Swap ‘n’ Change

After spending the past week or so having a regularly scheduled blog crisis, I spent most of last night hunched over my laptop (literally, my back is killing me this morning) poking and prodding at the keyboard, trying to come up with something new. I’ve felt for a while that my blog wasn’t accurately representing the content held within. OK, some of it is complete tosh and/or just personal ramblings, but there’s a lot of useful stuff spread over years and years of archives that is impossible to find.

It’s not visual, it’s not massively pretty or revolutionary in its design, but there are the following changes:

  • Lots of text — I’m playing to my strengths here. I’m never going to be one of these bloggers with tons of amazing photography. I can barely take a selfie that doesn’t make me look like my brain is leaking out of my ears.
  • No ads — now that I’m relatively financially stable again, I no longer need the ads to contribute to hosting costs etc. As nice as the extra few quid is, they made my blog load slowly & look messy. Some of my posts will still have e.g. affiliate links in, but that’s always been the case (and I usually remember to point them out)
  • Good content made prominent — I’ve made some of the stuff people are actually searching for easier to find with clear links from either the home page, or the main navigation.
  • Stripped out distractions — I’ve removed sidebars from single posts and pages to put the focus solely on content. This may bite me in the ass and reduce session length, and I may need to add e.g. related posts at the bottom of posts, but we’ll see.

It’s not done. (It’s never done.) There’s still stuff to do:

  • The search box needs re-adding
  • I need to do more testing of responsive versions
  • I need to add object-fit support for IE (or not, if I’m feeling mean ;) )

I also need to work on populating the new snippets section with e.g. useful bits that I use when developing websites, as well as more blog posts with KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM (or something). I have so much experience to share and I really feel like I should get back to my roots with tutorial writing & actually useful blog posts.

Anyway, let me know if you spot any bugs.

Spend your time wisely

With the recent announcement over on my professional blog that I’m now celebrating 5 years of working for myself as a freelance developer, it feels somewhat bittersweet that I am also announcing the closure of one of my side projects: WAHMweb.

It has been a labour of love over the past 5+ years. Designed originally as an outlet for my own work at home rants, discoveries and so on, it has evolved into a decent resource for parents (and in particular, mums) who are looking to either move into working at home from a full time position, or simply just want to earn a few extra quid while they stay at home with young children.

Unfortunately the project has never been close to profitable, and while that was never the key aim, I can no longer afford to push money into hosting and content development to not even get close to breaking even.

As my notoriety(!) in the WordPress space increases, and demand for my services is reaching new highs every week now, I have to spend my time wisely: choosing to continue with projects which are self-supporting, self-financing, and concentrating the rest of my energies in best serving my clients (and my kids).

I have moved the most popular of the WAHMweb content pieces to this blog, and will transfer and other bits I feel are important in due course. While this is a sad announcement, it does mean that I will be able to focus more time and energy on sharing the things that have helped with my personal success as a work at home mum right here where it belongs.

Thank you to all those who’ve supported WAHMweb over the years.

Blogging doesn’t have to be strategies and planning

As I mentioned earlier this month, I recently followed some bloggers on twitter with the goal of inspiring me to blog more. It’s kinda worked: I have a lot of ideas floating about my head at the minute. Whether they’ll making it into an actual blog post is another matter, but step 1 complete. Winning!

However, one of the side effects of this is that I’ve realised how much the blogging world has become dominated by the concept of blogging for fame & money, and as such how everything has to be about optimising for this. Content marketing plans, social media strategies, optimal hashtag usage, best posting times, the right theme, the best bloggers to comment-spam in the hope of increasing your following which increases clicks and eyes and revenue and… aargh!

I’m not sure if people realise but *dramatic pause* blogging doesn’t have to be like this.

It is possible to just open your little blog admin panel and write about something. Write as the words appear in your head, without thinking “should I stick another keyword in here”, or “how many giant photographs should I use to reach peak hipster lifestyle blog status”. Don’t edit the shit out of it, don’t dress it up with fancy words and metaphors… just write.

Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t think about those things occasionally. Heck, the giant lifestyle blog photos are winning me over. I sometimes bung some hashtags on my insta-snaps and look ma: I’ve fixed my broken theme. But maybe, just maybe, once in a while: let go.

Twenty-somethings

I followed a bunch of bloggers on twitter today. My grand plan is to follow, be inspired by their energy and regular posting, and thus start posting regularly again.

Hahahahaha.

Realistically, however, I’ve already noticed a worrying trend amongst these ~cool~ bloggers: they’re all young twenty-somethings with no kids, no mortgage and very few of the responsibilities and boring bits of life dragging them down.

