Every now and then a friend sees my blog and says ‘I’d like to do that.’ And I think Fab! I’m evangelical about blogging. I think it’s good for the soul (usually, so long as people play fair) and fun.
I am not a blog expert. No way. Never will be. But over the past year or so I’ve tried to work on making my blog just a bit more entertaining to more people than just me and My Cat Paddy (he has a warm lap and a captive audience when I’m blogging). I’ve collected some tips that may help you guys who are either new or pre-new. Can that be a word? Today it will be because this is my blog. See, isn’t that cool? You can do pretty much what you want on your own blog. So have a look at these tips and get going! (I’m talking to you, Gemma –who’s-getting-her-Christmas-tree-this-weekend-if-she-doesn’t-get-lost.)
1. What do you want to write about? Look at a site like Wikio for blog niches—parenting, travel, photography, lifestyle… try to stick to the niche. If you want to do more than one niche, start more than one blog.
2. Use a platform like wordpress (.org or .com) or blogger or Typepad. There are other platforms but these are probably easiest.
3. Try to get your own domain name, but if you want to start off with a blogger or wordpress name that’s ok too. Whichever way you go, really think carefully about what kind of name you want to be known as. What describes you or your subject best? This could be the same or slightly different to your handle. Look at lots of blogs in the niche you’d like to write in before deciding. I used to blog under A Mid-Atlantic English because it was a fun way to describe both my accent (after living in the UK for 20 years) and my attitude. But as a name it was probably not the best for driving in new readers. I then chose www.theamericanresident.com because I thought it was an entertaining play on words and describes what I am at the same time. So far the new name has more than quadrupled my visitors.
4. Choose your handle carefully. It might be easiest if this is your handle everywhere. Mine is Michelloui. I use this for my handle on every site I visit. It just makes sense. I have other identities for other business. That makes sense too.
5. Short is sweet. Too short and the reader feels they’ve wasted their time unless all you want to show them is an amazing picture or a funny video. General consensus is 500-800 words, and if you go for the long blog post you’d better make it amazingly informative or entertaining.
6. Use a rough outline. Writing off the cuff can create very ‘in the moment’ posts, but writing with some quick notes turned into an outline will make your blog look professional. Just a few extra minutes spent on your posts will give you more and more readers each time you publish.
7. In Media Res. Like novel writing, start each post right in the middle of the interesting stuff–don’t meander along in a big preamble before you get to the good stuff. This is partly because people skim that first paragraph and click away in seconds if it’s boring and partly because Google also checks this area for keywords.
8. Bullet point or numbered lists are easy to scan. Make reading your blog easy for your readers who have limited time.
9. Spell and grammar check. But forgive other bloggers who don’t. Like me. Well, I do try to spell and grammar check but not always successfully.
10. Link, link, link. Link to other bloggers and link to other posts within your blog. Go tell the other bloggers you have linked to them–it’s nice to know when people like your work enough to link to you.
11. Write about something that will interest people. If you are writing about your daily life don’t expect it to get a lot of attention unless you have a loyal following, a big family or the story is highly relevant to your readers. Or if you can turn the mundane into the entertaining. Some people have that gift and I love them for it.
12. Write as often as you can. Not only is this better for your page rank, it helps you to become a better blogger. And a better writer.
13. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion. It’s your blog, you can write what you want. An opinion makes you real. And a real blogger means people will enjoy reading your blog more. Just avoid too much bitching about life or other people or other bloggers or whatever because if that’s all your blog is, that’s the only kind of reader you’ll attract in the end.
14. Blog with integrity. Always tell readers if you are writing for money or kickbacks. Don’t badmouth other bloggers. Help new bloggers. Use original content unless you expressly state you are writing about someone else’s work (provide a link) or gathering together a lot of other items from across your internet reading (as I am doing here). Respect your readers.
15. Answer your readers’ comments. While emailing them back is one form of answering and it is nice and personal, the rest of the readers miss out on the discussion and you may miss out on more comments. Try answering in the comment section.
You don’t have to publish mean comments from readers, but you may want to publish comments with a different point of view in order to encourage discussion among your readers.
16. Read lots of other blogs. And leave comments on other blogs. Let them now what was interesting about what they wrote. And please, don’t post a link to your blog in your comment. That just looks like cheap touting for business. They will be able to get back to your blog through your comment.
17. Good navigation. You want people to stay on your site as long as possible, right? Make this easy for readers by offering suggestions for other posts they might like, a short list of popular posts, or a brief list of comment excerpts in the sidebar, etc. Archives are good, but not really that enticing unless you show titles as well as dates. A search field is great for people who can’t quite remember a title of a post they liked on your site, but do remember what it was about.
