Here is the second progress report in our new pet blog case study. This is where we demonstrate the strategies we are using to build a brand new pet blog.
We’ll be sharing what works, and what doesn’t!
We launched this new blog at the beginning of September and this report charts our first month with the website live.
You can read about how we set up the pet blog case study and all the processes we went through before launch in our first report
Before we tell you how we got on, we’ll talk about some of the strategies we have used this month, and share what we have learned.
At the end of the report, we’ll outline what we hope to achieve next month and what steps we’ll be taking to ensure we succeed.
Because we have multiple blogs, we can’t produce all the content ourselves. So one of our first tasks with the new site was to hire some help with producing content
Hiring a writer
When we first began to hire writers we produced a set of writer’s guidelines and encouraged people to submit their own ideas or finished articles.
Many of the articles we purchased failed to resonate with our audience. It was a bit like throwing mud at a wall and seeing what stuck.
Now we are much more pro-active.
The writer’s brief
We actively commission each title and provide the writer with a detailed brief for each piece we require.
The brief includes a summary of the purpose of the article, topics we expect to see covered, formatting and style information, and keywords we would like to see in the text where possible.
This means a bit of work for us, but not as much as if we had to research and write the article ourselves.
Our science writer
We have recruited an excellent writer with a science background for our pet blog case study.
We like her work so much, we are also now commissioning some titles from her for our other sites.
The material on our sites is all science based and well researched so this fits well with our general ethos.
Launching our new pet blog
You may remember that we did originally intend to make a twin blog study, comparing the growth and development of two different types of blog.
The decision to abandon this idea was taken early on in the month. It quickly became clear that we were frustrated by the second blog and wanted to pour all our efforts into the first.
Launch day for our Pet Blog Case Study was Thursday the first of September. An exciting day for us!
There were some final tweaks to design, making the blog visible to search engines, and testing our email sign up forms one last time.
Then it was off to get the ball rolling with traffic.
It will take a while for Google to send us any visitors, so to begin with our traffic will come from social media
From Bloglovin to Meet Edgar
We’ve talked about using Bloglovin for finding great articles and information from other sites.
I have set up a new group in my Bloglovin account especially for this new pet blog.
And I’ll be adding some of the good posts I find there to our scheduler – Meet Edgar. You can find more explanation of this process in the article linked above and in our August report
From Edgar to Facebook
Meet Edgar is the scheduler we use for Facebook. It enables us to make useful Facebook posts in batches, and have them posted at intervals, even when we are not around.
Re-posting is important because nowadays Facebook only shows your posts to two or three percent of your fans. So you’ll need to re-post many times if you want most of them to see your content.
If you don’t have a Meet Edgar account there are other schedulers, such as Buffer, and Hootesuite, though at the time of writing, I don’t know of any that store your library in this way.
Teething problem in week one – site speed
A major concern with our new site after the first couple of days, was loading speed. There was very little content on it yet, the images were optimised and it has a nice fast loading theme.
Yet loading times were intermittently painfully slow.
The site was hosted with Bluehost, a company that we have used for a number of different blogs.
It’s a cheap hosting package, not suitable for a high traffic blog, but it should have been fine for this baby blog. For most people there is no point in paying for expensive hosting until you have seen what kind of response the blog generates
On the other hand, there’s no point in blogging at all if the site loads so slowly that no-one will be prepared to wait! And we were concerned that that was what was happening here.
The downside of a shared server
Shared servers can be slow if a site you are sharing with hogs the resources, but the hosting company usually prevents this from becoming a problem by throttling back any site which is being greedy
I did a site speed check on the pet blog and got a big range of loading times, from 5 seconds (which is bad) to 17 seconds (which is terrible)
We made some tweaks and installed a caching plug-in, but things were no better and two days later the site speed was so bad as to be unusable. It was time to get help
Using website support
I tried to get on live chat with Bluehost but they were very busy. So I decided to raise a support ticket and discovered that they have discontinued this service. Even though support tickets are listed as an option in some places on their website.
So I went back to live chat and waited in line.
After an hour I got a message telling me that the wait was 19 minutes. After another hour and a half I gave up
There is nothing more frustrating than a company who can’t be contacted by email. (Apart from ones who send you important emails that need a response, from a do-not-reply address.) unless you can easily get them on live chat.
It is a while since I last used Bluehost, and I have to say that I feel the lost of ability to submit a support ticket is a very backward step. Bluehost do offer phone support, but waiting in a phone queue is not my idea of fun.