(That’s not a diss on these bloggers, rather just a reflection on my own boring existence.)

Of course this made me think back to my own heady days of popularity and millions of pageviews and comments and general life-validation through the medium that is the blog, and I realised I too was a young twenty-something with no kids, no mortgage and few responsibilities.

Obviously the key to being a successful blogger lies somewhere in that revelation… time to sell the kids and the house I guess.

300ft is really quite a lot

Last week I told you all about Team SCA‘s bloody AMAZING all-female crew winning the 8th leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, and that in honour of their win I was encouraged to take part in a challenge that would test my boundaries. I picked the 300ft bungee jump: the equivalent of jumping off the tower of Big Ben.

On Saturday 6th February I set off to Tatton Park to complete my challenge. The weather was utter shite: freezing cold winds and torrential rain accompanied the journey, and at several points I honestly wondered whether the venue would let the jump go ahead let alone whether or not I’d be able to do it.

I was third in the queue for my time slot when I got there and third strapped into the various harnesses, which in my mind was absolutely perfect. Seeing someone else jump first would allow me to see the ‘procedure’: how it works, how high 300ft looked from the ground, how close the jumper got to the crane etc. All the little things that — as someone suffering from mid-cycle anxiety anyway — would help to cement a picture of what was going to happen in my head making it easier (mentally) to jump.

And then they picked me to jump first.

I wasn’t nervous UNTIL THAT POINT. Suddenly all my unanswered questions were swirling round in my head and I had no baseline, no point of comparison, nothing to steady my mind. At this point I wasn’t even thinking that “shit 300ft is quite high” I was literally just thinking I AM FIRST I AM FIRST WTF.

I’m not ashamed to admit that at THIS is when I started to panic. I started asking questions: what’s the likelihood that I would hit the crane on the descent? What does it feel like when the bungee reaches the point where all the slack is gone and you start to spring back up in the air? WHY DID I AGREE TO JUMP OUT OF A FUCKING HUGE CRANE 300FT IN THE AIR?

Anyway. We reached 300ft, and after a few false starts I knew I had no choice. I had to do it, or chicken out, and with a small crowd below there was no bloody way I was letting that happen. I let pride and ego take over and with a bit of a nudge from the guy in the cage I was away. See for yourself…

tl;dr: I jumped and would totes do it again.

IMG_7350

Risks, boundaries and a 300ft jump

Back in June 2015 Team SCA won the 8th leg of the Volvo Ocean Race which in its whole, spans 5 continents and over 39000 nautical miles. The first all-female crew to enter the Volvo Ocean Race in more than a decade, the women battled across 647 gruelling miles, which saw multiple crew members suffering from sea sickness, sleep deprivation, hunger and fatigue but their win put them in the history books as the first ever female team to win a leg of the epic race.

Just before the win, I was contacted to see if I’d be interested in completing a challenge. Team SCA wanted to find out if I’d be up for a bit of boundary pushing of my own, offering me the chance to take part in one of several activities, including a 300ft bungee jump.

I’ve always wanted to do a bungee jump, but never really had a reason to do it. What better reason than doing so as a nod to some of the most badass women in the sailing world? I mean, a 300ft jump is not quite as impressive as winning a boat race against 6 all-male crews, but as I still can’t swim that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Unfortunately my first jump was cancelled by the venue, but we’re now rapidly approaching Jump Date Two: it’s this Saturday. And I’m starting to get a wee bit nervous. A 300ft jump doesn’t sound too bad when you’re blindly agreeing to blogging challenges in the heady summer days right before you disappear off on holiday, but when it’s February, and it’s cold and wet and you suddenly realise that the 300ft jump is the highest bungee jump you can do in the UK… a jump that is basically akin to jumping off the tower that houses Big Ben:

big-ben-elizabeth-tower

…well, that starts to seem a little bit more like something I should have actively thought about. A cursory google, for example, points out that risks from bungee jumping including popping eyeballs, muscle injuries, spinal fractures, herniated discs and even paralysis and quadriplegia. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, you can even die. (Apparently Noel Edmonds’ BBC programme The Late, Late Breakfast Show was cancelled in the year I was born after a bungee jump went wrong and a man died.)

But, Dr Google also thinks I have 4 different forms of cancer, so I’m not rushing to do a last minute cancel here. I’m no stranger to pushing boundaries and taking risks. Not many people jack in their job to go freelance with two kids and a mortgage to pay on their own; nearly completely stripping off on a beach in Spain despite barely exposing half a leg before; agreeing to marry a man despite being vociferously feminist and against virtually every wedding tradition… if I can do those things, push those boundaries, I can do this.

