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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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