Expert: Prashanth, Fitness Mantra

#14 of 30

  

About the Expert

Prashanth is owner of Fitness Mantra, a blog dedicated to the latest news on health, fitness and nutrition that also encourages its readers to implement small but healthy everyday changes into their routine. As a full-time software engineer, hobby blogger and most importantly, candid and insightful writer, Chitika is proud to share Prashanth’s confessions of a small-time blogger.

Confessions? Really, did I just say “confessions”? Almost makes it look like I am owning up to a deep, dark secret that had best be left buried for all eternity. The hopes, aspirations and sometimes just plain naive dreams about the earth-shattering success that I hope my blog will become – are these really things I should be making public? But, if self-realization is the first step toward success, then this baring of the soul is a long time coming and who knows, I might actually learn something new when I see this history on black and white. Maybe not confessions, but certainly there are paths I have trod on, things I have learned, failures I have overcome and (admittedly small) successes I have achieved in the past year. For all my trepidations, writing about them might even be a fun exercise. So make room in the confession box and summon the high priests. My name is Prashanth and here are some “Confessions of a Small-Time Blogger”.

A seed is sown “I think I’ll blog about health and fitness”. I don’t even remember now when those fateful thoughts first crossed my mind. But I know one thing for sure: a deep-seated interest in health and fitness far preceded this thought itself and if anything gives me hope that I can achieve at least moderate success it is this fact. I love what I blog about … and I blog about what I love. Whenever I read posts by established bloggers I can feel their passion flow right through the screen. I know I can do this only because I know I like it. But I didn’t have in-depth knowledge about fitness. My desire to learn something about the topic was more from the proverbial necessity of scratching-my-own-itch (or in my case: stop altering my pants every year!) I don’t have degrees in nutrition or sports training – after all having an interest in something does not mean you already know everything about it! So, could I “learn on the job”? Actually, it was only after I was underway did I realize I could (and I still am). My interest in fitness made me set out to find the facts for myself and then share the newly acquired information with the readers. Doing this not only makes it easy for me to refer back to data I probably spent hours compiling together from various sources, but also saves this time for my readers. And the best part? I know the unbiased facts since I refer to and assimilate often-contrasting points of view.

What’s in a (domain) name? For personal reasons I knew wanted the blog name “FitnessMantra”, but the .com domain name was already taken. Didn’t all successful blogs have to be .com? Hmmm… not really I quickly learned – there are many famous names out there that are .net or .org and a few don’t even own a domain name but choose instead to be hosted on the big blog networks (Lorelle and Digital Inspiration spring to mind but I know there are many more out there). When asked if it was OK to go ahead with a non .com domain, a friend of mine with a lot of experience in the blogging industry, gave me this piece of advice: pick a domain name and write. So I did and so it came to be: FitnessMantra.info was born on May 4th, 2006 (the date is special too) and, ever since, it’s been one amazing discovery after another. My thoughts have been provoked, my diet revised, my gym routine turned upside-down, myths shattered – heck, my entire belief-system on “what works” has been uprooted. But if you believe it’s about the journey and not the destination, a few more tales are in store.

Quantity over Quality June 2006 will always be a special month in the history of FitnessMantra. Not because any landmark strides were made in the history of blogging or because ground-breaking research on my part begat ideas leading to the betterment of all mankind. No, nothing that lofty. Rather, it was because looking back at this month will always remind me of an important lesson: it’s not always about the quantity. But first, a little history. For some reason, when I first started blogging, an idea wound itself into my head: posting daily is the surefire way to success. If successful icons like Lifehacker and Techcrunch do it, then surely I must too? And so just a month after I started I decided to make June the post-a-day month. At first things went smoothly – since I had just started the blog, many ideas I had not yet written about were still floating in my mind making for easy entries. When I got more than one idea I could space them out to “fill” the days. But by mid-month and with a full-time job on the side (wait, that doesn’t even make sense – wasn’t FitnessMantra supposed to have been on the side?), I couldn’t find the time to research new posts each and every single day. Slowly, what was meant to be a pure health and fitness blog started to test its boundaries. A story about painkillers? Bring it on. Free nutrition guide e-books? Well it does deal with nutrition, doesn’t it?! I myself could see how my quest for quantity resulted in a few of the writings suffering in quality – although I did manage to stick to my target of 30 for the month. I now know better. If it takes 3 days to research a topic in my free time, then it will take 3 days for my next post. No rush to publish. My readers would expect nothing less.