I mean, what’s 300ft between friends…

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The eeeeeend!

It’s here! September 30th! The last day of Septemblog! I can now proudly say that for the first time in around 15 years of blogging I have successfully completed a blog-a-day challenge.

I completely failed my supplementary challenge to leave 5 comments / follow someone new every day, and it’s probably best you don’t look at my ‘official’ septemblog page, but if I’d made that compulsory I’d have definitely failed weeks ago.

That said, if you’re trying to increase your comments, hits or overall engagement, setting yourself the X comments on blogs per day goal is a must. It shot my hits up, which just goes to show that when bloggers say “commenting is dead”, what they actually mean is “I can’t be arsed to comment any more”.

Engagement has also gone up on my blog Facebook page, with more likes and more posts reaching a greater number of people. I’m not sure if that’s Facebook being clever with some sort of frequency == relevancy algorithm, or whether it’s just the inevitable more posts == more likely to post something someone will want to read.

I did write another blog post today, one that is less ‘meta’ and less cheaty, but I’m keeping that to myself for the time being as I’m not sure my idea will take off yet. You’ll just have to wait and see for that one. In the mean time, yay septemblog!

4 days to go

Yep, four days left in September and I’m getting seriously meta up in here: blogging about blogging about blogging.

I don’t know whether it’s just the fact that I’ve been seriously rushed off my feet for the past week or so, what with travelling to and from Brighton for the SEO conference and then fitting all the work into another short week to get to the last (r)evolution conference on Friday but I’m starting to find it really difficult to blog.

I have a few in progress drafts but the words just aren’t flowing. I’m not even finding any inspiration in my own writing prompts, having used a few already. (And yes, I know that the Septemblog page is massively out of date because I completely FAILED to keep up with everyone else’s posts.)

In an attempt at not giving up at the last minute this is my plea to you guys… is there anything in particular you’d like me to write about? Are you after a follow up to any earlier posts? If you could ask me anything what would it be? Help a blogger out here…

How I got 20,000 hits a day (and lost them all again)

Once upon a time, in a period best described as responsibility-free and with plenty of disposable income (AKA before I had children), I had a “reasonably” popular blog. Yes, this one. As crazy as it sounds to those of you who’re new readers (i.e. started reading within the past few years), it’s true, and you only have to look at the triple-figure comments on some of my old posts to get an inkling of what that meant. This was in a time where Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy, not capable of making a post viral worldwide in the blink of an eye like today, but niche interest posts could pull in 20,000 or more unique hits through StumbleUpon, Digg and the like.

So how did I achieve 20,000 unique hits in one day?

I blogged regularly

I would often blog daily (without having to set myself daft challenges) and sometimes even more than once a day. Not just short pieces either, some of my older entries were thousands of words long. Frequent updates meant people regularly came back to read new posts because they knew I would have updated.

What went wrong: after having Isabel, when time at the keyboard was in short supply, I favoured quick bursts of social media posts over my blog. People stopped checking for new posts, Google’s bot popped in less regularly, and hits slowly dropped.

I was active on StumbleUpon

stumbleupon_logoI would easily spend hours several times a week clicking through page after page on StumbleUpon, leaving thumbs-ups and reviews. Because of this I gained authority and a small following, which meant that when I had something I knew would pique interest to share from my own blog I could easily have it distributed to hundreds of people very quickly. Because StumbleUpon works by finding pages based on user-submitted interests, it was almost guaranteed that the content you submit would end up in front of the audience it was aimed at. Targeted content meant happier visitors.

su-tshirt-hits

What went wrong: I stopped using StumbleUpon (again, time was the issue) which meant I lost my following, and this meant that there was no ‘power’ behind my shares when I tried to boost my own content.

I read (and commented on) a lot of blogs

Commenting was the number one way to get a blogger’s attention, and there was a big “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude to commenting. Generally if you left a comment on a blog, that blogger would make an effort to comment back on one of your posts. That’s not to say it was perfect, and when I was receiving 50-100 comments on a post returning all comments was virtually impossible, but you could expect around a 50% return rate for your efforts.

