In August of 2005 I sat down to write my first few posts for a new blog, Plagiarism Today. It was my first attempt at a blog and at the time, it was viewed more as a side project than anything big.
Yet, with time it grew, not just in terms of readership, but also in terms of the amount of time I spent on it. First becoming my primary site and then a full-time business. Currently, I spent about 60 hours a week on PT-related issues and am very stunned by what the site has become.
However, with this experience came a lot of lessons, many of them hard. Some things I did well from day one, many things I did not. Though I’ve been able to go back and fix many of my mistakes there are some I haven’t and probably never will.
Still, if I could do it all over again, there are many things I would change. Here’s a list of five of the more important decisions that, if given a second chance, I would not repeat.
5. The Domain Name
On one hand, plagiarismtoday.com is a decent enough domain name. It is two words, has a .com tld, describes what the site is about and is fairly easy to remember, but “plagiarism” is a nearly impossible word to spell for most people and it is even more difficult to type. When I tell people the domain face-to-face, I find myself always spelling it out because even those who know how to spell it are often unsure.
I have since bought other domains, including most commons misspellings of “plagiarism” and pointed them to my site, but by the time I realized my mistake I had gained a decent amount of PageRank and knew that the costs of moving it would outweigh the benefits.
I’m married to the name now and have grown quite fond of it, but I would almost certainly pick a different one if I were starting from scratch.
4. Category Hell
When I first started the site, I tried to map out the categories I would use in advance. It seemed like a good idea but the topic of the site changed (slowly) as feedback came in. I found myself pressed between expanding the category tree endlessly or filing stories in categories that didn’t really fit.
The categories on my site are a hopeless mess right now and there isn’t much that can be done about it. If I were starting today with tagging now integrated into WordPress (tagging was still in its infancy in 2005) I’d probably have a better shot at making sense of it all.
The problem actually compounded when I switched to the Mimbo theme, which bases the front page elements on the categories of the posts. Requiring me to alter the way I handle categories on the site an additional time.
If I could do this one over (or even if I could find the time to go back and edit all of the past posts) I would use a category system similar to the one here on the Blog Herald, with few categories based on the kinds of posts, and reserve tags for the topics.
3. Branding Changes
In the three years I’ve run the site I’ve had three major theme changes. While that isn’t unusually frequent, all three changes have involved rebranding, including new logos, color schemes, layouts and more.
The first one went relatively unnoticed since it was when the site was new, but the second change caused a great deal of headaches. Even though I warned of the change months in advance, posted a beta site for everyone to leave commons on and did several public tests/polls with the new layout, it still caused heartburn.
Every once in a while, even now, a year after the new layout went live, I still get letters from people who don’t recognize the new layout. This compounded by the fact that my site tends to be a resource one, a site people visit irregularly when they need it.
If I could do it over again, I’d make minor changes to the themes I have but avoid anything that involved a complete rebranding. Though I think the end result has been positive, the headache was completely avoidable with a solid brand and a good theme in the beginning.
When I first started blogging, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of RSS and was far too quick to hand it over to a third party service. Though FeedBurner has been a solid choice for the most part, it comes with a sacrifice in control over the feed that is very frustrating at times.
The lack of control was made up somewhat by the impressive statistics and other elements that made FeedBurner useful, but, since Google took over the company, the stats have been increasingly unreliable and as spam blogging has become more and more of an issue, FeedBurner has done less and less to help.
Though FeedBurner’s reasons are understandable, namely that they can’t provide support for this issue, all of the things FeedBurner can do to help protect a feed can be easily done by WordPress plugins and the plugins can do much more. Though FeedBurner is still a good deal for some sites, such as Blogger and WordPress.com sites, as a self-hosted blogger, I think I would have been wise to pass on it but am now too concerned about losing subscribers to the transition back to make the switch.
1. Off Topic
The first eight months of my site’s history, roughly, are a waste in terms of SEO. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the keywords that were sending people to my site and I didn’t write content that was well-targeted at it. As such, growth was slow for the first year or so, mostly word of mouth, and only one of the articles from the first year of my site ranks well in Google for any keyword of importance.
Though I’ve had two and a half years of (relatively) on target posts and better search engine targeting, I still have to wonder what I could have done with an extra year.
Each of these mistakes were rookie errors. They came from inexperience with blogging but are all problems that have stuck with me in some way. Though I’ve made others, such as a disastrous permalink structure, I’ve been able to repair those without any major issues or long-term effect.
Still, if you’re thinking about starting a blog, these are five easily-avoided mistakes that could really cost you in the long haul.
Granted, we all make mistakes we wish we could take back (don’t get me started on some of my individual posts) but these are ones that can really linger and cause problems even years down the road.