Friday, 10 February 2012

Guest Post On Now Smell This - The Sequel: 5 Things I Have Learnt From Perfume Blogging

Yesterday Now Smell This published a guest post by me entitled: “5 things to think about before you start a perfume blog”. I am following it up here on Bonkers today with a companion post, covering another five learning points / discoveries from my first two years of blogging.

I should have gone with Wordpress…

When I started Bonkers about Perfume, I gave almost no thought to the question of which free blogging software to use. A number of perfume sites I followed at the time had opted for Blogspot, the free domain service provider of Google-owned Blogger. It looked easy to set up, even for a technical numpty like me, so I just went with that, without making any inquiries such as consulting review sites etc. For someone who is a researcher by profession that was most out of character. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had chosen the other main free publishing platform, Wordpress. It has a much wider selection of templates, with a cleaner, clearer look and richer functionality, including threaded comments – though Blogger has just introduced its own basic version of this facility. Overall, I’d say that Wordpress is aesthetically superior, more robust/bugproof, and easier to interact with for both blog owner and reader alike.

Duplication is inevitable

By this I mean duplication of any kind: for example, reviewing the same scent as another blogger – quite possibly in the same week even, if there is a new release with a buzz around it. But as I mention in Point 4 of my previous post over on Now Smell This, I think multiple reviews are a good thing. And if you know you are not the first person to write about a given subject (which will mostly be the case), a nodding reference to the fact that others have trod this posting path before you never goes amiss (in the spirit of “playing nicely with others” – Point 5 of my NST post).

Now, although I said earlier that Wordpress has a wider choice of themes than Blogger, with any blogging platform you run the risk of picking the same layouts, colour schemes and fonts as someone else. For a long time I was concerned that my choice of a battleship grey background might be seen as copying I Smell Therefore I Am, and I also had a bit of a wobble on hearing that my travel theme was in use by a Canadian perfume blogger. He didn’t post all that often though, so after toying with a few alternatives I reverted to my original selection, on the basis that when it comes to choosing a design template, I had as much right to run with my favourite as the next fumehead!

A blog is a platform for showcasing underdogs

At the other end of the scale from featuring scents that are very topical, as a blogger you can decide to write about a little known perfume you feel deserves more attention. My most read posts of all time concern a £3.99 dupe of Coco Mademoiselle from the European discount grocery chain, Lidl (see the "Popular Posts" sidebar). I didn’t consciously set out to write about it because I reckoned it would unleash a stampede to my blog, but simply considered it well made for the ridiculously small outlay, and wanted to get the word out to European readers. On the other hand, just because you are the only person writing about a scent doesn’t mean that you will attract lots of traffic – far from it. You might not get a soul reading your post, precisely because no one has heard of the fragrance in question! I am sure that has happened to me quite a lot, and I know I have clicked on and off other people’s sites pretty smartish if I don’t recognise a scent, or have no curiosity about it (sorry!). Which goes back to my point about choosing to write about things for your own reasons, whether you are the only one to do so, or one of many. Write as the spirit moves you, and let the chips – and the readers – fall where they may.

Popularity is governed by strange algorithms

And whatever your reasons for taking up blogging in the first place, it is only human nature to be just a little bit interested in how well your blog is doing. When I started out, I made the mistake of listing Bonkers in the general section of Wikio rather than the perfume category – well, I couldn’t find it, to be honest – and have reconciled myself to being 2741 in their overall rankings (at the time of writing). Bizarrely though, Wikio (recently renamed “Ebuzzing”) has pronounced me No 70 in its list of Beauty Blogs, in which I didn’t even ask to be listed! The other curious thing that happens automatically is that you get picked up by various “aggregator sites” - repositories of online content with names as random as a box of frogs: “Pharmacy Degrees”, “Soccer News”, “India Times”, “Plastic Surgery Face Lifts” and so on.

And gradually, this baffling and arcane accretion of links will lead to a page ranking in the eyes of Google on a scale of 0 to 10, where – to give you an idea - Now Smell This is a 6 and the actual CNN website (to which I likened NST in my guest post) is a 9. To complicate matters further, there is the Alexa ranking system, measuring traffic from sites that have installed the Alexa toolbar, for reasons that completely pass me by. It is in fact quite possible to have a lot of visitors according to Alexa (where a low number is good), yet be a 0 in Google’s backlink-based system (where a low number is bad). Which goes back once more to my point about keeping everything in perspective. Yes, try not to fret about page views and unique visitors, referring sites and “bounce rates” – because if you do, you’ll surely go mad!