What went wrong: although I’ve never stopped reading blogs, I simply don’t prioritise time for commenting any more. That, combined with a general decrease in blog-commenting as a method of communicating, meant that I wasn’t getting the same click-through from potential new eyes and other bloggers. Hence including commenting in Septemblog

I used multiple online forums

I was active in multiple niches all relevant to the topics I would cover on my blog (I have never, and will never stick to just one topic) which meant that no matter what I posted, I could potentially draw eyes from forums on to my posts with a bit of shameless promo. Of course this privilege came at a cost, having built up a reputation on the boards in question: nobody would have clicked my links if I’d joined, posted twice and then spammed the crap out of the forum with links to my website.

online-forums

What went wrong: as the growth of Facebook and its groups increased, a lot of forums stopped being relevant or necessary leading to their closure. Although I use several that remain, I don’t do so as actively as I used to and rarely publish something I feel worth sharing on those I do use.

I provided something of use

Because I had free time, and a genuine interest in furthering my knowledge, I invested time in learning new code and creating useful tools and scripts for other bloggers and webmasters. This meant that not only did people visit my blog to find these tools and scripts, but it earned me a reputation for knowing my stuff which enabled me to release trusted tutorials to teach others how to do the same thing, which in turn also got shared and so on and so forth. I have been approached at web conferences by people who used my stuff to get started 10 years ago, and that is incredibly fulfilling.

What went wrong: the Internet and website-creation as a hobby grew and changed, rendering a lot of my early scripts redundant. My primary blog audience also changed, and those that do still read don’t know or care what my scripts do, let alone want to use and share them. I haven’t bothered to invest time in my scripts to increase their relevancy and so their usefulness — and as such the amount of traffic I get for them — decreases day by day.

I wasn’t afraid to have an opinion

jem-turner-logoI’ve always been a gobby know-it-all cow and once upon a time that reflected quite clearly in my blog. My tagline for years — “Ultimately better than you” — which now is, in part, the strapline for my business was a tongue-in-cheek reference to it. I talked about anything and everything that took my fancy, courting controversy and even attracting the odd hate letter and death threat. People love to disagree, and in particular people love to write reaaally long comments telling you exactly how much they disagree.

What went wrong: after Isabel I didn’t really have time to deal with the throwback from my more controversial pieces, and after Oliver I had to focus on my professional presence online which meant toning down the more er… outrageous opinion pieces. I still have opinions of course, I just keep them to myself unless otherwise asked!

Nowadays 20,000 hits in one day should be easier to achieve: you have a greater number of people online, a much bigger pool of bloggers to collaborate and communciate with, and a huuuuuuge array of social networking sites to create a following and gain authority on. What’s stopping you?

“Septemblog”: Day 1 (Attempt 1)

I recently mentioned that I needed to hurry up if I was going to squeeze in the “blog every day” challenge, just in case I mess up and need to start afresh. As it’s now September, this is one of only four months I have left to try this, so here I am. Project Septemblog: aka blog every day in September. Catchy name, I know.

(Seriously. FOUR MONTHS til I turn thirty!)

I hadn’t really thought about setting any rules for the challenge, which would give me the flexibility to ‘cheat’ and post a picture or something if I run out of words, but I don’t know whether that’s just too easy. I mean, I could schedule a post a day with a picture or a motivational quote or similar right now and have nothing to worry about. I can’t help but feel that defeats the point though. So here’s some rules I’m going to try and abide by:

  • Each post must contain at least 150 words
  • Posts shouldn’t be scheduled more than 3 days in advance
  • No more than 5 list posts over the month

As well as blogging every day — because why keep things simple and easy for myself? — I think that to truly involve myself in the spirit of blogging and the blogging community again, I will also:

  • Comment on 5 blog posts per day
  • Retweet or share one other blogger’s post per day
  • Follow on bloglovin, facebook, twitter or instagram one new blogger per day

It’d be awesome if I had some moral support in this, so if you want to take part in Septemblog (you don’t have to call it that ;)) please just join in, and drop me a note in the comments or via email with your blog URL and I’ll do a little round-up of links later on. Alternatively you can show your support by sending me blog post ideas, nagging me to post via twitter or by letting me know which of my daily posts you enjoy / which you find a bit “meh”.

<3

On blogging, and how I’m probably doing it wrong

As we rapidly approach the 13th anniversary of me owning jemjabella.co.uk and my 15th year of blogging, I can’t help but think about how blogging (both my own, and on a wider scale) has changed over the years.

15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for people to write blog posts thousands of words long. Blogs were in effect journals, diaries, a real look into people’s lives. And people read those entries, and replied: tons of comments per entry.

old blog 2005
My blog, as captured by the way back machine, Dec 2005

Slowly, slowly that changed. Blogs became less about the personal and more a collection of quick thoughts, pics, memes, links, quotes – truly the “web log” – and this in turn became tumblr, which is a vast and scary beast I’ve never been able to get to grips with.

