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10 Blogging Tips from a Web Nerd

blogging tips for writers from a nerd

Whenever there is trouble, I am Writer Girl!

But during the day, my Clark Kent identity is that of a mild-mannered web designer/marketer at Vansant Creations. And while I will never forgive myself for quitting writing for thirteen years just so I could do things like eat and have a roof over my head, being a professional nerd does give me some insight into the more nerdy aspects of blogging, which I shall share with you, because if you’ve made it this far, there is a pretty good chance you’re a blogger.

1. Decide why you are you blogging.

Nothing gets done really well if you don’t know why you’re doing it.  You need to decide WHY you are blogging before you can make intelligent decisions about things like how to best setup your blog, SEO, or how to be found by your target audience.  Deciding why you blog doesn’t require any nerdy, zen-like advice, but I wanted to start here so you can apply all the following suggestions in some sort of useful way, and not willy-nilly like a wild Comanche.

Some reasons you might be blogging:

  • You like to write, and you really don’t care if anyone reads your stuff.  (You’re totally lying to yourself about that second part, but “I like to write” IS a good reason to write.)
  • You want to become a famous blogger/writer. (OK, now you’re starting to be honest. See? Doesn’t that feel good?)
  • You want to become a RICH and famous blogger/writer. (note: there is a BIG difference between this and the last option. Hint: it’s the word “rich.”)
  • You want to share your thoughts with a community of like-minded people.
  • You’re a mommy, and they made you start a Mommy Blog before they let you leave the hospital with your baby.

Take a moment to ponder your reasons for blogging. If you want followers other than your family, your friends and the uncomfortably sincere girl who started talking to you in the checkout line last week, you might want to employ some of the following nerd-approved blogging ideas.

2. Research your blogging platform.

I’m not going to go into details about what blogging platform is best, because that is a whole article unto itself. There are quite few to choose from, including WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad, blah blah blah. The main thing you need to keep in mind is that any “free” service you use is going to limit your ability to control it. So, if you have grand plans for your blog, find a nerdy friend and self-host WordPress or some other open-source program that lets you hack away at as needed. This gives you THE POWER to do anything you want (improve search engine optimization, add new ways for people to follow you, change themes, add shopping carts, etc.).

I understand self hosting requires a little money and the ability to edit the more mysterious parts of the system. Cheap hosting is fairly available; installing and tweaking can cost anywhere from almost nothing to a lot, depending on your needs and the conscience of the person you hire. I understand if you want to go with a free option. I’m just saying, there will be limitations. And transferring two years of postings to a new system once you decide you need more flexibility might be difficult.

3. Use a real domain name.

Get a real domain name. You can do this for almost nothing per year, and “myblog.com” is a lot easier for people to remember than “myblog.blogger.com” If you blog about a particular topic, say “goat cheese,” for example, try and get those keywords in your domain, like “GoatCheeseKing.com.” Google and other search engines LOVE seeing keywords in a domain and will pay more attention to you and possibly ask you to the prom.

Why did you call your blog “Kid-FreeLiving.com” when you don’t really write about not having kids?

Well, because “AmysCollectionofStuffSheWroteOnaLotofDifferentTopics.com” was taken. That’s why.  Thanks for bringing up that old wound. You’ve got a real mean streak.

4. Make it really easy to subscribe to your blog.

I read a LOT of other bloggers.  Some because they’re helpful, some because they amuse or amaze me, some just because they’re beautiful people. But that’s good, right?  I am who you want reading your blog; someone who will come back week after week. Sadly, I can’t tell you how often I go to someone’s blog, enjoy it, and then can’t find a way to subscribe to it. Sure, there may be an RSS feed link, but I don’t use RSS. Does that make me lame? Maybe. Maybe I’m rubber and you’re glue and whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. But does that mean you want to alienate everyone who doesn’t aggregate their content through RSS?

Email works best for me. I’m psychotic about NOT having email in my inbox. So if your “new post” notification shows up in my email, I’m going to read it, if for no other reason than reading it means I can delete it from my inbox. I know that about me, so I sign up for email notification at every blog I like.

