Friday, May 3, 2013

Tips on Writing Battle Reports

This is a tip sheet for those of you that are supporting our hobby by maintain a blog.
This is not a comprehensive document, just my observations on what seems to work, or not.  I am not an expert, these are just my thoughts.  Feel free to comment as I am just learning this art.
What constitutes success with a blogger?  Providing a pleasant experience for your readers.  This will result on return traffic and more readers.  But the only measure we have is number of visits your blog has.  I will have tips for both of these.
On providing a pleasant experience.
Providing a pleasant experience is important.  If the readers are uncomfortable, then they will not stay as long, and may not return.
Fonts and size:  Keep the fonts consistent.  I know this is troublesome.  If you are copying information from Word, Notepad, other sites, you can easily have Arial, Times New Roman, and Courier in the same paragraph.  It is distracting.
On colors: There really are only a few combinations of foreground to background colors that work.  Others may have an eye catching appeal, but can quickly lead to eye fatigue.  Black on white, or black on light grey work best.  White text on black background quickly drains the biochemicals in the eyes leading to after images long after you leave the page.
Consistency:  Most of us are putting out content on similar topics all the time.  On my WWII page, about half my entries are Battle Reports.  Try to have a consistent layout of the battle reports.  To that end, I have a common header with information on who, what, where, mission etc…  All my pictures are the same size (thanks to ShrinkPic)  I try to keep the fonts and size’s consistent, but I am always finding new problems and correcting them.
Paragraphs should have a common beginning format.  Indenting some, and spacing others looks unprofessional.  Select a paragraph alignment and stick with it.  Either align left or justification.
Typos:  When your blog entry is finished, don’t immediately publish it.  Have someone else read and edit it for typos.
Why this tank?  I just happen to like Lees.
Pictures.  Do have pictures, even lots of them.  But be cognizant of the band width and load times.  It’s easy to have megabytes of data being transferred with a page.  Not all broadband connections are the same.  If you are providing photos that are “normal” size, and when you click on them, expand to 5megapixels, be aware, that the user is downloading the 5mp picture, whether he views the expansion or not.  Also, when posting a picture.  Resize the picture to the size you want before applying it to the blog.  Don’t post a 1mp picture, and shrink it with the blogs Small, Medium, or Large settings.  What that means, the full picture is being sent, then resized each and every time someone calls on your site.  This means performance delays which can frustrate the user.  If you have a dozen of these, then the all of them will be downloaded and resized before the user can interact with your site.

Acronyms:  Don’t use them.  In this document, I use several, FOW, AAR, Batrep, SEO.  Do you know what they all are?  Maybe yes, probably not all of them though.  If you don’t know what they are, your content becomes a frustrating read.  Remember, ideally a lot of people will read your content.  So spell out the acronym, you only have to type it once but it will be read many times

