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WordPress, Why’d You Go And Change?

negative sad smiley emoticon keyboardThis past spring, WordPress.com made some critical changes to the organization of its website and I’m certain I can’t be the only one who has caught on. The changes most noticeable to us, the bloggers, are the ones which impact the content non-subscribers are able to view as well as how easily our blog can be found when browsing the site. Ultimately these changes have altered the interaction of the community WordPress.com is built upon and your comments and page views have likely taken a hit as a result. If you’re like me, you may have been wondering why you blog has been receiving substantially fewer visitors even with the same frequency of posts and quality of content. Well, it’s not you – It’s WordPress.

As a creature of habit, I’m slow to warm to unsolicited change and so I didn’t want to form an opinion without first giving myself some time to adjust. I didn’t know if the changes would be permanent or if their impact would be decidedly negative. Now, nearly 6 months later, I’m concluding both to be true.

If you’ve joined WordPress in the last 6 months – feel lucky, you’ll never know the difference. If you’re a veteran WordPress user and haven’t noticed these changes, your personal impact may have been too subtle to notice (Warning: You may become acutely aware of these changes after reading the rest of this post). But if you’re a fellow blogger working hard for every new subscriber you earn, you may feel just as confused and agitated as I do with the blogging platform you’ve loved and supported above any other. So what happened, WordPress – Why’d you go and change?

Isolation of Non-Subscribers – Before I was ever a blogger or even a registered user of WordPress, I enjoyed visiting WordPress.com to browse through the day’s blogs. I was in awe of the chosen few who were featured on the “Freshly Pressed” section of the homepage that immediately greeted you with big pictures and intriguing article titles. As a loyal WordPress blogger for more than a year and half, I only recently noticed the different welcome page non-subscribers are now being greeted with when my computer decided to log me out one morning. Without logging in I could only access limited pages that resembled more of a commercial for WordPress than a blogging community. I get it, WordPress – you want new subscribers just as much as I do! But you have to give people a preview of the incredible content this community shares everyday to make someone want to join in. What first brought me, and as a result many of my clients, to WordPress (over other blogging platforms) was the way it openly shared blogs, allowed for easy browsing and even showcased a select few with the honor of being “Freshly Pressed” adding incentive for quality content. Now a wall has been built around the outside world and though the entrance inside only comes at the cost of an email address, this is enough to deter those who aren’t yet ready for their own blog or who want to remain an anonymous (though loyal) blog browser for right now.

For logged-out users, the OLD WordPress.com homepage used to greet you with its Freshly Pressed articles of the day and the option to browse more blogs under those topics. Note: this is without needing to sign in.

Wordpress old homepage

Now logged-out users are only able to get as far as “Get Started.” They’re denied any interaction with the community until they agree to create an account.

Wordpress new homepage

Freshly UnimPressed – I still believe being chosen as Freshly Pressed by WordPress is one of the most exciting honors for a new blogger. I was chosen two months after starting my blog and received nearly 3,000 blog hits in a single day and a large residual of hits and subscribers for months after. Truly this experience alone can launch a blog to stardom! Since the changes, I’m no longer as impressed with the publicity of Freshly Pressed – and it breaks my heart to say this. This stems from two main reasons. First, Freshly Pressed articles used to be featured on the homepage of WordPress.com and this produced far greater traffic for the featured blogs. Now that it’s no longer the default landing, users have to actively select the Freshly Pressed tab to view the blogs. Though even a minor additional step, this still creates a substantial roadblock that users won’t take the effort to do. I know I’m guilty of not visiting the Freshly Pressed page every day, whereas it used to be my starting point when visiting WordPress.com. Second, only registered users/subscribers can view Freshly Pressed blogs. This option no longer appears on the homepage for users who aren’t logged in. This change alone blocks out a substantial portion of potential web traffic to these blogs.

Not-So-Hot Topics – Do you remember when there used to be an option to browse by “tags” from the WordPress.com homepage? I do and it drove a great deal of new and random visitors to my blog (the best kind!). You can track how people find your blog  by checking your stats under “referrers.” Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a recent referral from a tag used in your blog, because the new organization of the site has all but brought this perk to a halt. Again the culprit is that to browse by topics (aka tags) you must go through several different steps to get there. Each additional step decreases the number of people who actually make the effort to do so. Take a look here:

This is currently the homepage I’m greeted with when I’m logged into WordPress.com. I see a blog feed of only the blogs to which I am subscribed. While there’s a column of topics/tags on the left-hand side, I have to choose to see these topics and again they only appear as a slow-loading and single-listed news feed.

