12 Jul The Learning Curve of ReBranding: How We F***ed Up So You don’t Have to
I don’t think many people start out with a brand concept. I know I didn’t. Like most folks, I was just braving the cliff-jump that is posting your writing for the world to see. Starting a blog can be nerve-wracking …maybe you consider yourself a writer but you edit your writing to oblivion and it never feels “ready”, or maybe you have a lot to say on a subject but you don’t have much writing experience and feel intimidated – either way, the first step is often just to start blogging and pushing yourself to put your blog posts out there.
Wait …branding? What?
It’s not hard to see how a brand concept gets overlooked. Many artists, writers and the like don’t consider themselves brands to start with (which is a big mistake in my book …remaining consistent and having a clear identity in the eyes of your consumers is a huge part of building a loyal following.) And even those who are more business minded, often let it happen organically once they already have the ball rolling …mainly because, geez, there’s just so much to think about when you’re first starting out.
But a solid brand concept is a crucial part of building a following. It’s how your audience knows who you are, what you stand for, and most importantly whether it’s for them or not.
So, story time … my brand ( and rebrand) experience looked something like this:
I’ve always been a writer… I mean, since I was little. I wrote tomes and my mom drew the pictures. I got my BA and MFA in creative writing. Suffice to say I really, really love to write.
I purchased mittieroger.com and began blogging after a blogging workshop that, to tell the truth, wasn’t my style, but it drove me to say if this guy is doing it – why can’t I? I took the plunge with little direction, blogging about travel, mainly telling stories. My first site was a self-hosted WordPress site.
At the same time, I began a guest column on Lyn Fuch’s Sacred Ground & Holy Water Blog as the (truly embarrassed to admit) “Road Babe”. Lyn chose the name for my column because I didn’t have a brand concept. I still cringe to think I let him name my column (which I wrote weekly for almost a year!) Just think of all of the readers I could have carried over if I’d had my own branding concept in place …
Soon after, I started a full-time job as Director of Marketing for Blue Iguana Tequila, which included blogging, creating and managing their social media presence and traditional marketing presence, as well (so, no excuses, ok? I if could blog bi-weekly with a full time job – so can you!). Admittedly, the type of job that I had encouraged me to spend time researching all the latest trends in marketing and blogging.
I quit my job and began freelancing. Oh my goodness, it was terrifying. If you want to read an article I wrote about how I did it, click here. In my new freelance life, I picked up clients that came along via word of mouth and that was the extent of it. No business name, brand or conceptual explanation for my services – just a Jill-of-all-trades named Mittie.
Meanwhile, I decided to get serious about my travel blog and re-vamp. I switched from WordPress to Squarespace and took advantage of their amazingly aesthetic templates and kick-ass customer service. Everything was much easier and looked more professional. No more widgets without updates or compatibility issues, no more sorting through help forums that didn’t make sense to a newbie. (This isn’t a plug for Squarespace or anything; I just wholeheartedly love them and recommend them any chance I get.)
I teamed up with professional photographer, Sean Reagan, and by having spectacular photography my audience grew. My blog flowered – instead of just recounting stories, I began writing articles with helpful tips and info on remote destinations designed for what I imagined was my ideal reader. While my blog’s focus was improving and I gained momentum, I still didn’t make any conscious decisions about branding (as in, what my brand was actually ‘about’ and who I was really talking to). Sure there was a general direction, but no planning and no sense of what made me different from any other travel blogger. I traveled; I wrote about what I wanted. The end.
I decided to get really serious about my blog. Here were a few of the things that were causing me grief:
1. I had not crafted an intentional brand (duh!)
2. My name isn’t the easiest thing to spell or remember (go, weird names!)
3. My traffic sucked and I didn’t know why (details below)
Re:Brand, I finally created one for my travel blog! Girl Wander. I researched and didn’t find anyone else using the name (until later, when I did a better job researching and …oops). A talented friend, Zach Popovsky, designed my logo (which I still love, though the brand ultimately changed). And I began a mission to make my blog more prominent and infuse it with brand identity.
How did I do that?
*Added brand name to all bios and social media pages
*Added logo to website and social media pages
*Added logo as favicon
*Began looking into trademark options
*I committed to keeping a strict blog publishing schedule – 4 pieces of content a week!
* I created a compelling 30 day challenge to get people engaged (I saw great results in my web traffic)
* I gave away a free Ebook to build my mailing list and web-traffic
*I created a community forum which accepted high-quality guest posts
*I published articles with magazines and newspapers referencing the blog
While I thought Girl Wander was a playful spoof on Girl Wonder, I later learned people just didn’t get it. I was constantly referred to as The Girl Wanderer, which drove me absolutely bonkers. More importantly, the name just didn’t stick. I also learned that someone else was using the name (I sincerely hope that it works better for her than it did for me!)
