Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.



Categories: Blogging, Nature, News, Photography, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. A fascinating post and you do it well. My blog is a counterpoint to all that – an escape from that kind of reality into another kind of reality where I make myself find three beautiful things each day, even when the day feels less than beautiful, as a balance perhaps to the other stuff that happens. 🙂

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    • I do some of both. There aren’t always stories in the news that I can write about. When there is, I try to find a way to work with it. I usually can, but not always. Sometimes it’s a subject I just don’t want to touch.

      Like

  2. Great suggestions. I know I tend to be very narrow in my topics which tends to limit my general reach.

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  3. Thanks for the tips & advice! 🙂

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  4. Excellent article and excellent advice. Thank you very much indeed.

    Like

  5. You are sharing things that many professionals, which you obviously are, do not share. Thank you for weaving your whole life into these posts. So very good!
    I won’t ask after your health, but I will hope that you are winning today.
    Patti

    Like

  6. What a wonderful lesson. I never try to relate a travel story to current news, but I think it’s very smart to do that and key into current trends. If you have any good suggestions how to tie this all in with travel I would appreciate your input. I enjoyed this post very much!

    Like

    • Off hand, there are lots of places in the world with problems … political, social, infrastructure. When Garry and I decided to go to New Orleans for my birthday … almost 17 years ago … as an interracial couple, we decided to be proactive. We first talked about our concerns with the travel agent who then did some research and came back to us with answers … boiling down to “You won’t have any trouble in the city. Do NOT travel out into the countryside.” Then I called the hotel. I told them we are in interracial couple and asked if that was likely to cause problems. I don’t think anyone had ever asked them straight out before. They thought about it, said they would discuss the matter with their staff and make sure there would not be. That’s just an example. I’ve done the same kind of pre-checking any time we have gone anywhere in the south and been glad I did. It’s also good to know towns that are historically unfriendly to outsiders (Madison Georgia — they REALLY don’t like people from the North) … and ones that are the opposite. Right now, there’s pretty much NO place in Texas I’d feel entirely safe.

      When I was young, I never considered the possibility of danger. Or whether they would have handicapped access. Or even air conditioning. All kinds of stuff. And of course, there was the time I found myself in the middle of a city that was having a riot. That wasn’t any fun. If I’d checked the news, I would never have gone there! A friend once decided to visit her friend in Moscow (Russia) and they had a little revolution. Tanks and all that. She wasn’t sure she was going to get out alive. We all want exciting vacations, but not necessarily quite that exciting. Make great stories, assuming you survive!

      Like

  7. I enjoy all your stories and articles. Love your photos and your family tales. It’s nice how you share your love of Garry with us, nice to love and be loved. Mostly thank you for the pond and geese family story. Ha.

    Like

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