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The Business of the Blog

Much to Bitter’s dread, I’ve been thinking about updating the look and feel of the blog to a more minimalist theme, with a white background instead of the parchment look I was going for when we first made the name change last year. Bitter does all my graphics work and is the one who finds the right theme, and I’m very picky. I narrowly avoided being strangled when we went from “Snowflakes in Hell” to “Shall not Be Questioned” last year, so I have to balance my desire for a look and feel overhaul with the desire not to have things thrown at me, or have to sleep with one eye opened. I would not be changing the name of the blog, just changing the look and feel.

I had a few goals when we switched names last year. One goal was to stop having to explain the name of the blog to the uninitiated. The other was to help with bounce rate, figuring the name did not immediately lead to an understanding about the topic of the blog, and made people more likely to leave. A third goal was to take ads and make some money.

One can see from my bounce rate monthly average over the past two years, the goal of improving bounce rate has pretty much gone unmet. It was about 68-70%, and so it remains. Bounce rate is basically the percentage of people who come in, hit one page, and then leave (bounce). My understanding is that my current rate is about par for the course for blogs. There is trickery one can use to improve bounce rate, but I’d like to improve it through visitors legitimately sticking around, rather than through sleight of hand.

For the goal of having a more understandable name, that relates to the topic of the blog, I think that has largely worked. I don’t get blank stares as much when I hand out the blog’s business card, and I don’t have to spend time in the “elevator pitch” explaining the name of the blog. I don’t market directly to advertisers, but when I’m attending NRA, or other gun-related events as a blogger, I do like people to understand what it is I do. This year haven’t spent as much time meeting people in gun related settings as in previous years, so there hasn’t been a very large sample pool. But my experience so far is that it’s easier to convey “Shall not Be Questioned” than “Snowflakes in Hell,” at least to people who are familiar with the Pennsylvania Constitution’s right to bear arms guarantee.

The revenue goals I had for the change have largely panned out. We’re self-sufficient, in that the blog pays for itself. Given that I self-host, my costs are higher than most. Through agreement, Bitter actually gets the revenue from the blog, in exchange for helping me run it.

Overall the name change didn’t do everything I wanted, but I don’t think it was a huge mistake. Search traffic took a hit initially, because of the loss of Google love, but that has since recovered. My traffic otherwise has remained constant, and I’m pretty sure my pool of regular readers has remained about the same. Much like the gun business, I get my biggest traffic spikes when Barry opens his mouth about guns, or when the media start treating us like second class citizens. People, I think, flee to where they feel more welcome when the world turns against them. I think that’s a good thing. But I’m tired of the parchment look, and I’m wanting something fresher looking. I may not even get around to it this year, with all that is going on, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, now that I have more time to think, over the slower pace of the holidays.

12 Responses to “The Business of the Blog”

  1. Ron Larimer says:

    I like the parchment from a branding perspective. It is the only one like it in the niche, it is easy to read, it is professional enough to be viewed anywhere.

    That is part of the reason for the http://balloongoesup.com layout.

    I wanted something that was visually different than anything else, clean professional, easy to read with a strong brand. The “worn wall” was only added later because the site felt flat and it fit with the branding.

    You subtle texturing seems to work well.

    There are a few things you could do to optimize this design a little further, but I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, unless you need it for inspiration (which I completely understand.)

  2. Bondurant says:

    Your layout is fine but I wouldn’t scoff at a minimalist or drastic change in look or layout. Do what you desire with your blog. The content is the important part. Keep it coming and I keep reading. Cheers and Happy New Year.

  3. Harold says:

    I agree with Ron; it is and looks good, and is a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than a white background.

    But my experience so far is that it’s easier to convey “Shall not Be Questioned” than “Snowflakes in Hell,” at least to people who are familiar with the Pennsylvania Constitution’s right to bear arms guarantee.

    Even without that local knowledge, “My gun (politics) blog is ‘Shall Not Be Questioned'” gets the message across pretty clearly.

  4. Harold says:

    If you’re serious (as in have enough time, etc.) about improving your conversion rate/decreasing your bounce rate, here’s the first thing I would read, although it’s probably not directly applicable.

    I can vouch for the wisdom and good sense of the author, having followed him somewhat through Hacker News (there’s a reason he has a freaking insane karma on the site of 80,000 (that’s the net of how many people have clicked up and down arrows on his comments and submissions)). And it all started with a simple bingo card creator website he did on the side while a gaijin software salaryman in Japan (imagine a general big company software development culture where new, out of school hires don’t cut production code for more than a decade … rumors of Japan taking over the world were greatly exaggerated…).

  5. Patrick H says:

    I’m a late comer here- I never realized that it used to be called a different name.

    Besides the content, the look of the blog definitely keeps me here. I love the parchment look, and I think the theme is already pretty minimalist.

  6. Andrew says:

    I liked the Snowflakes layout, but this one’s cool enough, too. Your bounce rate seems kind of irrelevant- almost all of the content on the site is accessible from the main URL. I only ever click through in order to comment.

  7. jon spencer says:

    Whatever you do, please do not go to a white print on a dark page.
    I am one of the bouncers, when I see a new article on your rss feed I click to the story than read it and go.

  8. brobrandonb says:

    Fwiw I stop by nearly daily and as much as I miss snowflakes, I’ve really grown to like the “questioned” format. I think it looks professional, clean, and easy to read.

    Of course you won’t loose me unless content goes downhill or you reformat to something truly horrendous.

    Every once in a while I give you some link love via email or Facebook, but is there anything else you wish your adoring fans did? Facial tattoos are off the table.

  9. Tam says:

    when I hand out the blog’s business card

    When you hand out the what now?

    • Sebastian says:

      I got the idea from another blogger, and I’ve found it useful when introduced to people in meatspace as a blogger, when the other person is not all that familiar with gun blogging, and they ask about my site URL, or want to talk about something further and ask for contact info. It also offers up some legitimacy and makes people more willing to talk.

      I generally only manage to hand out business cards at NRA Annual Meeting, or when I was going to board meetings and sitting in more regularly. It’s not something I find is useful day-to-day.

  10. John A says:

    “a more minimalist theme”

    No, please.

    I used to visit Michelle Malkin daily, until the site went “minimalist”: now, i only get there by following links. Same for JammieWearingFool, and a few others. Or worse, Don Surber, who now only posts a header with a link – to follow a single day may involve several internal linkages, let be links to other sites.

    Volokh Conspiracy is what I consider true minimalist format. Main difference from here is the white background. Or thehistoryblog.com which may have a picture or two per post. Or rjkoehler.com (The Marmot’s Hole), news/views/fun from S. Korea (which is where I learned Korea had six all-iron ships in 1583, which for all their lack of sailing ability were instrumental in defeating invading Japanes. Yes. 16th Century! But politically disaster struck, and it was almost 300 years before the Monitor sallied forth).

  11. NUGUN says:

    I love the present look. I prefer the shallnotbequestioned to pagunblog

    Your theme is along the lines of where in wish I could bring my blog.

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