It’s no secret that high quality (or at least that of perceived high quality) does well in the digital sphere through social shares, inbound links and web traffic. It’s the basis on which the SEO community has turned its attention to content marketing for success.

There are a flood of blog posts around writing content, structuring content, and pitching content but all seem to miss a trend that has become more and more impressive in the results it can harness for digital marketers; technology.

To quote Koozai’s Mike Essex:

“The future of Content Marketing is going to be driven by technology, both old and new, being used in clever ways that complement the core story.”

Until a few weeks ago my coding level was low at best. I knew how to knock up simple HTML/CSS sites, and I could hack apart a WordPress theme with some trial and error (mainly error) but I had never made anything from scratch or written JavaScript but learning about the tech behind content pieces really enticed me to get my hands dirty.

Starting Out

I’ve always got a small notepad around with ideas for content, websites and side projects so I knew the sort of thing I wanted to make. I decided on an idea I had been talking to my girlfriend about around how the English Premier League would look if it was ranked not on points and goal difference, but on twitter followers.

I began to look at how I would get the app up and running and came up with 3 basic steps:

  • Create database of teams and corresponding twitter accounts,
  • Have database update with live twitter follower counts
  • Display database in a simple league table

Sounds pretty simple right?

Getting My Hands Dirty

Armed with my simple roadmap I quickly gathered the teams and their respective twitter accounts and began to delve into the Twitter API to work out how I was going to retrieve and display live follower numbers. This is where my non-developer brain got a bit lost but after a few hours of reading I found a JavaScript library that would change everything.

Sheetsee.js is a JavaScript librarySheetsee JS App, or box of goodies, if you will, that makes it easy to use a Google Spreadsheet as the database feeding the tables, charts and maps on a website. To use sheetsee.js you’ll definitely need to know HTML, CSS and know JavaScript enough to be able to hack your way around.

This all sounds great but the real benefit of  using Google Spreadsheets as the backend database is that it is super easy to use, share and collaborate with, and once set up, any changes to the spreadsheet would be auto-saved and be live on your site as soon as a visitor refreshes the page.

Using the example code that Sheetsee.js creator Jessica Lord offers as part of the documentation and a bit of XPath trickery, I was able to have a scraper that would pull off live twitter follower numbers, store that in a Google Spreadsheet and then push that data to a live application.

The Finished Product

In just a few hours of tinkering I was able to put together a basic Twitter based Premier League table that updates every time a user visits or refreshes the page. You can check it out here.

Twitter premier League

The Traffic

Whilst I was pretty happy with how everything went, this was by no means something I was looking to release as a linkable asset. It’s not the prettiest of pages, it could do with a bit more love in some areas and isn’t mobile friendly at all. Despite this, I shared it with a few friends and my twitter followers to see if I could get some feedback on it.

I got a few comments on the build and a few asking how it was built but nothing really out of the blue. Until I checked my analytics the following day and saw this:

Sheetsee.js App Analytics

I thought there might have been a problem with my tracking code until I took a look at the referrers. It seems that the page had been picked up by the Metro who liked the angle for a news story. Thinking back in hindsight, it was a perfect time to launch something like this, with so many of the top teams not having a great start to the season it offered an alternative for sports journalists to compare and contrast. Add this to the large number of tweets and shares the article and app got and we are really in business…

I’ll gloss over the news angle element (I have a whole other post on the way about Digital PR for that), but it did amaze me how a fairly generic application can generate such good coverage just because of the way it is uniquely displayed.

So whilst you don’t have to be a coder to understand what is happening, the important thing is that everyone in Content Marketing appreciates that this technology isn’t scary. Anyone in content/digital role should be able to grasp why these pages work the way they do, the tech they run on and the technical issues behind the “features” you are requesting from their developers.  Trust me, your web developers will appreciate your efforts.

Are you looking into coding? What are your motivations? How do you think technology will impact on content marketing in the (near) future? Leave a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Learning to Code: How I Got 2000+ Visits With a Basic Sheetsee.js Twitter App

  1. I can’t recommend learning to code enough – it’s incredibly rewarding when you can build / hack together content pieces like this. In my view, it’s an essential part of the modern day SEO skillset. At an agency level for example, it takes pressure away from internal developers to complete tasks such as adding tracking tags, Twitter / open graph tags, webmaster tools verification tags and so on. It allows us to even construct larger content pieces to help with SEO efforts. Tools? Interactive infographics? Anything is possible!
    From a tool background I learnt so much building Keyword Eye. I needed to learn how to use Dojo (a JavaScript toolkit) so I bought a book from Amazon and got started! I’m not a developer by any means (still rough round the edges!) but it’s something I very much enjoy. With anything, the more we apply these skills the better we get.

  2. Thanks for the comment Matt. 

    I completely agree. Once you start getting some experience of working with development languages you soon get the bug. 

    Such a useful skill to have both personally and professionally.keywordeye

  3. Yes, results can be much better when DIY (this also means hard work, which can be enough to drive you crazy) rather than looking for a tool that will most of the time not perfectly meet the need. Without turning into a developer, basic technical skills are definitely required in SEO e.g. regex, scraping with xpath (in google sheets with importXML…), advanced use of a text editor like sublime text… Many tools for marketers actually are technical tools, like Google tag manager (even if Google say it’s not)… For me in the future marketers will need to get more and more technical skills.

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