For some reason, I’m feeling like I should put everything I know about blogging in one place.
I. Should you blog?
So you think you want to blog, or are interested in starting your own blog. Given how much time this enterprise consumes, I do encourage you if you are active on the web in other ways, to put together a profile page of sorts. You could put up a Squidoo lens about yourself, use Myspace, Facebook, Bebo, Orkut or any of the other 101 services out there, or even have a regular webpage, i.e. a Google page. Just make sure, if you’re creating a profile page, that –
- You have contact information available, preferably an e-mail or contact form.
- You tell the reader about yourself – describe your background, interests, tell a general location, and tell the reader, if you can, what you’d like to learn or what you can offer.
- Pictures & links = good. Think about what it is like staring at a wall of text.
I encourage people to blog – I’ve been pretty open that a large part of education is self-expression and learning to communicate. But blogging is hard, hard work, and incredibly frustrating. Don’t believe the timelines some bloggers will give you of 6 months to a year. It’s possible that a blog won’t take off, that you’ll find some way of keeping your audience small, including being over their heads 90% of the time. And please don’t buy into the notion that “micromedia” is real, that you can provide niche content and be perfectly happy doing so. If you have a blog on crafts, trust me, the Wall Street Journal that weekend will choose to run an entire section on crafts and you can guess where the search engine traffic you need in order to justify the enterprise will go.
Now so far I’m talking about working to get an audience. It is possible to make money blogging, and if you think you want to do that, my favorite post is ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse listing his income sources. I don’t choose to make money blogging – I did it once for fun, and yes, I made a $100. This current blog costs me money, and it has to – if you decide to blog for money, there are going to be deep issues about your credibility, esp. given the conduct of some who make a living blogging. For more: On Blogging, Having an Opinion, and the Quality and Trustworthiness of Your Voice
Another thing to consider when starting a blog – and one reason why I discourage some immensely talented writers who could get published in the mainstream press from blogging – is that the field is way, way too crowded nowadays. You may think of it as an opportunity, but trust me, it’s anything but. Every splogger and bad blogger is taking away attention from you, in addition to the competition you have from powerhouse sources putting serious money into making sure they get found for certain topics or keywords. Honestly, I think the field needs to undergo some trimming before we see more serious bloggers who’ve been hidden from sight emerge. If you go through my friends list, you’re going to find a number of immensely talented individuals getting little or no attention or respect, and that’s screaming that the current state of affairs is not sustainable. Only serious voices ultimately create a serious audience.
- About me: The link goes to Problogger, and you can skim the discussion there. In my opinion, you must have an “about me” page. The web is driven by transparency: think about how you react when you can’t find out just a little bit more about someone you’re reading. Their credibility becomes a serious question for you. You don’t have to provide tons of details, but one thing an “about me” page has to do is state your objectives in a way that will encourage the reader to read your blog. Writing “I like seashells” is no good; writing “I’m interested in beaches and in seashell collections – I’ll bring you links and info pertaining to the latter and explain some of the finer points of various shells” is what you’re aiming for.
- Links: You need to do this often; it is the essence of your voice online. Theoretically, if you didn’t have an “about me,” and your page was only a collection of links, a reader could tell a lot about you from that list alone. Your links are going to be in your blogroll – I hope, if you do start blogging, you start with a community or a team, that you’re not going it alone – and also in your posts, if not defining the content of your posts entirely. The better you blurb links and discuss the content in them, the easier a time you will have on the Internet. The hardest thing is to come on here and write from scratch – what you want to do is make the most of your time reading here, by turning it into content for your blog.
- Posting frequency: I recommend once a day, something on the order of 5 times a week. There are some who say you should post more often, far more often, in order to get search engines to pay attention to you. I think that’s just nonsense – you need quality posts, and those take time, and you need real, dedicated readers. The latter can burn out if you’re posting 3 times a day. But you do need to post regularly enough that you get a solid content “base,” something that can be found by search engines, composed of articles you want to promote, and keep your readers engaged.
III. Promotion strategy
I’m assuming you know what your blog title is, have determined it is appropriate and something you want to be associated with that will help bring in readers. I’m also assuming you might have a catchphrase, slogan or tagline, and have an idea what “brand” you wish to display. Moreover, you know what you want to write about (if you haven’t written stuff already), have a few posts plotted out, and know some bloggers in your niche that can help you get started. If you’re at that stage, go right ahead:
There are two major aspects to this:
- Attracting and keeping human readers
- Getting search engines to bring you readers
I know I wrote about this before and can’t find the post. Before, the distinction I used was active vs. passive, and “active” (tied to 1) beats “passive” any day. I still hold that’s true, but you would need to be exceptionally talented to get every post online to go “viral,” i.e. get people to take an active interest in giving you feedback and promoting it to others. Mass media has made us lazy: we really take the content we depend on – not merely like – for granted, as if it will promote itself.