Random traffic patterns are endlessly fascinating

And finally, the market researcher in me finds the visitor stats to my blog quite riveting. You don’t know the identity of your readers, just their location and the name of their Internet Service Provider. Yet some of these ISPs are intriguing in themselves, especially the private networks that bear the name of the organisation using them: an oil company in the Middle East, a hospital in the Maldives, a steel parts distributor in Georgia, a lawyer’s office in LA. Now it is a fact of blogging that 90% or more of your visitors are “lurkers”, who read and move on, never leaving a comment. Given this lack of direct contact between reader and blog owner, you can have a field day imagining a backstory for the bedridden patient in the Maldives who is looking at your review of Jennifer Lopez Glow, including how they ended up in hospital in the first place. Was it perhaps a jet skiing accident? A nasty jellyfish sting? Or might it just be a member of hospital staff idling googling in their break, and not a tourist at all?

And then there was the day when 90 Norwegians looked at a post I had written on an obscure Damien Bash scent. If it had been a class project at a school or college, you would have expected all the readers to be in the same town at least - but no, they were literally all over the country. There was no obvious link to a forum or Norwegian website, so to this day the trigger for this sudden mass national interest in my review remains a mystery. And the other important point to mention – and the final reason for keeping a sense of perspective - is that, crucially, many of your readers will land on your blog by mistake… Some of the more peculiar search terms that have directed people to Bonkers include: “leopard fantasy”, “Bo Derek naked”, “Anne Hathaway’s cottage opal flash parfum”, “Slovakian hobbits biscuits”, “swingos hotel Cleveland”, “card nuisance call boss telling her to do some work”, “kidnapping lillies”, “what is the landform of Ohio”, “avocado” and “slime”.

Yes, any time I catch myself thinking that Bonkers is going places, and that I am starting to make my mark as a fragrance blogger, a quick scroll through the keywords used by recent visitors brings me right back down to earth again…!

Photo of lady blogger in top image from Mike Licht, via Flickr CC, photo of blogging tips book from Search Engine People Blog via Flickr CC, photo of second lady blogger from Foxtongue via Flickr CC, photo of Maldives from Shayan (USA) vis Flickr CC, photo of avocados from nate steiner via Flickr CC, other photos my own


lucasai said...

Hello Vanessa!
That's a great continuation of yesterday's guest post at Now Smell This.
The whole article is really interesting, I think I'd like to come back to both parts sometime.

Vanessa said...

Hi lucasai,

Thanks for hopping over here today - I enjoyed our exchange yesterday on NST and learnt about private blogs for the first time!

lucasai said...

I was really looking forward to other chapters of this articles, so I couldn't not hop here for more.
Thank you, I enjoyed it too. I'm happy you could also learn something from me :)

Vanessa said...

Hi lucasai,

Very much so. As it happens, my work takes me to Poland from time to time, so you are on my "perfumista map" now of people I might potentially drop in on, if that would be okay!

: - )

lucasai said...

I'd love to meet another perfumista, so if you happen to visit Poznan, where I study we could meet up for a cup of coffee and a small perfume discussion

Tara said...

Oh Vanessa this was pricelsss! The ranking systems went over my head but those random Google searches were fascinating and I loved the 90Norwegians! I wish someone would comment and let us know the connection, but then maybe the mystery is more fun. As for "leopard fantasy", you really can't make that stuff up!

Vanessa said...

Hi lucasai,

Just checked Poznan on the map - I haven't been there, but must have been fairly close once coming down from Bydgoszcz. I never know where my work will take me, so I have made a note - it is always nice to chat with people who share this interest!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Yes, the Norwegian "spike" / "surge"? was most curious. On balance I think I would love to know the reason, but I doubt I ever will.

The ranking system and how it works is over my head too to be honest - I just know that the higher the Google Page Rank number the better, while with Alexa you are aiming for the smallest number possible. I think I was in the low two millions or so the last time I looked, haha!

Yes, the search terms are an endless source of delight. I should perhaps consider a post devoted to the subject, inviting submissions from other bloggers and we could pick the ones we thought were the most outrageous/silly/bizarre etc. That could be a fun idea.

lucasai said...

Looks like we might have a meeting one day ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi lucasai,

That would be nice!

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Hi Vanessa!

I really enjoyed your 5 things on NST (sorry I haven't comment there yet) and these 5 things too.