Everyone has a different preference. Some people want email, some want Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS… Make them ALL available. Every person who visits your site has their preference, or at least a first and second place preference. Don’t make life difficult for any of them.

To combat my inability to subscribe to sites I like, I’ve gotten a FeedMyInbox account. This service allows me to add 5 URLs to email for free, but after that, I have to pay. Right now I’m still in the $5 per month for 25 URLs range, but wow, I wish I didn’t have to pay to read your blog. Or if I do have to pay, I’d rather pay YOU, not a service. After all, you’re the one doing the work.

5. Make it easy to comment.

I’ve been to about 10 out-of-the-box Blogger-based blogs on which I wanted to comment, but in order to do so I needed to have a Google account, an openID, or know my blood-type and number of ear hairs my Uncle Joe possesses. I do have a Google account, but I like commenting with my URL. Then I get to let YOU and your readers know who I am, just like you get to let readers know who YOU are when you comment on my blog. It’s a little selfish, but in the long run, it works for everybody. For this reason I’m a big fan of CommentLuv which does everything but give commenters a backrub and a cold cocktail when they comment on one of your posts. Consequently, they hopefully come back again.

Don’t fool yourself – not everyone who comments on your site is a HUGE FAN. Some of them just want a backlink and the vague hope that someone else will find them. Don’t punish them; encourage them. (unless their comment sounds something like “wow your blog is helpful so, I will write that down Buy cheap cars here.”  Don’t encourage those people.) But the other, real visitors, selfish-reasons or not, help make your site more attractive to new readers, and maybe, just maybe, you can convert a self-serving blog marketer into a loyal reader.

6. Stop Spammers.

Get a good spam system. I use Askimet on my self-hosted WordPress blog and VERY rarely does a really spammy comment get through. If Askimet even feels the presence of a little blue pill mention, it tells me to approve the comment first. This saves me hours of cleaning. A few good spam bots can turn your lovely blog into a nightmare of advertisements in less time than it takes to confuse a Kardashian if you don’t have some sort of system in place.

7. Make it easy to Like, Tweet, Stumble…

Add the ability for people to “like” or “+1″ your posts on Facebook and GooglePlus, or tweet posts to their friends using Twitter, or suggest an article to StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit — all these sites have button codes you can put on your site to let people tell the world they love what you wrote.   The easier you make your material to share, the more often it will be shared.  I get bursts of hits ranging from 100 to 10,000+ a day when a story takes off on StumbleUpon or Reddit. But beware, Reddit really hates it when you submit your own stuff and the Nazis there will ban you if they think you’re being too self-promotional.

In addition, be sure to make it easy for people to follow your whole blog on Facebook, Twitter, Networked Blogs, Google+ and the like.  Giving you an individual post shout-out is one thing, liking your whole blog will keep you in their circle of awareness for all future posts.

8. Think about keywords.

Every story needs a title. But before you call your story about pit bulls “Rocky’s Day,” think about what that title means to a search engine. Absolutely NOTHING. If someone is searching for articles on pit bulls, there little chance that Google will spit out “Rocky’s Day” before it suggests “10 Things about Pit Bulls” or “Pit Bulls are Awesome.” (Ok, so that last title is a pretty lame, but you get the idea.) USE KEYWORDS in your titles that will help the search engines find your posts.

Right now I’m getting a ton of hits on probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever posted; a short comment on Members Only Jackets:  Fashion is Fickle: Members Only Jacket. Granted, this isn’t traffic that is going to turn into anything for me, I’m not selling jackets and I wasn’t exactly at my best that day, but clearly, I’m showing up well on some search engine for the keyword phrase “members only jacket.” I guarantee you it is because that phrase is in the title.

And now that I have LINKED those words to another page that HAS those words, I probably just increased my creepy Members Only Jacket power. Great.

9. Focus on a topic… if you can.

Not everyone has a themed blog. But if you do have a theme, run with it. If your whole site is about chickens, you will get a LOT of chicken lover traffic. And if you use the phrase “chicken lover” a lot, you may get a lot of really creepy traffic. The point is, a theme makes it easy to identify and attract your audience AND search engines.

So, Amy, why do you write about a million different things, with no apparent rhyme or reason?