Circa April 2006; shame the WBM didn't capture the header image
Circa April 2006; shame the WBM didn’t capture the header image

Those who didn’t adopt tumblr have seen the blogging landscape change in other ways. From paragraph upon paragraph of text (some of us still take this approach, cough cough) to lists and clickbait titles; sparse photography — in part because of bandwidth issues and slow connections — to blogs that feature more pictures in one entry than I feature in a year; “vlogging” seems to have hit a new high; beauty and “lifestyle” (what even is this?) bloggers dominate blog link lists. Comments became “likes”, “shares”, “thumbs up” – a lot less effort and easier to do en masse.

August 2006 (one of my favourite old layouts)
August 2006 (one of my favourite old layouts)

I have always defended my “blogging for myself” position and remained firmly stuck in my ways but it’s no secret that my once vast audience and “e-fame” buggered off ooooh… about 5 years ago when I stopped blogging about interesting things and started blogging about children. I miss the days of variety, controversy, geeking-outtery (I think I just made that word up) and not just blogging about myself and my mental health. I want to start taking more pictures, talking more about the things I like and the places I go, not just how heavy I lifted or how much cake I ate this week.

Layout before this one, 2010
Layout before this one, 2010

Of course… I say this, but it’s likely nothing will change long term: I’ll probably be a bit more enthusiastic with photos for a week or two, wax lyrical about something that sounds vaguely lifestyle-y, but the reality is I’ll always be that boring blogger with the 800 word blog posts and 1 photo every 6 months.

I think I’m ok with that.

My Internet History

I’ve been trawling the Way Back Machine lately for links & images for my recently re-added geek t-shirts collection page (work in progress), and happened upon a link to a page I used to have: “My Internet History”. I don’t have this page any more, it was one of the things I dropped when I tried to make my site more “professional” (ha) but as my audience now and my audience 6 years ago are fairly different I thought it’d make an interesting blog post & give a little insight into where “this” all began. Here goes (written in 2008)…

I first started venturing online in 1999 when my Mum showed me ICQ and said that I could use it to talk to my Grandad. I’d hold conversations for with him and with Mum’s friends for hours, simply because I didn’t understand the scope of this great network of pages that we call the Internet. ICQ was the beginning and the end, as far as I knew.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was much more to the Internet than the flowery chat client, and began exploring the likes of Neopets. I had a Jubjub, and a small shop, moved on to run a successful guild, co-own another and then staff at one of the largest in Neopia. I could waste hours on there, without a care for my exams that were approaching. It was on Neopets I first got introduced to HTML, and that’s where this all began.

A simple sign-up at Geocities found me the space I was looking for, and I began creating pages using my limited HTML knowledge and Geocities’ pagebuilder. I created a successful poetry site for teens and kids to read and submit poetry; the site is still associated with me since my move to hosting and a domain of my very own (Google took about 3 years to figure out I don’t offer poetry anymore.)

It took me several months to get any content up on to my shiny new website, and even longer to learn HTML. I kept at it, snatching up any opportunity to practise and hanging on to every piece of good code I ever wrote. It took me over a year to even begin to grasp the basics of CSS (because there weren’t as many tutorial sites back then) and another before I knew the rest. I grabbed standards with both hands in 2003, and have been researching into accessibility and usability since.

In 2004 I started looking at this ‘thing’ called PHP — I started using a popular skinning script and even installed a toplist ‘program’ (which, incidentally, was complete crap and led to the defacement of my domain and deletion of hundreds of files). I started dabbling with Content Management Systems such as WordPress and in 2004 wrote my very first script. That script was a massive failure but eventually became what you know as BellaBook today.

2005 was a big year for me — I took several tumbles, coding-wise, but managed to pick myself up and in August 2005 wrote my own weblog with integrated article commenting management system. Although the backend went through many changes over a few years, it was eventually retired when my website outgrew the scope of the script. I have also developed CMS for a handful of my other websites and developed Intranet ‘packages’ for Telford College of Arts and Technology as part of work experience and my first job.

Besides jemjabella, I own and run several separate sites — tutorialtastic being a key point of concentration for me. I took over the running of the quilting bee in May 2006 after having provided programming and technical support for over a year. I maintain the pages, deal with the copious amounts of e-mail as well as processing new members. When I’m not working on my own sites, this is where my time goes.

BellaBook is still going, and used on millions of websites worldwide. Tutorialtastic went on to become Girls Who Geek. I still have the quilting bee although my role in the site is purely to keep the forum up to date at the minute. My time ‘goes’ on much more than the Internet and my websites now though, but that’s what having kids does for ya!