Blogosphere

Three tips to increase engagement with your blog

As a veteran blogger and a veteran reader of blogs, I want to share some key things I’ve learned about how to encourage readers to keep coming back.

Your readers have only so much attention to give. Your blog is part of a wide stream of information swishing past everyone you hope will read your writing. They, too, quickly decide what to read and what to pass by.

Here are three things you can do now to help readers not pass your posts by.

Write descriptive titles and strong opening paragraphs. This lets everyone know why your post is awesome, and gives them a good reason to keep reading.

I used to write clever or obscure titles and then ramble in early paragraphs. I thought I was a witty raconteur but in reality readers didn’t track with me. When I started writing simple, declarative titles and got to the point in my first or second paragraph, pageviews and comments began to grow.

Doing this well takes practice. I don’t always succeed! But I keep working at it. You can too. For good examples by other bloggers, check out this post and this post.

Share complete posts, not just excerpts, in your feed. I buck conventional wisdom with this recommendation.

Before I explain, here’s some background. Readers can find out if you’ve published in several ways. They can always just come to your blog. Or they can follow you on social media if you share new posts there. Or they can subscribe to your blog and get an email every time you publish.

They can also follow you in a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin’ or NewsBlur. These services work by picking up your blog’s feed, a technical name for the way your blog alerts these services of new posts.

WordPress, and I assume most other blogging platforms, give you an option to share only the first paragraph or so of your posts in your feed. The idea is that this entices readers to click through to your blog to read the rest.

If your excerpt doesn’t strongly communicate why your post is interesting, most readers won’t click through. (Unless you’re a celebrity and people hang off your every word.)

If you get good at writing compelling titles and opening paragraphs (or custom excerpts, a WordPress feature; more here), you should improve your clickthrough rate.

But so many people read on their phones now. If they subscribe via email or feed reader, the phone opens your posts instantly. But if you make them click through they have to wait a few seconds for the post to load in the phone’s browser. I think this is a strong deterrent. I know it deters me. I think it’s better to not throw up this barrier.

To turn off excerpts in WordPress, click My Sites in the upper-left corner of your blog and choose Settings. Click the Writing tab and scroll down to Feed Settings. Click the slider next to “Limit feed to excerpt only” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray. Click the Save Settings button.

Enable, and reply to, comments. Comments are the last key to engagement with your blog. Once they’ve read your post, let them respond.

Yes, readers still have to click through. But just as most of us are faster to speak than to listen, a reader’s desire to have a say is likely to hurtle them right over that barrier.

Several blogs I follow don’t allow comments. It’s super frustrating when they write a good post and I want to offer a perspective or praise! I assume they disable comments because so many comment sections are cesspools, full of pointless arguments and nasty insults.

Yours doesn’t have to be this way. You get to decide the the tone of your comment section. Just delete anything that crosses your line. You don’t even have to warn an erring commenter if you don’t want to.

My blog generates little controversy. But trolls, jerks, and people having bad days do show up from time to time and say unkind things. When it’s a regular commenter, I ask them to tone it down. Otherwise, I just delete the comment and move on. If you do the same, you’ll shape a pleasant comment community — one that your readers will be glad to join.

Respond to at least some of the comments you get. Readers will see that you’re willing to engage, and it will encourage them to come back.

To enable comments on your WordPress blog, click My Sites and choose Settings. Click the Discussion tab. In the Default Article Settings area, click the slider next to “Allow people to post comments on new articles” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray.


Do you have any other thoughts about how to increase engagement with your blog? If so, share in the comments!

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Blogosphere

I probably shouldn’t be so discontent on this blog’s twelfth anniversary

Twelve years ago today I published my first post here at Down the Road!

Down the Road, v. 1.0

This didn’t start as a photography blog, but it’s surely become one. More accurately, it’s a personal blog that’s mostly about my film-photography hobby, flavored with some of my other arcane interests: old roads, old buildings, and old cars.

I’ve been pleased with how popular my blog has become. Over the last four years, it’s averaged about a quarter million visits a year.

However, in recent years other film-photography blogs have started, grown — and surpassed mine in popularity and notoriety. I admit to feeling envy.

I would love for this blog to become extremely popular, for me to become a well-known figure in the film-photography community, and for my work to generate a healthy side income. I admire EMULSIVE, Casual Photophile, 35mmc, and Kosmo Foto and their founders for accomplishing some or all of these things.

