As I stood on a street corner with my double stroller and twins by my side, half way up a long hill I was walking on to get to an appointment, I noticed a car making a turn around the corner. The driver was a woman who publishes one of the more popular websites that you may know if you are a Vancouver mom or dad. As I watched her driving off I couldn’t help but think “gee she must be one busy woman”. Make no mistake about it – women who are publishing websites for and about moms and families are busy. Their sites typically involve multiple postings per week; guest postings; competitions; give aways; sponsorship and advertising programmes; reviews of local activities; and, products and external participation in social media and local media initiatives such as television and newspapers. As another woman who publishes a similar site mentioned one day, she was able to pull herself away from her computer to attend to an activity. These women pitch their sites as “go to places” for expert content on all things “mom” related. They have to work hard to push that content out.
Whether you’re working in an office with children in school and daycare, or working from home at a home based business, balancing time spent at work and time spent caring for children – especially young children – is a challenging task. You have X amount of hours in a day and have to accomplish Y amount of tasks. How much you accomplish in each of your chosen categories depends on how efficient you are, how you prioritize your time and – quite frankly – how much help you have. Family members, nannies, daycare, babysitting and school all provide assistance with children so that you can work at an office or work from home.
I mention this random street corner thought because I have learned a lot about what it takes to publish a website and to achieve your goals for your website during this past year. I have many ideas about what I would like to do with this website and during the past year I have been able to decide what I do not want to do on my site. At least not right now. I have also had to make firm decisions about allocation of my time. I don’t have access to a car, walk everywhere with my children, and currently have no help during the weekdays. This situation may or may not change in the near future. I can appreciate what it takes to develop the websites that I see available online, and commend everyone who makes an effort to publish a website, no matter how extensive or simple the design may be.
Here are a few of the issues that came up this past year:
- When you publish your own website, if you don’t have the resources to engage external help – even if it’s the resources of time and skills offered by a spouse – you will spend a fair bit of time learning how to design and self publish your site. WordPress is a great place to start as there are also useful themes and plugins for WordPress that have been developed. If something goes wrong with your site, you will also be the one trying to fix your site. Hopefully you have good site support from the company hosting your site.
- Not all technical issues can be solved by the technical support division at your domain provider. If your problem is on the WordPress end, you may have a harder time figuring out what has gone wrong. Sometimes the issue may be very simple. Perhaps you have to tick off a box or put in a word in some part of the settings. The smallest issues can prove to be a big obstacle. You will flounder about, for awhile, and feel quite distressed until you can find someone who knows how to fix your broken site. (I’m putting my hand up here because this happened to me.)
- Upgrading your version of WordPress, for example, and your theme is a tricky business. Proceed with caution. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, get help!
- You will soon discover that one of the biggest fan bases for your site are the people who try to hack into accounts or simply inundate your site with spam comments. Yes those lovely people living in Eastern Europe and down the street set up automatic bots to make frequent visits to your site, testing out your security measures. Do some research and install as many of the popular security plugins as you can to protect your site. Back up your site frequently and use complex passwords that you change from time to time.
- If you track the popularity of topics on your site, you might be surprised to learn which topics people favour. Here at BC Family a story about being crazy for cupcakes and another about Harumika dolls are, hands down, the most popular postings. Montessori topics come in as a popular third choice.
- Social media can be a nice complement to your site. A Facebook page and Twitter account can enhance the content of your site if you have your website and the social media applications linked together.
- When you getting through your day, ensuring that all tasks related to looking after family and home are complete, publishing content on your site does not happen. Sometimes this state of affairs can continue for days! Thankfully you can continue to contribute content to your home page via widget inserts on the margins and links to your Twitter and Facebook page accounts.
- Don’t compare your website to similar sites that offer up similar content. You simply cannot compare the quality of your site to others as every person allocates their resources of time and money differently. If you’re choosing to keep your operations simple, you will also have to accept that your output will be less extensive.
- People like to read your website and your content on Social Media. Sometimes they will indicate that they “like” your content (on Facebook). Less frequently they will comment either on your website or on the related Facebook page. If you have a comment section that requires moderation, this may deter people from commenting. However it also deters spammers from leaving ridiculous comment content. You are most likely to receive comments on your website if the commenter knows someone mentioned in the posting, or has a professional connection to the content in the posting.
- You may not receive feedback from your friends and peers about your site too often, but take note when they do comment opinions. You might be surprised to hear from a friend that she enjoys reading your site. You didn’t even know that she reads your site! Give yourself a pat on the back.
