Atlanta Tech Blogs 2015 by the numbers (and experiments)

I am always in awe when I read Mailchimp’s annual report about how many billions of emails they send. It’s fantastic that the most awesome email service provider in the galaxy lives right here in Atlanta! So, I thought, on a much, much smaller scale, that it would be cool to share what’s gone on behind the scenes at Atlanta Tech Blogs in its first full year. I’ll preface all this info with one thing: still learning. I’ve never been in the media / publication space, so most of what makes such organizations tick is new to me. And, as I’ve said a few times before, this whole thing is just one big digital, content, and social marketing experiment. Here’s what happened in 2015.

Coverage: we aggregate blog posts from the Atlanta startup community, specifically, from the following:

  • 48 entrepreneurs
  • 156 startups
  • 37 community organizations

My first thought on this set of numbers is, there’s gotta be more entrepreneurs and startups who blog regularly? Who are they?

Automation: We’ve automated most of the processes. Incoming RSS feeds drive the posts. Several plugins capture the feed items, the canonical URLs, the titles, etc. Another plugin assigns categories and tags (aka taxonomies). At publish, native WordPress functionality in Jetpack shares the update to various social networks, Twitter in particular. More on that later in this text.

Manual Tasks: The manual part is editing the title/headline so that it can be understood outside the context of the author, and adding any relevant hashtags and @ tags for Twitter. That stays manual, and probably always will be. That takes less than an hour each day for 30-50 updates per day.

Email: Our Daily Digest email runs via RSS campaign through Mailchimp. Subscribers grew more than 150% in 2015, which is great, but the list is still relatively small. That said, our open rate remains steady at 32.9% daily and our click rate is a healthy 9.8%. We use a popup email subscription plugin from Icegram. We changed from sumome in the fall. People say they don’t like these popups, but they work. Our conversion rate for email subscribers from this popup since we made the change from sumome to Icegram has been 4.05%.

Twitter: We posted 8,130 tweets (which means about 8,100 of your blog posts), and earned an average engagement rate of 1.23%. Our Twitter followers grew from 1169 on January 1 to 4,670 as of this writing, an increase of 299%. Our monthly impressions in January were 110,000 and in the last 28 days as of this writing we earned 236,000 impressions, an increase of 114%.

Acquisition: Twitter was, until February, the top driver of traffic to atlantatechblogs.com; however, it was during February that our SEO efforts finally paid off and we began consistently appearing on the first page of the Google SERP for the search phrase “tech blogs“. Today, we remain on that first page and are now setting our sites on owning “startup blogs”, which will be much more difficult. We’re currently on page 3 of that search.

Here’s how our referral breakdown looks, for the entire year, according to Google Analytics.

twitterpic

 

USPs (User Submitted Posts): In September, we opened up a new method of curating content, in addition to inbound RSS feeds. We added a plugin that allowed you, our readers, to submit content to be posted on atlantatechblogs.com and shared via social and email to our followers and subscribers. During the time that this service has been available, we have received 110 user submitted posts from more than 50 different entities, including PR agencies, startups seeking publicity for their blogs, existing bloggers with non-blog content, LinkedIn posts, videos, and actual press releases. We see this experiment as a success and will continue to promote and tweak this method of curating content. Thank you to everyone who has shared their content!

Twitter sharing experiments: we’ve tried a dozen or so different “formulas” for sharing the 30-50 blog posts that come through each day. We’ve found what we think is getting us a nice uptick in impressions and engagement. It’s not complicated, but it does involve some simple work on the tweet text:

  • Tag Twitter users mentioned in the headline/title or relevant to the post
  • Insert market-relevant hashtags, such as #saas or #startups or #infosec depending on the subject matter of the blog post.
  • Keep the text of the title/headline short – under 95 characters including hashtags – so the tweet will include the blog post’s featured image (23 characters) and the bit.ly shortened link to the blog post (22 characters).
  • Always add the #techblogs hashtag, because, as of about a year ago, all tweets go directly into the Google search index, and thus become a significant part of your SEO efforts. Just for kicks, search Google for #techblogs. w00t! #1 is nice.

As I read the current methodology of sharing posts on Twitter, I’m surprised it took so many different experiments to arrive at this point, since those are really just best practices for any organization to share blog posts on Twitter.

Sponsorships: This experiment has been especially fun. Thanks to Digital Crafts, Atlanta’s newest code school, for working with us to conduct several experiments on how we might monetize Atlanta Tech Blogs in the future. Here are the 4 experiments in sponsorship that we conducted:

  • Daily Digest email – we put a custom Digital Crafts banner at the top of the daily email with a clear call to action for one month.
  • Hello Bar – I asked Jake at Digital Crafts to create a simple text call to action, and we ran the Digital Crafts’ colors on the top bar for 30 days.
  • Sponsored Tweets – A WordPress plugin to manage our Twitter Cards enabled us to insert a nice big Digital Crafts banner in every social post. Didn’t work so well on Twitter, but looked great on Facebook. Turns out that when we share a blog, if that blog has a “featured image” from whatever blogging platform the blogger uses, that featured image takes the spot in the Twitter card.
  • Banner Ad on home page – We ran a 30 day standard banner ad below the header and above the content, above the header, and also at the very bottom of the home page.

The clear winner was the top bar. We’re not ready to monetize yet, but it was very cool to conduct these controlled experiments with a brand new startup and see what happens.

Social Media Tracking: I just wrote about this experiment last week when we started it. We’ve been working on this one for a while. I was – still am – surprised that there’s not an “interruption page” plugin for WordPress since so many people/organizations make money by advertising on their sites. Opportunity? Well, we got it done, then it broke because Jetpack updated and killed it. But we got it done again, and now we are able to fully track all outbound clicks from our social media that did not previously go through atlantatechblogs.com. We will continue to experiment with this page, as it offers a very captive audience and we have complete control over that redirect page.

And there you have it: Atlanta Tech Blogs 2015 by the numbers and experiments. For all our social followers, email subscribers, daily website visitors, and those of you who have taken the time to just send me an email and say how much you appreciate Atlanta Tech Blogs: THANK YOU! You are who really matters, and I really appreciate you very much.

Merry Christmas, and have a happy and blessed 2016!

What do you think?