Sunday, March 18, 2007

A primer to customizing, optimizing and promoting your blog

This Saturday, I finally got some time to customize this blog. Hadn't done any major tweaking to the default settings since I started writing.

In this post, I will put down what all I did to customize and optimize this blog. This might be helpful if you have a website of your own. If you have any further suggestions for improvement, do add them in the comments.

Understand the site analytics services

Currently, I use two analytics services - Google Analytics and StatCounter. I had signed up for them right at the beginning, but had never tried until now to understand the different data that they collect.

Google Analytics (GA) is useful mostly if you are an advertiser and use Google AdSense and AdWords. Otherwise, it is useless. I was surprised that Google could create such a un-friendly application. But I am keeping GA for now as Google has a habit of listening to their customers and getting their act together. Prime example - Google Reader.

StatCounter is pretty good and is a free application. Also, unlike other free counters, they don't mandate putting a logo on the website being tracked. I recommend it.

Bloglines and Newsgator are the most common web-based RSS aggregators used by my readers. To see overall market trends, I did some googling. Here are some useful results...
-- Web-based feed reader data from HitWise
-- FeedBurner stats on web-based feed readers

Optimise the site-loading speed
As per my site stats, quite a few regular readers come directly a bookmark instead of using the RSS feed. But the site loading time was pretty slow. So, did some study and did the following to decrease the loading time...

1. Throw out unwanted images
I was embedding some external images which were slowing down loading of the pages. So kept only the ones that were really needed.

2. Throw out slow-loading external content
I had been using a service from FeedBurner called FeedFlare. FeedFlare adds useful interactive links like "Email This, Digg This, Bookmark This" etc to the end of every post, in both the webpage and the RSS feed. Problem is that loading the FeedFlares was very slow. Also on the main blog page, each post loaded its own "flares" increasing the load time linearly. So out they went from the website (but not from the RSS feed).

For essential external content like the site analytics code, I put them at the end of the entire page, so that they would load last and would not cause a bottleneck in loading the main content and the sidebars.

Promote the blog to search engines
Based on the site analytics data, there were quite a few hits from search engines, especially for my posts on
-- Salary Information for Pay Negotiations
-- Pay packages in India
-- Defining the core purpose of a corporate role
-- The problem with the new social network kid on the block - Geni

Unfortunately, Google was not indexing the individual permalink pages, but only the monthly archive pages, which had non-relevant posts. So it was very likely that the searchers got frustrated and left.

Some R&D led me to the mothership - Google Webmaster Central. A website publisher can create an account here, claim and attach their sites to this account, and then use the various tools to optimize the website for Google. I created a sitemap so that the Google crawler could see the individual permalink pages on the blog, and not just the monthly archive pages.

Also added my blog to the index of another blog search engine - Technorati.

Add advertisements
I signed up for AdSense and spent some time understanding the various ad formats. Then did some R&D on the optimal ad positioning on the blog. Based on this, I had to do some tweaking of the default HTML templates.

Some interesting stuff regarding AdSense...
-- AdSense allows only a max of 3 ad units per webpage
-- After you sign up with AdSense, it takes 1-2 days for the service to get activated

These are the things you can do after getting on with the blog for a few months. But based on my experience, there are a few things you MUST do absolutely when you setup the blog for the first time. I will write a post on this in the next couple of days

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