July 21, 2017

Why is my blog not succeeding? Topic revisited in mid-2017

On Quora, bloggers have been asking this question in different ways. On Twitter chats, when it is blogging open house, this is a common refrain. The question has been answered perhaps a million times in a hundred different ways, and yet we need to answer it comprehensively, periodically.

Let's go step by step in 5 steps. It won't take much time.

Traffic, relevance, action, success

For a blog's success, irrespective of whether the final goal is earning or something else, you need a lot of traffic - so that your voice is heard far and wide. And the traffic needs to be relevant traffic - because it doesn't help if only such people visit your blog who are not interested in the information/ advice.

The message must do its job - because it doesn't help if interested people visit your blog but  immediately click away. People should read the article and then appreciate it/ make comments on it/ share it/ bookmark it/ take action on the advice given/ try or buy the product if the article seeks that/ and so on. You cannot expect every visitor to take action, and on an average only a small percent of visitors take action, but this percent is what matters. If engagement or clicks go from 2.5% to 5% or 10%, it matters significantly.

Why many people do not visit your blog

You opened the blog, have been writing great content, but getting only a few visits a day, why?

A. Have you ignored promotion?

People will not discover your blog or will not visit it often if you do not promote the blog well. Some content marketers say, you have to write 20%, promote 80%. That might be an extreme, but do promote your blog online and offline, through social media, bookmarking sites, email, etc. Do some sensible SEO too.

B. Have you chosen a niche that has too much competition, or no competition but no readers?

If you write on a very broad niche such as 'blogging', people will not discover you and will not take you as an authority till you are established. There are hundreds of thousands blogs and websites on this subject already. On the other hand, if you write on '10 inch heels in Thimpu', perhaps you won't find many takers. Most fashionable ladies in this hilly and tradition-bound city in Bhutan will seldom look for such shoes. 

C. Have you been writing on everything on earth?

If you are not focused on a closely-related group of topics, search engines will not rank you high for that topic. People will also not return to your blog (other problems with being un-focused is discussed later) and you will lose re-visits.

Why visitors do not stay on your website or blog for long enough

A. Have you promoted the blog wrongly?

When you give a misleading headline or optimize the site/ blog for keywords that are not relevant to the subject of blog posts, or send emails about it with deliberately wrong introduction, people might come to the blog but will feel cheated and leave immediately.

B. Does your blog lack focus?

Celebrities can afford to write at will, not a common blogger. Unless you have a fan following, people will not be interested in your stuff if it is not authoritative and focused. So, focus on closely-related topics.

C. Does your content sound fake, without value or superficial?

I do not want too many points so I have put all these points together. If your posts look a copy-paste job or give erroneous/ superficial information, people will will desert them even if they visit the blog by chance. 

right and wrong actions in blogging
Taking the right path is the key to success.

If the posts do not add value, visitors will leave you immediately. Value comes when articles are written by experts, when they analyze the topic well, when they give practical tips borne out of long experience. This applies to podcasts, videos and images as much as to articles.

D. Is your writing style too boring?

When you write long sentences and long paragraphs or write without a logical flow, visitors will leave you even if you talk sense. Does it need elaboration? 

In most cases, informal style helps. Breaking the big topic into segments that make sense helps too.

E. Do you write too causally or use inappropriate language?

Many web surfers are very sensitive when it comes to propriety. They will shun a blog, even complain about it to authorities or at least in their forums, when they find swear words, abuses, racial remarks, too much self-promotion/ bragging or too much criticism of others. 

F. Is your blog/ site's design at fault?

I will include webdesign as well as text formatting here. The design has to suit the subject of the blog and should appeal to the age and professional background of the target audience. Generally speaking, sober themes are liked more than too gaudy ones. 

Navigation is very important in design. There should be proper menus, buttons, widgets and links to guide the visitor to the content or he will leave you after reading one article. 

The blog should not look cluttered and should not have elements that annoy him (more on this aspect in a point below). 

The blog should generally avoid features that annoy people. These include immediately flashing popup, self-playing music or video, text animations, etc. These may have their place in blogging (e.g. popups) but you should choose them with care and not make them annoying.

