Blaine Moore is one of the mentors in the Blog Mastermind forums, an experienced blogger and is one of the original readers of this blog. He’s the author of Run To Win, a blog about running marathons and is someone who I really appreciate as an online friend since he helps out so much.
Blaine skyped me last week about an article he wrote for his fellow bloggers, and since he doesn’t have a blog about blogging, he offered it to us here at Entrepreneurs-Journey. In this article Blaine explains how important it is to publish a “retrospective year end” piece. You only have a few more days to get this article done before the new year, so you better get cracking!
The Retrospective Blog Post
Every blogger should write an annual retrospective on the previous year. The retrospective is a great way to improve your sense of community on your website and can also clue you in on trends that may have slipped by unnoticed. Planning out what you want to do in the new year is made much easier for having known what happened in the past year.
The first time that I wrote a retrospective was part of a Problogger group writing project on reviews and predictions about anything. I chose to write mine on what happened on my site over the previous year and what I expected in the year to come. This year I decided to write another retrospective, and it was interesting to see how accurate my predictions from a year ago had turned out to be.
How old should your site be before you write a retrospective?
If your site is over a year old, then you should write one. If you started your site half a year ago or so, then it is probably worth writing one as well as you will have enough content and traffic to draw some conclusions from. If your site is newer than that, then I am not really sure how helpful it would be. It may be worth a try, or else you may want to consider writing one on your site’s anniversary or just waiting for the end of the next year.
Advantage 1: Community
The first advantage of writing an article like this is that it really helps bring your regular readers further into the community of your blog. Your regular readers have watched what was happening with the site over the past year and they will feel like they were a part of it.
Because you are linking to your best content (proven so because it is your most popular content) you are reminding them of the reasons that they follow your site in the first place. You also provide a nice framework for new visitors to your site that may have missed quite a bit of those great articles.
You should expect at least a few comments on your retrospective from readers that appreciate your site and the value that it provides them. For the past two years, I have had the same person comment on each retrospective less than 20 minutes after I first published it.
Advantage 2: Finding Popular Topics
From a more personal standpoint, this is a great time to reflect on what you have written and on the trends that your website has taken. It can be pretty amazing to see the topics that you have chosen change as time moves on.
It can also help to see what has become popular under the radar and tell you some new directions that might be worth exploring on your site in more detail. Depending upon how closely you watch your stats, there may be some articles that you never gave a second thought to that bring in a fairly significant chunk of traffic.
By analyzing what articles are popular, you can craft future articles on similar topics in an attempt to capitalize on that popularity. You may also find that some of your popular articles were actually off-topic, and that may provide you with the drive to start a new site with a different focus.
One of the articles that I wrote this year took me by surprise, despite paying more attention to my stats than I have in years past. The article that was only marginally related to my site has proven to be one of the most visited articles, and this is almost entirely on search engine traffic (specifically, Yahoo) since I never promoted it. The nice thing to see was that a third of the people stuck around to explore my site afterwards.
Last year when I wrote my first retrospective, I was surprised by the popularity of some of the articles that I had written. This year, I have been paying a lot attention on a weekly and monthly basis about what was popular and what wasn’t. I found that my most popular articles were exactly what I thought would be. That’s why I am starting a new business to expand on those articles.
Advantage 3: Planning the New Year
Looking at what you wrote over the past year, and discovering what was popular, almost forces you to think about the direction that you want to take in the new year. You may or may not want to discuss those directions in your retrospective, but you should certainly spend some time thinking about what you want to do.
Part of the fun of writing a retrospective is making predictions. Whether you publish those predictions or not, write them down and then compare your results next year.
A prediction that I made in 2006 was about a series of articles I wrote towards the end of the year. In 2007, that series was viewed more times by any single page other than my home page. In 2008, I will be selling more information on the topic because it has proven that it is very popular and that there is a market for it.
You are probably not going to spend a lot of time with next years plans and predictions outside of the first and last months of the new year. That is fine. You will be starting the year out with a fresh direction to charge forth in, and next year you will have a basis of comparison for whether you were able to accurately predict where to go and how to grow.
How do you write an annual retrospective?
Look at your traffic over the previous year using your statistics package of choice, such as Google Analytics. You obviously need to have tracked your site over that entire span of time using the same statistics package. See what content on your site was the most popular.
Next, decide how you want to link to your articles. Do you want to list the popular articles in the order that they were published, or by which was the most popular? Most of the time, your older articles will have had more of an opportunity to become popular so the two ways of sorting them will not be too far removed from one another.
Craft your retrospective as a story about how the year went and link to all of the most popular articles. Discuss which ones you expected would be popular and which ones were surprises. You may even want to sneak in a few articles that were not quite as popular but that you thought would be. You do not want to pretend that they were more popular than you were, but you can mention that you expected that they would have been.
You also want to talk about some up and coming articles that don’t technically belong on the list in terms of the numbers, but which you expect will be on the list the next year. Those articles are the ones that tend to have been written for the past few months and are already hovering at the bottom of the list or just off of it.
You are going to want to give weight to articles that were written in the past year, but bear in mind that some of your most popular articles may have been written the year before or even earlier. If those older articles are still hitting the top of your traffic list, then you need to mention them in the retrospective. If they are near the bottom of my list of top pages, then you may want to ignore them in the retrospective. You may also want to spend less time discussing articles that are dated and may no longer be as relevant as they were when you wrote them, although this type of article does not usually make the list unless it received a huge influx of traffic at the time that it was relevant.
Should you write a retrospective more often than once a year?
You may want to write some sort of monthly or weekly look back throughout the year, but I do not think that you have a large enough time frame to make good decisions about where to move going forward.
You also do not want to clutter your website with regular retrospectives that will burn your readers out. An annual retrospective shows your appreciation for them, but if you are writing about it weekly then they will grow bored as the novelty wears off and they are delayed from getting the content that they are there for.
That being said, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to keep tabs on your popular articles and make adjustments behind the scenes multiple times throughout the year.
Have you ever written a retrospective?
If you have written a retrospective, how was it received and did it help you grow your site? If you have not written one, do you plan on writing one before the end of the year or early next year?
Remember that when you are writing one, you want to spot the trends that your website took over the past year, you want to plan where you are going to take your blog in the new year, and you want to highlight your best content so that your regular readers can be reminded about their favorite articles and your new readers will have an opportunity to discover that great content.
Here are links to my previous year end retrospective blog articles -