ARRC Blog Celebrates its Fifth Anniversary

It was five years ago today (Feb. 27, 2009), that the Akron Railroad Club blog came to life when I posted the first five pages to this site.

Those initial pages contained information about the club and those pages are still here.

Today, the site has 177 pages, more than 1,200 posts and more than 5,600 photographs. And that doesn’t take into account the pages, posts and photographs that I’ve taken down because they were no longer timely or I needed to gain space to put up new content.

When the blog began, I had in mind it being a place to put background information about the club, news of upcoming events, and stories about the activities of ARRC members.

It quickly became apparent that there would not be enough of that type of material to keep the site as active as I wanted it to be, so I began posting trip reports and accounts of outings made by ARRC members and others.

I also added content about railroad radio frequencies and hotspots in Northeast Ohio.

Here and there I would post news items about railroads that serve the region. Within the past year I’ve expanded that content quite a bit and broadened the scope to include news about railroads and other matters in surrounding states.

The blog was created with the objective that it would help the club recruit new members. Some of that has occurred. Sometimes a guy will show up at a meeting and say he saw the club’s blog.

On an average day, the ARRC blog gets between 400 to 500 views by more than 200 unique visitors.

Traffic grew fairly steadily during the first four years of the blog’s existence. There were 16,597 views in 2009, 57,449 in 2010, 87,087 in 2011 and 167,893 in 2012.

Alas, 2012 has been the high water mark. Viewership fell to 162,794 in 2013.

The highest monthly viewership occurred in October 2012 when the blog recorded 23,514 views. Not surprisingly, the highest day for traffic occurred on Oct. 27, 2012, when the site had 4,690 views.

Why that day? Contributor Dan Davidson had sent photographs of new locomotives built by GE in Erie that were en route to England aboard a CSX train that passed his house.

Someone in England saw that and put up a link on a British website. The traffic then poured in from all over the world.

Indeed, most of the times when traffic on the site has spiked it has been because someone posted  a link to ARRC blog content on a website that itself gets a high level of traffic.

Take, for example, Feb. 5 of this year when the ARRC blog had 1,383 views by 930 visitors. On that day, I posted photographs sent by ARRC member Todd Dillon of the Norfolk Southern locomotive that wears a commemorative decal for the National Model Railroad Association national convention set to be held in Cleveland this year.

Someone on Train Orders.com saw the post and posted a link and the visitors came rolling in. That day we had 876 views by 527 visitors.

From what I could tell, the ARRC was the first website to post photos of that NMRA commemorative locomotive even if the Trains magazine News Wire site claimed to have an “exclusive” in showing its images of the engine. Interestingly, the images posted by Trains were contributed by ARRC member Jerry Krueger.

A similar effect occurred when a post by ARRC member Alex Bruchac was posted to a preservation site. Alex had lamented that no former Cleveland city streetcars are on display within Cleveland.

The last such car had been moved to a museum out of state. That post struck a chord with some who came to the site. Several visitors posted comments about it.

I try to make it a point to post at least one item every day. I usually do that shortly after I get up in the morning.

One of the most useful tips I’ve received about blogging came from a former co-worker of my wife. That former co-worker was also the person who introduced me to WordPress.com and help me set up the ARRC site.

She said that blogs and websites needed to be treated like serial publications. You need to regularly put up content just as newspapers, magazines and newsletters do.

I don’t know how many people routinely look at the ARRC site. Based on comments I’ve heard, there are at least a handful of fans who look at it daily or nearly daily.

I know from the internal site statistics that WordPress furnishes that most visitors are from the United States, but every day we get viewers from around the world.

For example, on Saturday, Feb. 22, the ARRC blog had 470 views, which of late has been a somewhat typical day. Of those, 452 came from within the U.S. But there was one view from Thailand and one view from Malaysia.

I can only guess who those folks were and why they came to the ARRC site. More than likely, though, they found the site doing a Google search.

The site is active enough that it often comes up on the first page of results when someone does a Google search.

What has been the most popular content of all time? The homepage has received the most views all time with nearly 260,000.

The post that has had the highest viewship was written by Richard Jacobs and is titled “Coal Trains in Northeast Ohio.” It has been seen 19,000 times. Why coal trains have proven to be so popular is beyond me.

Discounting the home page, Jake also wrote the fourth most viewed post of all time. It is titled “Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train” and has drawn more than 4,800 views.

The ARRC blog will never have the viewership of such sites as Trains Orders.com or Railpictures.net. Those are sites with a widespread national and international following.

There’s a level of prestige involved in posting on those sites that the ARRC blog will never have. It is just the way that it is.

I have no idea how the ARRC blog compares in viewership with similar sites run by one person and/or are affiliated with a local railroad group like the ARRC.

Based on a comment made by the Train Orders.com owner earlier this year, the ARRC site would seem to have a little above average daily viewership.

I could probably increase the viewership of the ARRC blog if I were to create companion sites on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I’ve thought about doing that and I might still do it.

But it already takes up enough of my time to run this site and I’m not getting paid to do it. I don’t derive much, if any, professional benefit to overseeing the ARRC blog. It’s not even among the duties of the president of the club as spelled out in the bylaws.

I do get some personal satisfaction from doing it, particularly when a club member mentions seeing it and when someone takes the time to comment on the blog about something they’ve read. That is what keeps me going.

I also enjoy it when someone emails me to ask a question or to seek to use a photograph that he/she saw on the site. Just last weekend the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Historical Society asked to use some images in its magazine.

I also once got an email request for photographs from an editor of Trains News Wire about the demolition of Nova Tower. That one didn’t work out, but the site posted an item because that editor had seen the ARRC post.

If you view the blog regularly, you’ve probably seen the same names attached to posts and photographs.

There is a small cadre of contributors who send me photographs and postings. The site would not be what it is without their efforts.

Contributions to the blog tend to be cyclical. At times I get three or four contributions and they stack up awaiting processing and posting. But then there are days and even weeks at a time when nothing comes in.

I’ve learned to appreciate the contributions that I do receive and the contributors that we do have.

The contributors do not get paid for their images and there isn’t much else in it for them other than seeing their work on this site.

Generally, I’ll post just about anything that someone wants to send. There was a time when I used to Photoshop images that people sent if I thought they needed it. But that proved to be too time-consuming and I stopped doing it. To twist the saying from the late 1960s, “what you see is what I got.”

I have a like-hate relationship with ARRC blog host WordPress. The site is fairly simple to use once you learn all of its functions and quirks.

It is not user friendly in ways that I would like it to be and like any software company it is run by people who feel a need now and then to change things. Maybe those changes made sense to those who made them, but I usually don’t see the need for change that they saw.

As for what’s ahead for the ARRC blog, probably more of the same. One of my greatest challenges will be ensuring space for future content.

At this writing, the site has used 82 percent of its allotted space. We could have more space if we would be willing to pay for it, but I’d rather not commit the club to doing that.

Therefore, I periodically weed out older content, particularly photographs. Deciding what to remove is not always an easy decision to make.

If you’d like to be a contributor to the ARRC blog, send your materials to csanders429@aol.com. If sending photographs, send them as file attachments. They need to be JPEG images.

Thanks for reading the Akron Railroad Club blog.

Article by Craig Sanders

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