Niche Blog Strategy: Reflective Report

Blog purpose

The initial purpose of my niche blog, http://www.yesterface.wordpress.com, was to take a look at make up’s foundations. I set out to look at make up from an historical perspective, aiming to research different eras in order to highlight how make up style, products and cultural significance have adapted throughout the ages. I wanted the blog to be informative but also entertaining and visually attractive. I planned to do this via different types of blog posts e.g. short, snappy pieces; long, detailed articles, and make up tutorials.

Since launching the site, the purpose of the blog has not changed; I have done, and am still doing, what I originally set out to do. The blog includes a variety of posts about make up, each of which include a historical slant on cosmetics. After researching and putting relevant information into blog posts, I began to notice that the blog was receiving an increasing number of hits from search engines. I started to realize that the information on my blog is clearly something that people are specifically seeking.

For example, one post on false advertising, which also includes a mini history of false eyelashes and mascara, often receives hits from search engines. To date, it has received numerous hits from search terms such as: “false eyelashes from the gauze and human hair 1916,” “false advertising examples,” “unrealistic mascara commercial,” “maxfactor mascara advert with the small print” etc.

Supporting tools & social media strategy

I originally aimed to use Twitter, Facebook and Flickr to support my work and community. While I didn’t end up using Flickr, my blog received a lot of hits from Twitter and Facebook. In terms of how I used Twitter, I would simply Tweet each time I published a new post. The Tweet would typically contain a brief description of the new post (often inviting people to comment) and a condensed version of a link (using bit.ly.)  However, while Twitter has been fairly useful in terms of receiving hits, the amount of hits the blog received after posting an update on Facebook was significantly higher. Although I have a limited Facebook profile, I decided to advertise each blog post on my Facebook profile ‘wall,’ and upon doing so my blog received a much higher number of hits.

My initial supporting social media strategy involved commenting on blog forums and creating a Facebook page. In terms of the former, I joined http://www.makeup-forum.com, where I would post a brief description of and link to each new blog post. I often get hits and comments from members of the forum, however, while this has been useful, I don’t think I’ve spent enough time engaging with my potential audience. I would need to start advertising my blog on a larger number of sites, and spend more time actually speaking with members of different forums in order to gain the kind of audience engagement that I am looking for. While the number of hits my blog’s received is approaching three thousand, I believe that this number would increase dramatically if I were to improve the ways in which I attract my audience.

I also created a Yesterface Facebook page, which now has 77 members. Each time I write a new blog post, I notify members by posting a page link on the wall of the Yesterface Facebook page, and as a result the blog earns more hits. Facebook has certainly been a better platform than Twitter in terms of driving hits to my blog, but I think the fact that Twitter didn’t prove to be the best vehicle for publicizing my blog is due to a combination of factors. Firstly, I think the fast-moving nature of Twitter means that a single ‘Tweet’ doesn’t have much time to make an impact before it’s pushed down by other, newer Tweets. Secondly, I only have a following of around one hundred people, which is definitely not a big enough audience. Thirdly, I need to start following people who are relevant to my blog, and I should attempt to engage with them directly via Twitter if I want them to take notice of the blog itself.

I also used a couple of additional methods to advertise my blog which I hadn’t originally planned to use. In addition to being listed in other bloggers’ blog rolls, I guest-posted an article on http://www.ethicalchef.com, where both my name and a link to my blog were included underneath the article; both these things have helped drive more traffic towards my site.

Top post

With 374 hits, “Egyptian Makeup Tutorial” was the blog post which received the biggest number of hits. From looking at the type of search terms which have led people to this particular post, on the whole it tends to be people who want tips on Egyptian makeup or information about the history of Egyptian cosmetics. Luckily, this blog post has both; alongside the step by step tutorial of how to recreate Egyptian makeup, I also incorporated short, historical facts about the history of Egyptian cosmetics. I believe the additional historical material not only ensured a repetition of key search terms such as ‘Egyptian,’ but it also expanded the amount of topic-related terminology within the blog post, and therefore increased the number of search terms which could potentially lead to my blog. As with every other blog post to date, I tried to make this particular blog post as SEO friendly as possible in order to drive more people to the site. As a result, if you type “Egyptian Makeup Tutorial” into Google images, images from this blog post are scattered among the first two pages.

