State of Tim – April 2020

Just a heads up this post was meant to be posted in the first week of May, it was written and edited but things got in the way, so a few bits might feel weirdly out of date.

Not great but then who is these days.

I have been a little quiet this past month or so; I guess the world has in many ways. Global pandemics have a habit of making everything seem less important. My goal for this year was to re-spark this blog and I was doing well in January and February but March and April have seen a dip in blogging and productivity generally.

As part of my original plan for this site was a quarterly round-up – a State of Tim post – and talk about plans and celebrate successes. That is feeling harder right now. But anyway let’s try our best.

So if you are curious what I’m up to and want a peek into the back of this site then read on.

The Site

I’m generally pleased with the site itself timnash.co.uk has and always will be a work in progress but I have made multiple changes to it over the last few months that have brought about changes that will last for years. The restarting of the newsletter at the end of the year and the focus on being Gutenberg friendly is starting to pay off, even if at times it’s utterly frustrating to use.

I’m generally happy with the performance; it’s by no means perfect and I miss the <300ms total page load of the previous incarnation. But it is not far off that now. 

I have a few “Big Pieces” of work to do:

The Home page needs content. I have the intention of maybe using a lot of the content and design from the About Me page on the Home page. But this is the next big thing to be sorted.

My Talks page needs a total overhaul as it’s still hard-coded from the move to the new site and looks really messy. I would like to turn that page into a whole subsection of the site.

I also need to decide if I’m to keep the Neve theme; it really has done a good job of just getting me going, but I’m very tempted to just go all in with the new Gutenberg all site editor. This feels like one of those projects that will sit on my dev site for the next couple of years.

With being stuck at home and with usergroups all switching to virtual meetups I have been steadily improving my home setup so more video content might start appearing and I need to work out how I might handle that.

Content on timnash.co.uk

So if the site is a work in progress, so is the content. On the whole, I have been happy with the content I have published. The year started strongly with several one-off articles before diving into a couple of series.

I currently have 3 series which I’m writing for, on and off

  • Back to Basics – Security
  • Building TimNash.co.uk
  • Productivity Fridays

I plan to keep writing more of all 3 series and developing a couple more, along with individual posts. My goal, especially with the back to basics series, is to create a set of evergreen content that will ultimately be at the heart of the site for a long time to come.

One of the best things I have done with content is to bring onboard Babs Saul as my editor, she is one of the few people I trust to keep my tone of voice while making sure the folks can actually understand a word I say. In a lovely meta moment, this means Babs had to edit this. (and made her smile all day, Babs)

Of the posts this year I do have a few I’m particularly proud of:

The Five Languages for WordPress Developers to Learn in 2020 while a clickbait/fluff headline was, I hope, a real resource-packed article. It also gave me a huge confidence boost that long form articles can be valuable.

The I Need You post for an appeal for WP&UP which brought much needed funds and contributed to new sponsorship at a critical moment for WP&UP and I was proud to have helped.

So content-wise, my goal is to try to get back into weekly writing, its slipped recently and while having multiple series is good, to make sure I’m mixing content up.

I would love to write more short form articles similar to my macOS restarting bug piece, I did a month or so back. One thing I have pondered is doing more basic posts, especially surrounding security, such as “What is XSS”, but I always feel as these subjects are covered extensively I’m not adding value with such posts.

Indeed this is generally a problem with my content; I struggle to see value in my own content so tend to push for longer posts to make sure there is something for everyone. This tends to result in long rambles and side trips.  

Finally, content-wise, I would like to do some content offsite, be that guest posts, podcasts or video appearances. 

Traffic

The first couple of months of the year traffic was looking ok, most days averaging 100-150 visits, spiking on days I posted. Though to put that in perspective, my site averaged 400-500 visits a day in 2015. 

However, those are Apples and Oranges as I significantly under-report traffic in Analytics (for the record I use Koko Analytics, as opposed to Google Analytics in 2015)

At its height in 2007-2010 this site would get 3-5k visits each blog post; these were the good days of StumbleUpon and Slashdot/Digg, where gaming them was easy enough.

What has changed significantly is that I don’t mind, I would very much like to see more visitors and I’m looking to improve my “marketing” but I want people to come because the content is compelling, and ideally return? 

However, that was the start of the year, in March/April my average has dropped to 50-70 visits.

So my goal is to try and retain visitors as well as encourage modest growth.  I won’t lie, putting out a new post and seeing less than 30 visitors visiting it over the day is a little depressing and doesn’t encourage me to keep pushing forward. 

However, the nosedive in traffic comes during a pandemic so I’m thinking it’s more related to that than people being utterly turned off on productivity dev tips.

In terms of growth, I had set myself a very modest goal of reaching 300 visitors a day by the end of the year back in January. I kept that secret until now, and it’s looking like I will be miles off that unless something drastically changes.

While most of my traffic comes from Google that’s also the source I have the least real control of.

Instead, I am trying to focus on social media and building up my mailing list (which I will mention separately). 

Of social media my main source is, weirdly, Facebook, yep turns out a page with a reach of 87 easily outshines 3k Twitter followers! That’s not fair, but clearly my content does get shared reasonably well on Facebook and I recently redid my Facebook page.

Ok, so social media traffic source number 2 is… LinkedIn. Yes, not Twitter, again this is less me promoting than others.

Finally, Twitter runs up behind the other two and virtually all the traffic from Twitter is generated by my own tweets with very little other traffic.

So I don’t really know what to make of that, however, I still think my natural home is Twitter, though I have become increasingly quiet on the platform in the last month or so. One aspect I do need to change across the site is to provide opportunities to share on social media, which I have been trialling in the “series” block but should be on every page. 

