Around my home, it is definitely that time of year again. Halloween is just a few weeks away, the outside decorations are already up and work inside our small charity haunt is moving at a fever pitch.
It was at about this time last year that I wrote a post entitled “5 Things Haunting Taught Me About Blogging“, which was a look at some of the lessons I got about life and blogging through running a haunted house.
With another year down and more time to reflect, it seems there are still more lessons to share. With that in mind, here are 5 more lessons haunting has taught me about blogging and how you can apply them yourselves.
1. Your Visitors != You
Though your visitors are probably a great deal like you, they are not the same as or identical to you and will have critical differences both between them and you as well as among themselves. You have to factor in these differences when doing everything from picking topics to write about to your theme.
I got a reminder of this in last year’s haunt when a new “collapsing” ceiling worked exceptionally well on myself, my wife and our crew but failed to get a reaction from most of the visitors. The reason, my wife and I are about 6 feet tall and most of our visitors were a good six inches to a foot shorter, as a result, they didn’t get the full effect. We’re making modifications to it this year to make sure that everyone, regardless of height, gets the desired effect.
So talk with and poll your readers, find out ways they are not like you and figure out how you can meet their needs better, even if you don’t necessarily see the point of the changes.
2. People Don’t React Predictably, At Least Not Consistently
Much of haunting is trying to predict how people will react and then manipulating the environment to get the desired effect. However, for all of the predictions and trials you do, it is impossible to be right 100% of the time.
Two years ago, our first with that particular layout, we thought we had predicted where people would go naturally only to find that a high percentage of visitors got lost and many wound up in actor areas of the haunt. We had to adjust the layout of a room in order to prevent that from happening and make the path more clear.
Likewise, bloggers should spend more of their time looking at what is actually happening on their site, not what they think should be happening. Services like Clicktale can be a real help in trying to find out what visitors are actually doing and where things might be breaking down.
3. The People Show Up All at Once
You know this one already if you have run a site for any length of time, or even if you’ve just been a cashier at a large store, people have a tendency to arrive in waves.
Though it would be nice if the flow of traffic was a steady stream, it rarely is. At the huant, we did over 1/2 of our foot traffic during 2 hours on one night. The rest of the open time was torn between putting small groups through and waiting for the next one.
Site traffic isn’t much different, though there is a baseline level of that a site can expect on any given day, traffic spikes caused by everything from social news to a jump in relevant Google queries drive an inordinately large percentage of visitors. As such, you need to make sure your capacity is not geared toward your day-to-day operations, but geared to handle the busy times too.
4. Advertising is Good But Word of Mouth is Best
It is always important to remember that your best form of advertising is your current visitors.
I get a lesson in this every year as comments from visitors always show that well over half of all the people who came by did so because their friend or family member told them about us. This is in spite of thousands of fliers put out, articles in the newspaper and prominent listings in local event calendars.
Though the percentage won’t be nearly that great for a website, it’s likely that it is for visitors who stick around and become regulars. After all, most search engine traffic simply “bounces” away, indicated by the fact that bounce rates are usually well north of 50%.
If you want a strong core readership, you have to encourage your existing readers to go to bat for you, it’s the best way to build a good audience.
5. You Have to Constantly Adjust
Finally, with blogging, as with most things in life, the only thing that is certain is change.
Last year we were open three nights and it felt as if we ran three very different haunts. Though most of the changes would have been subtle to visitors, they radically changed how the haunt worked. From rearranging furniture in one room to redirect visitors (mentioned above) to moving mats to adjust timing, we never stopped tweaking, even after opening night. This was regardless of whether or not there was an obvious problem, so long as there could be a slight improvement.
Likewise, though you should resist large, sudden changes to your blog, small and subtle ones can make a great deal of different and might not even be spotted by your visitors, even as they are affecting them.
Always be looking for ways to improve and make the changes that you need. If a change doesn’t work, undo it and try something else. Blogging is all about refinement over time, as so to avoid growing dull.
All in all, building a haunted house is no different than any other large scale project one can undertake. However, all projects and experiences have lessons that can be carried over into other objectives.
Because of this, it’s worth taking time after any big project concludes or before it ramps up and see what lessons you can take from it. I usually do this by sitting down with the people I worked with and drawing up a list of things that worked well and things that needed improvement.
This type of honest evaluation is crucial in improving your work and avoiding stagnation. Best of all, it can be a very fun way to relive some great memories along the way.