Future

In terms of what I’d change about my niche blog strategy, the main thing would be the way in which I garner audience interaction. I aim to look at different ways of publicizing Yesterface and, even though the audience engagement I’ve had so far has been great (for example, the ongoing debate on my blog post Why don’t men wear make up?)  I would look at other methods of encouraging a larger number of people to participate. As somebody who was initially repelled by the thought of blogging, I must admit that I am now a blog convert, and plan to continue with Yesterface.

Links

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Cardiff allotments: a growing trend

Cardiff Council is offering three hundred new allotment plots to the city as part of its allotment strategy, however there are still 1,069 people on the waiting list. So why are allotments in such popular demand, and what can be done to meet the needs of Cardiff citizens?

Jenny Howell, who currently runs the Riverside Community Garden Allotment Project, describes allotments as the perfect compromise for city dwellers who enjoy being out in the open air: “They are great if you’re living in the city but haven’t got a big garden. It’s really nice to have a piece of land which you can dig over and use to grow your own veg. It’s good to do something outside in the fresh air which is a bit more than just a walk in the country.”

The Riverside Community Garden Allotment Project was established in 2004

The Riverside Community Garden Allotment Project was established in 2004.

Jenny Howell, who runs the Riverside Community Garden Allotment Project.

According to Jenny, the recent surge of interest in allotments can be attributed to a number of factors, the most prominent being that, nowadays, most people’s jobs involve being indoors: “I would say some people feel they’re stuck in front of their computers all day and are motivated by just wanting to get out.” Jenny also believes that having an allotment has become much more socially acceptable, and that allotments and activities associated with them are consequently becoming increasingly fashionable amongst young people.

Winter is an exciting time for the allotment as there are many projects going on in preparation for Spring and Summer.

Jenny discussing the community garden’s Winter projects

Indeed, cooking a meal made from organic ingredients, maintaining an attractive garden or even keeping a micro pig as a pet are all in vogue nowadays. But being in touch with nature hasn’t always been so chic, as Jenny explains: “I was in my late 20s when I started my own allotment and it was considered a weird thing to do. I suppose traditionally it tended to be people who were retired which did that sort of thing. While that’s still the case, there’s a lot more about this kind of subject on the telly nowadays. And it all ties in with environmental issues; sustainability, climate change, food, good eating, healthy living – things which young people are a lot more tuned into.”

Jenny talking about the people that come to the community garden

A variety of people of different ages visit the allotment. In the centre is Tate, 7, in the yellow jacket is Tate's mother Lisa, and on the front left is Malcolm, who builds the garden's cob ovens.

An interview with Tate and his mother Lisa

For more information about Malcom's cob ovens, you can e-mail him at cewfs.m@gmail.com.

One young person who’d certainly agree with Jenny is vegetarian chef Deri Reed. Deri, 25, has recently launched his own vegetarian catering business: ‘EthicalChef’. Each week Deri sets up a stall at Riverside Market where he and his team prepare and sell local, organic, vegetarian food. Deri is a regular visitor and fan of the community garden, disproving the stereotype that allotments are just for older people: “It’s becoming more trendy,” says Deri. “It’s a hot topic. I think subconsciously people would like to know more about how to survive in a world which isn’t already set up for you.”

Deri (furthest right) previously worked at a world class vegetarian restaurant in Ireland and had a work placement at Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage,

The Ethical Chef is at Riverside Market every Sunday between 10am-2pm.

With regards to the council’s new allotment strategy, Deri says: “300 new allotments is amazing, but it’s not enough”. Jenny Howell echoes Deri’s sentiments, saying that the introduction of the new allotments is to be celebrated, but that more things can happen as well. According to Jenny, there are always allotments which are untended for long periods of time, which is why she believes the council should increase self management and encourage people to make quicker decisions on site in order to speed up the turnover.

Two untended allotment plots at Pontcanna Fields allotment site.

Jenny discussing the untended allotment plots and the new forest garden

To start addressing the increasing demand for allotments, the council intends to bring one former allotment site back into use, says Executive member for Sport, Leisure and Culture, Councillor Nigel Howells: “In addition, we are developing a programme of work to provide an estimated additional 273 plots for cultivation over six existing sites”. According to Howells, the council is currently analysing the responses to a survey they have conducted of all plotholders, and their aim is to encourage more allotment sites to be self managed in order to maximise their income generation for future site improvements from both lottery and grant sources.