Moving our new pet blog
After some discussion, Lucy and I decided to move the new site to our main hosting company Synthesis.
Synthesis provide a dedicated hosting solution for WordPress blogs. It’s one that we normally reserve for our busier sites.
We use Fantasktic to move sites for us. Fantasktic offer a very trouble free seamless move for WordPress, with no downtime.
So on Friday 9th September I set that move in motion. And two days later we were safely installed on the new server with a site that loaded pretty much instantly.
Building a community
In the early days of any website, it is unusual to get much traffic from Google. This is where social media can really help you.
It can build a sense of community around your site, and gives you the opportunity to promote your content to people who are interested in your topic.
We use both Facebook and Pinterest for our pet sites. And we are delighted with the start we have made this month with social media.
Our Facebook page – rapid growth
Our first step was to create a Facebook page, populate it with useful content and build a fanbase.
Facebook is a great medium for pet related websites. Not only are pets visually attractive, but people love to share photos of their furry (or not so furry) friends. This is easy to do on Facebook
Each day our friend ‘Edgar’ posts our own, and our curated, content at intervals to our new Facebook page, so there is plenty for people to look at.
All we needed now was some fans!
A great way to get fans to a new page is to pay Facebook to promote it to a specific audience of people interested in your topic.
So this is what we did.
The speed with which our facebook campaign took off for this particular page really surprised us.
It grew three times faster than another page we started at the same time, with the same budget and audience.
And the audience began engaging with us quite quickly.
Facebook engagement for our pet blog
We achieved 3,000 fans by the end of week two and over 19,300 fans by the end of the month. What was particularly promising was that the level of engagement.
If you are wondering what an average Facebook page looks like in terms of engagement, here is an article about average engagement rates on Facebook.
I actually think these are pretty dire, we do much better than this on all our pages, but of course, that could just be because pets are very engaging!
And if you are a pet blogger, you should be making use of that fact.
TIPS: Getting engagement on Facebook
Once we have a large enough following we get engagement through encouraging our fans to share pictures of their own pets.
Until that point, we get engagement by sharing posts with a proven high engagement rate. And by sharing topical news items that invite comment
News is often very engaging so an additional part of our morning routine is the check google news for mentions of our topic – these don’t go in Edgar because they are time/date sensitive.
We also find posts to share through Facebook’s ‘watched pages’ function
You find watched pages’ in your facebook insights dashboard, If you scroll down below the 5 most recent posts
Simply add any very popular Facebook pages in your field of interest. And share their most popular content
Sharing popular Facebook content
Each morning, we click on one of our watched pages. Facebook then shows us that page’s most popular post that week.
All we need to do is share it to our own page and we are pretty much guaranteed some engagement from our fans.
We repeat each day with a different page.
If you watch at least fourteen other pages, you’ll be re-sharing the most popular post from each page no more than every two weeks.
Which will give you plenty of variety.
Investing in Facebook Adverts
As well as promoting our Facebook page to grow our fans, we also promoted selected posts using the Facebook boosts.
Some bloggers will tell you never to use the boost button but rather to create a specific advert in the Facebook ad manager or Power editor.
We’ve actually done some comparisons and sometimes the boost button actually wins.
We’ll talk about that in another article. Either way, you need to be very careful when setting your budgets
Take care when investing in advertising
Investing financially in a new site is a calculated risk for us – we have a pretty good idea what kind of income we can generate from a site relative to the number of articles on it.
And relative to the length of time that the site has been running for.
For a new blogger it is much more of a gamble. If you are going to do it, proceed with great caution, and monitor results closely.
Engaging with our Facebook audience
By the middle of the month we had enough fans on the page to start actively encouraging comments.
I added ‘scouring the news for items of interest and posting them up on the page with an invitation to comment’, to my morning social media routine!
Once we have our scheduled Facebook posts running, it is simply a matter of visiting the page each day for a few minutes, to answer any comments that have been posted (and remove anything unpleasant that visitors may have put up there).
Meet Edgar has transformed our lives in this respect, and though it isn’t free, it has saved us a great deal of money in terms of labour that can now be invested elsewhere.
Our next port of call was Pinterest.
Getting started with Pinterest
We have already begun creating pinnable images for each of the articles in our new blog.
If you want to succeed on Pinterest you must make your site Pinterest friendly. That means inserting images that are ‘portrait’ rather than ‘landscape’ in shape
With established blogs, if there are plenty of pinnable images on the site, people will pin them on their own Pinterest accounts. Without you doing anything at all.
