June 26, 2019

Blogging SEO: Why You Should Give Up Sex and Devote Your Life to Writing Seo Optimized Blog Titles (Part 1)

Apparently this is what a SEO optimized title looks like...at least when it has been optimized for clickbait. But I am getting ahead of myself.

A couple posts back I showed off a mind map of blogging topics for the site's relaunch. My next step was to take my outline and devise a titling scheme for blog posts, one that plays to the value of content serialization and is SEO friendly. I have been spending quite a lot of time at the day job learning, teaching and generally shaking my fists angrily at SEO optimization. As a result, I have become acutely aware of everything I did wrong during the blog's first run and gleaned just enough knowledge to (editor's note: maybe) do one or two things right this time. Though most of what I've gleaned is that "right" is itself quite subjective. Still getting ahead of myself.

Blog titles, there we go. I started by working out a style guide for my post titles that maintains a consistent titling scheme, comprised of both categorical and post specific keywords. Sounds like a mouthful, so let's break it down.

Looking at the mind map, one of my broad themes, beer, contains the following categories:
  • Craft brewing
  • Gluten free
  • Home brewing
  • Recommended reading

The craft brewing category contains the post topics:
  • Events
  • Industry musings
  • Releases
  • Reviews

From this, I developed a set of keywords:
  • Craft brewing - beer
  • Events - event
  • Industry musings - musings
  • Releases - release
  • Reviews - review

Putting it all together, if I wrote a post about the Hellshire Barrel-Aged Beer Fest, I would title it something like, "Beer Event: Hellshire Barrel-Aged Beer Fest." And I did.

Likewise, if I wrote a post recommending Jeff Alworth's blog Beervana, I would title it, "Recommended Beer Reading: Beervana." This one hasn't happened yet.

I now have a point-and-shoot scheme for titling my posts, but how is the SEO? Like I said, it's subjective. Which is a horribly ironic statement since search engines are not subjective gods. But Google, Microsoft and the like have shrouded them is such mystique that entire industries of oracles now exist to help decipher their cryptic whims (editor's note: let's reign in the metaphors).

One such oracle (editor's note: watch it!) is Neil Patel, who explains how to create search engine friendly title tags. If you prescribe to Neil's brand of divination (editor's note: hey!), my title scheme should work well - Front-loaded, pertinent keywords and generally under 60 characters.

One point where we differ is my decision not to include the blog title in post title tags. Why? As we established in the mind map post, "Beer and Coding in Eugene" has become fairly disassociated from the current direction of this blog. So, there is little value in potentially eating up 25 characters of valuable space in Google search results with a mildly related blog title.

Case in point, which of the following is more appealing?

Beer and Coding in Eugene | Beer Event: Hellshire Barrel-Age 
Beer Event: Hellshire Barrel-Aged Beer Fest

Let's try another.

Beer and Coding in Eugene | Blogging SEO: Writing SEO optim
Blogging SEO: Writing SEO optimized blog titles

So, how did we get from, "Blogging SEO: Writing SEO optimized blog titles" to the mess at the top of the page? That would be Content Row's Headline Generator I came across while prepping for this post. It feels like something akin to the Wu-Tang Name Generator (editor's note: Phantom Overlord, nice!), but toss a title idea into the generator and you will get something that could pass for any clickbait title you see at the bottom of any clickbait article you are currently reading. Eerie.

"Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles" resulting in the following recommendations:
  • Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles
  • Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles 101: The Essential Guide
  • The Most Incredible Article About Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles You'll Ever Read
  • 8 Things the Media Hasn't Told You About Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles

And of course the winning, "Why You Should Give Up Sex and Devote Your Life to Writing SEO Optimized Blog Titles."

Now we've come full circle. All things considered, I think I'll stick to my scheme going forward.

Phantom Overload

June 15, 2019

Beer Event: Hellshire Barrel-Aged Beer Fest and a trip back in time

Here comes by first beer post in more than seven years. Let's see if I can shake the rust...

Today is the Hellshire Barrel-Aged Beer Fest and release of Hellshire IX, Oakshire Brewing's annual barrel-aged bottle of magic. In honor of the event, I'm going to take you on a little trip back in time to the first Hellshire release.

Saturday May 7th 2011. It was the closing weekend of Eugene Beer Week's freshman run. It had been a gauntlet of a week (editor's note: mainly for the liver and wallet) and I was about an hour away from my final event, the release of Hellshire I.