Stats, Stats And More Stats Sometime during the middle of 2006, the System Administrators of several large site-metrics tracking companies would probably have been put on high alert. Surely those massive spikes in requests for traffic metrics (and that too for the same exact site) had to be the work of an internet hacker unleashing a Denail Of Service attack? But it was nothing every brand-spanking-new blogger had not done when he/she was just getting introduced to the whole new concept of site-traffic: Yes, I was on a stats-roll (and yikes! I am taking this confessions thing really seriously)! Visitors, page-views, clicks, heat-maps, click-through-rates: I was a Walking-Webster of all things site-stats. There were so many JavaScript snippets on my blog giving me so much information about my visitors that at one point I actually considered creating a blog about website-visitor-tracking. But then I realized that the new site would probably have its own share of visitor-tracking JavaScript and my brain entered into an infinite loop and that was when I squashed that idea. But, I learned much during those first few months of visitor information gleaning and finally narrowed down my tracking to just two-three tools which I still use today. SiteMeter ( (I still consider this a mandatory tool for all bloggers) gives me the straight-up data: how many unique visitors, how many page-views and what brought them to my site along with daily, weekly and monthly reports (this is the bare-bones essentials that no blogger worth his salt can live without). Another, called 103bees gives me information about individual page metrics (what is the most popular page, what search-terms people used to get there and so on) and even long-tail data. Keeping these trackers to a minimum has a two-fold advantage: firstly, with only two-reports a week, I actually have the time to read them and tweak my blog to make use of the data. Second, my site loads much quicker than when I jammed in the 35 or so trackers (the removal of just one of which caused my home-page to load 5 seconds faster!)

The Five Stages of Blogging Grief When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” in 1969 little did she know that 37 years later a so-called small-time blogger would, beyond any reasonable doubt, validate her quintessential 5 stages of grief. Yes folks, in the early days I saw it all – all five (and unbelievably in the same order – maybe there is something to this psychiatry hooey after all!) First came the denial: no, that was not just 3 visitors in two days – no way! There must be something wrong with SiteMeter! Anger. It can’t be this difficult; I mean I thought with millions of people online someone would find my site! Onto some bargaining then! Please, if I post everyday (okay, maybe every other day) will I get more traffic? I promise to write interesting stuff – just try me I am sure you’ll like what you read and be a subscriber for life! Oh forget it … depression. Maybe I am not cut out for this – who am I to compete with the big names? It’ll just be me and my lonely little blog filled with fitness goodies that no one cares about. Why do I even bother? And finally acceptance: It is what it is. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day (Sorry; I really tried but those were the worst clichés I could come up with!). I’ll just keep plugging on and doing what I do. Some day, someone will take notice, I am sure.

Show me the money Now, the color palette of FitnessMantra is based on a moderately dark brown, but it wasn’t long before I started to see green: dollars, that is. And at least then, it was all in my dreams. My nights were filled with recurring fantasies of me walking into my boss’ office with a copy of the Wall Street Journal proclaiming me the next big thing in blogging, followed by an “I quit! I am now a pro-blogger!” My days were consumed with thoughts about how I was going to monetize my site. Whether there was content or not I knew my site needed one thing and one thing only: Contextual Ads! Or so I wrongly assumed. Consider: I spend hours assimilating the healthful benefits of low-fat dairy. I look up the benefits of milk and yogurt, describe active cultures and whey proteins and even talk about calcium and osteoporosis. I then warn people to be careful about certain dairy-based products like ice-cream which should be consumed sparingly. I am happy. I have activated contextual ads. I click “Post”. And then I sit back waiting for the moolah to flow in. But wait, what is this I see? Sitting smartly right next to the paragraph that tells people to cut down on ice-cream is an ad for – you guessed it – ice cream! No matter what foods I spoke about, whether positively or negatively, there always seemed to be an ad promoting the product and at one point my site became a huge resource for hypocrisy (and reader-confusion). Over time, different contextual-ad companies came up with assorted ways to forbid certain keywords from triggering ads, but adding all that additional code to my posts (and then crossing my fingers) made me consider what my primary goals in blogging were. If educating the user was that primary goal, then I definitely needed a better way to support my site without hampering that objective. I don’t claim to have found a solution, and I am still experimenting with different systems, but I can vouch for one thing: these days I am seeing a lot more site-palette-brown than green.

Just write (reasonably well) – people will come Darren Rowse once wrote in his popular Problogger blog that a huge majority of blogs are not updated regularly and they simply die a slow natural death. He went on to mention that probably the simplest advice he could give anyone starting out now was this: write (somehow it always come back to this, darn it!). I have always suspected, but can now confirm this biggest lesson of all: site design, contextual advertising, plugins, link-baits – none of these matter if there is no (good) content to bring the reader back for more. Every step of the way I have documented here has taught me invaluable lessons and it’s probably a good idea for beginners like me to go through this cycle to learn what works best for each of us. When I first broached “monetizing” (another of the numerous non-words invented everyday in the blogosphere – there’s another) to the same friend who told me to pick a domain and write, he advised me to never worry about that at the outset. Write. Writing brings traffic. Traffic is people. And people bring money (sometimes directly to buy something, and sometimes indirectly to check out your advertising). So I guess I’ll keep on writing. Maybe the key to blogging success is really just that simple.