- You will be amazed at how much spam comments your site receives. Setting up a filter to keep this content out of sight is a necessity.
- You will be faced with questions about priorities for content on your site. Should you write about products and local events? Should you provide giveaways and run competitions? Should you link up with businesses and provide opportunities for moms’ children to model for a partner company or appear on TV? Or should you push the envelope and write about less typical topics focussed on community issues and issues that affect families around the globe? Does the average Vancouver mom or dad want to read about the latter as well?
- Whatever focus you choose, how much time should you take to develop your content? Should you research topics in depth and edit postings extensively before publishing, or should you try to work as quickly as possible so that you can push out a certain amount of content per week?
- If you have guest postings on your site, what is the benefit for these guests? Is it enough to mention their businesses and websites? Where do you draw the line between guest postings (eg I went to the beach and want to tell you about it) and advertorials (eg I’m a health specialist and here are links to my website and my bookstore.) It seems that both types of content can find a comfortable place on these types of sites. Where you run into more murky ground is in the area of product reviews.
- Why is it that I never see all out negative reviews of products on a mom-focussed website? For example, “here at our website we received the following product for a review and we want to tell you that it did not meet our expectations. We feel that you can find a better version of this product elsewhere.” Is there not a conflict of interest when a publisher gets to keep the product or use it in a giveaway? Isn’t it in her best interest to review the product in a positive light? Vague references to deficiencies doesn’t cut it. If you don’t really like the product or service, please be direct. Product reviews? It’s a tricky proposition. Yet product and service reviews can also draw readers to your site. This must be why they are so popular on mom-focussed sites. I’ve put shout-outs on BC Family regarding products based purely on my own interest and initiative. I haven’t been contacted in advance by the company I discussed and, in many cases, I’m not even sure that the company is aware that I’ve written about their product. Sure I didn’t get any benefit, other than the opportunity to provide content on my site. I’ve been critiqued for being too generous on this score. What can I say? I love to support great products and fabulous companies.
- Sometimes you set up an arrangement with someone to meet with you or provide content for your site and the plans fall through. Despite your best efforts, you don’t reach your goal. It’s a shame, but in these circumstances I’ve had to either put the idea on hold or cut my losses. People get busy. Life gets in the way. What comes around for me is also going around for other people. Such is life.
- Should you monetize your site and how should you go about does this? Some people launch their sites quickly and with confidence. Within a year they are confirming that they have hundreds – if not thousands – of followers on social media, and large numbers of readers on their site. They have sponsors and advertisements and have set up relationships with other businesses. Their website is a business and they have implemented their business plan full on. Other websites do not have a stitch of advertising, yet they can also be very popular. The final nominees for this year’s Canadian Weblog Award are a case in point. Most of the websites in the Family and Parenting category are humble in their presentation and design.
- Website publishing provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about the community and world in which you live. It also provides a platform to enable an exchange of ideas with people who live down the road or around the world. Sometimes you can encounter a negative reaction to content on your site, but for the most part if your outlook is positive, supportive and optimistic, you will encounter other people who support a similar world view. If you want to write in a more critical tone, assume that your content will be challenged and have confidence in the content that you produce.
- When you have the chance, read other people’s sites, support their efforts, and share the love… of publishing.
A few months ago I mentioned to a neighbour – a retired teacher – that I publish a website. “Oh you have a BLOG, she replied.” I couldn’t help but feel this was her way of correcting me. What she should have said was “Correction. You share your personal feelings in an online journal. You do not publish a website.” Perhaps this would have been true ten years ago. Today she is out of step with the type of content and site formats you are finding on the internet. All blogs are websites. Not all websites published by people like me are blogs. Some websites, for example, include a blog that is linked into the main homepage. The website Yoyomama.ca and its linked blog are a fine example of this format. On this site, for example, the Daily Dish postings are written in a blog format. They are inspired by personal stories and are topics affecting my life. What matters is that there has been a significant increase in the number of self-published sites during the past decade. People who publish their own sites are free to design, define and promote their sites in whatever creative and innovative manner they prefer.
Nowadays I’m more likely to find exciting and relevant content on privately published sites, rather than sites published by organizations and institutions. Women around town and around the globe, in particular, are producing informative and visually gorgeous sites every day. If you are thinking about entering the fray, go for it! I applaud your enthusiasm. You have much to contribute and there are people out there who are interested in what you have to say.
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Video: Women speak up about their passion – blogging – and time management
Daily Dish Archives Pamela Chan/Publisher, BCfamily.ca