Jenny says that many people who want an allotment realize how much hard work they are after receiving one. As a result, they often become discouraged and give up. To Jenny, this is why community gardens are such a great alternative: “I think community gardens are brilliant because they give people the opportunity to come along and see if they like it, then if they really get the bug and they feel it’s not enough, they can go off and get their own allotment.” Unlike having an allotment, there’s no responsibility or commitment with a community garden; something which many people prefer. Perhaps community gardens are one way of remedying the frustration of those on the waiting list, in addition to easing the pressure on Cardiff council.


Jenny hard at work on the forest garden.

Further information about Riverside Community Garden Allotment Project

 

 

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The economics of content

The fortunes of the media business are the fortunes of our future careers, says Robert Andrews, editor of paidContentUK.

The number of people buying newspapers has been on the decline for some time now and, as Andrews points out, every newspaper circulation is falling apart. Today’s news is no longer tomorrow’s chip paper, but instead is tomorrow’s old webpage.

According to Andrews, and almost every other guest lecturer at CJS to date, the belief is that all media will soon be digital media, and trainee journalists of the digital age are becoming increasingly aware of the importance and inevitability of online journalism.

Ever since the internet exploded onto our computer screens, online advertising has become more efficient than print advertising. This is particularly true for Google advertising, simply because the target audience are already looking for that particular kind of information. In addition, online ads are cheaper because of the infinite amount of space available on the web, unlike the limited amount available in newspapers.

While this may be good news for advertisers, how do media companies make financial gain from the internet? Although pay walls are a growing trend amongst publishers, surveys show that if sites did begin to charge for their content, 5% of people would use the free headlines, and 74% would simply find another free site.

The future, however, appears to lie in the tablet industry. It’s early days yet, but the success of the current Apple app store proves that people are willing to pay for content when it a) comes in little packages b) is easily downloadable and c) is sold at a cheap price. The appeal of devices such as the iPad (as the ‘i’ in iPad suggests) is personalization. Tablets offer the tactile experience and mobility of a newspaper, but can also be custom designed to the needs of each individual.

Interestingly, men currently prefer to pay for a long term relationship with publishers, whereas women prefer micro payments, where they either pay per article or per day. However, although there’s not a big inclination amongst readers nowadays to pay for online news, stats show that people are inclined to take up an online subscription if it includes a newspaper, proving that print isn’t dead quite yet.

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Is social media driving us apart?

According to BBC’s Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan Jones, officials have been predicting the demise of the TV ‘channel’ for years, and now it’s almost arrived.

Rory points out that there has always been a mental hierarchy of where things stand on television, the summit usually being the 10 o’clock news.

But with the likes of Google TV on the horizon, that mental hierarchy is on the verge of collapse. Sites such as BBC iPlayer, 4od and Megavideo already allow people to watch what they want, when they want, and have made the fight over the remote control seem a somewhat outdated concept.

In which case Google TV may hammer the final nail into the coffin of traditional television viewing. Google TV, according to Google itself, is “an experience that combines TV, the entire web, and apps – as well as a way to search across them all”.

Sound a bit much? Perhaps, but it could be argued that this TV/web experience is already taking place anyway. It’s not uncommon nowadays for a person to watch TV while they surf the web and chat with friends via their laptop. In which case, why not combine the two activities?

However, while social media enabled TV seems sociable, it also sounds like a fairly solitary experience. The departure of the fixed TV schedule will inevitably create a fragmented audience, meaning the typical conversation you have with friends, family and work colleagues about “last night’s episode of…” might soon cease to exist.

The internet provides us with an ample amount of choice in terms of what programmes we watch and how we choose to interact with one another, but perhaps our real-life social experiences are becoming more limited as a result.

On the other hand, the TV/web combo also means you’ll be able to interact with a world of people with similar interests to you, and in that sense it will be a very communal experience indeed – the only difference being that the community will be at your fingertips, rather than at your doorstep.

If you’re interested, have a look at the Google TV tour.

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The Times are changing

It’s an interesting period in the history of The Times, according to their Community and Web Developer Editor Joanna Geary.

As Joanna points out, all media organizations are now online, regardless of what their previous platform was, and in an age where social media is rife, understanding how to serve the online community should therefore be high on a publication’s list of priorities.