18. What not to have on your blog. Too much clutter. Awards, ads, memberships of different blogging sites, pretty little thingies all down the sidebar (or worse, in amongst posts), distract the reader from content and further navigation around the site. Have a separate page for as many of these as possible. On the other hand… it is really welcoming and part of your ‘brand identity’ to have a few of these things to dress up your site and make it look different from the site the reader has just come from. And you can make some pin money from the adverts.
19. Following and Stats. There’s several ways to follow people, so offer up as many as possible on your blog. You can have an email subscription, an RSS or Atom feed and in blogger you can click ‘follow’ and you’re signed up. If you use the Blogger platform and you’re trying to find a ‘follow’ button on a non-Blogger platform, don’t worry, just copy and paste their website address into your ‘add’ section on the Dashboard part of your Blogger site. Google do a follow widget just like Blogger (I think it’s the same one)—it’s what I have on the side. Don’t stress about numbers of followers. Write good copy and visit lots of other blogs leaving quality comments and your followers will increase.
If you want to know true numbers of followers count your email and RSS feeds as well. And for true numbers of readers, use something like Stat Counter.
20. Twitter. Do I have to? Well, no. But it can be fun and useful if you learn how to do it.
- If you want to use Twitter just to say hello to your group of good blog buddies it works because you get on there, say hello, exchange a few witty comments about life, about what you’re up to that day, about what your kids are or are not doing etc and maybe drop in a tweet about your new blog post. You’ve connected to some people and that’s cool (and for some, it relieves the insanity). You won’t have raised your blog profile because those people probably already subscribe to you anyway.
- If you want to use it to promote your blog (and thus, your writing) you need to be more twitter-active. Organise the people you follow into lists and target those lists for different subjects you may write about, ‘writers’, ‘mums’, ‘expats’, ‘buddies’, whatever. Build up your lists by looking at who other people follow, have a quick look at those people’s tweets, if they look interesting and/or useful, click ‘follow’ as well. Many of them will follow back, if your tweets look interesting and/or useful to them.
- If you want sponsors and PR companies to be attracted to you from your Twitter account never use foul language, never bad mouth other people, never tell dirty jokes. Basically be the person they would want representing them.
- The best times to Tweet blog-promoting/networking tweets are lunchtimes and evenings (if you’re in the UK, then your evening means it’s many Americans’ lunch times).
21. Read websites offering blog tips.
22. SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation. You’ll hear a lot about this. Some people think maybe too much. Put simply, this is making your website more attractive to search engines (like Google). The more attractive it is to search engines, the higher it will rank on their listings and the more visitors you are likely to get.
You can increase your SEO in different ways:
- Use post titles that are searches people are likely to enter into Google, such as Blogging Tips. The fun and funky titles that leave the reader guessing are not ideal post titles. Save that for the chapters in your novel. This is a different kind of writing.
- Use keywords in your first sentence, first paragraph. But remember to use key word phrases and don’t try to stuff the post full of them. Just about six or seven are plenty. If you use too many search engines will potentially mark against you.
- Is there a space in your template for a description of the site? Use keywords here.
- Give your images relevant captions or better yet, alt text if your template allows it. Search engines don’t see images but they see the text describing it.
- Inbound links. These are links to your site from other sources. People sometimes do a link exchange but as with overloading your page with too many keywords, too many link exchanges alert the search engines to too much manipulation.
23. Photos. You don’t have to use photos, and some people are really not into photos at all, but they do catch the eye and help the site look more interesting. If you don’t like taking photos but you do like the idea of using them, go to iStockphoto for the free photos (or you can buy them, that’s up to you) or Flickr and choose the photos with the Creative Commons With Attribution License (this means you can use the photos for free, edit them, do whatever you want so long as you credit the photographer).
24. Network in person. Every time I meet other bloggers at conferences or organised lunches or informal meet ups the one consistent thing people say is ‘how nice it is to finally put a face to a name.’ People will remember you and make more of an effort to stop by your blog after you’ve met them. And you will find other people’s blogs more interesting after you’ve met them.
25. There’s always something new to learn about blogging. Not everything works for everyone, and a lot depends on what your blogging goals are. And of course there are a hundred more Really Useful Blogging Tips besides these! Look at the blogs you like and watch what they do. I don’t follow all these rules all the time, but they’re a pretty good guide overall. I hope this list is useful, and possibly inspiring. Now I’m off to see how many of these I need to start doing myself!!
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(Much of this article first appeared on A Mid-Atlantic English)