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Drew Dowdell

State of the Site 2-2-2013

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February 2, 2013 – State of the Site

I plan to do these monthly to give you an idea of what is going on around here regarding site operations. Please bear with me as I work on the format and structure of these posts each month. As always, suggestions, thoughts, and questions are welcomed and requested. I plan to publish these reports on the 1st Saturday of each month.

Operations

1. Server – We changed servers on January 1st of this year. The new server is half the cost for more processor and ram with substantially faster storage. While it has been perfectly reliable, I do feel there are additional performance gains to be made. Our old server was tuned to the hilt, but the hardware under it just wasn't up to snuff. The analogy I can make for you guys is that the old server was an old 455 with every last external performance mod on it like superchargers, nitrous, and cat-back exhaust, but it had worn out rings, bad fuel pump, and leak oil pan. The new server is a bone stock LS-3, performing well in it's own right, but with plenty of potential when I have the time to put into tuning it.

2. Software – The IP Board software we have is currently in transition by the manufacturer. While we are experiencing some bugs right now, I have confidence IP Board will be able to fix them as new releases come out. Expect a few software updates in that regard and when you find them, please report them in the Bugs thread so I can know if I need to open a ticket.

3. Look and Feel – A new look and updated logo for C&G is coming. Those of you who are premium members have seen some of the early beta work. I don't yet have a time line for when any of this will be completed due to other site projects ahead of this. Don't worry, the Gear shape is an integral part of our logo and will remain.

Site Ranking

I am happy to report that since starting on this project at the beginning of January, our rankings have improved remarkably. In fact, I really couldn't ask for a better rate of improvement without spending lots of money. So far, my only investment has been time, fine tuning the way the site operates and addressing problem areas for the search engines. I expect February to be a repeat of this rate of ranking growth with a slowing of growth beginning in March. A large part of the February ranking growth will come from a software fix I installed on the site yesterday. Google was reporting nearly 200k broken links to C&G. While some of those links are legitimately broken due to deleted topics or posts, the vast majority are not. The problem came from an old software upgrade that changed the way our URLs look. Now that the problem has been fixed, Google has to crawl through all 200k links to figure out which ones are good and which are not.

With regards to our ranking verse other sites in our niche, we have not only caught up to, but blown right by one of our targeted competitors in U.S. rank in the span of one month. One of the insides is now on the outside. ;-)

Visitor Engagement Metrics

This is an area I mentioned in my mid-January Site Ratings post where we do very well and for the month of January we completely dominated the targeted competitors. When visitors come to CheersandGears.com, they stick around nearly 3 times as long per visit when compared to Edmunds or Jalopnik, 5 times longer than Autoblog, and 7 times longer than the two big “insiders”. C&G visitors browse an average of 8.6 pages per visit compared to 4.2 for Edmunds and none of the rest of the competition exceeds an average of 2.75 pages viewed per visit. This is likely a major contributor to our excellent 35% bounce rate for US visitors (lower is better), with Edmunds being 10 points higher and all of the others are in the 50s.

Social Media Engagement

This is an area where C&G continues to lag showing almost zero progress since my mid-January post. While William and I both extensively use social media outlets to promote C&G, very few of our posts are shared, re-tweeted, or +1ed. This will need to be a future focus of mine for improvement once some of the other projects have been completed. You can help out in this area by reading the Follow Us thread.

News/Review/Show coverage

We are heading towards a more formalized format for our new vehicle reviews and our auto show coverage. William has already built a structure sheet for us to work from when reviewing cars which I will be using on the car that I just received. (With my schedule I work better if I have a form to fill out).

We will also have a more formalized template for the Auto Shows. The auto show project template will only be partially implemented for Chicago, but I expect to have it fully ready for NYC.

There is a change I want to make to the way our new car reviews are stored in the database that will require hiring a developer. This is likely to be a summer project and I will release more details in a future State of the Site.

Sales and Advertising

At the end of December we were informed by our primary advertising network that we would no longer be eligible to run ads from their network as of February 15th due to a new requirement they implemented that C&G fell below. I began searching for an alternative and we have been accepted into an alternate advertising network due to start February 1st. However, just last week and with no prompting from me, the original advertising network reversed their position specific to C&G and allowed us to remain in their network.

Selling advertising directly remains a goal of mine for C&G and as of the 1st of January, we have the software in place to do so. Once I feel C&G is far enough along with our other projects, the project of advertising sales and marketing will commence. If you have a current need for targeted online advertising and wish to get in on the ground floor, I can offer fully geo-targeted and demographic targeted advertising at inexpensive rates. Please contact me directly at Drew.Dowdell@cheersandgears.com for details.

We also now have the ability to offer products for sale as well as a new subscription software where you can buy a subscription to C&G to browse the site ad-free. Selling products is a far term goal for C&G.

Summary

I am very happy with the progress made during the first month of this project. Almost all of the gains have been made from low hanging fruit, but there is still plenty more low hanging fruit to pick. We are being taken seriously by more of the manufacturers and the awareness and attitude towards C&G seems to be improving nicely. Most importantly, I feel that C&G has both a sense of direction and positive movement in that direction for the first time in a long time.

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Very happy to hear this good news. And THANK YOU again for your undying interest and dedication to Cheers & Gears.

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