New WordPress Homepage

Furthermore, WordPress.com seems to randomly generate the topics listed in the left-hand column by pulling from topics/tags I’ve used in my own posts. But what if I want to browse blogs on a new subject? I tried once to clean-up and customize my topic list only to have it reset the next time I logged in. I’ll still hoping to get that half-hour of my life back somehow…

Remeber when browsing by tags/topics was easy and attractive like this:

wordpress old topic browse

Now the only way I can figure out how to achieve this browsing capability on the new WordPress is to click “Explore Topics” and type in the topic I want to sift through. But instead of the attractively laid out format as above, the topics read more like a newsfeed and load at a terribly slow rate. Instead of simply clicking Homepage–>Tags, I now have to go to Homepage–>Reader–>Explore Topics–>Type in and Search Topic–>Wait for page to load and scroll through single-listed blog feed. To any less-motivated of a blogger, this process isn’t happening and it’s likely your blog hits from new or random visitors have declined as a result.

Wordpress topics

Segmenting a Community – The ostracizing of non-subscribers, devaluing the honor of being Freshly Pressed and creating yet one more roadblock for new visitors to reach your blog are all unfortunate results of the changes made to the new organization of WordPress.com over the past several months. But my biggest concern isn’t with any of these individually. Rather, it’s the concern that the WordPress community which I have blogged and bragged very openly about is at risk for disengagement. Together these changes produce a WordPress in which it’s harder for fellow bloggers and visitors to find your blog and for you to find theirs. If an interactive blogging community is indeed one of the major points of differentiation for WordPress.com – and I’ve always thought it to be – then it should be made a priority above all else (i.e. more subscribers and up-selling bloggers on customized domains and blog templates). I’m disheartened by what appears to be permanent changes, but it’s not just because of the decrease in blog hits, comments or subscribers. It’s because of the time and effort I put into learning and adapting to the WordPress community and interacting with new blogs daily. If future changes continue in this direction, I’m worried my single efforts to encourage engagement won’t be enough to preserve the WordPress community for what it once was.

If anyone has had a similar or different experience with the impact of WordPress.com’s recent changes, please share! I’m very aware it’s possible I could have overlooked a benefit of these changes and would gladly welcome knowing if they exist.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Freshly Pressed, Technology

 

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The Essentials for A Successful Blog

This is where I’m blogging from this week–a park on beautiful May day in Pennsylvania!

Almost one year ago, when I first started publishing ramblings about my ambitions, struggles, triumphs and personal philosophies around starting my own business, I had no real idea what I was doing. I wanted a platform to share my ideas, but to also keep me accountable for continuing my creative writing on a regular basis. And for me – this meant blogging. At that time, I had no real plan for where this would go, or if it would go anywhere at all. All I knew was that this was the first time I could really write for myself and not have the pressure to “perform.” This was a wildly new feeling which allowed me to access a whole new level of creativity and improve my own writing over the course of a single year by simply making me do it weekly.

While there is still much for me to learn from some of the Master Bloggers out there, I do feel like I’ve picked up on several tips that allowed me to enjoy the prestigious WordPress honor of being Freshly Pressed and to continue to steadily grow the Bennis Inc blog week after week, month after month. The following are what I consider the prime essentials for my blog’s success:

Consistency. Every Monday morning around 8am you can expect to be greeted by a Bennis Inc blog post in your inbox or blog feed. This takes planning, and sometimes pre-scheduling posts weeks in advance, but I’m a stickler for not leaving my readers hanging. For you, a different day of the week or a different frequency might make more sense, but whether you’re posting weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, loyal readership comes from consistent content.

Tags. Tags are what get your blog before the eyes of potential followers. In WordPress you’ll see that you can browse blogs by an endless number of topics. How do the blogs you see get placed on these topic pages? Tags. I familiarized myself with the most popular, overarching topics such as Life, Business, News, Photography and Writing (you can pick them out by the size of their font on the Topics page). I incorporate these powerhouse tags into my posts as much as relevant. That’s the other key to tags is to keep them relevant to your post. Overtagging is treated like spam to WordPress and that won’t get you any further ahead. Pick just the 10-15 most relevant tags for your content. Tags are also how a lot of search engines pick up on my blog. So when I use a Thomas Edison quote, for example, I’m sure to tag him because his name alone has brought many people to my blog because Google includes it in its search suggestions.

Quality Content. If you’re going to make the time commitment to start a blog, also make the commitment to write to the best of your ability. I can remember one busy week over the holidays when I just knew I couldn’t make my Monday blog deadline with a post to which I was proud to sign my name. Instead, I took just a few minutes and included a photo and a fun message to my readers about how even bloggers need a holiday. First, this kept me consistent with my weekly posts. Second, this allowed me the extra time I needed to come back the following week with quality content. I want to WOW my readers every week – and some weeks I do a better job of this than others – but I never want to take their readership for granted. So by offering you something worth reading I’m letting you know that I value your time!

Make it Genuine. So often blogs that are started by businesses fall into the trap that their posts should focus solely on promoting this business or its services. While a blog is a great opportunity to self-promote, it shouldn’t be a sales pitch. Just as I mentioned about quality content, give your audience something worth reading. Establish yourself as an expert in the field, but be sure to include personal stories, humor and even give people a look into some of your own struggles from time to time. My underlying point is – be human. We have enough social media being run by spammers and software. A successful blog gives readers a window into your life.