In addition, I have started resyndicating to dev.to for selected articles. My intention is to automate this as at the moment I’m manually adding new content every few weeks. This is a bit of an experiment, though currently I’m not seeing much traction on the site and no traffic from it back to the posts.

So I think instead of seeing traffic numbers going up I’m seeing the reverse and the strategy of “write and they will come” just is not working. So I do need to change strategies!

Newsletter – Random Mutterings

My monthly newsletter has grown. It’s still tiny in numbers, just over 120 subscribers, but the feedback from subscribers has been great. I’m still finding my feet in terms of content and design but generally, I have been pleased with the newsletter.

That said, a few changes are needed, number one being re-platformed. I’m currently using TinyLetter for my newsletter which is a service provided by MailChimp.

It’s designed to be simple and basic, not to get in the way of writing content. Which is great, except it really is simple and basic, for example while you can write content for the opt-in email you can’t for the “thanks for signing up” email. It has no segmentation at all and you can’t even add an unsubscribe link except in the single location it chooses.

It also has a wysiwyg that’s just driving me mad. So last week I started the hunt for a new solution.

I am armed with a wishlist and am looking at a few solutions my desires are:

  • I want to have control over the signup process as much as possible
  • I want to be able segment people by funnel they came through
  • I would like some life-cycle email functionality per funnel

Now in my perfect world:

  • I would have some analytics on a per email/per segment basis but nothing on a per user basis. I don’t want to know Bob opened the email and clicked x links
  • It would be open-source and something I could potentially contribute to
  • Let me pick the actual smtp provider
  • Have the ability to have multiple people work on an email.

As you can probably see I’m looking for either a self-hosted solution over a SaaS. This is not something I would normally recommend for folks because sending email and having it delivered is one of the hardest parts of an IT stack. Currently on my shortlist are MailCoach (a bit pricey keeping in mind I have a budget with a list of 120 subscribers), Sendy, MailPoet and the Newsletter Plugin for WordPress and if none meet my requirements then I will fall back to MailChimp.

My goal is to be on the new platform by June, so I’m hoping that the June newsletter will be sent via the new platform. 

Update on provider hunt

Ok future Tim here even though the post hasn’t been published yet. I switched over to MailChimp, I will do a post on why at some point but let’s just say the journey has been frustrating. Anyway back to the article.

Once set up, one of my main focuses is to get more folk on my mailing list as I want to make it a focus for people returning to the site and be a great piece of stand-alone content. I have a rough goal of aiming for 1000 folks on the newsletter by the end of the year.  

One reason for wanting to segment my mailing list a little bit is to try and use it as a focus for shorter content. So a short, really basic, security email series for example, or a how to get into WP-CLI. I feel I can then run those as mini email courses that then feed into my newsletter and other content on the site.

Development Tooling

My preferred Git Repository hosting and exception tracking service is CodeBaseHQ however the company behind it, Atech Media, sadly got acquired recently. A great move for the company but this has made me nervous about continuing to manage my projects through CodeBase.

While I’m sure they have the best of intentions, they were, I’m sure, acquired for DeployHQ, their deployment tool, and not for CodeBaseHQ and I worry it will find its time has come. 

This might be hastened/compounded by the fact GitHub Teams is now free for most instances. 

So one of my projects is to assess what to do with my development tooling stack, I’m currently re-evaluating hosted options like GitHub/Bitbucket or running a small gitea instance at home.

The biggest feature I will miss is the exception tracking, I can spin up an Erbit server (which is what I believe CodeBaseHQ uses under the hood) but I might use this time to consider other options.

Having a tooling stack is overkill for the site, its purpose is less for the site than my own learning so having to get my hands dirty is a good thing. 

Costs & Revenue

The site currently doesn’t make any money, but it costs little to run; one of the perks of working for a hosting company. However, here is a rough breakdown of the current costs excluding service costs such as editing.

Domain Names – £100/year (includes multiple not just timnash.co.uk but several variants and tna.sh)

Website Hosting – £120/year, however, I do get this free.

KeyCDN – £50/Year

DNSMadeEasy – £50/Year

CodeBaseHQ – £120/Year

Backups – £50/Year

G Suite – £55/Year

———————

Total:  £545/Year

Free Hosting – -£120

Grand Total – £425

———————

Obviously, there are other capital expenses – computers, microphones, chair, etc but these are not specific to the site and it excludes services.

Over the next few months I actually expect there to be a reduction in some costs, but moving newsletter to a new platform will have some costs and see increase. 

To reiterate I don’t sell advertising space, or have sponsored posts on the site and currently have no plans to. 

So what’s next?

Keep plodding on, I hope to get back into a more regular content production but my goals for the site over the next few months are:

  • Regular weekly content 
  • A mix of content styles both long and short form
  • A new Home page and my Talks section redone
  • Finding a new email platform and increasing growth of my mailing list.
  • Look at new potential places to promote content, and increase readership
  • Look at moving away from CodeBaseHQ
  • Develop mini-series for emails.

That sounds like a reasonable amount to keep me going, but what really keeps me going is knowing it is making a bit of a difference. Plenty of times I have wanted to stop recently and I have had to ask myself why am I bothering to write. The answer, at least for now, is I both enjoy it and some people even read to the end of the posts too. As long as both of those happen I’m going to keep writing and keep plodding along.

I hope this post was interesting, I would love to hear your thoughts – what am I doing right or wrong. Any and all suggestions on what you want to read, or if you have ideas for marketing, I would love to hear them. 

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