Tag Archives: Blogging Inadequacy Fears

Novellablog, the Toolkit Series: Outbrain, Part Two, in which Kate Gets Schooled in Bloggin’.

In my previous post about Outbrain, I talked about why I chose to use it, how the service I used worked and what the results were. I also mentioned that in my first meeting with Natalie Chan, the Self-Serve marketing manager, I got a bit of a tutorial on being a better blogger. I needed Outbrain because I needed more traffic to my website during the Kickstarter campaign to fund The Kairos Mechanism. But it turns out that nobody goes to your website if you aren’t putting compelling stuff up there on a regular basis. So before she let me sign up for the service, Natalie told me what I was going to need to do to get the best results from the program, and we made a plan I could stick to.

1) I needed to be adding new content two to three times per week. For contrast, up until that point I considered that I was doing pretty well if I managed to add a post a week, but a post every other week was much more likely.

Natalie suggested that I write ten blog posts in advance of launching (I planned to start my Outbrain campaign at the same time as I started the Kickstarter campaign). Writing that content would be easy; I would be learning lots during the Kickstarter campaign, but I had already written The Kairos Mechanism and done the research on things like the Espresso Book Machine and McNally’s pub services, and (as you know if you’ve read other Novellablog posts) I was already experiencing mild panic attacks about editing and formatting and so forth. I had plenty to draw on to start writing posts.

Natalie offered to look over the posts once I had them ready and offer suggestions on how I could improve them, which leads me to:

2) I needed to make sure my posts were more self-contained than I was accustomed to making them. For the past few years of blogging, about the only traffic I got was from people who already knew of me and of my writing, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure each post stood on its own. Plus, since I was writing a series on a specific project, I had the tendency to just assume that folks were going to have read previous posts. This may seem like an obvious fallacy–and if you had asked me if I thought this was a safe assumption, I would have said obviously not–and yet I had done just that in nearly every blog post I had written in advance.

3) I needed to cut just about every post in half and turn it into two posts. This is something my husband, who is a good blogger, has been yelling at me about for years. The good news is, once I faced the reality that I seem to write things more like articles than blog posts, cutting them in half meant I actually had more posts pre-written than I thought.

4) I needed to really give some thought to the titles of my posts. The more exciting and compelling the title, the better. Once again, this sounds obvious, and it was obvious to me even then, but I still had trouble with titles to start with. For one thing, the kinds of titles that generated a lot of traffic for me via Twitter and Facebook did not translate to traffic when the same titles were offered up to readers who didn’t know of me in advance. My campaign underperformed for the first week or so, and my titles were pretty much directly to blame.

Natalie explained that, taken on their own, the kinds of titles that work best and get high numbers of clicks tend to sound almost sensational, and that that would probably be the biggest thing I’d have to get used to. This turned out to be absolutely true. Titles were my biggest stumbling block.

Now, Outbrain’s customer service folks can re-title posts and articles at their end, so I had the option of using one title on my blog and have the same post offered under a different title through the Amplify service, but that turned out to be more trouble than I wanted to deal with–not because it was any trouble for anyone, but because it did require me to send an email asking for the title change, and as it happens I’m too lazy to be bothered to do that. So I started really trying to keep Natalie’s advice in mind as I chose my titles, and once I did, I started getting vastly improved results.

For instance, there was the post about how I completed the first draft of Kairos in under a month, which I titled “How to Write a Book in 30 Days.” Now, obviously there are many ways to do this, many ways do fail at doing this, many reasons to try anyway and learn to be disciplined about getting words on the page, and many reasons to spare yourself the stress and write at your own pace. But giving the post the simple, decisive how-to title (ignoring all the reasons why what I was about to say was completely subjective, might or might not work for you, etc. etc.) was the key to getting clicks from strangers. There was also the massively popular “Yes, You Can Edit Your Own Work, But You Will Probably Frack It Up.” Same idea. I don’t think I’m any kind of expert; I was just writing about my experiences. Still, titling the posts with authority got better results than ones I titled more humbly.