I fond your sections on stats and search terms etc particularly interesting. It seems that Blogger gives you more in-depth stats than Wordpress, for example; Wordpress doesn't show you the location or IP address of visitors, which would be very interesting.

Search terms can be absolutely hilarious, my most memorable was 'Finnish Boy Sex', which I can only assume was loosely associated with ELD'O's Tom of Finland. Other than the hilarity the search terms are great for showing which perfumes are really popular at the moment, I had a massive influx of Google traffic with Elie Saab related terms when that was released and I'm seeing the same currently with Kokorico. Also, the search terms show you how spelling has gone to the dogs...

You've given some great advice over these two posts and I'm sure you'll have inspired those who were unsure to perhaps start their own blogs :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

I have two different sets of stats on my blog - Statcounter, which I had to register for - and the built-in Blogger one. Actually, I am also signed up to Google Analytics, which I think is linked to the Blogger data, if not indeed the same thing. I like Statcounter a lot, not least because it has my total page views as double the figure showing in the site meter in the sidebar, haha! The whys and wherefores of such a big discrepancy pass me by. It is Statcounter that gives me all the data on individual ISPs. If you don't wish to formally sign up to that, I can give you a "behind the scenes look" at my stats if you would like?

"Finnish boy sex" is going to be hard to beat, as wacky search terms go - I really should do that post sometime!

And yes, it is interesting seeing what posts cause a spike of interest - Illuminum White Gardenia Petals is the other main one for me after the Lidl scent - those two are out ahead by a mile!

And oh dear me yes, spelling isn't what it used to be... I blame the mobile phone and the multiple choice culture of the modern exam system.

tarleisio said...

Vanessa - this should be a required educational installment for all budding perfume bloggers - because there is nothing I can possibly disagree with! :)

What is more...I think I may have an explanation for those 90 Norwegians and that seriously obscure Damien Bash, which all thanks to your own fabulous self, I reviewed too! It's the name...and a whole, mountainous country with a rabid obsession with all things dark and dastardly...remember, black metal music was invented in Norway! :D All it takes is a Google search and a taste for the obscure result on search page! Someone, somewhere, is bound to be curious!

Since moving to Wordpress, I like blogging rather better than I did on Blogger but for one thing - Wordpress stats are awful. You can't tell where people are coming from, know nothing of IP addresses or much else beyond arcane search terms and page hits, and that irritates MY rabid curiosity! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi tarleisio,

Thanks - I am glad you liked it. Not sure of the educational value of some of it, haha!

And thanks also for very possibly cracking open the "mass Norwegian mystery" - your Goth and "all things dark" theory sounds eminently plausible.

Maybe Statcounter is the way to go then? As I said to CPB, you are welcome to take a look inside my stats to see all the things it can do. Google Analytics is also a great package, though I find it almost too sophisticated to be user-friendly.

Le Critique de Parfum said...

I loved both of your articles Vanessa, really.

But today I disagree with your view about underdogs. I'm all for showcasing *ethical* underdogs. I mean creative people, small groundbreaking brands, there are tons of them. Dupes are just just plain intellectual property theft.

Do I sound cranky now? :-)


Vanessa said...

Hi Le Critique de Parfum,

What a good point about IP theft, and one which had escaped me entirely! Be as cranky as you like - such thought-provoking observations are most welcome.

This Lidl scent is a dupe, as is Suddenly D'Or, which I am convinced is a copy of Ghost Luminous, and have written another post to that effect - so yes, that is naughty really when you think about it, though it feels like a real coup for the consumer, like our discount clothes chain Primark that sells the latest fashion designs for pennies.

The legal definition of what constitutes IP theft in perfumery vs something "inspired" by something else, I couldn't begin to disentangle - that is not my field of expertise. Those knock off LMVH bags sold by street traders look identical in all but quality, but how identical is SMG in chemical terms I wonder? Yet in terms of the spirit of the law if not the letter, I am sure you are on to something though with your comment... : - )

I take the point that the Lidl perfume - on an ethical level - might be a questionable underdog to showcase, but at the same time, it shows what a huge profit is made by the brands if a £3.99 product can be a half-decent substitute of a scent with an RRP of £61. Some of that is development cost (which is where your objection is spot on), and to cover the fancy ad campaigns and expensive retail space etc, but (and I am thinking back to my reading of The Perfect Scent here), isn't some of it pure profit trading on brand cachet?

I don't know, but I will definitely meet you half way on this one - the Lidl scent is a controversial underdog to choose for sure!