For those unfamiliar, Hellshire is a barleywine/stout/some-other-kind-of-big-beer-depending-on-the-year, barrel-aged and released annually alongside a big party. Hellshire was started under former Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk, now part of Alesong Brewing and Blending. The beer carried with it a mythos before it was even released, heralded by many as a continuation of Wooden Hell, a similarly-styled annual release Matt crafted at his previous (editor's note: previous, previous) brewery, Flossmoor Station. In fact, shortly before the release of Hellshire I, folks online were offering $50 per bottle for anyone interested in a little side hustle.

Apparently everyone else was doing battle with their owns hangovers that morning, as I not only made it to the brewery (editor's note: not a small feat) but beat out all my compatriots to be first in line for the event. Not a bad position for a bantamweight beer blogger. When the gate opened, I was given the baby blue Line Dry Rye t-shirt for being the head of the line and allowed to make the first ever purchase of Hellshire. This was immediately followed by a textbook Charlie in the Chocolate Factory moment.

Oakshire employee: "How many would you like?"
Me: "One please"
Oakshire employee: "One case?"
Me: "No, one bottle"
Oakshire employee: "One, bottle?" (puzzled look)
Me: "Yes"
Oakshire employee: "Ok, ring him up for one bottle" (continues puzzled look)

Of course the next ten people in line all purchased their two case limit...or at least that is what it felt like at the time. And despite my limited economic impact, Hellshire is still going strong. It has grown from that initial gaggle of over enthusiastic beer nerds eight years ago to the full-blown barrel-aged festival and additional Hellshire Experience for those with a bit deeper pockets.

As for that first bottle of Hellshire I, it sat, tucked away for eight months until the birth of my son. The t-shirt I still wear. After eight years it has been given the prestigious honorific of Lawn Mowing Shirt. Speaking of which, that is what I will be doing today instead of attending the Hellshire IX release, a very "dad" decision. Now the only question is, do I pop open this bottle of Hellshire V before or after...


June 11, 2019

A small correction...and a roadmap of sorts

I'm going to start by correcting a bit of revisionist history I expounded in my first post. About a third of the way in, I made the comment, "Shortly after EBW wrapped up, so did the blog." It turns out that wasn't exactly correct. Even with a mind as sharp and nimble as mine (editor's note: good place to insert something moronic like, "big league brain"), the details from seven years ago are beginning to blur around the edges. It felt like my timeline was off so I went back to the source.

I pulled a 2012 site backup out of OneDrive and did a local restore. Yes, it would have been far easier to just hop in the Way Back Machine, but that idea didn't cross my mind until just now. Hindsight. It turns out my final blog post was, "Eugene Beer Week Starts Tomorrow!" An entry posted May 6th, 2012, exactly one day before the start of EBW. So, it appears my blog did not wind down alongside EBW as I initially remembered. It abruptly stopped on the 250th post, the evening before. There we go, record set straight. I feel better.

The point of this post was to share some of the planning that went into the relaunch of this blog and a peek at things to come. As I mentioned in my initial post, I've had several failed starts over the years. Each one went (more or less) like this:

    (receives email)
    "My domain renewal!"
    "I was just working on a blog post, this is a sign I should finish it." (opens OneNote)
    "Oh God, that was a year ago!"
    "What was I even working on?" (checks OneNote more intently)
    "A half written review for a beer I don't remember?" (continues checking)
    "That it, nothing else?"
    "OK, looks like I starting over from scratch, idea time." ([scribbles|types|taps] frantically)
    "Alright, that looks good. There's at least a week of topics."
    "Now I just have to write them...and start thinking of ideas for the next week...and..." (crickets)
    "I know! I'll start with a beer review...and might as well turn on the TV."
    "Hey, a new episode of Teen Titans Go!" (closes OneNote)
    "Wait, what was I doing?" 

A talented writer would say something inspiring like, "just start writing and the words will find you." Only, being a talented writer they would phase it more eloquently. Unfortunately, I am not a talented writer. I tend to just hack away at my keyboard until the word vomit starts taking the shape of semi-coherent thoughts. From there it undergoes additional forming and bending until I arrive at something readable. Never great, sometimes good, but usually readable (editor's note: glowing endorsement!). And herein lies the problem. It takes a lot of effort to get an idea out of my big league brain (editor's note: that works!) and into that aforementioned readable state. So, the thought of having to do that time and time again with no clear direction posed a huge challenge to my relaunch. Knowing my limitations (and penchant for distraction), I made a conscious decision this time around to initially focus on mapping out a sustainable content strategy, not spewing out half-formed ideas.