Because I just don’t feel passionately about one thing that I want to write about every day, and I suffer the consequences. I’m just self-destructive that way.

10. Be clean.

There are WAAAY too many books telling people they’re going to get rich blogging. Chances are really, really good that you’re not.  So before you put the 10,000th Google AdWords block on your site, think carefully. Do you want to make $5 a month from people mostly accidentally clicking on your Google text ad? Or do you want people to read your blog? If you hammer a theme, maybe ads like that will work for you over time. If all you do is write about Teflon pans,  Google can see that and give you really targeted Teflon pan ads. But if you write about a lot of different things, the ads’ personalities become a little more Sybil-like.  Readers don’t want to be bombarded by ads promoting cheap air fare to Florida when they just came to read about your orange pound cake recipe. You may make 2 cents, you may lose a reader.

I’m not saying don’t ever advertise, but be sure it works for you (mess and money in good balance) and try not to clutter up your site so much that people run screaming instead of staying to read. Use your space wisely.

And while we’re at it – MAKE YOUR SITE READABLE. I’ve been to a few blogs that I wanted to read, but the “kooky” font and crazy background made me dizzy.  We get it. You’re nutty. You’re also unreadable.

KEEP YOUR BLOG CLEAN.

Bonus #11! Stop waiting to be discovered.

If you’re blogging because you want to be a paid writer, start sending out queries. Buy a 2012 Writer’s Market and pitch ideas to magazines. Send your work to Literary Journals and contests. Find sites online in your vein that accept submissions and submit. Don’t just blog every day and wait for the right people to discover your talent.  As talented as you may be, you’re not a teenage Cindy Crawford detasselling corn about to be caught on camera and shot to super model stardom. Even Cindy Crawford wasn’t Cindy Crawford. She was INSANELY LUCKY.   American Idol and X Factor find 30  people per show that COULD become famous, but most won’t because talent is only part of the equation. You have to work for it. You have to promote. And even then, you STILL have to get lucky.

Don’t be discouraged if you are short on time. Even if you only send out one thing per quarter, just do what you can to get where you want to go.

It still may never happen – but at least you can say you did more than cross your fingers.

 

If you’d like help cleaning up your blog, feel free to contact me at my day job at amy@vansantcreations.com or use this form or visit my site at http://www.VansantCreations.com. Or just say hi. Or say something in the comments below. Hello? Please! Someone talk to me!! I mean, ahem, whatever. It’s cool.

Amy Vansant

Voted Funniest Non-Mommy Blog by a Bunch of Moms I Got Really Drunk.Amy has been finding creative ways to make no money since high school.

38 Responses

  1. Duncan

    I can’t wait to find out how many people found this post by searching for “chicken lover”!

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  2. Abby

    Great post, but it’s official–I do everything wrong when it comes to blogging. I’m not self-hosted and have no idea how to do that, as I know nothing techy past “publish” and “Cntrl + Alt + Del.” I don’t do SEO and I don’t stick to one topic. Because I’m not self-hosted, I don’t have fancy networking/comment things other than FB and Twitter, so I guess I’m basically writing to myself. However, I do have an email subscription option, so I have that going for me.

    Now I feel defeated and in need of an Extreme Blog Makeover (well, any type of makeover, actually.) But those things cost money, which is in short supply ;) But at any rate, I have long since given up hoping to get “discovered” and instead use my blog as a creative outlet to connect with other people. While I would love to blog “for a living,”–a paradoxical statement if I’ve ever typed one–I also know that most of my time goes to actually making a living 40+ hours a week.

    Sigh…the solution is obviously for me to move in with you, go on “X Factor” and start drinking copious amounts of wine before commenting on “big” blogs while I wait to be discovered. Or I could shut up and read your post again.
    Abby recently posted..Trick-or-Tofu Treats
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    • Amy Vansant

      You, (as you know), STILL have a very popular blog with tons of comments because you have the thing the nerd stuff can’t help – an entertaining and likable voice and talent. This stuff helps, but if you’re not entertaining and don’t write well, all the optimization in the world can’t help. You’ve got the hard part covered by nature! :)

      And if you moved in with us “drinking copious amounts of wine” is just a given. :)
      Amy Vansant recently posted..Everyday Things that Mock Me – Loofa Mitt

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  3. Jessica

    So I was told this was the place to go about a Members Only Jacket…?
    For realsies though, this was a great post. I’m still kind of a newbie blogger so any help I can get it much appreciated. Plus I like that fact that even though you just verified some significant things I’m doing wrong, you did it with humor and class and for that I applaud you. And love you.