On Driving Traffic: Driving traffic is the art of finding web surfers and directing them to your site.  When I started blogging it was partially as an outlet for articles I have written, partially because I was encouraged to do so, but mainly to study how to drive traffic.  This is the world we are now living in, and knowing what works and what doesn't work may be a marketable skill.  So I am practicing with a topic I love, and while there is no cash at risk.  It’s a cheap education. 
Driving traffic to your site is work.  If you are doing this for fun, you can take a haphazard approach to this.  If you are doing this for real, then you must be methodical. 
There are three main ways to drive traffic to your site.  Through Paid Advertisements, Posted Links, and Search Engine Optimization.
Paid Advertisements:  Considering where I am posting this missive, I don’t need to go into this. 
Posted Links:  This is where most of your traffic is going to come from.  Posting links to your website from a forum of another website.  Usually by starting a new topic/thread and saying something clever, and providing a link.
1)     Research your forums that you want to post your links on.
2)   Have a catchy title for your blog entry.  It should be accurate but should also excite the imagination.  I post rather consistently, and the content has a consistent fit and finish.  But the view numbers of a specific page can vary by over 300% some times.  For instance, with some of my titles and numbers:
a.     At #1 “Great Expectations”, (507 views).  The title fit my mood at the time, but the numbers are disproportionate as compared to other After Action Reports (AAR’s).  This is one of my older Flames of War Battle Reports, and I suspect a number of these hits are students googleing the Charles Dicken’s novel.  Some of them probably wrote up a report of the failed attack by the Pip’s Canadian Armored Squadron upon the 326th Infantry Division.
b.  At #2 “Panzer Grenadier-Division Grossdeutschland ”, (501).   This is premier division of the Wehrmacht.  It is also an original posting so it has had a lot of time to build up a view count. Lots of SEO traffic on that one.  (see SEO Below)
c.     At #3 “1944, Encounter with the Wiking SS”, (480).  This is one of my newer titles, so having it shoot to 480 views in a few months implies that the title caught a lot of attention.  There is another title written just a month later, "Attacking the Wiking SS at Vyazma" that shot to 380 views.
d.   At #4 “Stabilizing the Iron Curtain”, (465).  This title is only 4 months old, but for some reason has lots of views.
e. So what are the poor performers on my list?  Monty’s Pythons Meet the Russians”, at 136 views.  Less than a third of the top rated page.  Followed by “Fighting in Another Hedgerow Nightmare", at 151 views.  Yet this one was just one part of a set of three Battle Reports (Batrep’s) written withing a one month span.  The third was “The Battle for Croydon” at 436 views.  Why then were two of these Battle Reports have 1/3rd the views of the third?  My only thought is that the “Monty’s Pythons Meet the Russians” sounds a lot like “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

3)   When posting a link, post to the exact article.  Do not post to your front page.  In general, if people don’t see what they expect when they click on a link, they will click off very fast.  My observation is they will not navigate around your site to look for anything.  My rule of thumb is the title of the web page is the title I put in the forum link. 

4)    Don’t expect users to navigate around your site.  I have found by comparing pages from my “Driven” traffic, that less than 20% of the users look at the other articles on the site.  I have left several web pages unpromoted as an experiment, and they range from 60-90 views, where my top promoted pages run 500 views.

5)    Don’t link images and animations from other sites for presentation.  Or at least keep it to a minimum.  When you do this, your site is now beholden to someone else’s site.  Which may or not may not be up to snuff performance wise and can cause considerable delays.  Extreme examples are news sites with 30-50 picture links on the side.  All of them must load before you can read the second paragraph of the article that you are there to read.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a technique to populate your content with commonly searched keywords that will attract the search engines and present your page on the top 10 selections.  A keyword is a word used by a search engine in its search for relevant Web pages.  Your blog entry should be sprinkled with the keywords that someone would use to find your blog entry.  Keywords must be inserted in such a way as to look natural to the naked eye.  Just lists of words will be rejected by sophisticated search engines and by the naked eye.  Important Keywords should be used multiple times for validation. 
One of the techniques I use that exploits keywords is writing up the units I am fighting with and against, and then referring to them often in the text.  So with “Great Expectations”, Steve Turn’s German 326th Infantry division is mentioned 4 times.  So someone searching for that division might find my page. 
But let’s face it; unless the keywords are an exact match as the title, you have little chance of a Flames of War Battle Report hitting the top ten results of any search.  That being said, my venerable article on Panzer Grenadier-Division Grossdeutschland is #10 in a Google search, while my 9th Panzer Division article is #3.
In general SEO techniques do work to a point.  If you are interested doing content for hire or are running an actual business with an online presence, then you must understand how it works.  Ignore the propaganda promising you top placement using just SEO techniques.  That is just so much hogwash.  You need either advertising and forum traffic to drive a web based business.  But a properly crafted page with careful word choices will put you miles ahead of pages that don’t practice SEO.
If you are interested, you will have to do your own SEO research.  It is beyond the scope of this document.