Google giveth and Google taketh away

My blog’s stats are essentially meaningless. I’ve said it several times to you that engagement with you is far and away the biggest joy of this blog for me. I love it that I put my thoughts and photographs out into the world and people like them enough to keep coming back.

Yet it bugs the tar out of me that my pageviews are way down this year.

If my average daily pageview rate holds this year, Down the Road will net about 216,000 visits by year’s end. In 2018 it was about 245,000 visits. 2017 was Down the Road’s best year ever at 288,000 visits.

I’ve written before that search is driving fewer and fewer visits to my site. In 2017 search brought 10,000 to 20,000 visits each month. Now it’s no more than 4,000 monthly

I think this is in part because many others have started blogging and YouTubing about film photography and the more crowded field has diluted my blog’s influence.

But I see now that I may also have shot myself in the foot in June of 2018 when I completed a large project to change this blog’s tagging scheme (announced here). Tags are little keywords that further describe the post. You can click any tag to see all of the other posts I’ve written that use that tag.

When I started this blog, an old friend who works in advertising gave me some search-engine optimization (SEO) advice. A key piece of his advice was to tag posts with good synonyms for the post’s main subjects so search would have an easier time finding them.

I was inconsistent and sloppy with it, and I wasn’t sure it was helping bring people here at all. Then I decided to add tags to my photography and road-trip posts to help organize that content by cameras, films, and places. Now when you click a tag for a camera, film, or place, you see every post I’ve ever made related to it.

Then I deleted scores of what I thought were useless synonym tags. The decline in search visits roughly correlates to the time I did that.

Correlation isn’t causation. I did that synonym-based tagging scheme from 2007 to 2018 and it wasn’t until 2015 that search started bringing people here in any real numbers. So I can’t say for sure that my tagging scheme had anything to do with my search-driven visits.

I blog to connect with people who share my esoteric interests. Some of you found my blog because you searched for something I wrote about, and you liked what you found here and kept coming back.

If search is bringing fewer people in, there are fewer chances for those connections.

Let’s say that search drove monthly visits in 2019 roughly equal to an average month in 2017. That would bring an extra 5,500 visits to my blog every month, or an extra 66,000 visits all year. That would make 2019 Down the Road’s most-visited year ever.

I blame Google in my title because you have to play their SEO game to rank well in search results. But it was my choice to stop playing the game.

Its time for another tagging project, one in which I restore the synonym tags. I can do it in a more organized manner this time.

I’m also going to read up on SEO. The game has changed a lot in the dozen years since my old friend advised me. There may be some simple changes I can make that will help bring search traffic back.

I have also just upgraded this site to Business to gain the SEO optimization tools and plugins available at that tier of service. It’s three times more expensive than the Premium plan I was on. But after this many years it’s clear that this blogging thing is not a passing fad in my life. The connections I’ve made through this blog are meaningful and enriching. I want to keep making new connections. One of the ways I can do that is to play Google’s game on its terms.

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Lamenting Google Reader

When I opened Google Reader Wednesday night and saw a pop-up message announcing that Google would retire the service on July 1, I actually gasped and felt dizzy.

RIP, Reader

Reader is Google’s feed-reading service, which is a way of following blogs and other Web sites. Most sites offer a feed in a format called RSS, which has been around for almost 20 years as a way for Web sites to say, “Hey! I have new content here!” Feed readers allow others to subscribe to those updates, so they don’t have to keep visiting the Web site to check for new content.

RSS and feed readers are simple and work really well, but they haven’t caught on beyond the geek crowd. We geeks love RSS and feed readers, and Google Reader was probably the most popular choice. But most non-geeks follow their blogs in other ways, such as via Twitter and Facebook., which hosts this blog, offers a “follow” feature that delivers new blog posts right to your e-mail inbox. Geeks are in the minority on the Internet now, and apparently Google wants to invest its resources on products that get wider use.

There are other Web-based feed readers out there. I will find one, switch to it, and eventually get used to how it works; life will go on. But meanwhile, I’m actually going through the stages of grief! At the moment I’m in denial, hoping that Google is listening to the groundswell of protest against this move and is thinking about reversing their decision.

Stories Told

The world’s foremost Jim Grey

I’ve had a small personal site on the Web since 1995. Those were the days when you wrote the HTML by hand in Notepad and then submitted the URL to Yahoo so others might find you. Yahoo ruled Internet search then, and I was the number one result when you searched on my name. The world has no shortage of Jim Greys; my name’s pretty common. But it took a few years before any of the other Jim Greys had Web presences, and it was cool to be first. By the time Google had risen to search supremacy, a Canadian telephone company executive ruled the Jim Grey search. I swear his PR agency was paid by the press release. But this fellow appears to have retired, and so if you Google my name today, my homepage is the #1 hit. Once again, I am the world’s foremost Jim Grey!

I’ve left quite an Internet trail, and you can find most of it via Google if you’re patient. You will find an excerpt from a book about Microsoft PowerPoint I co-wrote several years ago, plus several places you can buy it if you’re so inclined – but don’t feel obligated; it was a work-for-hire contract and I’ve already made all the money I’m going to off it. You’ll find most of the posts I made to USENET newsgroups in the early 1990s. And you’ll find my profiles at LinkedIn, Facebook, and a few other places. I’m pretty sure I haven’t left anything behind that I wouldn’t want my mom to know.

Be sure you don’t confuse me with the non-me Jim Greys to whom Google also leads you. Just within the first hundred results, Google finds a Canadian ethanol executive, a ham radio operator, a Jewish man looking for love, an Oregon car and truck salesman, a chemical engineer hoping to find lost high school chums, and my dad looking for an argument. You’ll also find Jim Grey of Moonbah, a children’s book about an Australian boy who lived on a sheep ranch. I had that book when I was a kid.

But above all, beware the two impostors that Google finds because somebody fat-fingered their last names as Grey instead of Gray. Unfortunately, they are also the two most common results when you search for me. The first is a highly regarded Microsoft researcher who sailed away in his boat last year and never came back. The second, a real scourge in my search results, is a sports reporter widely reviled for his abrasive interviews.

One little thing I didn’t tell you is that I’m #1 only if you search for my name in quotes. If you leave off the quotes, the lost-at-sea Microsoft researcher’s site pops to the top. Sure wish people could spell names right! Especially the hated sports reporter’s name. Go check; people say things that would peel paint. You’d think they really hate me!