Not only do I envy their success, but I worry that the evolving online world is rendering my blog, and blogs in general, slowly obsolete. I feel uncertain, discontent on this twelfth blogiversary. Yet I persist, as creating this blog, both words and pictures, is a great joy.

Getting lots of pageviews

All-time views as of 2/6/19.

Casual Photophile founder James Tocchio admitted in his year-in-review post on Patreon that his blog got 2 million views last year. Wow! In 12 years my blog has cleared just 1.5 million views.

Casual Photophile has earned its pageviews through a combination of hard work, good luck, and deliberately and relentlessly targeting an audience.

Targeting an audience involves deciding exactly who you are writing for and publishing articles that appeal to them. If I were to do that here, I would figure out what gear the broad film-photography audience is interested in, buy it, try it, and write about it. I’d work hard to report film and camera news in realtime, to be a trusted source of valuable information.

That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that all blogs that do that wind up writing about Leica other luxury gear, because that’s where the money is. Unfortunately, high-end gear doesn’t light my fire. I don’t care to ever own any. I’d rather shoot an old box or an obscure rangefinder. I don’t want to give that up in the name of growing my audience.

Frankly, I’m not willing to give up writing about all of the things that interest me. I want to just be fully myself here, in all my quirky glory. But this eclectic mix of topics fragments the audience. If you come here for film-camera reviews, for example, you probably don’t enjoy my histories of old highway alignments. On any random day, a new visitor to this blog will struggle to know exactly what it is about.

Generating side income

But to get two million visits a year! I fantasize that would make me happier. I’m not sure it’s true, but it’s a nice fantasy. That many visits would dramatically increase advertising income, though. Octuple it, probably.

I can afford the costs associated with the blog and with my photography. But deep down, I feel like what I do has value in the world. If I can find ways of capitalizing on that value, I want to do it. Ways that are reasonably simple for me, and minimally annoying for you, anyway.

It’s why you see ads at the end of every post. They generated $299.25 for me last year. That pays for my jimgrey.net domain, Flickr Pro, and the WordPress.com Premium package each year with a little left over, which paid for some film and processing. It’d be very nice to find ways to cover all of my film and processing so this hobby supports itself.

I’ve considered soliciting patronage through Patreon. But to do Patreon well is a lot of work that would reduce the time I can spend creating this blog. Besides, I don’t want it to feel like I’m constantly rattling my donation cup at you. I think it grates pretty quickly.

I’ve considered shifting off WordPress.com to self-hosted WordPress so I can use more lucrative advertising networks. But that would be a big project, and then I’d have to do my own site maintenance. It’s so nice to just trust the fine people at WordPress.com to keep this thing running well.

I have other fundraising ideas. I’ve published two books of my photographs, in part to put my work into your hands and in part to help fund my photography. The books didn’t sell well, though, I think in part because they cost too much. I need to figure out how to publish at lower cost. I’m also considering learning basic camera repair so I can keep reviewing gear here, but sell the cameras I won’t keep at modest profits. I’ve had good luck selling cameras through my blog.

Hobby vs. business

Some of the best-known film-photography blogs (and their associated businesses) are making a run at being at least a side hustle and maybe even a primary means of supporting their founders. You can see it in how hard they work to promote themselves on social media, create communities around their brands, and/or create a product or service and have a storefront.

I don’t want this to be a full-time job. I have a fulfilling career and don’t want to step away from it. But if I did want it, I’d have to lean a lot harder into promoting my blog.

I like making photographs and writing far more than I like promotion.

Living room
My father built my coffee table, as well as that high chair, which served my sons.

I feel like my father. When he was about my age he had been building and selling bespoke wood furniture on the side for several years. The extra money was nice but not life changing. He loved building his skill and knowledge in joinery, and enjoyed the respect and admiration he gathered from the wealthy people who could afford his furniture.

Demand increased enough that he quit his job to do it full time. But he didn’t realize how much promotion and sales he’d have to do to grow his business enough to pay the bills. He just wanted to build furniture and hoped word of mouth would carry him. It didn’t. After a few frighteningly lean years he went back to a regular job.

I feel a pull, similar to what my dad must have, to lean harder into this and make it into something bigger. But I’m just like my dad: far more interested in making the thing than selling it. My promotional efforts have been thin at best.

I expect there are no easy ways to promote this blog that will generate big results. Selling anything is real work. However, I am willing to put a little extra effort into it. I’m not sure everyone who would enjoy this blog is reading it, and I’d like to find more interested souls. I’ve spoken with other photo bloggers who have found some promotional success and am trying what they suggest.

