Is it worth it to have a personal website?

I had just graduated from journalism school when I started up this website.

I’d had a few other blogs and written for a few websites, but I knew that I needed something with my name on it to become the world’s foremost Matthew O’Mara.

Seven years later, I find my website languishing in a state of perpetual whatever. New articles get zero views (almost zero), my short stories go unregarded (I’m never gonna win that Hugo Award), and older articles are doing far better than any current content.

All that aside, I thought it time for a meditation on my personal website to see if it has really been worth all of the effort in those early days and the lack of effort today.

To the three people who read this, I love you.

Why a website?

Personal websites act, mostly, as landing pages with links to articles or examples of past work, which is useful only to employers who search up “Matthew O’Mara Toronto journalist felonies” for job interviewing purposes.

Neil Gaiman was the first person I thought of.

When I started up my website, I was still writing for Post Arcade and Post Media used WordPress, so it made sense as a content management system. I had also used Blogspot for a time and also Tumblr, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore.

I wanted my website to be a place where I could easily write content that wouldn’t have fit in with the other places I was writing for at the time.

Thus, http://www.matthewomara.com was born and started with a bang.

In my first year, I published 47 posts, had 2,772 views, and 1,457 visitors.

Two years later, I published 74 posts, had 55,583 views, and 41,408 visitors.

And so far this year, I’ve published 0 posts, had 10,086 views, and 8,370 visitors.

It’s like a rocket that’s reached its parabola, remembered it never learned math properly, and plummeted to the ground severely disappointing an unnamed Silicon Valley CEO.

What happened? Well, work happened.

***

In 2013, I began working full time as the editor of a community newspaper in Toronto. The job took up a lot of my time and even though I was able to write a lot sometimes it was a struggle.

Then in 2015, I switched to an even busier job.

As work became a priority, my interest in keeping this website waned and it’s suffered ever since.

Could I write more? Yes.

Will I write more? I don’t know.

It may sound juvenile, but views really do encourage you to do more and if you lose momentum it can be hard to get back.

In order to get views, you need to be posting at regular intervals to get return readers. You also need to be really visible on social to drive people here, but why would I do that when a single Tweet, which requires a fraction of the effort of an article, can get more impressions than any of my articles get in views?

It’s a conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some good examples of those encouraging stats I was talking about before.

High-performing posts

As I mentioned far above, 2015 was my best year and many of the articles on this list come from then. That year, I wrote 74 posts. The year after that, I wrote 18. Content really is king when it comes to attracting visitors.

Here are some stats from my website below:

These stats go all the way back to the beginning of the website in 2013.

A series of reviews I wrote about Wayward Pines performed really well on the website. The combination of the 2015 television series plus general interest in the series had a lot of people looking for reviews on the books.

Over the last few years, an article I wrote about calculating the how long it takes to play a day in Stardew Valley has also done really well.

Views ramped up in 2019 almost doubling in views from the previous year (5000ish to 10000ish). Keywords like “Stardew”, “Time”, and “Math” are likely a reason why people are able to find it when they search up something like:

These are some of the search terms that WordPress has found that have referred people to my website.

“How ling is a minute in stardew valley” when searched up verbatim has my website as the second result below the official Wiki page.

The third article that’s surprising was a piece I wrote about Ghostwriter, which was a television show from back in the day. The majority of the views come from Something Awful‘s forums, but since you have to pay to gain access I don’t know if they’re being nostalgic or talking smack about my article.

Finding out the sources of where your views are coming from isn’t necessarily useful, but it is interesting. Back in the day, I used to work on a website with some people and we’d post articles to Reddit from various accounts. That helped us rack up a lot of views, but flagrantly self-promoting.

Another insight is that the articles that have done the best are examples of evergreen content, which is content that lasts beyond a single day’s events.

Reviews, commentary, and analysis are great examples of articles you can write that will continually bring people onto your website regardless of when you wrote them. It’s also important to use very specific keywords in your titles and in the headings within your article.

For example, if I was going to write something about Harry Potter today, I’d write something like, “J.K. Rowling is a horrible, transphobic person who has made me rethink how much I’ve written about her book series” … yeah.

