Observations from a Quasi-Scientific Free Blog “Experiment”

I’m reading a book where the author claims to be journaling about his experiences as he conducts a social science “experiment”. The problem is that the author (a Brown graduate… so obviously his education in hard science is lacking) began his “experiment” with the desired outcome already defined. He constantly modifies his actions throughout the experiment, a fact he openly acknowledges in the book.

THAT MY FRIENDS IS NOT AN EXPERIMENT…. IT’S AN ADVERTISING DRIVEN CASE STUDY.

According to Wordsmyth, an experiment is defined as “a test or trial to discover something unknown, esp. a scientific one to determine a cause-and-effect relationship.” UNKNOWN being the key term in this definition. True science ..hard science…. teaches that while you may begin with a hypothesis, you must be open to the fact that your observations and experimentations may in fact render your hypothesis incorrect. THAT is the way of a scientist.

Now, I lead with this because despite my current status as a “self hosted blog pusher” when I began my “free blog” experiment, my hypothesis could have been defined as a blog version of “tom-Aye-to.. tom-ah-to…. blogs are blogs.” Actually, I could see some real advantages to the free blogs… the biggest of course being that they are free but also that there is no “sandbox” effect. Since creating compelling content that is fresh is essential to creating a successful web presence, so I’ve been installing WordPress blogs for clients who were open to it as an “add on feature” as far back as 2002.

For those who weren’t sure they wanted to host their own WordPress self hosted blog, I recommended setting up blogs on free and low cost blogging services such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com and Typepad. One of those clients reported to me that she had made a few posts to her Typepad blog and then got busy doing other things. Despite not blogging for several months, when she did a keyword search on an EXTREMELY long tail search term, she saw her blog post come up on the first page of the search.

SUCCESS!!! (That’s what I thought.) Hypothesis confirmed. Blogging platform has NO effect on blog effectiveness.

Meanwhile, another Virtual Impax client had been blogging as a way to pick up some long tail search term action. That experience in particular has forever changed my view of the “free” blogging platforms.

Unlike the client who judged “success” as showing up in a search, this client was carefully tracking sales through her web site. See, she had already commissioned a traditional HTML web site as a virtual store front and because of the “Google sandbox” effect I recommended (as I always do) that she find ways of promoting her new web site. One of those promotion tools was Google Adwords. The other tool was a free WordPress.com blog.

Because the client was spending money actively promoting her site, she decided to invest in a service Virtual Impax offers where her log files from her web site were analyzed monthly. These log file analysis were being performed prior to her free blog launch. Months went by and this client was FAITHFULLY blogging away on WordPress.com. Sometimes she was posting 5 times to her blog in a single week.

Through months of blogging, this client built up QUITE an impressive library of content on the free blogging service. After about 8 months of log file analysis, I realized that there was not a SINGLE referral from the free blog to the web site and there hadn’t been one since the blog was launched.

I could watch when we changed keywords in her Adword campaign. I could even see when she began writing a monthly column for a trade magazine. I could watch her newsletter subscribers move on special offers she announced in her newsletter. But I did not see a SINGLE referral from her WordPress.com blog.

Meanwhile, success stories were pouring in from other Virtual Impax blogging clients with self hosted blogs.

Clients who had been blogging with Typepad for YEARS were launching self hosted Word Press blogs and seeing their Word Press self hosted blog (set up by Acumen Web Services and Easy Coaching Web Sites) ROCKET ahead of their still active Typepad blogs in the search engine results when they typed in their own name. Even when they hadn’t been blogging faithfully on the Word Press platform, these clients were seeing much better “results” with their Word Press self hosted blog in comparison with their Typepad blogs.

This lead to an uncomfortable OBSERVATION... “Hey, this isn’t what I expected!!”

This unexpected observation set off alarms.

ACK!!!! My mistaken hypothesis had caused me to lead my client astray!

I’ve got egg ALL OVER my face now with this client.

Let me reiterate….I get to go back to my client and tell her that my initial advice, based on my faulty hypothesis was bad… bad as in “rotten egg” bad.

While my client wasn’t spending any money on her WordPress.com free blog (she was spending money on monthly log analysis reports), she was investing her time and a lot of it. In my client’s case, time was more valuable to her than money. I didn’t want her WASTING her time since we were not seeing a SINGLE referral from the free blog to her web site.

I suggested to that client that we launch a Word Press self hosted blog to replace her free blog. (Note… I felt bad enough about my rotten egg advice that I installed this for her without additional charge! I will NOT have someone else pay for my bad advice.) Fortunately, during the VERY NEXT log file analysis, we started seeing visitors coming to her HTML store front web site DIRECTLY from her self hosted word press blog.

Now, in the interest of science, it’s important to note that the only thing that changed was the platform. My client didn’t begin blogging differently. She didn’t begin using trackbacks or begin commenting on other blogs. She didn’t suddenly begin posting using title tags with highly competitive keywords… or long tail keywords. She just kept doing what she had been doing except this time she was doing it on her own self hosted WordPress installation.

(Admittedly, I installed a standard “suite” of plug ins to improve the blog’s performance… and those plug ins are NOT available for the free version.)

It’s been said that wisdom is learning from OTHER PEOPLE’S MISTAKES.  Well, I have my own Blogger.com Beyond Niche Marketing blog that has never sent a single visitor to any of my web sites.  However, I justified that blog’s poor performance by my lack of attention and effort.  After all, I’m not seeking exposure on extremely long tail keywords… the keywords upon which I compete are extremely competitive… so a lack of attention could be fatal in my blogger.com blog’s case.

When I saw my client blogging without bias and getting the same result… the alarms began to sound in my head.  Just as the robot in Lost in Space would blare, “Warning!  Danger, Will Robinson!”  the voice in my head began blaring a similar warning.

Since my “experiment” I’ve gotten several emails inquiring as to how to improve a free blog’s performance.  My response is simple, “I wish I knew!”

There’s a reason the BIG GUYS such as Problogger, Techcrunch and Mashable are all self hosted WordPress blogs.

My favorite mantra is “I don’t make the rules… I just know how to recognize them and follow them.

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