Text formatting should be such that it aids reading: You should have sub-headings where needed, quotes in italics, small paragraphs, long passages broken by images, and proper font type and size.
Why is that people visit you but you get hardly any interaction or shares

A. Do you ignore interacting with others? 

Starting a website or blog is one thing, creating a community around it is another. Unless you proactively work on engagement, it does not come automatically. Visiting others' blog, forums and communities/ groups and commenting there also invites others' responses to your own blog.

B. Do you forget social networking and bookmarking?

In the age of social media, you cannot ignore it and think that people will visit you on their own. It does not happen that way, since most web surfers spend most of their time on social networks, be it Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Twitter or others. More than that, they are active on chat apps such as WhatsApp.

Bookmarking is not as natural as social networking, but if you are active on StumpleUpon, Digg or Reditt, chances are that your content is shared by more people. 

Social media interactions do get traffic to blogs but the reason I have put social sites here is that essentially social networking and bookmarking is for interaction.
Why do people not take action, e.g. visiting the 'call to action' page or clicking on advertisements

A. Are there too many or irrelevant or wrongly placed ads on the blog?

Well, experts on earning from blogs would tell you that you must place ads in most visible places and big enough for people to take action. Yes, that might happen if the ad is relevant and has been served exactly when the visitor wanted to check the subject of the ad (Google can be very good at it, at times.) At the same time, people are likely to go away on finding an irrelevant and big ad staring in their faces. Even if visitors stay on the blog, there are chances that they will be put off by the ad and not take action you like them to take. Why should small blogs take chance? 

B. Is there a 'call to action' at all? If yes, it may not be rightly stretegised.

Most personal blogs do not have a clear 'call to action' or a prompt to the visitor to take some action. Some bloggers are shameless about their call: buy this, tweet this, If you comment on my blog, I will comment on yours. Very few professional bloggers think about this important aspect of blogging, and not all do it professionally.

In the case of professional blogs, the call to action can be a subtle prompt to try something that you advise or to join a cause or to buy something from you or your affiliate partner... 

This space is not enough to tell how to goad people into doing something that you want them to do. However, let me emphasize that if people are not acting on your advice, you might not have applied mind on how to mold your blog's design, static pages, widgets and language towards that.

C. Do people feel that your recommendations are not worth taking any action?

If the blog does not look resourceful enough, people might not be convinced about your authority on the subject. This would include number of posts and pages and also their quality. For example, if your gadget review site has just a few reviews and those too very old, a visitor will not value your advice; however, he will be hooked if those few posts are exceptionally brilliant.  

Go ahead friend, take some little actions towards quality and promotion. All the best from ITB!

July 15, 2017

Should I crop image before resizing it for blog and social media, or the other way round?

For some reason, all social websites want us to post images of a particular size, which is not common between any two of them. I don't know if they want to test our knowledge or get fun out of our discomfort. Anyway, let's leave it to them. 

The fact, seriously, is that you need to resize photos taken from digital camera or mobile phone, so as to suit them to different social media accounts or other websites. Sometimes you need photos in a particular dimension or size for other purposes.

A few quick theoretical points before we discuss how to do things the right way.

Talking of photo dimensions and image size

Though photos and drawings are always rectangular, the relative measurements of width and height can lead to a variety of shapes, like a very tall but narrow one, a very wide one, a square, and so on. (By the way, with some exceptions, even round or oval pictures have corresponding rectangular dimensions.)

Talking of size, photos can be very large or small - the sizes are usually measured in cm x cm / inch x inch / pixel x pixel multiplications. Pixels,  which are the smallest pieces of pictures, something like tiny dots, are often used to describe a photo's size: A picture of 1000 px height and 1000 px width will be composed of 1000 x 1000= 1 million pixels and thus will be of 1mp or 1 megapixel size. A 5mp camera picture will have around 2580x2048 pixels if it the camera takes pictures in 5:4 (or 5 wide by 4 tall) ratio.

What is image cropping and how it differs from resizing 

When you cut portions of an image, it is called cropping. On the other hand, you can resize the image into a bigger or smaller size - that is resizing.

When you crop an image, its quality remains the same. Cropping is done to make the picture more compact, better framed and smaller. When you resize a photo, its quality suffers because the software either adds more pixels to it or removes pixels from it here and there.


Look at the image above and examine photos 1,2 and 3 inside it.

