Do weblogs generate more traffic than traditional websites? I republished my entire website with weblog software to find out.
I enjoy installing, configuring, and testing software. Particularly software that may improve my law firm’s bottom line. From everything that I’ve heard, weblog software has the potential to change the way website content is published, delivered, received, searched for, and found. But will it improve my bottom line? In other words, will publishing my website with weblog software produce a statistically significant improvement in my website’s return on investment (ROI)? I republished my entire website with weblog software to find out.
My Traditional Website – Heels-dot-com
My law firm website has been online since 1997. I treat each page on the website as an article, and I maintain the articles in a FileMaker Pro database (http://www.filemaker.com/). Each record has about a dozen fields for information such as each article’s publication date, modification date, title, file name, summary, byline, and body. I enter basic HTML tags into the body field, but all other HTML is created automatically by standardized header and footer fields. For example, I include each article’s title in the <title> tag of the generated HTML page.
I can publish files one at a time or all at once. If I want to publish the files all at once, I export the entire database to a file and run a customized FileMaker2HTML Perl (http://www.perl.org/) script on that file to split it into the various HTML files. I keep all of these files in the root directory of my server because this makes URLs shorter, easier to remember, and more likely (in my opinion) to be crawled by search software, some of which will not do “deep indexing” (i.e. index beyond the root directory) of websites. This article is the 157th record in the database, and Google has over 95% of these files in its database.
I host my web site on a Verio Virtual Private Server (http://www.viaverio.com/products/vps_b.cfm) for $95/month. This product (formerly iServer (http://www.iserver.com/)) gives me root access to a UNIX server with 600 MB of disk space. My server uses the following open (http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/0,,sid9_gci212705,00.html) software:
- FreeBSD 4.4 (http://www.freebsd.org/) operating system;
- Apache 1.3.27 (http://www.apache.org/) HTTP server (web server);
- The Webalizer 2.01 (http://www.mrunix.net/webalizer/) log file analyzer (website statistics);
- SWISH-E 2.2.3 (http://www.swish-e.org/) search engine; and
- Mailman 2.0.7 (http://www.list.org/) mailing list.
What’s the Deal with Weblogs?
For the purpose of this article, I’m defining a “weblog” as any website published and maintained with weblog software. Your definition of “weblog” may differ. Yahoo (http://dir.yahoo.com/…) and Google (http://directory.google.com/…) define and categorize weblog software differently. Suffice it to say that there are many weblog software packages for various operating systems including the following:
- Blogger (http://www.blogger.com/)
- Geeklog (http://www.geeklog.net/)
- Greymatter (http://www.noahgrey.com/greysoft/)
- Movable Type (http://www.movabletype.org/)
- OpenJournal (http://www.grohol.com/downloads/oj/)
- Radio (http://radio.userland.com/)
Weblog software can be a viable alternative to “traditional” website publishing software. CNET does not distinguish between weblog software and traditional website publishing software, and their April 2002 review rated Blogger and Radio equally (8 out of 10) (http://www.cnet.com/…). My friend Rick Klau (http://www.rklau.com/tins/) broke the tie by recommending Radio.
As an aside, Rick and I have been writing together since 1993, most conspicuously, perhaps, for RedStreet, a part-time company we founded and ran from 1997-2001 (http://web.archive.org/web/*/www.redstreet.com/). Rick mentioned that there are already some lawyers using Radio and/or publishing weblogs (http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/views/blogs.htm), so Radio seemed like a good place to start.
My Weblog Website – Beaverlaw-dot-com
I originally downloaded Radio on 11/07/02, but I didn’t start tinkering with it in earnest until two months later. I attribute the delay to the holidays and the time it took to install and configure my new computers, but that’s another (long) article for another day.
It took a long time (and 13 installations) to configure Radio, and in the end, Radio does not do exactly what I want it to, but it comes pretty close. In short, I was trying to re-create the look-and-feel of my traditional website (www-dot-heels-dot-com) with my weblog website (www-dot-beaverlaw-dot-com). (Incidentally, if you are wondering why I’m using the “-dot-” notation, it’s because I use search-and-replace software to convert pages from my traditional website to pages for my weblog website.) More specifically, I was trying to create a website with the following features:
- Few graphics;
- No third-party content (such as page counters or search engines);
- Simple navigation;
- A powerful search engine;
- Printer-friendly pages;
- Browser-friendly pages (i.e. viewable with many browsers); and
- Useful content.
I launched my weblog website on 01/26/03, Super Bowl Sunday. My weblog website uses the following software:
- Radio 8.0.8 (http://radio.userland.com/)
- activeRenderer 1.3.5 (http://radio.weblogs.com/0104487/outlines/activeRenderer.html)
- liveTopics 1.0.5 (http://radio.weblogs.com/0107808/outlines/liveTopics.html)
Testing the ROI of Weblogs
For the next several months, I will be monitoring the website traffic and e-mail that I receive for both of my websites. Do weblog websites generate more traffic than traditional websites? Does that traffic translate into business? Is weblog software a viable alternative for a commercial website? Stay tuned.