I’ve had all sorts of interesting questions and reactions to this new blog. It’s only been going for 11 days, but there are a few general observations I wanted to make.
Several other people have asked about the ease and the logistics of starting one. I’ve spent many hours to this point, but none of the work is very difficult if you have any sort of competence on a computer. I secured my domain name cheaply via www.wordpress.org (not www.wordpress.com) and rather randomly chose Dreamhost as the host for the site. After a 2-week trial, my Dreamhost bill will be less than $160 for 2 years — less than $7/month. Registering my own domain was only about $10. So the total cost of keeping the blog up is less than $10/month. If you are considering starting a blog, I would strongly recommend creating your own domain. You can begin with a free blog on WordPress or Blogger or Tumblr or somewhere else and then transfer to your own domain later, but there’s obviously more potential and flexibility to a site with an entirely custom domain. I thought endlessly about the domain name and the blog name, but ended up opting for straightforward simplicity: From Savannah and billdawersdotcom.
I am using a template called Platform (created by Pagelines), which was downloaded free via WordPress. At some point, I might upgrade and purchase a version of Platform that has more features, but so far the free version is fine. There are endless choices out there for templates, some of which may have more immediate appeal to the eye, but I have found this template to be easy and flexible so far. It has a serious look and ease of function that I like — I don’t plan to change anytime soon.
I am supporting the site with Google AdSense (so, in other words, I’m displaying ads over which I have minimal control purchased by businesses that advertise with Google AdWords). It is SHOCKINGLY easy to set up an account and to modify the layout and general appearance of the ads. By the terms of service, I am not allowed to discuss how much revenue those ads are bringing, but suffice to say that the early returns are small but promising. Given the apparent ease, I am surprised to see that few local Savannah advertisers seem to be using AdWords. I was also surprised — and incredibly pleased — that page publishers like me are not forced to use that gaudy blue link color so commonly found in Google ads. I’m not completely sold on the default colors I’ve chosen for the ads, but I think they’re much less intrusive than many that I see.
So far, the bulk of my traffic — about 100 page views/day on average, with a peak of 142 and a low of 55 — has been coming via links I’ve put on Facebook, but each day seems to bring a higher percentage of viewers coming from other places on the web. Facebook is also generating hits since I installed a “Like” button at the end of each post — that’s a pretty simple plug-in available through my WordPress admin page. Several visitors have already found the blog by typing things like “savannah smoking ban” into search engines. Obviously, having almost 1600 Facebook contacts and having a sizable readership in the Savannah Morning News are boosting the count in these early days. I’ve loosely set a goal of tripling the views by sometime this spring.
The home page has obviously been viewed more than any other page so far, but the further ranking of pages is sort of interesting. The list indicates a real interest so far in posts that are best described as “hyper-local” coverage of Savannah events and issues: 1. Winter Dance Concert at the Savannah Arts Academy, 2. Thinking about chains in our unique downtown, 3. Savannah implements a smoking ban, and 4. In memory of Clinton Powell. Excluding hits on the home page, those 4 posts account for more than half of all page views.
I hope to develop over time more content about local music and about economic issues. We’ll see if I’m able to expand the blog’s reach with those areas, or if the blog’s greatest impact will be in providing more in-depth discussion of local issues than I’m able to do in my column.
If you’re thinking of starting your own blog and would like any other feedback or tips, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d be more than happy to share any ideas that I have — and I suspect I’ll learn something myself in the process.