Where I F*@&ed Up
I didn’t spend enough time polling friends, researching, and testing out the brand idea before I went all the way. That cost me a lot of time, effort, and lost network connections when the brand didn’t stick… and people, still to this day, call me the Girl Wanderer. Ugh.
Lesson? Test drive it before you take it home.
While I saw a major increase in my social media following and general brand awareness, my hard work did not result in the increase in web traffic that I wanted. I felt frustrated and deceived that all my hard work didn’t render the results that I’d wanted. Upon looking into my analytics I realized that all of my traffic came from my social media following and I was getting little to no organic web traffic. So, what’s a committed blogger to do? I went down the rabbit-hole of research and SEO and all things sucky about our industry.
Where I F*@&ed Up
My pagespeed, among other things, was atrocious. I needed major optimization, but didn’t really know what that meant. What I learned from my research was that WordPress has more SEO optimization options due to the open source nature of the platform; what I didn’t learn was the cause of my traffic grief actually boiled down to image size. Based on what I learned (I’m sad, currently, about what I didn’t), I embarked on an almost year-long transition back to WordPress, including re-formatting over 300 blogs.
Lesson? Re-size your images. And then compress them. No, but serrrrrriously. You will thank me later.
I re-branded and spent most of the year preparing to launch the new site. Sean and I created a joint brand after working together for 3 years called “Sean and Mittie”. Our brand concept was fully realized! And it stuck. It was easy for people to remember, especially those who had followed along at some earlier incarnation of the blog. The logo, designed by Sean, is quite reminiscent of both of our previous logos, clearly expresses what we’re about, and contains our names which many were used to seeing on social and in articles for mags.
So, yay. At least that part was successful.
But then there was the new website… It was a doozie; I’m not going to lie to you. While you can supposedly export/import a blog, (at least in my case) it wasn’t that simple. It required manually reformatting each blog post. And when you have over 300 blog entires with 10 images or so per post, plus tags, and SEO optimization – you’re talking about a serious endeavor.
My images were a big issue. Sean, being a serious photographer, had given me enormous images in the original blog posts – hence our shitty traffic and horrific pagespeed. It wasn’t his fault, of course, we just didn’t know …and Squarespace doesn’t alert you – it doesn’t limit the size of images you can upload (I think they have a max size of 8 mb, but considering we need blog images of, oh say, 50 kb that doesn’t exactly help), nor did they have any image optimization options in house once you’ve uploaded a monster… or 3000.
So there we were, facing down a re-formatting nightmare and … I won’t do that to you. You’ve come too far to inch through the grisly details. (Of course, if you’re interested in knowing the play-by-play, mention it in the comments below and your wish is my command).
We did a mass batch resize in Lightroom to 300 kb and started rebuilding the blog posts, one by one.
6 months later, we were still re-formatting. We learned that after all of that work our images were still too big, making our site really slow. Luckily, Wordrpess has bulk resizers (we used WP bulk Smush and Ewww bulk optimizer) to get them down to a reasonable size.
But what about our blogging? We mega-lapsed. With the reformatting we’d didn’t want to send people to an incomplete site or continue blogging on the old site. The catch 22 meant we broke …and then broke some more. Still dealing with an array of internal site issues (almost resolved, we feel), it’s been hard to get back on the wagon.
And remember that freelance business I started in 2011? Well I finally decided to brand it and build a website for it: Venture Now! With Sean and Mittie. But, that’s for another article …
Since the transition, our traffic took a major hit. By changing our URL and optimizing many of the blog post URLs, we sacrificed lots of existing links and Social Media promotion. In the long run it will be worth it, but the key point is to get back to blogging, creating amazing free resources, challenges and inspiration so all of you amazing readers will be excited to keep coming back.
Our social media, on the hand, is rocking and rolling and we’re so grateful for that! If you’re interested in learning about how we’ve grown our social media following, mention it below and I’ll happily write about it!
So, how exactly do I succeed at this perilous task? You ask. Here are my tips for you.
*Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Brand prominence and a dedicated blog following don’t happen overnight. Patience, young Padawan. The slow game will render real results in the end. It doesn’t happen overnight.
*Resize Your Images, for Chrissakes!
For real, though. There is nothing worse than putting in months or years of work into a site just to realize that improperly sized images (amazing though they may be) are keeping readers from enjoying your posts. We use Photoshop>image>image resize to resize our images and Photoshop>file>save for web to compress. Free online options, like compressor.io, are great for compressing also.
*Commit to a Blog Schedule and Keep with It
Be a tough boss! When you set a deadline, keep it. By giving your readers an expectation of your publication schedule they’ll be more likely to read along.
No slackers allowed. Work hard; work like you mean it; work like you really care about what you’re doing. And if you don’t, then just quit already. We don’t want to read half-assery.
*Believe in Yourself
If you don’t, who will? Make your writing and your brand stand out by truly investing yourself and your sense of pride into it. Shine on, crazy diamonds! Show us just how amazing you are.