Still working on monetizationAm I delivering a blog brand experience? Lord, I hope not!

I gotta hand it to John Pozadzides: even though he’s one of those big-shot dispensers of the very kind of received blogging wisdom that I was railing against last week, he sure doesn’t buy the malarky about narrow niche blogging being the best way to attract and keep an audience.

I’ve been hearing people advising authors to stick to only one topic per blog for some time now. And they are just plain wrong.

Any possible SEO [search engine optimization] advantage is more than outweighed by the fact that authors and readers become bored by the same subject after a while and content becomes stale and painful. Not to mention the fact that you’ll only keep a regular subscriber for so long without some variety. (Oprah doesn’t talk about the same thing every day, so why should you?)

Instead, write about what you know and love… all of it. As an example, my blog has 42 categories and 2,300 tags. I average 15-20,000 page views each day, with a record day being over 140,000.

Of course, here at Via Negativa it’s more common for me to write about what I don’t know (but still love). But one way or the other, with advice like that to mitigate the effects of his unexamined assumption that big audience = success, I happily sat through a video of his entire speech at WordCamp Dallas, and have even decided to follow two pieces of his advice. First, as this post demonstrates, I’ve started adding title text to links — the words that appear when you mouse-over a link (or a linked image, but I’ve been doing that for a while). The visual editor in the brand-new version of WordPress makes it easy and convenient, so what the hell.

I also decided to add a “Related Posts” feature, though not with the plugin Pozadzides recommends. This one searches the entire database for keywords and uses complex algorithms, apparently. (I’m always a sucker for complex algorithms, because I don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are or why they work.) You can see it in action by clicking on any post and scrolling down to the bottom, right above the big gray block of info. I currently have it set to display a maximum of five Possibly Related Posts, with the parameters of relatedness set wide enough that something should always turn up. The results are listed in descending order of relatedness, which is to say that the most closely related post should always be at the top. And it seems to work pretty well, knock on wood. For example, the first Possibly Related Post for Consumer, that story about feeding a shrew in a box, was an essay from last year containing a photo and description of a dead short-tailed shrew.

I may not care about total numbers of visitors, but I do care a lot about engaging and entertaining those who do show up — and I’m always looking for ways to improve access to the archives, especially considering that I’m probably never going to get around to categorizing all 900-odd uncategorized posts from my days on Blogger. In the sidebar, you’ll notice a new Browse section that includes a Random Post link. It might be fun to use that in combination with the Related Posts feature. I’d appreciate feedback on these or any other new features of the site, especially from regular readers.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention another new feature that affects browsing. I now have the ability to display a smaller number of posts on the main page of the blog from what appear in monthly archival pages, category archival pages, and search results, thanks to the Different Posts Per Page Custom Post Limits plugin. So right now the main page is set to display seven posts, down from ten — which always seemed too many to me for a front page, but not quite enough for exploring the archives. All the other settings are currently at 15, and display complete posts rather than excerpts. I’m very open to suggestions and criticism on this.

15 Replies to “Related”

  1. Well, I like the related posts plug-in. “Blogging tools I’d like to see” sounded promising, and I enjoyed it, maybe in part because I was already in the mood for reading about blogging tools after reading this post. By the way, I agree with everything you say there about what factors a useful ranking service should consider.

    I’d be afraid to have such a plug-in on my site. It would only confirm how much I repeat myself.

  2. You think I don’t have those fears? I really doubt you’re any worse than I am in that regard! But there’s another fear at work, too: that people will quickly discover how often and flagrantly I contradict myself.

    Anyway, thanks for the review.

  3. I was engaged by the snarky (um, ironic? – PS, is it snarky when it is self-conscious? I may not understand that word well enough to use it…) comments embedded in the links when my cursor hovers over them.

    How did I miss them before? How long have you been doing that?

    Related-ness is a quite nice feature.

  4. Wow, we’re supposed to deliver an experience now?

    Huh. I thought that sort of thing went out in the 60s. Guess it’s back, huh?

  5. Hah — oddly enough, I was just telling a friend much the same thing the other night — the blogs I read daily aren’t the single-topic jobs, they’re the ones where people post about whatever interests them.

