My first blog post from 2002 – what can it still teach?

My first blog from 2002

I wrote my very first blog nearly 20 years ago – reflecting back on that post, what can I learn from it?

At the time I was doing lots of website development and I needed to run many different platforms & software on my laptop. I had solved a particular problem I was having regarding running multiple software and, for whatever reason, I decided to write up a detailed solution & publish it online.

I published the post sometime before August 2002 and it was titled I want to run IIS AND Apache on port 80 on the same Windows machine. How do I do that?‘ and, even though the actual page is long gone, you can still find it in the Wayback Machine Internet archive.

Here is a screenshot from that original post:

My first blog post

My first blog post – published sometime before Aug 2002.

Note: I’ve not seen this post for so many years and I have to say, I do like the type treatment I did for the joelhughes.com – very funky!

Hello? Vienna Calling

After a while, I began to notice that this little web blog post of mine had begun to attract traffic & visitors from all over the world. People would email me thanking me for creating the post and suggesting other ideas. In short, this was a minor revelation to me in terms of the power of useful content and the power of SEO.

I’d like to say that the farsighted entrepreneur in me spotted the potential power of this trend and then continued power blogging ahead of the curve but alas no, life got in the way, indeed I think I lost the this old joelbhughes.com website due to an overlooked hosting bill and then all my good work receded into a distant memory.

However, the minor successes with this post stuck with me over the years and I’d like to revisit some of those key points here:

Key point 1 – keep it simple (stupid)

The web page itself was incredibly simple; I had my funky joelhughes.com logo on the top and then we were straight into the content. Nothing extraneous at all – no junk which was going to cause Google problems as it tried to understand my page.

Since that time web pages have become more and more complex; weighed down with more and more technologies and services. Sometimes this extra complexity in web pages is a good thing, and sometimes it is not. Google has had to become increasingly more sophisticated in terms of how they can try to understand such web pages.

And it’s funny to see that the drive today is to make simpler, leaner, faster, more focussed pages – targetted on the user; indeed Google will be punishing pages which giver poor user experience in 2021. So my web page from 2002 was way ahead of the game!

Key point 2 – web page URL

You can’t tell from the screenshot above but this page URL was called ‘cygwin_apache.html‘ – which referred to the two key technologies that I was writing about. In hindsight, I could have made the page URL more relevant but it does go to show that the page name itself affords an opportunity to tell Google (a ‘signal‘) something about the meaning of your content. Put another way, what if I had called the page “article_1.html“? Do you see how that would be a big missed opportunity in conveying meaning to Google?

Fig 2 - my homepage from 2002

Fig 2 – my homepage from 2002

In Fig 2 we see my homepage from 2002 – yes there was not very much on my website! The big green arrow points to the page we are talking about here (‘cygwin_apache.html‘). Notice, in particular, the link text I’ve used to describe the page:

‘HOWTO: run IIS & Apache on the same box on port 80’

This is called ‘anchor text‘ and it is a text description of where a link will take you.

What I had inadvertently done here was implement a solid SEO practice; use relevant words in your anchor link text that your website visitors and Google will find useful.

Google will then take this ‘anchor link‘ text and consider it as part of their processing to understand what your webpage is about. The output of this processing is a decision by Google as to what search phrases they should consider ranking your page for – the more relevant they think your page is to a search query, the higher up the Google listings it would go.

This is why we should always try to plan for meaningful, relevant anchor link text rather than bland, generic things like “click here” or “download doc” etc – as this can be a big SEO and website user experience opportunity.

Anchor Text v Page name

An interesting point here is that the anchor text on the homepage is very descriptive but is quite different from the page URL I had chosen. I.e.

‘HOWTO: run IIS & Apache on the same box on port 80’

….as opposed to the actual URL of:

cygwin_apache.html’

If I were writing the article today I would probably make the Page URL and the anchor text more similar (if not the same). Though I do wonder if this difference I accidentally hit on here is actually a good thing because we have different, yet overlapping text/keywords – perhaps (and so much of SEO relies on the word ‘perhaps!’) this made it easier for Google (at the time) to understand where to place my content in their vast library of content?