    But seriously, about that MO jacket…
    Jessica recently posted..Prophetic Wings

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    • Amy Vansant

      Ha! Thank goodness I’m DROWNING in Members Only Jackets here… Thank you for taking things the way I intended – just “good practices.” I’m guilty of not following my own rules quite often!
      Amy Vansant recently posted..Cassette Tapes from the 80s

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  4. Courtney

    Loved this post. I’m also pretty new at this, but I’ve really enjoyed writing and it’s super cool once you realize that people are actually reading the stuff that you write! I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to blogging.

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  5. Jessica

    Thanks! I enjoyed this post. My greatest challenge is that I am stuck with the freebie options of WordPress. It’s not bad but like you say, limiting. As much as I’d like to self host so I can have more freedom, and purchase my domain, I just can’t justify the expenses right now. I’m hoping that if I continue for a full year, that by that time (or sooner if I’m lucky) I can work something out with the budget and that it won’t be too painful to try to transfer all my past content. Although, I’m pretty sure deep down that it will be a huge PITA and I’ll be tearing my hair out when that time comes. I also need to get my focus figured out. When I started the blog I had a little different angle in mind (the kid free thing) and that’s what my blog is named for. But since then, primal living has become a prominent topic (usually through food/recipes) and I really don’t talk that much about not having kids around. Ideally I’d like to have a clear focus (at least with myself) when I purchase a domain so that it accurately reflects me the way I’d like.
    Add your Twitter:

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    • Amy Vansant

      I started the same way. I don’t think I even finished one kid-free blog before I realized trying to talk about “not having kids” either sounded mean, or boring – or worse – first one and then the other. So… I’m not sure if I even got one real “kid-free” post done. Instead it became a symbol of having the free time to do other things… and then finally just whatever I felt like writing about… and then relaunched my professional writing… But hey, it’s kinda catchy… :)
      Amy Vansant recently posted..10 Blogging Tips from a Web Nerd

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  6. lafemmeroar

    I love this post especially #8. My blogging platform makes it easy to do what you’ve listed–I just need to do them better. Like you I write about various topics. And while I initially set out to reach women in my blog I’m surprised that men make up about 30-35 percent of my readership.

    I do hate the Spammers. Since I moderate before publishing comments, I get a kick out of reading the spam comments before deleting them.
    lafemmeroar recently posted..Holiday Gift Ideas: Taser Gun for Parents

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  7. Lance

    If a robot isn’t programmed properly then it becomes a life of stubbornness and sadness. I don’t self host, I don;t even think about money or fame or whatever else there is. I do promote on twitter. I do talk to cool writer types like you and others. Basically I write for myself. I hope the 30 to 40 of you who grace my corner of the innerwebz on a daily basis like it and pledge your undying loyalty forever and ever.

    I think My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog is easy to read and comment. It’s also easy to dance to.

    Good post, robot sister.
    Lance recently posted..“Girls Are The Bunk”

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  8. Jenny

    Wow, I’m not only needing to re-think some things, but I’m needing to look things up and read tutorials! I had no idea how much I could be doing. Thank you so much for putting this list together. I’m changing things on my blog as I speak!!
    Jenny recently posted..Cause a House needs Style too!

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  9. Ruby Wildflower

    *Struts in wearing a cape*. Rightio b1tches… sorry I’m late, what’d I miss?
    Great post. Nice to see I do pretty much EVERYTHING incorrectly in regards to blogging. But really, would the likes of me do it any other way? Course not.