Make it visual. Adding a picture, graphic or embedding a video clip into your blog posts creates immediate interest for readers. When you browse through a topic on WordPress you’ll see an entire feed of new posts – too many to fully process. So what stands out? One of two things, an attention grabbing title or a picture to accompany your words. Both should accurately represent your blog with minimal thinking or reading. It’s the 0.5 seconds you have to pull a reader in, so don’t willingly give up this opportunity to grab their attention!

Become a part of the WordPress Community. WordPress is very much a social network; it’s a community of writers and readers made up of every demographic imaginable. But you can’t simply publish a blog, sit back and wait for people to swarm it with likes, comments and 5-star ratings. Most often, you have to actively pursue new readers. I personally comment on 5 other WordPress blog every day with something more meaningful than “Great post!” I show them that I took the time to read what they wrote and I share how it relates to me personally. WordPress is a very interactive community and 4 times out of 5 I get a reply for my comment. Most often, 2 out of 5 times I’ll get a new subscriber to MY blog. Multiple this by 5 days a week over the course of a year and it’s easy to consistently grow your blog. It just takes a few minutes of meaningful interaction every day.

So what are some of your successful blogging essentials? Have you discovered the tips I mentioned to be same as the ones you currently use? Since we are a community after all, share your blogging Do’s and Don’ts with me!

 
21 Comments

Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Business & Success

 

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Life As My Own Boss: A Six Month Review

Standing atop the milestone of my 6-month mark, where do I want to take Bennis Inc from here?

Standing atop the milestone of my 6-month mark, where do I want to take Bennis Inc from here?

Just yesterday I happened to look at the date and couldn’t believe how quickly the first month of this New Year has flown by. With a small pause in shock, I realized that January 15th has significance far beyond just the midpoint of the month. It has now been 6 months since I resigned from my position with the Governor’s administration and launched Bennis Public Relations Inc as my full-time career. This is a milestone I’ve been anxiously awaiting to achieve. I see reaching the 6 month mark in any new business as an exceptional opportunity to review its achievements—and struggles—and to redefine the goals I have moving forward.

On July 15th, 2011, my personal “Independence Day,” I had just 3 monthly clients (and a job as a bartender). I was scared, I was unsure, but I felt more alive than I had in years. I knew I had made the right decision when long hours and less than glamorous work conditions were no obstacle—I was doing what I was most passionate about and I was surviving!

The second half of July flew by as a blur. It still hadn’t yet registered that this was a permanent change. It felt more like a long hiatus from work. In August, less than 2 months after starting the Bennis Inc Blog, I was Fresh Pressed for the first time. I was considered “the best” of 362,344 bloggers, 502,365 new posts, 442,553 comments, & 118,245,712 words posted that day on WordPress.com. This was one of the first signs I received that I was doing something right. I had talents that I was tapping into and I was inspired to keep going.

September through December were months of major changes. I moved from my tiny apartment into a place with much more room to grow. I traveled to Charlotte, DC, New York, Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Texas. I learned how to work from the road and essentially mastered the 4-hour workweek from airports and Panera Bread’s all across the United States. And did I mention I went skydiving?

In December, I had increased my business to 7 clients (plus some side projects) and was busier than ever. I upgraded to a new website and invested in some programs and subscriptions to keep me abreast of new PR techniques. But as any entrepreneur will tell you, when it rains it pours. One client’s contract ended and one of my largest clients dropped off. I was left going into the holidays wondering whether I could make ends meet to buy my family (and Pinot!) Christmas presents.

As I normally do in times of adversity, I went into survival mode. I networked, promoted and tapped into all of my resources to find work. What it resulted in is the best proof I can give any business owner that even in your darkest moments, you have to keep going. The brightest light is often right around the corner. In 3 weeks, I’ve more than tripled the number of clients I had just 6 months prior and am receiving an average of 2-3 side projects each week. I’m also involved in 3 pro-bono projects that are as rewarding as they are additional ways to network. Slowly but surely, Bennis Inc is becoming its own brand. The business that was once my delicate infant has now learned to walk and talk.

So now, standing atop the milestone of my 6-month mark, where do I want to go from here? Do I want to become a PR mogul with international offices and hundreds of employees or do I simply want a career that supports me and allows me to do what I love while working from home? Each has its own risks and rewards. And to be perfectly honest with you, and myself, I don’t have an answer beyond simply wanting to keep Bennis Inc growing in whatever direction that may lead. However, I do know the one goal I aim to keep with me every step of this entrepreneurial journey is to continue to offer services of the highest quality and to create lifelong relationships along the way.

I made this drastic life change so that I could pursue a more fulfilling life using my talents to do what I’m passionate about. The strangest result of this change I didn’t realize until right now. Since July 15th, I have not once complained about my job or dreaded the tasks that lie ahead of me. But to get here takes more than just 6 months. It takes, as Frank Lloyd Wright would say, “…dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”

 
26 Comments

Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Business & Success

 

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