The first one is the original photo of sunset over sea. The photographer perhaps wanted to show the play of colors in a sky captured wide. The layered clouds and vastness of sky give a feel of calm though it is full of 'warm' colors, isn't it? 

In the second pic, I have cropped the sides of the picture. Suddenly the sun is in focus, and you get the feel of a hot sun which has colored the clouds orange. You can crop pictures to remove extra background so that the main object comes in focus.

In the third one, I have resized the original picture. It has the same elements as the first one, but it is now too small to show details of clouds. If I made it smaller, you'd miss the layering of clouds. If the sea had playful waves, they would be completely lost.

Now have a look at pics 5 to 8. The challenge is to fit the picture on top to the rectangle below. If I crop  the pic from all sides, leaving the face so that it fits into the rectangle (pic 6), it removes all the surroundings. The picture could have been shot inside a room or anywhere else. The face has also not come full.

Ok, lets squeeze the pic into the given space by resizing it. Since the ratio of width x height of the rectangle is not the same as of the original pic, the face has got distorted (pic 7).

What I did to achieve pic 8 is that I first removed some surroundings by cropping it from two sides. (There is nothing to remove from top and I do not want to remove the scarf around the child's neck as it frames her face so well.) When I was sure that the pic is in the same ratio as the orange rectangle, but slightly bigger, I resized it to perfectly match the rectangle.

So, my advice for reducing the size of picture is:
  1. Crop the pic as much as you can to bring it to the same ratio as the required size. Remove only the things that do not add good value to the picture.
  2. Resize it without changing the ratios. 

Look at pic 4. Suppose you have to crop the given picture to fit into the smallest rectangle. By looking at this pic, you know that it has more width than height when compared to the target size. So the best way to fit it into the smallest rectangle is to first crop it to the middle rectangle's size and then resize it. 

Now let's see how the sequence changes when we need to enlarge a picture. If you are to fit the picture in pic 4 into the biggest rectangle, you will again need to bring it to the same ratio. So, you have two options: (i) Crop it to first make it to middle rectangle size and then resize it to the big rectangle size or (ii) resize it to cover the biggest rectangle and then crop the extra width. In the first option, once you have cropped the pic, you don't have a choice to adjust it later. In the second option, you will have a big pic, which you can adjust left or right before cropping the width.

Let me close the discussion with what we learned and something extra:
  • Resize pictures in the same ratio as the original picture, unless you deliberately want some distortion. 
  • If you want to check ratios of pictures but pixels confuse you, pick up a scale and place it on the computer screen and measure sizes. The scale measurement of screen has no other value, but it will give you the ratios quickly.  
  • Too much resizing reduces the quality of picture. If you need to resize too much, do it in steps, about 20% at a time. 
  • Generally speaking, crop and then resize when reducing size; resize and then crop when increasing size. 
  • Most free software and apps are good enough for cropping and resizing but every time you edit and save the picture, its quality is likely to go down. Only the professional software (Photoshop, free Gimp) can do lossless editing.  
Like to see our earlier posts relating to image quality, putting images on blogs, social media image sizes, infographics, starting a video blog, etc? Image articles on ITB

Like it and wish to tweet it to followers?  

July 11, 2017

Best food bloggers from India bring you the best of subcon cuisine

ITB brings out the best Indian blogs' directory in June every year. This year's Directory has 50 superb Indian food blogs in one place

I have drilled down the list to select four topmost food blogs that have enormous resources and a vast variety of cuisines. In addition, they excel in showing you how a dish is prepared. And their journey is fruit (or food, is it?) of their immense passion for cooking and great food sense.

Raks Kitchen looks slightly cluttered in Rajeswari's effort to apply as much navigation as possible to her huge resources. Some ads also mess up the overall looks. But click on a segment and you find the richness and variety of content. 

Saffron Trail has a very refined look and the recipes are as clearly described. Being a doctor and nutritionist, Nandita doesn't forget to add health aspects of ingredients and recipes.

best Indian food blogs

Sharmi's Passions is also a huge storehouse of cuisines, supported with detailed recipes. Sharmilee also loves food photography and it shows in the blog.

