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Running My Website: One Year Retrospective

I am happy to announce that this is the one-year anniversary of my website! I wanted to take this opportunity to share my observations and lessons learned since my last retrospective after the first three months. Running my website has continued to be an incredible learning experience. I have learned more about building web traffic and on-line advertising. Writing articles forces me to reflect on and clarify my thoughts and ideas on a particular subject, and there are a number of topics that I understand better after having thought and written about them.

I am quite pleased that I was able to maintain my goal of publishing one article per week for the entire year. It has sometimes been challenging to meet this schedule since I have a full-time job and a family. Working four days a week instead of five has definitely helped. However, this fixed posting frequency has had some downsides. While I have no shortage of ideas for articles, I choose a topic based on what I am motivated to discuss, or based on issues I am currently dealing with. Some weeks I do not have a particularly strong motivation to write about a topic. I therefore have to push myself to produce an article which often I am not as happy with as my articles on topics I feel strongly about. Another downside is that writing an article a week does not leave enough free time for me to work on other projects. For example, I have an idea for a software utility that I would like to implement and add to my Software page, but this requires significant blocks of free time. Due to these factors, I am changing my publishing goals. My new goal is to publish a quality article at least every two weeks. I will also publish the articles immediately once they are written rather than always post on a fixed day.

One change to my website in the last nine months is the addition of advertising - specifically Google's Adsense ads. Adding advertising to a site can be controversial, so why did I do it? I do work full-time, so I do not need an income from this website. I do spend a considerable amount of time writing articles, however, and feel it is appropriate to be compensated for doing so. The deciding factor for me, however, was that it represented a learning opportunity I did not want to pass up. As I found out, I did have a lot to learn. Choosing ad placements was difficult: more visible positions above the fold would likely earn more, but would also be more intrusive for viewers. I wanted to maintain a good viewing experience for the reader, and did not want to plaster ads all over my site. Initially, I erred on the side of caution and only placed a small ad below each article. This placement earned very little revenue. I then used A/B testing to test a larger ad format in the same position. It performed about twice as well in terms of ePCM (effective cost per 1000 impressions), so I switched to that format. Later, I tried a new ad placement above the fold, and it performed even better. Currently, my ad placements are earning roughly five times my initial setup in terms of ePCM, which shows the importance of ad optimization. I have recently made other changes that I am looking forward to evaluating.

I have also changed the search functionality on this site. When I actually went to use the default WordPress search functionality, I was not pleased with the results that were returned (only posts are searched, not pages), and how the results were presented. I decided to switch to use Google's search, which not only returns better results in a format everyone is familiar with, but also can earn income if ads on the search result pages are clicked. I am quite happy with this change, and highly recommend it for other blogs.

To implement Google ads and search functionality required changing my custom WordPress theme. During my initial development of this theme, I had not bothered to check the code into version control. This caused me a few problems once I made changes after my website was live. One change made the site render badly in Internet Explorer, which I did not discover until after promoting the change to my live site, and without having the changes recorded in version control, I could not easily reverse the changes or determine what caused the problem. I therefore put my entire WordPress installation - not just my custom theme - into version control. This was very helpful not just for making changes but also for upgrading to new versions of WordPress. I always knew that version control was important, so I am not sure now why I did not use it from the start. At least now I have a better appreciation for its importance. For version control software, I use Subversion, and have written about my experience with it.

I regularly analyze my web server statistics, tracking metrics such as page views and referrer sources. I am pleased with how I was able to grow my traffic: my page views in December were more than the first four months of the year combined. I have used a few methods to promote my site including social bookmarking sites such as reddit.com, blog carnivals, and ProBlogger's group writing projects, which have all helped. One interesting lesson I have learned from my server statistics is that technical how-to articles that address a particular issue for a particular technology generally do better for drawing search engine traffic. One example of such an article is Tips for Using Log4j. Based on the search terms used, I can tell that people encounter problems working with a technology, search online for an answer, and come to my site. Partially as a result of such articles, my search engine traffic has increased by a factor of seven over the last six months.

Overall, I am pleased with this first year for my website and look forward to this coming year. I would like to thank all my readers, especially those who contributed via leaving a comment, linking to my site, or shared my site on a social bookmarking site. I would especially like to thank those of you who left donations. Your generosity and support is greatly appreciated.

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2 Comments on “Running My Website: One Year Retrospective”

  1. Justin Gamble says:

    On the theme of developing web traffic, I have an idea for you. Check out http://fav.or.it/

    They appear to be the next generation of news reader, and are currently in beta stage. They are looking for 10,000 blog sites to register, for their volunteer beta testers. Why not register your site?

    Maybe one day I will be re-reading my own comment with the fav.or.it reader. We’ll see. :)

  2. Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out.

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