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October 20th, 2012
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There is a lot of advice in the blogosphere on how to make your blog better or more popular. I’m not so sure there is a one to one relationship between quality and popularity which many people assume. Sometimes increased popularity is uncomfortable or problematic, whereas increased quality is almost entirely positive. One common piece of advice bloggers give other bloggers is what plugins to use, particularly WordPress plugins.

When I first started blogging I tried all sorts of different plugins. Some were cosmetic, some were social, some added features, some fought spam, some were just crap that made my blog run worse. I still think I have too many plugins installed currently. One area of obvious duplication is recommendations of additional posts to read. In theory this is a valuable feature, it helps users find more content they might enjoy, it helps promote older content, it might even help with search engine performance, but I don’t think I need four different sets of recommendations.

Currently I use YARPP, DISQUS, the Facebook Recommendation Bar, and my DIY solution. Yet Another Related Post Plugin is very popular I used it previously, but it conflicted with some other features of my theme. In particular it caused rendering issues with DISQUS and the social sharing buttons plugin I use. I’m a big fan of DISQUS and have used it for many years, in 2012 it too added a recommendation algorithm. Facebook Recommendation Bar

Facebook is the largest online social network, so when they released a new official WordPress plugin a lot of people rushed to install it. It has a lot of features, many I have no interest in using. I’ve been testing the Recommendation Bar and it doesn’t produce particularly relevant results. It is supposed to recommend material my Facebook Friends like, which for me always seems to be a couple photos I posted years ago. It doesn’t matter what the current post is about, the Facebook Recommendation Bar always recommends the same thing. YARRP and DISQUS consider what post is actually being read when recommending related content. Facebook purely goes by popularity, even if the likes are half a dozen years old.

I never thought too much before about my DIY solution. I just picked some posts that I thought were high quality or that analytics revealed were particularly popular over an extended period of time and added them as links in their own category in my sidebar. I then used wp_list_bookmarks to display five posts from this subset. My handcoded solution does not consider what post is being currently read, but I have total control over which posts get recommended unlike every other option.

Does anyone use the Facebook Recommendation Bar? Is it useful? It seems to recommend not particularly high quality content and worse always recommends the same content, at least my DIY has some randomness.

Update December 2015

I spent too much time in the last few days editing and re-tagging posts in the quest for the illusive optimal WordPress taxonomy. I long ago gave up on the Facebook WordPress plugin. It and JetPack just slowed down post publishing to a crawl. I am definitely running less plugins than I was three years ago. I’ve also made a lot of changes to this blog both cosmetic but I also continue to heavily edited the content in order to make it more useful and professional and possibly even discoverable in search engines.

I’m still not trying to be popular, however I am quite possibly an expert in search engine optimization of WordPress blogs, I’m not Yoast, but I can take a website from out of the top 100 to number one for their chosen keyword and one of the tools I use is definitely WordPress along with PHP, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, social media, and structured metadata. Most Facebook users don’t know that Facebook is built on those technologies, all they want is to share a picture or link with their friends and family, thus it is up to the content creator to make sure they optimize their content for discoverability if not outright viral #instafame.

My post-MBA career has continued to not go well but I have stuck to my principals, I have regrets, I definitely learned a lot from my time at the Sauder School of Business. This blog was started while I was and MBA student, just before I went to China on exchange, as a result MBA and China are two of my five most frequently used tags. I have some optimism for 2016 though I really would appreciate it if my current employer actually did find a better job for me, otherwise it’ll be back to the never ending job search, however for the next few months I have to blog less and study and finally pass the Level 2 CFA® exam.

Now it is time to step away from the computer and go to the gym. Emphasizing the positive and making changes to your life if you are unhappy is ultimately up to you, just sitting alone in your room and writing in a journal or worse a blog is not the answer, neither is social media or popularity.

It is better to be happy than popular or successful.

As always I would appreciate some intelligent comments be left below, if you just want to leave a spammy backlink filled comment I suggest you find greener pastures. I know some websites use the Facebook WordPress plugin because it makes you use your Facebook account to comment. Many blogs/websites have removed comments entirely. Spammers and trolls have taken their toll on online public discourse.  I know Twitter is making it harder to create new accounts because I made one for someone in China the other day. After the initial euphoria died down, I rarely see the Facebook Recommendation Bar running on the blogs I follow, which sadly are all too often hosted on blogspot. Lately I spend most of my time on Pinterest and WeChat and I definitely still prefer Twitter over Facebook and WordPress over Blogger.

For the record I like YARPP the best, though I continue to have my own custom sidebar recommendations. YARPP combined with my carefully crafted titles, sometimes well selected images, and of course an optimal WordPress taxonomy yields some pretty good recommendations, but most webssurfers do not read the entire post, few make it to the social sharing buttons, the recommended posts, let alone the comment section, you can do it, keep scrolling down you just might see a post you absolutely need to click on, it might even have a picture of Chris Lytle getting punched in the face.

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