As the name suggests, Vegan Richa is Richa's blog on pure vegan food. You must visit to get convinced that there could be such a variety of tasty food without dairy, fish, seafood and meat. 

topmost food bloggers

Want to share this article? Consider tweeting it to your followers:   

July 8, 2017

Does your blog come on top of search pages, does it?

All bloggers want traffic, and for that search engines are godsend. Who does not want to come on the first page of Google?

Wondered how many top search results show blogs? I did a bit of random research for you, to give you a glimpse of that. I am not a researcher, nor has my site ITB resources to get a research done. I, however, bought some gigs on Fiverr for variety in searches and some experimentation. My small but guided experience will definitely give you a few hints on how to search optimize your blog, especially if you have not hired an SEO expert.

When I went for a very broad search term (e.g travel, health, recipes, America, sports, blogging), hardly any blog came in the top 10 results on Google. Mind it, I used the private mode on the browser and wiped memory of the websites/ blogs I had earlier visited from the browser cache. But since all big search engines have their servers in major world locations, they'll likely give at least some results of your country however much you cloak your location.

Interesting it was to see that of all kaywords, 'pregnancy' was quite less commercialized and the results on Bing, Yahoo and Google were very similar. For a few other keywords, the similarity in non-commercial results was striking. The inference that we bloggers can draw from this is that if a page has quality content relevant to the keyword, it will come high on all search engines.

OK. The next step. I went for two-word search expressions (=keywords) but still very broad. Also one-word keywords but not too broad (e.g. yoga, fasting, American fashion, continental recipes, Indian news, banking career, portrait photography, women shoes, bed sheets, iPhone). Some blogs start coming here. Interestingly, that depends also on the browser in addition to your browsing history, location etc. even if you are in incognito/ private mode.

I've also found that Google Plus posts come high in search pages if the title and content are relevant. 

It is sometimes said that being in the Yahoo index helps SEO. I found that Google did not give such sites extra points. (Btw, because Yahoo did not throw up any results for blogs in the top ten results, I did not look further if blogs posted to Yahoo index - which is a paid service - fare better than others.)

I had not realized before this, that the world is so commercialized! For popular products, search engines give e-commerce sites on top (often localized), and then news sites and Wikipedia articles if there is some non-commercial angle to the search query. So, a search for 'bed sheets' and 'women shoes' results not only in dozens of commercial web pages in the first few pages, the suggestions too are of commercial nature.

That gives another takeaway: If your blog is not an established blog and deals only with information (not products and services with direct commercial value: recipes, make-up reviews, etc), its chance of coming in top search pages for keywords relating to popular products is very bleak.

An indirect inference from the above observation is that normal (not well search optimized) blogs dealing with popular products are not likely to get good click-through rate (CTR) because the most relevant search traffic is focused on commercial and big websites.

OK, let's see what comes on top when we search for long-tail keywords. 

Remember, Google and Yahoo suggestions at the bottom of their search pages are actually used, popular, keywords. We need to optimize our blogs for these keywords. These are mostly with 3 or more words and give complete intent of searcher. 

I also compared my results with those found through Google's highly popular Keyword Planner tool. There were wide variations. I have a feeling that Google calculates the traffic in the Keyword Planner tool keeping advertisers in mind, not publishers (i.e. website owners, bloggers). Of course, its data on competition etc directly keeps advertisers' need in view, that's obvious. 

I took a number of long-tail keywords with no direct buying intent (not like 'pet food in California' or 'How to buy wedding dress'). What I found again proves the commercial angle in search results:   
when we look for 'how to...', search engines throw all types of sites including videos which do not always answer the question. Among the relevant pages that answer the question, there is hardly a blog page. Sometimes Quora or Yahoo Answers or Wikihow come up but probably when search engines have no commercial site in their index that relates to those queries. So, the manual tweaking of index that search engines do supposedly 'to give you a better user experience' is humbug. Business angle is supreme for them!

When I asked academic questions shorn of any commercial intent (e.g. 'When did the British rule India', 'How do trees bear fruit', 'French space program'), authoritative sites and Q-A sites (mostly Quora) came up but hardly any blog. Blogs did come in lower search pages, but only when they were very focused (e.g. 'to seed or not seed citrus'). I extended the search further and checked for suggested keywords which were very focused. Blogs (independent blogs as well as free blogs with blogspot and wordpress suffixes) started coming in top pages. I got some of these blogs thoroughly checked by a Fiverr guy and he reported that these blogs had good material on topics around the search term and over a long period. A few very new blogs and a few with only 1-2 posts on the topic also came but I could not analyze them any further.