Beyond that, I commit to keeping this blog a hobby, to enjoying the process of making it, and enjoying the response I get from you.

The changing online media landscape

Because we’re in the post-blog era, however, it’s a lot of work to build a blog audience, no matter how intentional you are about it. If you’re looking to reach a big audience and don’t already have a blog that reaches one, I advise you write for an existing popular blog, or start a podcast or a vlog.

Have Camera, Will Shoot
Me, working on this blog

Fortunately, I got into blogging while it was still young and readers like you found me. It’s a darned good thing: I am a writer and a photographer. I want to do these things. Blogging is the medium that best supports what I do.

But I’m watching carefully for signs that this blog’s day in the sun is passing, and that blogs in general are dying. If readership were to slow to a trickle, much of the joy would be gone and I’d stop doing it.

I worry a little that I’m like the radio actor who couldn’t or wouldn’t shift to television, and found himself irrelevant in a new age. If I want to retain an audience for my work, I must remain open to trying new ways of reaching it.

I could probably do a podcast. I’ve considered starting one, of interviews with other film photographers. Guests could join me on Skype and I could just record our conversation. I was a radio disk jockey in my 20s; I’m sure it would take me no time to be comfortable behind a mic again.

But video? That’s work. When I worked in radio I could control the entire station by myself through my four-hour airshift. Meanwhile, the TV station down the street needed a crew of 10 to put on a thirty-minute newscast. The effort multiplies similarly from podcasting to vlogging. It scares me off.

Fortunately, this blog is still in its salad days, and I can publish it in the time I have available. Therefore I continue to make photographs, write stories, and share them here. It remains a rich reward that you like what I do enough to keep coming back. Thank you! Every time I post, I hope to see your name among the comments.

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Blogosphere

2018’s greatest hits

Every year at this time I look back at how this blog performed: raw stats and popular posts.

Down the Road stats as of a few days ago

Visits to my blog were down by 10-15% compared to last year. My October blog sabbatical hurt: visits dropped by a third, and recovered only weakly after I returned to blogging.

The biggest loss was in search-driven visits, which are down a quarter to a third. A handful of my posts answer common questions for film-photography newbies. Tens of thousands of visits each year used to come from people Googling for those answers. Competing articles have appeared on other better-known sites, and disappointingly Google quickly ranked them ahead of my posts. Search-driven visits fell further after I updated and republished those posts this year. Google surely downranked my older posts because the newer ones were too similar.

I’d rather have your engagement with my stories and photographs than fat pageviews from people who never comment, never click Like, never share on social media. That’s why I republished those useful evergreen posts, and plan to do so annually henceforth. It’s also why I’ve been focusing more on great new posts lately. It’s made a difference: new posts get two or three times more views in the first few days than they did just two years ago. That hasn’t made up for the loss of search-driven visits, but it’s helped. I hope this growth trend continues.

My efforts to build a more vibrant community here are paying off: comments were up 30% in 2017, and another 5% this year.

My five personal favorite posts in 2018:

Five most visited posts of 2018:

Five most commented posts of 2018:

Five most Liked posts of 2018:

I look forward to an even more engaged community in 2019!

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Blogosphere, Photography

Film photography blogs you should follow (2018 edition)

A great joy of film photography is the community of people who enjoy everything about it: the gear, the films, getting out and shooting, and looking at the resulting photographs. Lots of us share our adventures on our blogs.

Self-portrait (crop)

A portrait of the blogger

The community of film photography bloggers is growing. Since I last posted a list of the film blogs I follow, I’ve found a bunch more! To think this is happening when blogs have generally become passé.

I’m going to list all of the photo blogs I follow. If you don’t see your blog here, I hope you won’t feel put out. Maybe I just don’t know about it. Let me know which blogs I’m missing in the comments!

I really look forward to new posts from these blogs:

  • A Conspiracy of Cartographers — This blog from Eric continues the work he started in his blog Load Film in Subdued Light. He shoots with arcane cameras and expired films and gets just wonderful images. I never miss Eric’s posts.
  • Camera Go Camera — Peggy Anne reviews lots and lots of gear, some of it off-the-wall stuff she bought while living in Japan.
  • Casual Photophile — This site written by James and his crew sets the Internet standard for vintage gear reviews. Excellent writing, excellent images, great cameras. I read every post, from beginning to end.
  • Fogdog Blog — John takes his Nikons and his Pentaxes (and sometimes his Leicas) along the northern California coast.
  • Kosmo Foto — Stephen dispels the myths about film: that it’s too hard and too expensive, and breaks film-photography news. Formerly Zorki Photo.
  • Photography and Vintage Cameras – Mike does great work with his old cameras, especially in black and white. He can make an old folder or box camera really sing.

