Starting from scratch

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I have always liked to start from scratch. I like the challenge of growing from seed than from plant; and I prefer to cook with basic ingredients.

While I’d redeveloped a number of websites in my time, I’ve never started from nothing before I launched LyndalCairns.com last August. I’m being a good data nerd and opening up my planning process, strategy and analytics with you all to help demystify the process of web development and help nonprofits considering the same.

Why LyndalCairns.com?

The two aims of the site are related. Primarily, I could see a need in the nonprofit sector for more quality information and resources about social media, from a strategic rather than tool-based point of view. In my experience, many nonprofits hurl themselves into the social world with no clear goals, no communication strategy, become dazzled with the tools and flit from network to network without a plan.

My other aim was to raise my profile in the hope that I could find a job in the San Francisco Bay Area, gain a visa and stay in the USA with my sweetheart. So while the content had to be of quality, I also wanted some of my personality to shine through.

Has it done so? Please tell me in a short survey.

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Development decisions

When looking for a content management system (CMS) for the site, I considered the following, in order of importance:

Accessibility to readers and search engines
Blog ability
Clear, clean design
Mobile friendly
Easy to set up and change

I initially went with Weebly because it was a free, clean, quick site that had a blog component and automatically provided a mobile-friendly version of my site. The CMS has its disadvantages – it’s a very simple and stripped-down service – but I wanted to set it up quickly (in fact, I designed the scheme and wrote much of the foundation content in just one afternoon) so Weebly it was. I have since shifted to WordPress because it is much more versatile, has better search engine optimization (SEO) and I am familiar with it.

The Trampoline blog was an important part of my site from the start. I knew I wanted to develop content in two streams – social media strategy and online journalism – but they were both covered by the umbrella of quality content creation so I decided they should be in one blog, rather than two. I have since added a poetry section.

The notepad logo and pencil drawings that form the site aesthetic were chosen to reflect my communications background and emphasis on planning.

Finally, my social media accounts were audited and brought into line with the same image of me used on the about me section of the site; a Facebook page set up for LyndalCairns.com, a subscription option added and a social media content strategy and calendar created.

Whose turn is it on the Trampoline?

My rationale for creating a name for the blog was that eventually, I hope to have guest writers develop content. I am happy to express what I know and what I’m learning but I plan to open it up to others so I wanted a name that doesn’t constrain to just me.

I choose my topics based on research I find interesting, the things I’ve learnt or needs I see in the nonprofit industry. Through connecting with and listening to nonprofit discussion networks (including NTEN.org, San Francisco nonprofit meetups and Twitter hashtags like #nptech), I can find out what is new and different, which may spark a topic I’d like to cover.

From there, I research deeply, looking for primary sources that are experts in their field or have interesting things to say. Trampoline is not a dry, academic blog so I like to imbue it with a sense of humility and humor where possible.

When I write, I’m basically talking to three sets of personas that I drew up ahead of time with attributes and desires.

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Persona 1: “My dad”

The first persona is my dad. He is based in Australia and is interested in my work only because he knows me. He has only a passing interest in my social media and online news strategy but he’s naturally curious and he likes my writing so he reads. He is already connected with me on his preferred social media platform so he doesn’t feel the need to connect with the site. This is, from what the analytics tell me, the majority of my blog readers.

He is unable to give me a job but he may help to build my profile through reposting my content or recommending my skills on LinkedIn.

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Persona 2: “Zuckerberg”

The second persona we will call Zuckerberg. He works in the nonprofit or tech sector in the San Francisco Bay Area and he wants to know more about social media and communications strategy. He is very interested in my content but not particularly into the lass who produced it. However, if he values what he finds here, he can subscribe, bookmark me and perhaps connect with me on social media. And perhaps one day, his company or someone he knows will be looking for someone like me.

And the third persona is someone a lot like me. Insatiably curious, I find the site through search because Trampoline has covered something I’m interested in (like the etymology of the word OK) and I have a poke around. This person has come from somewhere in the English-speaking world and is unlikely to come back, unless I’ve made them laugh or got they are terrifically interested in nonprofit social media.

So how is it going?

A year on, I am happy to say I’m reasonably happy about how my site is going. There is a lot of great information there and the number of unique (first-time) visitors keeps rising, while the regulars who follow the blog also engage frequently with new posts. There is a lot more overlap among the personas than I expected, which has given me the freedom to write with personality about all sorts of subjects.

However, analytics tells me that my site’s traffic is very much tied to my social media efforts (some two fifths from Facebook alone) and also connected with blog posts, which I promote in that way. It shows me I’m doing well on the “my dad” persona. More than three fifths of my traffic comes from my native Australia and is clearly linked with social media accounts, so I can assume these are visitors who already know me and are unable to give me a job.

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The three most popular posts stick out like dogs balls (to use a delightful Australianism) in the traffic overview of my site. What were they? All personal blogs about me and my life (being depressed, writing to a boy whose heart I broke and the painful process of Americanizing my website), and all founded on social media interest in me from people who already know me. So much for reaching Mr Zuckerberg.

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It’s not all bad news, though. The percentage of US visitors is almost one third, which is encouraging, and the vast majority of those are from the Bay Area. What’s more, they spend more time here – an average of 36 minutes on the site, compared to Australia’s 26. And the bounce rate for the US is about 20 per cent lower. So I’m sorry that I’m boring you, dad, but Zuckerberg reckons my site is pretty interesting. šŸ™‚

Analytics also tells me that more than a third of my visitors are viewing LyndalCairns.com on a mobile phone, which reinforces my decision to make a mobile-friendly site a priority.

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To infinity, and beyond!

So the analytics tell me interest in my site is very tied to my personal connections and to the timeliness of blog posts. I’m failing to reach many people in the Zuckerberg and the search personas, so I’ve decided to repurpose some of the blog content into static pages, which should help my information be found.

I’m also hopeful the blog will continue to convince those people who know and are connected with me (the “my dad” persona) will reshare and comment on content they find interesting; and endorse me for skills they now know I have because they have seen them on my blog. I will continue to build in back links to the body of content, to encourage people to stick around.

A revamp of the graphic design should also help keep people on the site, having a look around at information that’s of interest to them.

And at some stage, I’d like to take on some guest blogs. I’d love to hear your ideas on that and more. Please answer the short user engagement survey.