    I love that Lance’s (commenter above) blogging intentions are so pure. Me, well I just want millions of you buggers to read my magic words and spend your days lavishing praise and gifts upon me to bolster my ever-wavering confidence. I would also like a husband but ya know… wevs…

    Anyhoo… here’s my much, much less eloquent post on why bother to blog.

    http://wp.me/p1sOZO-iH
    Ruby Wildflower recently posted..Facebook Page

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  10. Tracy

    Oh the dreaded topic/theme. My blog serves as pretty much my only creative outlet for a woman who’s worked at the same totally non-creative job for 15 years. The last thing I want to do on my blog is limit myself to only writing about one thing. I realize this limits my readability, but c’est la vie. So I’m with you on writing about whatever the hell you want!

    I’ve written a couple posts about not having kids, but I don’t feel comfortable focusing on it either. There’s all kinds of things I don’t do, but I don’t write about them. I don’t write about how I don’t play basketball for example. I wrote the no kids posts in response to feeling isolated in a world of parents, got a few supportive comments, felt better and think I’m done. Until the next time I get pissed about it…

    I’m fixin’ to switch from free to self-hosted WordPress. And I’m terrified. But it’ll get done eventually.

    I think it’s easy to subscribe, like, comment, etc…to/on my blog, one of the things I’d like to do is get all that stuff to be visible without having to scroll.
    Tracy recently posted..Photo Friday: Baby Sale
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    • Amy Vansant

      Need any help, just let me know! I just transferred a site from wp to wp.org and it turned out to be fairly easy, much to my delight.

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  11. Pat Hatt

    Tons of wonderful tips here, damn fine work. I employ many of them and just blog for the heck of it because I’m crazy and want the ideas out of my head, wait the rich part sounds good, maybe I should think about that more..haha.

    The main thing I hate is going to a blog and the thing takes 15 minutes to load, then another 15 minutes to leave a comment. Take the 1000 google adwords and shove it, is all I say.

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  12. Colin

    I found your site via the “Pay It Forward” list, and since I have already enhanced my blog with sharing/subscription options based on your recommendations, I figured I should say thanks! Feel free to drop by some time–but bring some milk punch. :)
    Colin recently posted..Pay It Forward Blogfest

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  13. Amy Vansant

    You’re welcome! I missed that pay it forward thing – by the time I figured out what it was it was too late, but was surprised (and happy) I was on the list! Couldn’t figure out how I got there, though!
    Amy Vansant recently posted..If I Had Super Powers

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  14. SarcasticNinja

    Just getting into this whole mysterious “blogging” world, this was really helpful! Thanks for the advice–looks like I’ve got a lot to do/learn in the long run.

    In the meantime I will have some more wine and look at more paintings that are apparently the result of the artists’ slow and painful lead poisoning. Hey, it’s a focus…
    SarcasticNinja recently posted..Temptation Is A Hollow Fish-Hat Circus

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  15. Kristen

    Just found your site and absolutely love your writing style! I will be here regularly. I enjoyed reading your blogging tips and cracked up about the spam.

    Thanks for continuing to write!

    P.S. I wonder if our mothers share guilt-trip tips?

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  16. Deb

    Some great tips, Amy! I think the whole ‘keep it clean’ theme is best because whenever I go onto a blog that has a black background with white font or crazy fonts — I leave. I can’t deal with a “busy” page. I like black text on white mostly. If they decide to design the place around where the text is — fine.

    For me, blogging is enjoyable. Well, it should be. I got so caught up in the SEO mess and the “promote the crap outa’ yer’ blog” to get noticed that I lost interest in writing altogether. Ever since I’ve stopped plugging so much, I have gained my contentment back with my blog.

    I DO agree 100% that if you do want to become a paid writer, to get the Writer’s Market. BEST idea ever. And, if one or two say no, someone will or ‘may’ say yes. Don’t ever get discouraged is what I say. I just thank God for my side freelance jobs. ;)

    Thanks for posting this! I know this was from —Oct? But I love reading your stuff!

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  17. Amy Vansant

    I did it for the love and writing, then I got caught up in the SEO, and now I think I have a balance… I think… maybe…

    And see, sometimes when you think something is forgotten you get a “post old posts” app that tweets old stories and they have new life! There’s a little love and a little SEO. :)

    And Writer’s Market is a MUST! Now I’m waling around ticking off Agent’s Market to find one for my book. All those things are super handy.

    Thank you as always!
    Amy Vansant recently posted..Wine Cartoon

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