These blogs are pretty active.

  • 35mmc — Hamish Gill and his crew write about cameras and films and photographic skills.
  • A Fortunate Traveler — Stephan has a smattering of film cameras and shares his work from them.
  • Analog Cafe — A group blog of photo essays, reviews, and stories.
  • Attempts at 35mm — Pekka waxes philosophical about cameras and street photography.
  • Barnaby Nutt — Barnaby documents his life with his film camera.
  • Bernard Prunesquallor — Essays on many topics, illustrated with film photographs.
  • burnt embers — “ehpem” has shot less digital and more film since 2013, and this blog reflects that.
  • Canny Cameras — Gear reviews and photographs by Alan D. This site explained why the Lomography 110 film I use sometimes leaves light spots on some images. A tip of the hat for that.
  • coronet66 — Photos from lots of great film gear from this UK blogger.
  • EMULSIVE — A place for film photographers of all backgrounds to share their knowledge, experience, and thoughts about everything related to film photography.
  • Field Photographer — A group blog about gear and adventure with that gear.
  • Filling the Time — Karen explores photography and film cameras.
  • Film Advance — Gary shares images from his eclectic collection of film cameras.
  • Film Beginnings — Gear reviews and photo walks.
  • Film Photography Blog — A straightforwardly named blog from the Film Shooters Collective.
  • Film Photography Project — You gotta include the blog of the FPP gang.
  • I Still Shoot Film — A group blog about all things film.
  • Japan Camera Hunter — Bellamy lives in Tokyo and finds lovely old cameras for you. And writes about film photography.
  • John’s Cameras — Lots and lots of old-camera reviews.
  • mike eckman dot com — Gear reviews out the wazoo, from common cameras to wacky stuff you’ve never heard of.
  • Olli Thomson Photography — A career ex-pat who lives all over the world, shooting his film gear and sharing his work.
  • Photo Jottings — A lot of film camera tests and reviews.
  • Physical Grain — Personal essays, illustrated with film photographs by the authors.
  • reCap — Gear and photographs. A German blog in English.
  • shot on film — New images from old cameras.
  • the6millionpman — Lots of medium format.
  • Why Use Film Cameras? — Frank in Luxembourg shoots film, proving every day that it’s not as expensive as you think.
  • Yashica Pentamatic Fanatic Photos of gear from his extensive collection, mostly Yashicas.

These blogs post less frequently, but I keep them in my feed reader hoping for more.

These blogs have ceased posting, or appear to have ceased posting, and I miss them.

  • 52 Film Cameras in 52 Weeks – After 366 weeks, Tony’s blog about shooting a different camera every week appears to have gone silent.
  • 52 Rolls — A group blog from photographers who commit to shooting one roll of film a week for a year. Looks like this blog went defunct after 2017.
  • Analog Photography At Its Best – Paul Giambarba was the pioneering brand designer for Polaroid in the 1960s and 1970s. He shares his favorite film photos, usually Polaroids, from photographers everywhere.
  • Beacon 225 — Ted collects quirky old cameras and shoots with them. He used to write about them, too.
  • Between light and shadow, a borderline — Roy shares what he’s learned about film photography and shows us his work.
  • Crossings — A film blog, still up in memoriam of the author, who passed away in 2013.
  • Daniel J. Schneider — Daniel posts gear and film reviews, as well as writes about his photographic journey.
  • Jeanne Yang Photography — Lots of 35mm film once passed through Jeanne’s cameras.
  • Malkimata’s Camera — Norman shoots his old cameras and shares his wonderful photos.
  • My Camera Cabinet — Reviews of interesting film cameras.
  • Picturenoise — A film photographer who leans toward lomography.
  • Short Stories — Gerald in the UK and his black-and-whites. Often with interesting stories to tell about them, hence the title.
  • The Casual Camera Collector – Jim writes short essays about film photography: gear, processing, printing, and what remains of the film business.
  • Through a Vintage Lens — T. Rand Collins, M.D., and his collection of cameras from before 1950.
  • Urban Hafner Photography — Software developer by day, film photographer when he can find a moment.
  • What Is a Film Camera — Richard reviews the old film cameras he buys.
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Blogosphere

A blog update and a question for you

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This blog’s author at his desk, replying to your comments. Damion Grey photo.