According to Joanna, The Times, which is one of Britain’s longest established daily newspapers, has adapted to the modern world of journalism. In addition to having just launched what Joanna describes as “one of the best iPad apps for news“, The Times now also offers a 24/7 live customer service site, and is the only newspaper in the world to do so.

Joanna finds it strange that The Times is the only publication to offer such a service, and questions why publications don’t care about the people who care about them.  She believes that too many editors and reporters nowadays are out of touch with their readers, and that too often, the question they ask is “do we have the story”, rather than, “does anyone want the story?”.

According to Joanna, a publication should be focused on and dedicated to its readers, and ensure that it does everything in its power to build bridges between them and encourage their communication with one another.

After all, publications are now very much influenced by what Joanna describes as “the community formerly known as the audience“.

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Rolling news

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding modern journalism, but I think it’s one of the most exciting times for the profession”

Those are the words of Adam Tinworth, editorial development manager for the worldwide B2B publisher RBI. Tinworth endorses the increasingly popular view that it is an interesting and exciting time for journalism, and that what’s needed on behalf of a journalist entering this era is an open mind. That plus a laptop, iPhone and two cameras (one digital and one SLR).

These tools are the modern day journalist’s mobile office. The rapid pace at which technology is evolving is giving journalists increasing freedom to be out there amongst their audience, looking for stories and reporting on the spot. The availability of such technology may suggest that anyone can be a journalist but, as Tinworth points out, there is a fundamental difference between the blog of a frustrated mother of three and that of a professional journalist: the latter is writing for a specific audience.

After all, as Tinworth says, journalism is a business, where information can be monetized due to consumer demand. A slightly depressing portrayal of the profession in my opinion, but in some ways that has always been the case. The journalist’s job has always been to deliver news to the masses, except now it is done at an alarmingly fast and constant speed. Tinworth says that journalism is currently looking like it did fifty years ago, but I wonder if, in the world of 24 hour news, the sense of what constitutes as ‘news’ has actually been devalued?

Tinworth also mentioned the importance of social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but is it necessary to keep constantly up to date with the ‘newsfeeds’ of such sites? More significantly, is it even possible? While the advantages of modern technology are fantastic in the sense that they facilitate breaking news, they also seem to be responsible for an information overload.

Amongst the incessant myriad of tweets, Facebook status updates and news bulletins, how can we know what to take notice of?

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The way Google works

Google. A company so successful it’s become a verb.

But I’ve never given too much thought to what ‘Googling’ something really means. Typing a few words into Google search bar and hitting Enter has always felt a bit like casting a super-optimized fishing line into a sea of online information: it’ll search the entire ocean in less than a second before bringing back the best catch it can find.

So I was surprised to learn that when you do use Google to fish for information, it barely scratches the surface. This is because the internet is divided into two components: the ‘surface Web’ and the ‘deep Web’.

Unlike the surface Web, The deep Web is a portion of the net which cannot be accessed by standard search engines. In addition, the deep Web is estimated at a colossal 500 times the size of the Surface Web, meaning Google is merely one visible island amongst an ocean of hidden material.

Consequently, when you ‘Google’ something, you aren’t searching the entire World Wide Web at all. Instead, what you are actually searching is Google’s index of the web, created by software programmes called spiders. Spiders are responsible for crawling along the net and weaving together a mass of webpages, all of which are then catalogued by Google.

Each time somebody enters something into a Google search bar, Google checks every single webpage within its catalogue, looking for words which match the search terms. From the hundreds of thousands of returns it will get, Google then discerns the most relevant  results by querying a variety of statistics e.g. the number of times each webpage includes the key search terms, or how high each webpage’s PageRank is.

Google also checks whether the key search terms appear in the webpage address, title or intro. The format of each Google search result also comprises those three focal elements i.e. web address, title, and a short blurb – otherwise known as a meta-description. This is why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial part of ensuring a webpage’s visibility.

Marketingterms.com defines SEO as ‘the process of choosing targeted keyword phrases related to a site’. Thus, in order to increase a webpage’s visibility, both for Google users and the search engine itself, intros need to be relevant, simple and concise (no more than 25 words) and titles even more so (10 words max).

Drop intros tend not to work in online news stories, and punned titles for online publications are an SEO faux pas. However, while adhering to SEO may suggest a decline in creativity, I believe SEO merely presents a new challenge to the modern journalist: the challenge of ensuring that your online publication is both informative and searchable, but entertaining too.

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