Comments

Comments have been consistently interesting throughout the entire time I’ve owned this site. Just today, someone wrote a comment on one of my first book reviews I wrote.

The vast majority of comments are spam and handled by WordPress. They’re usually asking for my contact information, trying to sell me Cialis, or in Japanese.

By far the article that got the most comments was when I invited the Internet onto my website after writing a Smash Bros. review.

To be fair, I did make a mistake in the article by referring to online play when it wasn’t yet a feature. Also to be fair, I was an unpaid intern playing up to 20 hours on each game I reviewed, so I was a little sleepy.

Anyway, I created a post about reacting to negative comments and then that exploded with people writing negative comments. The major difference is that this is my domain. I can control everything about a comment from the backend of the website including whether or not it gets approved from publishing. There ain’t no free speech on http://www.matthewomara.com, no sir! This is a tightly controlled dictatorship.

That said, I relish a challenge within the comments because I do my research when writing articles and can backup what I write; although, my grammar, spelling, and sentence construction could use some work.

Another article that did well in the comments was about how Ash Ketchum is the best Pokemon trainer ever. I mean that’s unequivocally true… but also a pretty obvious attempt at creating a debate within the comments.

Other articles that got a lot of comments were ones that I wrote about cartoons from the past. I found that people often wrote in to see if I could remember a show that they had seen. It was fun to track down the shows and then respond to the comment.

To sum it up, comments good except when touchy Smash Bros. players demanding you remove your review from Metacritic are on your website.

Media

I’ve uploaded roughly 8,800 images on my website taking up about 600 megabytes of my 3 gigabyte limit with the free version of WordPress.

I’ve never really thought about upgrading my plan, but one thing I had always wanted to do was host video on my website.

Way back, I had started doing some Let’s Plays and silly videos with my brother. I really wanted to have them hosted on my website, but the cost of self-hosted videos would have really broken the bank at the time.

I believe if I upgrade to a premium account now, I could use VideoPress to host video, but I’m happy to just embed something from YouTube.

I don’t think it’s necessary to do anything above the free version of the website if you plan to create something like a self-promoting blog slash resume displayer, but if you have plans to commercialize yourself, sell products, or do something more complex then you may look into other plans.

Money

This website isn’t free, but it’s not breaking any banks.

I pay annually for domain registration, which means having my name as the website costs about $24.88 in Canadian dollars a year, so about $200 total, so far.

Was that worth it? I dunno. I think http://www.matthewomara.wordpress.com would have worked fine for me too and I could have saved $200 dollars.

That said, if you type in my full name you can find my website pretty high up in the search results. The results would be even better if I didn’t have the apostrophe in my last name, but what are you going to do?

Back in 2015, I was really riding hard to get access to Word Ads or whatever the equivalent was back then to subsidize this cost. But in order to get ad support, you needed to hit something like 10,000 views monthly.

I’d had some experience with other websites with those kind of ads and at the time you could get some returns depending on traffic, but Google syndicated ads give literal fractions of pennies per view.

The cost of the website is doable, but there are options out there to make ads happen and earn some money. Again, content is important and if you’re not pumping out multiple stories a day or selling things it won’t be possible to make much money from a personal website.

In Summary

I’ve had a lot of fun publishing silly articles on this website and watching what does well. It’s been a great opportunity to put into practice all the stuff I learned in school and the workplace about search engine optimization to create searchable content.

If I had kept up the momentum I had back in 2015, I’m pretty sure the views on my website would have kept climbing year over year, but I was a bit afraid that my articles were becoming the click bait I’ve grown to loathe.

There are a tonne of articles you see promoted on Twitter that are like, “10 People Discovery Channel Hosts Killed in 2009.” They’re of no value to anyone other than the website trying to get a few cents through ad revenue.

I had noticed my own headlines becoming more and more like that, so I switched gears over to book reviews, but then really lost momentum cause books are long, amirite?

I’m going to be keeping this website up pretty much until the day I die because it’s an interesting time capsule at this point. There’s a lot of me in these poorly-written posts from a time when I was really trying to figure out who I was as a journalist (still trying to figure that out to this day).

If you’re interested in anything else about this website, please feel free to comment below and I’ll try to answer your questions.

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