This is the main Pinterest strategy we have used for the last year or two. But in the early stages of a new blog, when the site has little traffic, it isn’t going to be much help because so few people are going to see those pins in the first place.
As we don’t yet have traffic to our new pet blog, we need to build a Pinterest following to get people pinning our images – and hopefully visiting our site.
Pinterest is similar to twitter in that there is a ‘follow-back’ culture. So, if you follow other Pinners who share your interests, some of them will follow you back.
This gets your page underway, and is what we are doing at the moment with our new blog
Scheduling Pinterest posts
We are also posting our own pins, and re-pinning nice pins that we find on other people’s boards. We use a scheduler for Pinterest, just like we do for Facebook.
This is a lot of fun for me because I simply love Pinterest.
Scheduling is even more important here because I am a keen pinner and can happily pin fifty pins in an evening! This would clearly be very annoying to anyone who followed us.
By dropping these pins into a scheduler, we can drip them out over the course of the following day, rather than flooding people with them during a single evening.
Different Pinterest schedulers
We have tried two Pinterest schedulers. Buffer, and Tailwind.
And we prefer Tailwind.
It costs $120 a year for each account, and at the moment, we have three sites on it, including this new one.
We didn’t use Pinterest when we launched the other sites, so it will be interesting to see how our progress differs with this early start.
We got some pins on our board first and then found others with similar interests and followed them.
They are following us back at a rate of about 20%. And by the end of September, we had established a small fanbase and people were beginning to repin our pins
Our social media routines
Each day we
- Post a news item with a question to get people to comment
- Collect new, quality blog articles from bloglovin and add them to meet edgar
- Schedule repins for pinterest using Tailwind
We are gradually increasing the number of scheduled posts we make on the Facebook page each day
We’ll be looking at ways now to encourage people to share pictures of their own pets on the page.
We have found this to greatly increase engagement on our other pages. Once we have revealed the topic, we’ll share some of those strategies with you.
Getting backlinks for our new pet blog
People talk a lot about the importance of building backlinks. I can tell you that we grew the Labrador site to over half a million pageviews without building a single backlink.
But that was then, and this is now.
There is no getting away from the fact that backlinks are important. Google sees them are recommendations for your site.
With so much more competition out there, backlinks are more important than ever, and we will probably carry out (or outsource), an outreach campaign for this new blog in the future.
Right now, we are lucky enough to have sites of our own with related content, so for the moment, we are simply installing a few links on our own sites in a way that is relevant and helpful to that site’s visitors.
Building backlinks is something that needs to be done with care, as it is easy to get yourself into trouble if you go about it in the wrong way.
OK, so now, it’s time for our traffic and progress report.
Traffic and content report
In our report last month, we set some targets that we hoped to meet this month.
Here’s the final result for the month – our target in brackets
- Articles published 12 (10)
- Users: 1463 (450)
- Pageviews: 5610 (500)
Note: Early pageviews and users may not be as accurate as we’d like and may include some of our own multi-page visits. This is because of the way our IP works. However, we’ve now installed a app onto Google Chrome which should prevent our own visits being included in the future.
Other key metrics
Social media has got off to a good start for our new blog. At the end of month one we have
- 19,368 Facebook Fans
- 191 Pinterest Followers
- 6 email subscribers
- 12 articles published
Income report September 2016
While there isn’t any income from the site yet – and won’t be for many months – we’ll be keeping a record of our expenses here too, so that you can see how much we have invested each month, in the success of the site.
Our expenses this month were our hired writer, and promoting our Facebook page.
- Writer’s fees: $373 (£298)
- Facebook ads: $374 (£299)
Targets for next month
It is very motivating to meet and beat targets. We both find it encourages us to blog more often, which itself increases the chances of meeting and beating the next target.
The idea is to stretch yourself a little but to make targets achievable. You need to take into account what you achieved the previous month and any obstacles that might stand in your way.
Based on our success in this first month, and on our intentions to invest in some more Facebook promotions next month we are going to set our sights quite a bit higher than we normally would in month two.
Here are our targets for October:
- 20 articles published (total)
- 4,000 users
- 6,000 pageviews
While we have experienced success in the past, every blog is different. This one has got off to good start, but who knows what may lie around the corner.
If you are going to spend money on your blog, do remember that you are effectively gambling. Start small and monitor results carefully!
Don’t forget, to ask questions or discuss the content of this report, you are very welcome to join our writer’s support group