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September 23, 2004

Successful Blogging - Lessons Learned from an Olympic Experiment

Posted in: Miscellaneous Blog Tips

A few people have emailed and asked for more information about the Olympic Blog we’ve run. Phil asked - “what lessons did you learn about running a successful blog through the process.” I thought it might make an interesting Blog Tip post.

1. Think Ahead - The whole Olympic Blog experiment emerged in my mind a number of months back when a smaller experiment paid off. Back in February I posted a post titled ‘American Idol 3 Winner’. Now that might seem like a crazy post to do back in February when the winner would be announced in May - but the whole point was to post something in advance of the event to let Google index it and rank it highly so that when the day came it would be the first thing people would see when they searched for the term. The experiment paid off - to this day we’re still number 1 on that post (which now has up to date relevant news of the winner) and more importantly on the day when one of the biggest search terms on the web was ‘American Idol 3 Winner’ we had 10s of thousands of visitors.

After this little experiment I began to wonder what other events I could anticipate. One of the looming world events was obviously the Olympics and so we resolved to expand the experiment.

2. Think Search Terms - Our American Idol 3 experiment would never have worked if we’d chosen to call the post virtually anything else. I guessed correctly (it was a no brainer really) what people would be typing into Google the day the winner way announced and optimized the page accordingly with title and keywords repeated throughout the information posted on the site. The same thing was a key to our success with the Olympic blog. What would be key search terms for people seeking Olympic information? Obviously words like ‘Athens’ and ‘Olympics’ were good starting points. ‘Opening Ceremony’ was a good one ‘Medal Table’ was a better one and ‘Jenny Finch’ (US soft baller) was a smart bet (even though her name is actually spelt Jennie - we figured people would get it wrong). You get the idea. The key was to be among the highest ranked results on Google for these highly searched for terms. Again its about ‘thinking ahead’ but its also about getting in the shoes of the potential reader of your site and anticipating their next move.

3. Make your Site Virus-like - I’ve written previously written about a great book called Unleashing the Idea Virus (by Seth Godin) on this blog. He argues that for any idea to spread that you need to think of it as a virus and make it as easy as possible for other people to spread the virus for you. It is much more effective to let others ’sneeze’ (or promote) your site into the web than to do it all yourself. This is not as easy as it sounds but the way we did it was to devise a little mini medal table for bloggers and other web masters to put on their websites. The table had the top 10 medal winning counties listed as well as a link to the main site, to a full medal table and at the time a link for bloggers to get their own free medal table. This could have been the most successful thing that we did.

We are not exactly sure of how many people used the medal table but it numbered over 100 in my guesstimate. This had a twofold benefit for our site. Firstly it brought direct traffic to us. A number of big sites used the medal table on their sites which brought a lot of visitors but secondly it helped our Google ranking also as they saw us suddenly being linked to by 100+ sites with keywords that we’d determined. We also made a lot of bloggers happy in the process by giving them a fun, topical and cool feature for their blog.

4. Get permission to market your site - Another Seth Godin strategy is to get permission from your customers (readers) to promote your product to them. With the advent of SPAM people are not really open to the idea of getting emails promoting your blog - but if you get their permission first then you’re onto a good thing. We simply added a link at on every page of the site inviting people to submit their email address to receive a daily update during the games on the latest Olympic news. Thousands of people gave us permission to send them an email each day inviting them to pop by the site to read articles we’d put up in the previous 24 hours. Again - this is about providing people with a useful service that also has some big payoffs for your blog.

5. Content - Quantity of content is important. We worked very hard in the weeks leading up to the Games to have around 3000 pages of relevant content on the site. Over the weeks of competition this built to over 4000 pages. They covered as many keywords as we could think of so that Google could do its job and bring us visitors. I talked to a blogger recently about how to get more visitors to his site and one of the biggest problems he has was that he only had 80 pages of content. It takes time to build your archives up but it is a natural way to build visitors. Of course quantity is not everything - relevant, quality content helps heaps too with building repeat readers and also with Google rankings - but in this case quantity was probably more important. One strategy we used for getting as much content up as quickly as possible was to invite contributions of other people. We were fortunate to have a small number of dedicated bloggers help us out with this - although between Regan and myself we did around 95% of the content added.

5. Work Hard but Have Fun - I guess the last thing I’d say is that the whole process was a lot of work but also heaps of fun. We enjoy sport and so an Olympics blog was a natural blog for us to run. If the topic had been something we had little or no interest in I’m not sure we would have put in all the work that we did. There is no escaping the fact that it took a lot of effort to run the show and some real sacrifice from us and our wives who put up with us pulling all nighters (thanks Rachel and V!) but overall it was really enjoyable and a rewarding experience.

That is just scratching the surface on the lessons learned - I could probably write another 20 but that will have to do for today. Along the way we did make a lot of mistakes but in the process we learned heaps that we would do quite differently next time - bring on Beijing!


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