A small study in promotion

As I mentioned earlier, this week I posted an feature-length entry to Slackerwood: Kevin Smith broke my (red carpet) cherry. I was very proud of this entry, and I wanted to promote it as much as I could. Slackerwood doesn’t have a lot of traffic yet, so it would be easy to promote the Kevin Smith entry in several different ways, then use the stats to see which ways were most effective.
Here’s how I promoted the entry:

  • Posted to local portals Austin Bloggers and Austin Stories.
  • Posted a link in an online forum I read and post to regularly.
  • Posted a link to the ThreeWay Action portal.
  • Posted entries at Digg and Netscape, two sites where readers can vote on the entries they like.
  • Posted a link to a John Scalzi thread dedicated to people “pimping their links”
  • Posted a link here on Celluloid Eyes.
  • Sent a notify list email message with the link.

I checked my stats on Saturday morning to see the results. Here are the hit counts from the referrer logs:

  • 88 from the online forum, probably because we’d discussed the interview ahead of time and people were interested
  • 27 from Bloglines — these are probably via the Austin Bloggers link, because that site has many more Bloglines subscribers than Slackerwood does
  • 24 directly from Celluloid Eyes: A couple of hits were listed in the stats earlier, from people clicking on the Slackerwood link in the sidebar. However, the referring entry was visible on the front page, so I expect many came from the specific link to this entry.
  • 16 from the Celluloid Eyes entry that included the link
  • 30 from the ThreeWay Action portal
  • 13 from Austin Bloggers
  • 12 from the Scalzi “pimp your link” thread
  • 7 from Digg: 3 from the specific post, 3 from the search, and 2 from the Upcoming Diggs list
  • 3 from Austin Stories
  • 3 from a stranger’s LiveJournal entry that I can’t access
  • 2 from a search on Jason Mewes
  • 1 from the Netscape post
  • An undetermined number from Google and MSN searches

So what can I learn from these results, in terms of future promotions? The online forum link was the most successful, but that’s not something I can try with numerous entries. The interest there was personal, because I’d asked people beforehand what I should ask Kevin Smith during the interview. So starting a thread on a forum that engages people’s interest, then posting a link to the entry, works very well. The most popular entries I’ve posted to Cinematical gained traffic because the links were posted to online forums devoted to the entry’s topic (Harry Potter, Dreamworks).
The Austin Bloggers link was more successful than I thought, when you take the Bloglines hits into account. For me, this doesn’t just prove how effective a local portal can be in generating traffic, but it also shows how effective an RSS feed can be. I may have had more traffic from people using other RSS readers, but I can’t quantify that with the stats program I use.
Slackerwood’s RSS feed includes the “above the fold” text — anything that appears on the front page of the site. If you have to click “read more” for the full entry (which was the case with the Kevin Smith entry), you have to visit Slackerwood for that text. Most of Slackerwood’s entries are short, so you can read them entirely from the RSS feed. I’m wondering if I should change the RSS feed to include the entire article — any recommendations from the RSS users out there?
(Meanwhile, since I started this entry, the Beau changed the RSS feed for Celluloid Eyes to a full-entry feed, which rocks.)
I’ve posted entries to the ThreeWay Action portal for years. I’ve found that the most successful postings have been for entries with a personal slant. Visitors to that site aren’t interested in clicking on straightforward movie reviews on the portal. So it’s a good source of traffic for entries like this one. Like the online forum (and my notify list), a lot of people at ThreeWay know me personally or have been reading my writing for years. On the other hand, while I read Scalzi a lot (mostly from his RSS feed via Bloglines), I almost never post comments, so even having 12 hits from the site is nice.
A lot of people (like Slate) have discussed the efficacy of Digg and sites like it (Netscape is one of the newest). I believe Digg and Netscape generate traffic only if you have a core group of members who can prime the pump, so to speak. I’m on a couple of mailing lists in which people regularly send their Digg links and ask us to vote for the articles in question. If you don’t have a core group, or a devoted following, you’re unlikely to raise the voting numbers high enough to get attention. Since Netscape is new, you don’t have to get those numbers very high at all: a dozen votes might do it, whereas with Digg you probably need several times that amount even on a slow day. I know a few people registered with Digg who were happy to vote for the article, but it wasn’t enough. And I know no one registered with Netscape whom I could ask to help.
Celluloid Eyes, which has been around for years, gets a fair amount of traffic from searches on various terms (I’m sorry to say that one of the biggest search terms is a misspelling of a pseudo-Italian restaurant chain that I hope never to patronize again). Slackerwood is a new site and doesn’t have much clout on Google yet. I can’t imagine I’ll get much traffic from searches on “Kevin Smith” because let’s face it, everyone’s been writing about him lately and Slackerwood is low on the search-results list. Even the two hits from the search on “Jason Mewes” were surprising. I don’t do the search-engine optimization keyword thing, or any similar tricks; I don’t want to significantly change my writing style just for a Google boost.
Finally, the most interesting results were the ones that didn’t appear in the referral list. Most of the hits didn’t appear to be directly referred: the entry received many more hits than the numbers you see in the above list. Even when I count visits rather than hits, a lot of people are unaccounted for. Where did they come from? One big source is the notify list — people clicked the link directly from the email message. I still have about 125 members on my notify list even though I feel like those lists are waning in popularity (I try to avoid subscribing to them, preferring RSS). Another source may be people reading the RSS feed from a reader other than Bloglines, perhaps an app installed locally. As I mentioned before, it is not possible (at this time) to read the entire entry via RSS, so those people would have to access the entry directly.
One last thing I’ve learned from Celluloid Eyes: entries aren’t always popular when you want them to be. Just before SXSW this year, I posted an open letter to indy/low-budget filmmakers, in which I explained the needs of reporters and critics covering film festivals, and what filmmakers could do to gain a promotional edge. The traffic was disappointingly light, until someone (thank you, masked man!) posted a link to the entry on an Ask Metafilter thread in May. While I didn’t get a whole lot of traffic directly from the link, several other high-traffic sites like HD for Indies and DV Guru found the link and promoted the entry. The entry was at the top of the Celluloid Eyes list of visited entries both in June and July. Other entries I wrote years ago still get a small but significant amount of traffic every month, mostly from search-engine queries. So I’m hoping that the Kevin Smith entry will have legs, and that people will continue to find, read, and enjoy my adventures on the red carpet.

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