On a sidenote - we may never learn the identity of the nose behind this compostion, but, whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, he or she has pulled off a remarkable stunt on a shoestring...

Natalie said...

I enjoyed both your posts, Vanessa. And I agree about Wordpress. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Thanks! And you made the right choice, no question, but hey-ho. I am not sure I have the strength to migrate, though I know some bloggers have taken that step.

Cymbaline said...

I think I'll just stick with what I'm good at: finding and reading superb blogs like yours, Vanessa!

Very educational post and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments also : )

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Aw shucks - you say the nicest things! I learnt a lot from the comments too, not least about the possibility of maintaining a private blog.

Michael said...

Vanessa, another great read, thank you. I laughed about a lot of what you mentioned, because I do/did many similar things to you, such as Blogger vs Wordpress and I also enjoy the stats and how random they can seem!

Vanessa said...

Hi Michael,

A fellow "Shoulda gone to Specsavers" person - I mean Wordpress!

The stats are great fun, aren't they? I really should hold that competition to find the silliest search terms...

Ines said...

He, he, he, I keep wanting to write down the strange words that bring people to my blog but never do. :) I really should, it will give me sth to chuckle about in the future too.
I admit, I get lost in all the ranking possibilites so I no longer try to rank my blog anywhere.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

It would be great if you did jot down some of the strange search phrases, even if you are not too bothered about your stats generally. I particularly enjoy them for that aspect, for as you say, the ranking side of things is mind-bogglingly confusing and no two systems agree, so who knows?

Carol said...

Just checked my stats - hahahaaa I got one hit off of "everything is boring" and two off of "bbw middle age woman"

Vanessa said...

Hi BF,

That's it - I am starting a list right now, with Finnish Boy Sex at the top and now these two gems. That'll be Bath & Body Works, I take it?

These search phrases are a hilarious reality check, showing just how many people land on your blog by mistake! I had no idea I was such an expert of Ohio, for example. And I should perhaps take a refresher course (if that is the word) in slime...

Undina said...

Agree. Agree. And agree again.
Now to the important staff: I wanted to ask for a while, why did you go back to not-nested comments?

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

So I gather you agree? Well, I am happy about that!

I dropped the nested comments because one or two people found they couldn't leave a comment in that format. A bit of digging on The Internet suggested that there might still be bugs in the software with it being a new feature, so I thought I would hang on for a bit, have another try, and then see if anyone continued to report problems.

Nested/threaded is a better layout, for sure, though weirdly the font (narrow, a bit squashed) is different and not quite so aesthetic I don't think. But functionality may prevail!

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Hi Vanessa,

I opted to go for Statcounter in the end, seeing as it's free and it looks like it can offer a lot of interesting stats.

Thanks for the heads up.

The Candy Perfume Boy said...

Oh and whilst we're talking stats, and random spikes in views for a particular page - I had a big spike on my Roja Dove Scandal review at about 3pm yesterday and I couldn't fathom out why, I posted it ages ago and it's not a fragrance with a huge following or a new release. I checked Facebook and Twitter to see if a link to the post had been posted by Roja Dove, which would explain said spike, but nothing. Then I realised that Mr Dove had been on The Alan Titchmarsh show and had mentioned scandal. Viewers must have googled it, a fact that was confirmed when I saw that Scandal was sat at the top of my google search terms, and in turn found my blog.

It's quite fascinating how it all happens really.

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

Oh good for you! You will have hours of fun with it, I am sure. I mostly look at the individual ISPs/locations (for interest), the "came from" tab, particularly so I can thank any fellow bloggers who might have linked to me as I might not have spotted the reference. I also love the "key word analysis" (which you have on Wordpress, I gather) and just keep a vague eye on whether my hits are going through the floor in which case I think maybe it is time to do another post... : - )

And please do come back to me on another point once you get into Statcounter. It seems to pick up twice the number of page views that Google does in my sitemeter to the right, and I have never been able to understand that or met anyone with the same discrepancy. My sitemeter is Blogger's own, you see ie Google-backed.

Vanessa said...

PS I love your Alan Titchmarsh story! Often you need to stumble upon something like this - I wouldn't have known what was on the telly, for instance. I have had a spike from discussing the Lidl perfume, and one recently from (I believe) the Croatian / Serbian / Bosnian version of Fragrantica called PUNMIRIS - someone linked to my Bottega Veneta review, though why mine particularly, I don't know.

Perhaps you can solve my Norwegian surge some day! : - )