What that means is: If your (little) blog wants to come on top of search engines for saleable things, it has to compete with biggies. On the other hand, it can come up high for information keywords but there will not be many people searching for these terms and even less buyers. In either case, to come on the first page, blogger must regularly write posts around a topic for a long time.

I then looked at local-interest and local looking searches with low commercial angle. When searchers look for 'wildlife around Oregon' or 'Thai massage parlors', they are wanting to know things in those locations but when they look for 'Chinese paintings', they might be looking for this in their neighborhood or its features irrespective of location. I found search engines good at knowing the intent and serving relevant results. Sometimes blogs show up high on such searches, perhaps based on focus on the content. I'd advise information-purveying bloggers even if they are into broad niches, to include some posts on very focused topics, including that with local flavor, to get some targeted traffic. In fact, travel bloggers do it quite often. 

I also looked for expressions 'blog', 'blogging', 'blogger', 'blogspot' and 'wordpress' along with the main search words. Not many people will search with such keywords, but my idea was to check whether blogs come there just on the strength of their content. Results were relevant and many blogs (along with big websites, news on blogs, and commercial sites) came up in top 50 results, but competition for smaller blogs seemed to be quite high as not many common type of blogs come high up. For buying-intent keywords (yoga pants, iPhone, flatbed scanner), blogs have no chance [more so, those on free platfroms] but for other information in which sellers may be less interested, blogs with big resources had high SERP presence. My takeaway from it would be to post regularly and develop huge resources over time.

Quora has high reputation, especially on Google. When searches start with interrogative pronouns (what, why, when etc) or end in question mark, Quora answers come up high. Bloggers can make use of this by regularly posting good content on Quora and linking relevant blog posts from Quora posts. 

Let me sort of conclude. If you have opened the blog with a view to earn from it through search and AdSense, you need to optimize it well. Next, you must have two types of content: one, that is full of information and two, that links information with products. Some posts should be focused on narrow topics and these should serve great value to the few looking for that exact information. Post good content regularly. Also use the power of Quora and search suggestions thrown by Google/ Yahoo.

Warning! If you have grown big enough to take on big websites, these observations are of no value. ;)

July 4, 2017

Social media, tech updates: Big German fine, NotPetya attack, blogger jailed

Mother Mushroom - the blogger - arrested, and this time for full ten years!

Recall our mention of Mother Mushroom, a blogger in Vietnam having been arrested, some six months back? Well, she was released, made to pledge that she won't blog anymore and denied passport. She started blogging again and faced the consequences: The government has made sure that the outspoken free-speech blogger is jailed - and she is imprisoned for ten years!

VR180 videos on YouTube

This is a new virtual reality video format that has been released by YouTube and is likely to be widely adopted by other tech firms. 

YouTube has started publishing VR180 videos. It is just the beginning, but if you have a VR gear, you can enjoy them.  

As against the usual VR format, which is to be recorded in 360 degrees, VR180 records half the circle. Full VR needs very costly equipment to record, and high bandwidth to stream, and the VR180 format is lighter and can be more easily created and viewed. And, as Google explains, it makes immense sense because normally we see only about 180 degrees and not 360 degrees unless we are on a swivel chair and rotating ourselves all the while.

(You will be able to see the VR effect on this video only with a VR gear)

German fine on errant social media 

This is an update on an earlier story in which we discussed how governments the world over want to discipline social media so that it does not hurt the society by spreading crime, hatred, violence, terror.
While Germany has taken a major lead, there are fresh reports that Britain and France also want to bring strict laws against extremist content on social media soon.

Germany has finally come down heavily on social platform by bringing a law that stipulates heavy fines if platforms such as Facebook do not remove obviously illegal content within 24 hours. In case of content that is not so obvious, they have 7 days to decide.

The fine goes up to $57 million!
The law passed a week back comes into force in October.

Concerns about misuse of such a law remain.

Facebook crosses 2 billion monthly user mark

Facebook last week announced that it has achieved the formidable figure of 2 billion active users a month.