As a final point on the anchor text, even though I welded HOW and TO together to put HOWTO at the front; as a general rule, Google likes ‘how-to‘, and ‘step-by-step‘ informative content (more on this later).

Note: the baby in the picture is my brother’s (only one brother) eldest, Elwy – she’s 18 in a few weeks – where did that time go?! Oh, and she’s an amazing singer as well.

Key Point 3 – get to the point, quickly!

Let’s take a look at the opening sentence I used on that post (and please bear in mind, that post was probably written in one go, without much re-writing aside from clearing up typos):

“I want to run IIS AND Apache on port 80 on the same Windows machine. How do I do that?”

The very first sentence of the post starts off with simple, plain words that explain the pitch of the article. And it includes a question. It makes it very clear what the reader can expect from investing their time in consuming the post. This follows my Ronnseal approach to creating content – ‘it does what it says on the tin‘ 😉

Key point 4 – structured content

Whilst the font size of the post is a tad small (I didn’t need reading glasses back then!), there are some positives we can take from the content:

  1. We have lots of structured how-to like content here.
  2. There are numbered, bullet-point lists to help organise steps.
  3. We have headings & paragraphs to help structure the content and to make it easier to read.
  4. We have included useful links on the post.

Yes, there are no images but hey, you can’t have everything. If I were doing a similar post today I might add lots of screenshots to help indicate what I am asking people to do, and what they should click (as I do in this article on asking Google to re-index one of your pages). Indeed, you could do it this as a video tutorial as well (YouTube was not launched until 3 years after this post, though!).

Key point 5 – Word Count

The 2002 post weighs in at about 850 words – now I’m mindful of making any sweeping judgements about word count for blogs posts and content as such utterances can easily be misconstrued as a rule such as “as long as I hit X words, it’s good for SEO!“: the reality is that your post needs to be as long as you think it needs to be to get across the message you are trying to say, to the audience you are focusing on.

However, I would also say that (certainly for the technical/WordPress topics I tend to blog about) you easily hit 1,000 words quickly when dealing with any subject (indeed, this post at this point is up to 1,300 words & will be a chunk more).

If I could turn back time

If I could return to 2002 and whisper some words of wisdom into my younger ear, aside from telling myself some winning lottery numbers, I might say to myself:

“Hey Joel, you’re on to something here. You like creating content & educating –  you can build something here. You should blog regularly on articles and build an email list – you never know where it may lead you.”

In reality, I think I let that website wither on the vine and I blogged only occasionally since.

Let’s take a look at my blogging activity on this website since 2012:

My posting activity

Notice that in in 2020, as of the 13th of July (just over halfway through the year), I have done more posts in the last couple of months than in the entire previous 8 years!

This is no accident,  this is part of a strategy which has been welling up for a long time (you could say, since that first post in 2002).

Social Media Marketing World

I went to the Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego earlier this year, just before COVID hit. I decided to fly to the US as four of our US clients were speaking at the event and it felt a great opportunity to meet up with them (some I’d never met face to face) and also to learn.

The conference did have an effect on me and I was inspired to get back into creating content. This would be as part of a long term strategy to help position my business and, importantly, I would enjoy doing it (really, you have to love what you do). In this post from May I talk about how I’m changing direction in terms of content and how Glass Mountains operates.

Final Thoughts

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to questions such as “should I blog?“, “should I be on Youtube?” but I would just encourage to have a go.

And if you find yourself liking certain platforms/formats over others, then gravitate your efforts towards those and ignore distractions.

I would also give yourself licence to make mistakes, the illusion of perfection can easily stop us from starting anything- but it is the journey that it takes us which is important. Make mistakes, but learn from them, and adapt accordingly – trust me, I have lessons from 2002 to prove it 😉

 

Joel

 

p.s. a great place to chat about this article or anything else WordPress or website-related is our free Facebook Group – join now?

 

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