Today, a rare update on some things going on with this blog.

Changes to tags

I’ve reworked this blog’s tag scheme and I think you’ll find it to be useful. Tags are a way of categorizing posts, and they appear on every post. They’re under the title on the right, below the date and my name. This post has two tags: blogging and writing. Click either tag to see everything I’ve ever written about that topic. (The categories that appear above each post title work the same way.)

That has always existed. What used to also exist was a bunch of related tags I created to help searches find my posts. But I see no evidence after more than a decade of doing it that it worked in any significant way. So I’ve deleted all of those tags — about a thousand in all.

I am also adding tags for common topics and tags for cameras and films I use a lot. That way, when you’re on a post where I shot Kodak Tri-X film, clicking the Tri-X tag will show you everything else I’ve shared from that film. I’ll complete this in my idle time over the next several months. But one tag is fully in: the one for my delightful Pentax ME camera. Try it: click here to go to that tag.

I’m behind

I have just two posts in the queue right now. I normally have two or three weeks’ worth written and ready to go. I feel behind.

I just haven’t had as much time lately for the blog. And the considerable stress I’ve been under has left me with little to say. Fortunately, I know some techniques for priming the pump, if you will, when the well runs dry. I hope I can make enough time to use those techniques soon.

The question for you

Being behind makes me ask you something I’ve been wondering about: do I post too often? Do you find it too hard to keep up?

I’ve kept up this six-posts-a-week schedule since late 2014, and it correlates exactly with a giant jump in readership that has grown slowly but steadily since. That enabled me to make a little money off advertising, enough to pay for this site and for some of my film and processing costs. And I love the process of making the photographs and writing the words that I share here. All of this has been wonderful for me.

I’m thinking about the experience I have reading other blogs. When I’m very busy I skim and skip posts in my feed reader — especially from blogs that post frequently.

Yet I never skip or skim some blogs, even if I have to bookmark a post to read much later. One characteristic most of them share: they post only when they have something really good to say. Their posts feel like morsels to savor.

I want to publish a blog that you savor. I know that, given this blog’s eclectic nature, you don’t connect with every topic. But I try hard to make every post be interesting in some way so you don’t skim or skip them.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. No need to couch your thoughts; just tell me straight. I’ll weigh everything you say as I consider this blog’s ongoing posting schedule. I plan to find that right balance that keeps readership growing, fits the reduced time I can give to blogging right now, and consistently delivers photos and stories that you find to be interesting.

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Blogosphere, Photography

Chasing fake Internet points

The primary reward I receive for what I publish online is interaction with you.

Some of that interaction is of high quality: namely, when you leave an interesting comment, especially one that teaches me something I didn’t know or helps me see something from a different perspective.

But most of what I get is in the form of likes. Or hearts or upvotes or favorites or claps or whatever it’s called on whichever platform I’m on. It’s a form of acknowledgement that whatever I posted resonated somehow.

One of those platforms is Imgur (here’s my user page), where Imgurians call them “fake Internet points.” Being Imgur, there are memes.

wonderfulFakeInternetPoints

It is fashionable now to pooh-pooh chasing after fake Internet points. Chasing them is, at the end of the day, a waste of time and accomplishes little.

hateFakeInternetPoints

Yet each fake Internet point delivers a small dopamine hit. In moderation, what’s wrong with that?

dayBrightenedByFakeInternetPoints

The primary place I go for fake Internet points is Instagram. I have tried to use it as a way of promoting this blog’s film-photography posts, but it’s not really working. I might get one or two clickthroughs from each Instagram post.

But my followers keep clicking the little heart on my posts, and it feels good to get them.

When you chase fake Internet points you need to consider return on investment and opportunity cost. Do the good feelings you get from likes, favorites, et. al., seem like a reasonable reward for the time you spent posting? And would that time you spent posting have been better spent doing something else?

make time to write in this blog: I get up early and write in it each morning. It’s because the reward I’ve received for doing it seems to be worth it. Your comments have taught me so much. They’ve also affirmed me as a photographer. Also, it’s just smashing fun when one of my posts gets shared around the Internet and gets a lot of visits. But most importantly, I’ve found community through this blog and many other photography blogs.

I post to Instagram opportunistically, that is, when I have some downtime that I couldn’t profitably use in some other way. When you find a new Instagram post from me, you can assume I had five minutes between appointments with little to do but wait. It’s a nice use of my wait time for the return I get in those sweet, sweet fake Internet points.

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