So those were the things I was tasked with keeping in mind as I wrote my posts. I still have a lot of learning to do, but I do think I was vastly more prepared than I would otherwise have been, and I certainly got better results in terms of clicks and also in terms of engagement with my new readers. Not only did people find my blog, they actually spent time reading it, and even clicked through to read more of what I’d written.

Now I just have to find some way to keep the momentum up now that the campaign’s finished. Which just might turn out to be the hardest thing of all.


Novellablog, the Toolkit Series: Outbrain, Part One

Having taken some time to decompress post-Kickstarter, I’m now ready to get moving on a group of posts I’ve been very excited about. In the Toolkit Series, I’ll be talking about some of the services that are making this first volume of the Arcana project possible. This is the first of two posts in which I’ll be talking about Outbrain.

One of the challenges I knew I would have was that I’m a haphazard blogger, and at the time I started the project, my website didn’t get much traffic. I definitely needed to make plans to reach beyond my own circle of contacts. Outbrain is a startup that specializes in driving traffic to web content. Now, full disclosure: I had a lot of time and opportunity to get to know Outbrain, the folks behind it, and how it works because my husband, Nathan, has worked there for three years and is currently the US Operations Manager. I follow Outbrain folks on Twitter, I’ve geeked out over bourbon with Outbrain folks, I’ve even traveled with Outbrain folks (like that time I scored a vacation in Israel by tagging along on one of Nathan’s work trips). Along the way, I’ve gotten a really good sense of the company and what they do, so it was kind of a no-brainer decision to look to Outbrain when it was time to start worrying about how I was going to get people I don’t already know to read about the Arcana project.

I knew I would be using Outbrain’s Amplify Self-Serve program. You choose links to submit through your dashboard, and then those links pop up as recommendations on sites that use Outbrain, too; small sites like mine, as well as bigger, fancier sites like Slate, CNN, USA Today, Mashable, and lots more. You can read this article on Outbrain’s blog to learn a bit more about how their automation and algorithms work to serve up content recommendations, but in a nutshell they do a really good job of pointing folks who are already likely to be interested in what you have to say toward your content.

Before I started, I arranged for a meeting with Natalie Chan, who, apart from being one of my Israel traveling companions, is the Marketing Manager for Self-Serve. The basics are simple enough: you set a budget per day (I started with the minimum, $10) and choose a cost per click (CPC). Each time someone clicks on one of your links, you pay the CPC to Outbrain. You only pay for the clicks you get, so some days you might not spend your entire budget, and other days, your campaign might go offline if you hit your budget limit. I started out at a CPC of $0.15, but over the course of the campaign I adjusted that, as well as my budget, a few times. You can change the elements of your campaign anytime as you see what’s working and what’s not.

So, ten bucks budgeted per day at fifteen cents per click equals 66 clicks per day, or an additional 2000 clicks over the course of the month, assuming I was consistently generating interesting content–meaning I also needed to turn into a better blogger. But more on that later.

I launched my Outbrain campaign at the same time I launched the Kickstarter campaign, at the beginning of April. At Natalie’s urging, I had ten blog posts pre-written in an effort to set myself up to blog more consistently. I was able to monitor the clicks I was getting via Outbrain in real-time on my dashboard. I could see what my campaign had spent up to that time each day, what links were getting the most traffic, and where they were coming from. If you like metrics, by the way, you will have a good time with the dashboard.

For the first week or so, my campaign underperformed. I got monitoring emails from Outbrain a couple times during that period with suggestions on how to improve things so that I was getting enough clicks to spend my budget each day. I also emailed quite a bit with Natalie during that time, and I learned two things: that the biggest hurdle I was facing was that my titles weren’t compelling enough; and that the posts that people were most interested in were about craft rather than general updates and musings. Throughout the entire campaign, the post that got the most traffic was this one about my beta-reader Emma, titled “Kid Editors: Because the Kid in the Room Understands Your Book Better Than You D0.” That one must have had the best combination of subject matter and title.