First, I reassessed my blogging focus. Previously, this was craft beer, with a hyper-focus on Eugene, Lane County, Willamette Valley and outward from there. I also wrote, with much less frequency and fanfare about coding, usually something related to web development. Those that subscribe to the theory of niche expert blogging would point out that I missed the mark on both. One niche was far too specific to ever attract a wide audience and the other was far to broad to actually be a niche. This was easily confirmed by my Google Analytics scores. One thing I did seem to get right on the first go-around (editor's note: by complete luck) was content serialization. I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining serialized content, you all know how to Google. Serialization works because people like things they are already familiar with, already invested in or able to binge. This is why it's a big deal in my house when a new Dog Man book is released or a new season of The Great British Bake Off airs or the morning newspaper arrives with the next Sally Forth comic strip. Again, turning to Google Analytics, my highest ranking posts were those that were beer-related, not hyper-local and part of ongoing series (Adventures in Homebrew, Going Nano, etc). Using this information, I planned out my broad, overarching themes (blue) of the relaunch: beer, blogging, IT leadership and technology. With that set, I then developed specific categories (green) and individual topics (brown), each representing an opportunity for serialized content over a long period of time.

Beerandcoding Mind Map

Looking at the mind map, you may notice the lack of beer and the near non-existence of coding. And immediately following that, you may ask, "Why keep beerandcoding.com if you are taking the blog in an entirely different direction, wouldn't a new domain make more sense?" Another great question. It also happens to be the same question my partner asked last night. I don't believe my meandering reasoning did anything to convince her, but maybe I'll have better luck with you. In my mind, this blog is a meta example of serialization. We are starting chapter two. I'm not worried about duplicating chapter one, but I do want to continue the story.


June 7, 2019

From the ashes...

This past Sunday marked the start of Eugene Beer Week, now in its 9th year.

If you are one of the three readers who remember this blog from its initial flight, circa 2009-12, you may be asking one or more of the following questions:
  • "Really?" 
  • "A seven year hiatus and this is what brings the blog back?"
  • "Wait, isn't Eugene Beer Week already half over? First blog post and it's already late."

All great questions. Well, except that last one.Could have done without the sarcasm. This isn't really a story about Eugene Beer Week, but it is a story that both starts and ends with EBW. Let me explain...

In early 2012 I was three months into a new career, three weeks into fatherhood and had just signed on to help with marketing and awareness for the 2nd Annual Eugene Beer Week. Some of those milestones are probably more important than others, but the net result was something had to give. Shortly after EBW wrapped up, so did the blog.

I've attempted to restart things a few times over the years, usually getting a spark immediately following the yearly arrival of my domain renewal notice. I'd fiddle with web hosting and CMS options for a week or two, then throw in the towel long before even thinking about content. Then, a few weeks ago (after receiving this year's renewal notice) I decided it was time to give it a serious try. I made a deal with myself that if I couldn't come up with anything worthwhile to write, I would finally put it out to pasture.

And now we're caught up. Here I am with about a dozen different drafts of my relaunch post sitting in front of me. Some inspiring, some comical, most incoherent, all bad. And inspiration strikes. Or, more accurately Twitter strikes. My phone buzzes. Ah good, a distraction. Just what I need. Hey look, it's the list of tomorrow's EBW featured events. My eyes drift down from my phone to my not-so-slender middle. Look, it's my well-loved 2nd Annual EBW shirt (featured above). We have liftoff!

A lot has happened between the 2nd and 9th Eugene Beer Weeks. The personal highlight reel includes 6+ years in Higher Ed IT leadership followed by a recent shift back to the private sector, a 100% increase in children, 10 legally recognized years of my partner's tolerance and understanding, having a (award winning) homebrew recipe become a commercially produced beer, discovering a late-blooming obsession with Disneyland and most recently, discovering my partner has Celiac Disease. Again, some of these items are probably more important than others.

So, for those still following along, it's been 8 years since I have done and serious coding. And with the Celiac diagnosis, my craft beer intake has serious plummeted. Kind of a rough spot for a blog titled "Beer and Coding."

Where do we go from here? Honestly, I'm not exactly sure yet. I have a decent mind map of topics (that I'll be sharing shortly) and I'm currently working up the skeleton of an editorial calendar so I can ensure some consistent content. Apparently I absorbed a thing or two after several years supporting a large marketing and communications team...

In any case, it feels good to be back.