Starting a Programming Blog, Part 2

It has now been two months since I started this blog and a month since that post. Since it seemed to be well-received I thought I’d follow it up after another month.

Firstly though I want to stress something I said from the previous post: more than anything, these posts are a journal of my experiences and not any kind of expert opinion. Advice given is the sum of that knowledge, which may prove to be wrong. It just happens to be what my opinion is at that time.

It’s been an interesting month. The vital statistics for the period June 12 to July 11 are:

  • 23,661 visits;
  • 20,1660 Absolute Unique Visitors;
  • 28,224 Pageviews;
  • My most read post Do Programmers Optimize... Life? received 13,338 views;
  • Where last month, DZone accounted for 65% of my traffic, this month that number fell to 13%. This month the biggest source was by far reddit at 51% due mostly to the above post;
  • Google search traffic was up to over 7%. Spring and Ibatis Tutorial, published in the previous month, received over 1,000 visits just from search engine traffic;
  • According to Feedburner, RSS subscribers are up to 77;
  • $5.61 in AdSense revenue. :-)

All in all, I'm incredibly pleased with the results. That being said, I have to consider the above to be an outlier due to the rather unexpected success of one post. So I fully expect next month's results to be lower. It takes time to build an audience.

It’s the Title, Stupid

One conclusion I’ve reached is just how important the title of whatever you post is. This may seem shallow (and it is) but consider for a second how most people find and read things on the internet.

It’s quite easy to completely deluged with information. Nowadays, there’s not a lot I read that doesn’t come from an RSS or Atom feed of some kind. The days of directly visiting sites are pretty much over for me. Google Reader is my tool of choice. The fact that I can use it from home and work (and an iphone if I had one, which I don’t) beats any desktop app for that purpose.

In my Reader I have some sites, which themselves are aggregators, like Slashdot, DZone, and Hacker News. Between those and dozens of other feeds I probably get 400+ items each and every day. There are lots of duplicates and I could probably drop one of Hacker News and due to high incidence of duplication but I know what I’ve read and it takes no time to skim.

Of these 400+ items I ready maybe 20 on a good day (beyond any one paragraph blurb). You might say that’s a low signal-to-noise ratio but you’d be wrong. The reason I do it is because if you skim 400+ articles and do that often you get a sense of developer mindshare. What are developers interested in? What are they talking about? What’s hot? What’s not?

That’s incredibly useful information.

Anyway, in my estimation, the vast majority of programmers read very little online. I’d put myself in a more active minority. Within that minority, I’d say the above reading pattern is probably typical.

When skimming a large amount of material, the title is probably the most important deciding factor on whether you read that item or not.

Title also has a great deal to do with people finding your work via search engines.

So the title:

  1. must accurately reflect the contents of your post;
  2. peaks the interest of a reader within a large volume of material; and
  3. contain likely keywords that people will search for assuming that item will be of interest to someone searching for such things.

For example, I wrote The Monetization of Java Begins? The title is accurate but the word “monetization” and that’s a somewhat esoteric word used primarily by people typically talking about ad revenues and commercial licensing. The question mark at the end is important because it accurately reflects the view that there is uncertainty over the answer (which was subsequently cleared up by Sun).

Now imagine if that post was called Sun to Start Charging for Java Features? It’s a much better title that still fits all the above criteria.

I can imagine some people thinking to themselves at this point “Boy, that’s a lot to write just about the title” or they may even accuse me of getting caught up in minutiae but if you want people to read what you’ve written, put careful thought into your title.

I’m certain the same purists who (mistakenly) believe that you can realistically write a blog these days by pushing out ASCII text files will jump up and down and say only the content matters. Now of course the content matters. The point of the title is to get that content read.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is a bit of a strange topic. A lot has been written about it. Some people make their livings out of it. To me, in certain circles, SEO borders on being a religion. Not only due to the fervour of its followers but that many of its tenets seem based on blind faith rather than having any basis in fact.

Those making their living out of it just come across as the priests of this cooky cult.

That being said, I do believe in these principles (not just for blogging but for Web development in general):

  1. Title matters (see above);
  2. Put the title of your post or page as the first element of the HTML title; and
  3. The URL should match the title.

(2) is different to the default behaviour of Bloggger (I can’t speak for Wordpress or any others) but just requires the following template change:

<b:if cond='data:blog.pageType == &quot;item&quot;'>

Alternatively put the blog title at the end of the HTML title:

<b:if cond='data:blog.pageType == &quot;item&quot;'>
<title><data:blog.pageTitle/> ~ <data:blog.title/><</title>

if you want your blog title at the end. Whatever the case, don't put it at the front.

Windows Live Writer

When I posted Starting a Programming Blog I had it suggested to me that I use Windows Live Writer to write posts instead of doing what I had been doing, which is hand-coding HTML because the Blogger editor is so awful. Now I have to admit I was sceptical.

It’s not every day I’m surprised by Microsoft. What I’ve come to expect is vertical integration that is somewhere between truly invasive to just plain nauseating but I am stunned at just how good Live Writer is. It’s not perfect but it has an extensible plug-in architecture, it integrates seamlessly with Blogger (and Wordpress, etc) and gives you a pretty darn good preview of what your site will look like.

Plus the HTML produced is pretty clean in exactly the way that Microsoft Word produced HTML isn’t.

I really can’t believe Microsoft produced this and give it away for free. It’s so completely unlike what I’ve come to expect from Microsoft. Everything I write now uses it.

The Future

It’s fair to say that this site had—and still has—a lot of JavaScript by virtue of widgets and social news site links. About half of those were removed recently as non-performing (defined as generating no or few referrals).

The code snippet JavaScript plug-in generates attractive pretty code but it another hit in terms of JavaScript load and execution. I know when developing websites I am absolutely cutthroat when it comes to reducing the amount of JavaScript that needs to be loaded (either by caching of some kind or simply including only what you really need) and executed.

The current code plug-in has the advantage that I can use it on Blogger without hosting anything myself. Even though hosting PHP (for example) is cheap, you still get what you pay for. Shared hosting tends to have issues with unexpected downtime, sometimes for long period, as well as performance.

Also, once you host your own blog, you then have to worry about issues like being hacked, backup strategies and so on.

Ultimately though, I think I will move to a VPS based solution either when I have other the need of VPS hosting for some other reason or I believe the blog has gotten to the point where it is justified. It certainly isn’t there yet despite greatly exceeding any expectations to date.

All of this however illustrates the importance of running a blog under your own domain from day one. Without that I wouldn’t have the freedom to move without breaking any searches or links I’ve built up to this point.


I hope the above is of some use or interest to you. As always, there’ll be another instalment as long as I feel I’ve got something to say.


Rechner Strom said...

Interesting! But dit you have beginn jet?

Unknown said...

Blogging can be great fun, but it can also be a little 'frustrating when the night before leaving. The good news is that you do not need to happen you.Making money as an affiliate is made to do things like writing reviews of the product or tell people about a product that can help them achieve something they desperately want.

Dubturbo said...

From the sound of your experiences, I'm glad you got to understand the importance of your title posts for seo. Furthermore, I could also add that seo is more of detailing what a site/page is all about(search engines are now smart enough to distinguish whether your keywords match with your content). Anyways, thanks too for suggesting Windows Live Writer, I think I'll try this out...

Harley Davidson Parts said...

To me VPS solution sounds good, by using this there won't be any issue of getting your blog hacked by anyone. Hosting PHP is also good option but still in some cases you will find problem to that.

Search Engine Optimisation said...

Good points you have in here. And I certainly agree that the Title of a blog draw the most attention so make sure we make good ones!

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