By the time May rolled around, I had the combination sort of figured out, and I was getting so many clicks that my ten dollar a day budget was being spent by late morning. I’d added not only links to my own blog posts, but links to each interview I gave on anyone else’s blog and links to blog posts that mentioned The Kairos Mechanism or the Arcana project. I started getting emails from Outbrain suggesting that it might be time to reduce my CPC so that I could get more clicks within my budget. I took a look at the links I was “amplifying” and culled a few that were either not performing well or that were not as relevant, dropped the CPC to $0.10, and upped my budget. This combination resulted in more than 4500 clicks in the month of May and more than 1500 in the first week of June leading up to the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

The net effect is that my blog, which in March, according to Google Analytics, was averaging (are you ready for this humiliating admission?) less than twenty clicks a day, averaged more than 60 clicks in April, 213 in May, and 234 in June until I stopped the campaign on the 10th. For contrast, post-Kickstarter but without Outbrain, my blog has been averaging 85 clicks a day. My total spending for the two months was $705.50. This was more than I had initially budgeted (remember that I had started out with the minimum daily budget of $10/day), but once I was getting so many clicks, I didn’t like seeing the campaign go offline so early in the day, so I decided the extra expense was worth it, especially since the readers who’ve visited the site have also consistently spent more time here, which I believe means I am also getting better engagement with my readers overall.

A side-effect of the campaign, by the way, is that (with the exception of the month I just took off, during which I will admit to having willfully fallen back into my errant ways, but LOOK, I NEEDED A BREAK, OKAY?) I did turn into a better blogger, and that’s pretty much all up to the pep talk I got from Natalie during that first meeting. Another great thing about the folks at Outbrain: they are passionate readers of blogs, and they know what works and what doesn’t. So, without suggesting that I lose anything that I might feel was uniquely part of my own blog-writing voice and style, Natalie was able to help me craft posts that were more likely to get served up as recommendations, and more likely to be read and talked about afterward.

And that bloggy pep-talk will be the subject of Outbrain, Part Two. Stay tuned!

Wherein I Admit to Lacking the Blogging Instinct, and Freak Out About It for a Minute

I totally lack the blogging instinct, and it sort of freaks me out.

A couple of days ago I announced that I’m publishing a novella this summer, and part of my strategy is a three-posts-per-week blog series about what I’m doing and why, because I’m treating it a bit like a proof-of-concept project. So I’ve basically committed myself to twelve posts a year from April through September. This is a number real bloggers would shake off as no big deal.

It’s already giving me panic attacks. I’ll pull through, but lemme tell you, the panic is there.

One of the tools I’m planning to use to publicize the book and the project is the company my husband works for, Outbrain, which specializes in content recommendation and referral. They do pretty amazing stuff, the net effect of which is that they help your content find its way to readers who are likely to be excited to read it. Outbrain is my ace-in-the-hole to help drive traffic to my website, which, mostly because I am a really bad blogger, gets minimal traffic.

Well, this will not surprise you, but when I sat down with my contact at Outbrain, Natalie Chan, to discuss my needs and expectations, she listened patiently, made copious notes, asked lots of questions, and then made the strong recommendation that I start blogging more. And then, in order to make sure I understood how important this was going to be, she suggested very strongly that this go at the very top of my to-do list, and that I write at least ten posts in advance. And because I figure if I’m going to hire Outbrain, I had better do what Natalie says (especially when it’s such an obviously good idea), I started writing those today.

The official launch of the project is still about two weeks away, but I’ve spent the last month in writing and planning. Do I have enough stuff to write about to generate ten posts? Oh, heck yes. How much progress did I make towards writing those posts today? Well, I wrote a few thousand words, but only one coherent post emerged. By contrast, my husband wrote five posts today. His website gets exponentially more traffic than mine. It’s infuriating, if not entirely surprising.

Meanwhile, my husband is trying to help me write better blog posts: ones that are not too long, that don’t have uncomfortably large paragraphs, and that have images.

I forgot to find an image for this one. Here’s a dinosaur on a truck waiting to ambush my mom, who was following about a mile behind my car.

Don’t worry, I still have two weeks to get good at this. I can do it. I can do it, honest.