Competitors are far behind. The nearest social media platform, Instagram, is reported to have a third of this number and Twitter a sixth. Google Plus is nowhere in the reckoning.

A new ransomware, and deadlier: are we going to hear this often?

As the world was yet recovering from WannaCry attack, it was jolted by attack of yet another ransomware, NotPetya (or GoldenEye). Like the earlier one, the aim of the hackers does not seem making money by ransom but creating disruption or, worse, testing these malware for future attacks. This one, like WannaCry, also seems to be an offshoot of EternalBlue. (You can see here our detailed post on ransomware and WannaCry.)

If NotPetya is state action, it will burn the globe in cyberwarfare!
Ukraine and Russia have been badly hit, but Europe, US and India are also not spared.

It is reported that this is a 'wiper' software, meant to destroy files on the system. In fact, the hackers are not interested in getting payment in return for restoring files as they have closed the email they want the victim to contact.

If CNET is to be believed, this could be a state-sponsored attack to badly hurt Ukraine, and other 60 countries have suffered collateral damage. CNET says, 
But now experts believe nation-state attackers are using ransomware as a screen, tempting victims to blame faceless hackers instead of the countries allegedly behind the attacks. The real goal was to get at and destroy data.

The revelation is a surprising new aspect of an escalating cyberwar between countries that has already compromised infrastructure, elections and businesses. North Korea leaked Sony emails in a display of power, hackers shut down Ukraine's power grids during a conflict with Russia and the US is still reeling from Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Ukraine has blamed Russian state actors for the attack, which has badly hurt its power, transport and banking systems. Ukraine says, it has proof from cyber security experts that this is handiwork of the same group that stalled its power systems two years back.

Liked the updates, and feel like tweeting it? Click here to tweet:

July 1, 2017

India's topmost blogs in English. Quality prevails!

We present you this eclectic list of outstanding blogs from India.

We call it our platinum list. Why, you might ask. So let's repeat what we said last time: Platinum is one of the 'noble' metals. It is more stable, corrosion resistant and ductile than gold and silver, the other noble metals. It is rare and expensive too. So are our platinum blogs: stable, full of valuable resources, and not cheap in looks and monetization. Of course, we cannot compare a blog on economics or book reviews with that on fashion or food, but within their genres each is a topper.

Making a small list out of many good items is not easy, and it becomes highly subjective. In our case, we go back and forth numerous times, looking for good and bad points and upgrading or reluctantly downgrading a blog. As this list cannot have all blogs from a few major categories, we drop some excellent blogs due to high intra-category competition.
Finally we have a list distilled for overall high quality in terms of richness of resources, quality of content, regularity, and a minimum level of design finery and engagement. 

Here is the list, the Platinum List of Indian Blogs in English: 

abhijitbhaduri - Abhijit Bhaduri
apotpourriofvestiges - A Potpourri of Vestiges
arun-bohemianwanderer - Bohemian Wanderer
b00kr3vi3ws - b00k r3vi3ws
baradwajrangan - Baradwaj Rangan
bbeautilicious - Be Beautilicious
Citycitybangbang - City City Bang Bang
cursor - Cursor
erratica - Erratica
gargi - A POV
highheelconfidential - High Heel Confidential
homecynhome - Home Cyn Home
indiasendangered - India's Endangered
jaiarjun - Jabberwock
joshidaniel - Joshi Daniel Photography
kbalakumar - Crank's Corner
lassiwithlavina - Lassi with Lavina
lemonicks - Lemonics
moneyexcel - MoneyExcel
movieretrospect - Passion for Movies
nishitak - Nishita's Rants and Raves
privytrifles - Reviews & Musings….
rachnaparmar - Rachna Says
rakskitchen - Rak's kitchen
saffrontrail - Saffron Trail
savedelete - Save Delete
sharmispassions - Sharmis Passions
shoutmeloud - ShoutMeLoud
sid-thewanderer - The Wanderer
sqlauthority - Journey to SQL Authority with Pinal Dave
Swaminomics - Swaminomics
thedelhiwalla - The Delhi Walla
thegoldstandardsite - The Gold Standard
theindianbeauty - the Indian Beauty blog
the-shooting-star - The Shooting Star
veganricha - Vegan Richa
walkthewilderness - Walk the Wilderness