31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 4: Analyze a Top Blog

I recently discovered a series entitled “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. Unfortunately, I am coming into this about a month late, so I am playing “catchup.” Once caught up, however, I plan to keep up with the series.

This assignment is to examine a specific blog, see what they do right, and apply these lessons to your own blog (without losing your own identity and voice, of course).

Choosing a blog for this analysis is difficult. For one, I read quite a few blogs, but some of them are more limited in their genealogical focus, and thus have relatively small audiences, and others are completely unrelated to genealogy. It may be interesting to choose a top genealogy blog and compare my analysis to that of a non-genealogy blog.

Now, how do I define a “top genealogy blog”? There are several high-profile genealogy blogs, like Eastman’s Genealogy Newsletter, GeneaBloggers, DearMYRTLE, and Genea-Musings. These blogs are very similar in some ways, and very different in other ways. They all post several times a day, and often cover genealogy news and current events, but each has their own voice. Dick Eastman, for example, often covers topics on the forefront of technology, such as his recent posts on “Windows is Dying… and so are Macintosh and Linux” and “Edit Photos In the Cloud.” Thomas MacEntee’s GeneaBloggers blog generally covers genealogy blogging topics, including posts covering each day’s blogging memes. Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings blog covers a large range of topics, including Randy’s personal ancestry as well as reviews and tests of the genealogy software like RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker. However, these blogs are also quite different from my own.

Instead, I will analyze a blog whose purpose and outlook is very similar to my own: Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles. Marian is also a professional genealogist, and I have mentioned her blog on several occasions in this blog. (See “What Exactly Do I Research?” and “The top 5 books on my bookshelf.”)

For the non-genealogy blog, I will analyze one of my favorite writing blogs: Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s blog Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.

Content

  • What topics are they covering?
  • What topics are they ignoring?
  • How often do they post?

In Marian’s Roots and Rambles, several recent posts have discussed books and publishing (“The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” “Authors – Get Strategic,” “Is it worth transcribing for publication any more?,” “Is There a Disconnect with The History Press?,” “Essential NON-Genealogy Books about New England,” and “Why Do Authors Bother with Publishers?“). I can only hope that this trend indicates that Marian will soon be publishing her own book. She has also discussed other issues related to genealogy, such as the Boston University genealogy certificate program and “Planning a Research Trip.” She does not, on the other hand, cover general genealogy news that does not affect her own personal or professional genealogy interests. In terms of frequency, so far in 2011 she has posted every 2-4 days. (More specifically, the blog archives show the following numbers of posts per month: January, 13; February, 13; March, 15; April, 8; May, 9; June, 15; July, 8; and so far in August, 3.)

Quips and Tips for Successfuly Writers is not organized in chronological post order, but in categories on her home page. In addition to her “Featured Articles” and “Recent Articles,” the following topical categories appear: Freelance Writing, Writing Skills, Making Money Writing, Blogging & Web Writing, Interviews with Writers, and The Writing Life. A few of the recent articles that interest me are “How to Improve Your Blog – A Quick Website Review,” “5 Tips for Getting Things Done Before the Deadline,” and “Tips for Bloggers Who Want to Help and Inspire Readers.” One of the reasons that I have followed this blog for almost three years is that Laurie is not simply a writer, she is a freelance writer in the Internet age. Of course she writes about blogging, but she did not start there. She (like myself) started writing for paper publications, but has migrated into web writing for further avenues of publication. It is virtually impossible to determine exactly how often she posts by looking at her website, because the posts are not individually dated, and are not organized chronologically. However, I can say that she posts a few times a week since the posts show up in my Google Reader about that often. ;)

Reader Engagement

  • What topics generate the most comments?
  • What styles of posts seem to connect with readers the best?
  • Are they using any tools to connect with their readers (i.e. forums, Twitter, newsletters, activities, etc.)

The following recent posts in Marian’s Roots and Rambles have generated the most comments: “Planning a Research Trip” (10 comments), “The Top 3 Changes in Genealogy” (9 comments), and “Why Do Authors Bother with Publishers?” (8 comments). There is no common thread connecting these three posts, so the reason for their comment-popularity does not immediately present itself. As for connecting tools, I know that Marian is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Not only does she post links to her own blog posts, but also to other blogs and articles of interest to her.

In Quips and Tips for Successful Writers, the following posts (all appearing on the home page) have attracted the most comments: “What Does It Mean to be a REAL Writer?” (44 comments), “Online Writers – Should You Get Paid Per Post or Per Click?” (16 comments), and “5 Steps to Writing a Killer First Chapter – How to Wow Readers” (12 comments). One notable observation is that the top two comment-getters are both “Featured Articles.” The post with the most comments has a particularly catchy title–one that would immediately attract anyone who would be interested in this blog. The second post covers a topic that often provokes readers’ passions–money! Provoking reader passions is an obvious way to attract both readers and comments. I know that Laurie uses Twitter, and that she often responds on her blogs to reader comments, but I do not know any further detail concerning how she connects with her audience.

Design

  • What’s your first impression of their design?
  • What have they done well?
  • Is there anything that could be improved?