  6. Also a fan of the self-effacing, sarcastic, non-sequitur, and/or purely absurd roll-over text. It’s like the prize in the Cracker Jack box.

    The related posts feature might be a great way into the uncategorized archives, yes – will poke around that way for a while.

  7. …deb – Nope, this post is the first where I’ve ever included rollover text, snarky or otherwise, on hyperlinks. As I say, the new version of WordPress (2.5) makes it easy to do that if you use WYSIWYG editor, which I’ve just enabled here for the first time in nearly two years. It had been pretty much F’d up in earlier versions of WP.

    I guess you manage a self-hosted WP blog over at Read Write Poem, so maybe this info is useful. (I’d advocated holding off on switching to 2.5 for at least a month, though — there are a few bugs with it that will probably be fixed by then.)

    donna and Rurality – Thanks for making that connection. Not being a boomer, it hadn’t occurred to me. But yeah, isn’t it fascinating (and just a little nauseating) the way marketing has adopted the language of the former counterculture? Another example that comes immediately to mind is the way everyone talks about “growing” a business.

    David – It’s good to know that there are readers like you out there. I sometimes worry that general-interest readers just aren’t logging on much at all, having heard that the blogosphere was a vast cultural wasteland. That’s why it was so reassuring to hear John P. suggest that y’all number in the tens of thousands.

    Theriomorph –

    It’s like the prize in the Cracker Jack box.

    Ha! Well, I can’t promise this style of rollover text for every post, of course, but I’ll try and keep it up where appropriate. I stole the idea from our friend Chris Clarke, though I realize there’s no way I’ll ever be as witty as he is.

  8. Oh, this makes me feel better. I’ve sometimes questioned my own blog’s subjects going all over the map though I’ve restrained myself on certain subjects. I guess I’m falling behind, not keeping up with all the latest blog tricks, heh. Just comfortable in my old shoes…

  9. Rereading this post got me nosing around your site, and I tried out the table of contents. I thought it was fascinating. I think it makes your older posts a lot more accessible than a standard set of links to “archives” in a sidebar. I assume you have it set so that posts are added to this list automatically. (You’re beginning to make me consider WordPress again.)

    I went back and read a few of your earliest posts. There’s something almost tender about them. (As you know, a sense of chronology evaporates from my site earlier than two months back. You have more guts than I do.)

  10. marja-leena – Well, I restrain myself on certain subjects too, as you can imagine. In particular, i try to avoid talking about politics in the abstract (though I think my Personal/Political category contains some of my best posts), in part because I don’t have too many insights of my own — I would mostly just be echoing others — and because, despite the title of the blog, I’d like to avoid the kind of rampant negativity that political blogs seem to inspire in their authors and commenters.

    SB – I’m sure you could do some great things with that!

    Peter – I’m glad you find that useful, because I have considered replacing or eliminating that page. Actually, there’s a plugin I have my eye on which uses javascript to produce expandable lists for each month. But last time I tried it, it wasn’t working properly, so I’m still displaying this slower-loading complete list, generated by the Smart Archives plugin. (I list all the plugins I’m using in the Credits page, linked from the footer.)

    I don’t know if I have more guts, or if I’m just better at shutting things out of my mind. I’d rather not think about some of those early posts.

  11. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I’m really liking your “Related Posts” feature! Does the plug-in automatically find them? I guess that’s a WordPress feature; wish I could have it in Movable Type, it would save a lot of work.

  12. Yes, it’s all auto-magic. And yes, it’s WordPress-specific; WP and MT are fundamentally different and incompatible. One of those differences is the open-source nature of WP, which had led to an astonishing proliferation of plugins from hundreds, maybe even thousands, of different contributors. However, Automattic, the private company that runs and drives development of WP core, has begun to impose uniformity on the once-happy chaos of WP plugins in order to please their corporate clients, so I don’t expect this version of blogtopia to persist much longer. If you’re contemplating a switch to another content management system, for what you’re trying to do with a blog + website with gallery, etc., I’d recommend looking at Drupal instead. (Sorry for the long answer to a simple question!)

  13. Not too long at all, Dave, thanks! I’m so code illiterate that I think I’ll stick with what already works. (The ‘gallery’ is coming, just haven’t had the time for it lately.)

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