don’t like btw but I’m just not going to get into that right now!). The answer: PinGroupie. Go to the webpage, type in a keyword, it brings up relevant groups, you see the followers, number of pins etc., you request to join on Pinterest. Bish bash bosh, job done. I love it. I’m not on many group boards yet, but the ones I have joined via PinGroupie are great so far.

Instagram

This is another thing I hate. Instagram makes me want to bash my head off a wall. I know that’s a pretty strong response… but I have my reasons. I hate hearing that people are focussing more and more on how things look, just because it has to look good on Instagram. I’m talking about food. It’s ridiculous!

Anyway, that’s beside the point and has nothing to do if it’s good for a blog. In fact, given my issue with it, I thought it must be great for blogging?!

I have to say, it’s been lukewarm at best. I have the pictures and the hashtags, that stuff’s all good. Once you are using Tailwind (the only use of this website as far as I can see) hashtags are a breeze. It suggests possible hashtags that are less competitive than the real big ones. Easy audience. Loads of likes and followers super super fast. But after about 3 days I had to ask myself 2 questions:

  • Is the engagement real? As far as I can see, people press like on anything. I experimented with a post that specifically directed people to the link in my bio, absolutely nothing else. 49 likes. How many clicks? None. Zero. Nil.
  • Who are these followers? I was tracking my growth, there were almost 500 followers in 10 days. It was really exciting. I’m awful at social media but something was working. I even had two gifs of the cats getting treats that went crazy with likes (398 and 319 LINKS HERE) and got me loads of followers. But then it started to seem like I was losing followers faster than I was gaining them. When I looked into this, it seems that instagrammers do a lot of following and unfollowing. And it’s algorithm is a bit messed up, but I think the former was the major problem.

It’s been about two weeks since I gave up on Instagram. I’m not saying it’s not useful. But it wasn’t working for me so far. I’m sure there are things I was doing wrong, and undoubtedly, I will give it a bash again in the future. But is it essential when you’re starting out? I don’t think so. Not in the least.

No eBooks, no tutorials, no courses, no money

Apart from the $5 on Boardbooster (because I never used my stupid free trial), I haven’t spent a penny on the blog. To be fair, one of the major reasons is the lack of money. As in, no money. Especially since we now have a new flat to move to so money is going to remain tight for a bit longer. BUT, I don’t feel that it’s necessary either. I’ve not seen anything that an eBook, tutorial or course can provide that a little bit of research can’t do anyway. I also hate going to someone’s blog, based on a pin or link somewhere else, and then finding out that the thing I came there for costs money. I don’t think that the majority of the content someone has should cost money! These crazy super-monetised blogs certainly seem to be making money and traffic. So maybe don’t take my advice on that one!

If you’re reading this any time before March 2018, or have been a regular since the launch, it’s probably also obvious that the blog is hosted by wordpress.com and I don’t have a domain. These are two things that I do wish I had. But are they holding me back? I don’t really think so. I know that once I upgrade I am going to get a ton of functionality and I’ll be able to get better engagement… but quite honestly, if I had all that at the very start as well, this whole blogging thing would have been even harder. I wouldn’t just have to plan and write posts, do social media and engage with people… I’d just be fiddling about with themes and widgets, adding ten million features to the blog not knowing which I actually need or my readers might want. To me, in the early days, that’s wasted time and money. I’m not saying that I won’t reflect on that in 6 months or a year and say I was stark-raving crazy.

For the future

Progress has been awesome. But there’s always room for improvement. I mean, look at the blog, there just obviously is. I still haven’t even done the proper cat introduction posts or explained why we chose the name HumansForCats! (Should I be pointing this out? Oops!)

Still, there are plans afoot.

  1. The most major next step? Buying the domain, moving to .org and beginning to a build an email subscriber list. Absolutely. This one is obvious.
  2. Coming Soon. An app/test. I’m writing the code for a Cat Personality Test based on three recent studies. It’s superbly interesting but not exactly practical for anyone to do. I tried to create a spreadsheet to do it but it’s just horrendous. I am writing the code for this in R, using Shiny. I know R well, I’ve used it for my work for over two years now and I do spend most days coding. But Shiny, apps and coding for the internet? No clue. It’s a slow process. But hopefully it will be worth it.
  3. Something I should be doing more of is blogger outreach. I need to get better at commenting and engaging. I was doing this initially and it was great, but it was easier then. I had time off and was able to dedicate time to reach out. But now that I’m back to work and getting ready to move its fallen by the wayside. I am hopeless with social media and remembering to talk to people in my real life, so it’s hardly surprising this is happening. But still, it needs addressing and I will have to make a plan! Granted, I won’t stick to the plan, but all I need is for it to become a habit and it should stick. Fingers crossed.
  4. The posting schedule needs to improve too. Theoretically, the haikus are supposed to be twice a week. But that’s just not been possible the last fortnight. I need to start preparing my posts in advance. I know loads of blogging blogs say that you need to keep to a schedule, but really…? Do you? The vast majority of my visitors are first-timers. I don’t really think they care if I miss a haiku. Or haven’t managed a post this week. Long-term, I think this is going to matter. But right now? I’m not convinced.

Some of my opinions in this post clearly go against the general blogging advice. And I may be wrong. But I may also be right. Pinterest? Yes. Instagram? Nah/maybe. Spending money immediately? No thank you, but maybe it is right for you.

I think that is the key. Do what is right for you. Be confident in the decisions you are making for your blog. You will know soon enough if it works or not, just give it a chance. You want instant results. But the internet is a vast web of information. It takes time for people to find your stuff. It is not the end of the world if you make a mistake and needs to try something new.

It is not the end of the world if you make a mistake and need to try something new.

I know this blog post has been off-topic in terms of my regular content. I’ve barely actually said cats at all. But I really wanted to share how my first-month has gone. Provide some more realistic expectations that might help other new bloggers in the future. Obviously, the traffic is nice too!

If this post is useful in any way, or if you think I’m totally wrong with some of my ideas, then let me know in the comments! Happy to hear the good and the bad.

Much love,
Annie, Will & kitties 
xxxxx

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