The design of Marian’s Roots and Rambles is extremely simple. It is your basic, run-of-the-mill BlogSpot blog design. The audience of this blog probably does not require much more. With most genealogists, content outweighs design.

The design of Quips and Tips is quite different. As already mentioned, the blog posts are not organized in a reverse chronological list from most recent to older posts, the way most blogs are organized. Instead, there are several categories that appear on the home page, with the most recent article for each category appearing on this home page. This works well, as Laurie touches on several different topics that can be easily categorized: fiction writing, blogging, freelance writing, etc. In writing, much like genealogy, timeliness is not crucial. It is not necessary for the posts to be listed with the most recent first.

Monetization

  • Are they doing anything to make money from the blog? Affiliate programs? Google ads? Do they have sponsors?
  • If yes, what kinds of advertisers are targeting this blog?
  • How do they implement monetization efforts on their site? Sidebar? Footer? Within the content?

Marian only includes a single revenue-generating element in her blog: Google Ads. The ads are contained in the right sidebar, among several other non-revenue-generating elements, like a list of subscribers, the blog archives, popular posts, and non-affiliate ads for GeneaBloggers and an upcoming New England genealogy event. She occasionally mentions or links to content on her professional website: Fieldstone Historic Research.

Laurie makes her full income from writing, and one can see that a significant portion of this income stems from her blog. She has static affiliate banner ads at the bottom of the home page, and several text affiliate ads in the sidebar, where they are indistinguishable to her blog posts. While this is a little sneaky, in my opinion, it is also probably relatively effective. She also uses the website to sell several e-books that she has authored, including “Want to be a Writer? 73 Ways to Fire Up (or Just Fire!) the Muse” and “Want to Earn a Few Bucks? 75 Ways to Make (More) Money Blogging.”

Summary

One notable difference between Marian’s blog and Laurie’s blog is that Marian’s was particularly personal while Laurie’s was not. Marian blogs about what she wants to write about. Her blog is not concerned with making money on its own. For Laurie, however, writing is her career. It is what she does to pay her bills. Even her blog. So Laurie’s blog provides content that readers want to read, not what she wants to write. She also includes far more options for her blog to generate income. While I cannot know how much comes from the blog through affiliate sales and ebook sales, it is certainly enough to make writing the blog worthwhile.

I can learn from both of these blogs. I should continue to write about issues and topics that I want to write about, but I should also bear in mind what my readers want to read. I should consider additional ways to earn income through the blog, aside from links to my home page, but these advertisements should not be intrusive.

One thing is certain, however: conducting a survey and analysis of blogs that I myself enjoy reading is a good way to gain insight into what my audience would like to read.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Wonderful analyses, Michael! Welcome to the 31 Weeks challenge, and thank you for introducing me to two new blogs I definitely want to check out!

    Reply

  2. Wow, Michael, thank you for analyzing my blog! I am honored that you find Quips & Tips for Successful Writers a worthwhile read. Sometimes I get discouraged and wonder if my articles are helping people…so it’s fantastic to know that there are people like you in the world :-)

    I too have wondered if it’s sneaky to include my affiliate links under “Resources for Writers” – if readers would think they’re articles. I don’t mean to trick readers, but I just don’t know how to title the box in a succinct way (I don’t want the title to spill over into 2 lines). I was hoping “Resources” would indicate that they’ aren’t articles.

    Anyway, you made my week — thank you! It’s great to see my blog through your eyes.

    All good things,
    Laurie

    Reply

    • Thank you for writing the blog! Your blog has inspired me on numerous occasions in the past 2 or 3 years since I started reading it. Your unique presentation of quotes from established writers serves as a great introduction to the useful articles that follow.

      I don’t begrudge that you use affiliate links–I use them myself from time to time, both on this blog and on my website. I just meant that you can’t always tell which ones on the side are affiliate links and which are blog post links.

      Keep writing!
      Michael

      Reply

  3. What a great idea to compare a genealogy blog and a non-genealogy blog! I already read Marian’s blog, but I’m going to check out Quips and Tips. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Reply

  4. Michael,

    I’m basically a poor starving artist who bares their soul (genealogically speaking) on their canvas. Money is not my main motivation, though God I wish it was (and so does my husband). Staying true to my thoughts is more important. Having a great audience is important to me but ultimately it has little impact on my content. Though I do love reading great ideas from other bloggers and responding on my own blog. I’m about sharing and discussing ideas. I think that’s why you’ll see comments on various blog posts without seeing any sense of connectedness between them. Design is very important to me but technology/time is slowing me down and ultimately the ideas are more important.

    …and you noticed my current book phase. Yes, I’ve got a lot of stuff on my mind at the moment. :)

    So I guess you pretty well nailed my blog! :) I’ve just signed up for the RSS feed of Laurie’s blog. Maybe she’ll convert me. :)

    Reply

  5. Posted by Catherine Pendleton on August 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Hi Michael,

    I enjoyed your analysis of these two blogs…they happen to be two among many (including yours) in my Google Reader. I want to be a better writer/blogger, and I want to be better at genealogy. Reading other blogs and checking out how they do things and how they have their blogs designed has sure helped.

    Thanks for writing your “31 days…” posts!

    Reply

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