You’re pretty much at the mercy of more passive strategies: getting your link out there and letting it get clicked on by a person or followed by a spider is entirely out of your control.
What you can control is relating to your readers and potential readers:
- If someone comments on your blog nicely or compliments you, follow it up and keep in contact.
- Don’t be afraid to go to places like Myspace or Facebook and post in forums or groups. In fact, I can’t recommend enough that you find forums you’re comfortable with and start communicating with people there. Remember not to spam them – you should ideally take some time, i.e. a week or two, before introducing your link if they won’t let you put it in a signature.
- Try to make friends on Digg and Reddit as you promote stuff, either your own or others.
- The design of your site is important. It should be clean and not too crowded. Every time you’ve settled on a design you like, complete with your title/subtitle/about/blogroll etc., load the page as you imagine a potential reader coming to your home page would see it, and ask yourself: “Would I want to read this blog?” You’ll notice I made sure “Your blog is boring. Who cares what you think” sits in the left hand corner not terribly out of sight – the purpose of that was to grab newcomers’ attention.
There’s one major thing about promotion you need to know. What you’re doing in promotion is creating a group you can make pitches to. I know this sounds strange – you’re thinking “don’t I just shout a lot, and people figure out for themselves if they’ll come?” Sort of, but here’s how to really think about it – how do you get into something? Do you just go out there on the first sales pitch and buy the first car that sounds like a good deal? Even uninformed people tend to be a bit wary. It takes time to get used to another’s voice and way of talking about things.
So what you’re really doing in promotion, especially promotion outside of your blog meant to refer back to your blog, is creating a group you can pitch your blog to and make loyal readers. If you have 200 Facebook friends, it’s gonna be some time before they start reading you regularly. If a few do immediately, expect that a few will drop away and find some other fad and maybe come back later. You’re gonna have irregular readers that drop awesome comments and wonder where they went. “Active” promotion is only where you take control to a degree.
Onto SEO (search engine optimization). Read these:
The most important things you do are a) title your blog posts properly b) categorize/tag them well c) make sure links you build to them on other sites have the keywords that will let them be found.
Now I’m not the person to go to for SEO expertise. I have way too many useless tags on my blogposts, and my tags – which are supposed to be more specific – seem to be in the same class as my categories. For WordPress users, a “category” is supposed to be pretty general, something like “poetry,” and an entry categorized poetry should be tagged “dickinson” or “analysis” or both if appropriate.
What I do know is that your titles of posts – not just your title tags, as the linked posts discuss – are the most crucial thing you write in terms of getting found. First off, think about what a good title does for a human reader. Yeah, you yourself don’t tend to read things with bad titles. But in terms of a search engine, a title is nearly everything.
To give you a feel for the sort of strategy you need to employ ultimately, let’s try an example. Let’s say you write a really neat post on making a specialized pasta dish. You want the title to be that of the pasta dish, but since there will be a page or two with that title exactly, you need something to distinguish yours. Something like “Adventures with Genovese Mediterranean Pasta.” You’re gonna want to put this under a general category like “food” or “recipes,” and that category is something that’s going to fill up quickly. You should have something like at least a fifth of your total content under a category. Tags should be something like “mediterranean,” “pasta,” and again, only tag things if a few other posts are going to share that tag. Your blog is going to generate “tag” and “category” pages, after all, and you don’t want extra pages lying around that are the same post over again.
Now if you read the above posts, they build off these basics. If you have an image, they recommend you tweak stuff in the image tags so that way the image produces something for search engines to look at. They tell you when creating links to this post to be deliberate in the keywords you choose. They tell you to be consistent in talking about the post on your own blog – always link to it with at least the text “Genovese Mediterranean Pasta.”
If all of this sounds like a giant pain, trust me, it is. Remember, you’re gonna have to research keywords and figure out what phrases you want to be known for before you even tag – or perhaps even write – anything. You know how ridiculous that is for someone who’s a writer? It’s tantamount to heresy. And here’s the other fun part of the puzzle: it took search engines 3 months to even recognize this blog existed. And by recognize, I mean this: yesterday I got 900 or so unique visitors. 74 of them only came in from search.
To wrap up – these are the basics. There’s a million services when you get going that you can sign up with and try to promote with. But ultimately, they exist to build groups you pitch to, and you’re going to want to get a presence on one or more of these services. You’re going to find a lot of them are tough going, but the neat thing is you’ll find people who want to help you and even some who will promote your work. Find enough of them and all the aggravation looks pretty small by contrast.