We’re past the point where “blogging” is new and cool, so everyone tries it. Chances are you’ve tried blogging. It’s fairly likely that you are a blogger yourself. If so you’ve probably had the days, just like any other writer, that you sit and stare at the screen with nothing to say. One of the tricks to being a steady blogger is to really enjoy writing in your blog. Here are some tips I’ve learned that may not make you money, they may not make you famous, but at the very least they should help you enjoy your little slice of the Internet.
1) How Often?
Very often new bloggers have TONS to say, and so they do. Those same bloggers end up three weeks later blogging about the shape of their dog’s kibble, because they can’t think of anything worth talking about. A great rule to follow is to blog as often as it takes to make you feel fulfilled. I’m not saying that to cop out of giving you a rule.
For me, I find that at least once a day balances well between not getting burned out and fully expressing myself. There will be a balance for you too, but you’ll have to experiment a bit to find it. Something I find that helps is to keep a short list of “things to blog about” that you can add to any time during the day. I use Google Docs (I’m at a computer most of the day), but a notecard would work just as well. If you are blogging at your “pace”, and find you run out of ideas, or that you have an over-abundance of them, you can change your pace to match.
The only downside with my method is that very often I write down an idea for a blog post, and by the time I get to blogging the idea seems stupid. I tell myself it was a stupid idea to begin with, and it just took time to realize — but that might just be me trying to console my ego. The point is, find your pace, and try to stick to it.
2) Readership Goals
I blog both here (small audience) and at Linux Journal (big audience), and the two environments are drastically different. I really enjoy both types, but to be completely honest, a big audience isn’t necessarily more fulfilling than a small one. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain level that you want to reach, because admittedly blogging for your wife, mom, and dog alone isn’t terribly satisfying. (No offense Mom, I love ya) The community feeling you get from around 20 regular visitors is really great. Really.
If 20 regular visitors/commenters is about the minimum for a really great blogging experience, how do you go about getting them? Well, there are lots of ways. Most of them don’t work. In the end, the best way is to blog for a while, even without that many visitors (except maybe Mom) to build up some content. While you’re doing that, visit other people’s blogs, and leave comments. Come back when they respond to your comments and comment again. Get involved in conversations on other blogs, always making sure to fill in your URL where appropriate. And even MORE important, when someone finally DOES come to your blog to comment, GO VISIT THEIR SITE! Building a community is a give and take thing. Concentrate on how awesome you feel when someone comments on your site, and go give them that same excitement. Your community will build, because other bloggers will be building a community as well, which will likely merge with your community, etc.
I tried sites where you “earn” visits from random viewers, and while you will get a spike in visits — none of them will stay. Same goes for the big sites like Digg. Yes, you get a HUGE spike in traffic if you get to the Digg front page, but 99.999% of those users don’t come back. Building a community is hard work, there aren’t really any shortcuts.
3) Site Stats
Many people tell you not to bother with hit counters, site trackers, traffic analyzers, etc. The theory is that it gets depressing to see low numbers, or that obsessing over numbers is unhealthy. Look, that’s great in theory, but watching stats is fun. I’d venture to say it’s even more fun when you have a small site, because you can look at individual visits. “Ooooh! I got a visitor from Poland that got here via a Google search on ‘toilet water’!”
I say install some site tracking software. (I prefer SiteMeter) Have fun. Creep out your Mom when you see that she visited 3 times in the morning by calling her and asking what she was hoping to find. 🙂 Watch the weird Google searches that will land people to your site. It’s fun. Enjoy.
4) To Stick to a Topic, or Not
Blog about what you like to write about. Statistically, if you stick to a single topic (knitting? dog grooming?) you’re more likely to draw a steady readership. But if sticking to a topic doesn’t fulfill your writing desires, DON’T DO IT! I’m certain if I only blogged about Linux, I’d have a much larger group of readers. If I only blogged about technology in education, I’d have a much larger readership. Quite frankly, however, I’d rather blog about whatever tickles my fancy. If you’re blogging for fulfillment, DO WHAT FULFILLS YOU!
If you’re not blogging for personal fulfillment, but for cash? Well, good luck. The blogosphere is FLOODED with blogs, and there are very few making money. I sure don’t, but I wouldn’t trade in my website for the world. Well, maybe for the world. But still, I really like it. 🙂
5) Use Photos
They don’t have to be photos of you. They don’t have to be photos of your cat. The sad truth is, however, that we have a short attention span. Pictures are nice to look at, assuming they are in focus and load quickly. Heck, some blogs are nothing more than photos. That’s not my shtick, but it works for some. You don’t always need pictures, but it helps to spice up a blog when it contains some multimedia along with text. Also, something I have a TON of fun with on my personal blog is to hide messages in the “alternate text” or “title” fields in the image tags. The message pops up when a person hovers their mouse pointer over the photo, but doesn’t appear in the blog entry itself. Only a small percentage of your viewers will think to look for the messages, but those that do get a special treat. (And now, I’ve let the cat out of the bag, and everyone will look for messages on my photos — that’s OK, enjoy!)
6) Size Matters
Remember when I mentioned people have short attention spans? Yeah, well. It turns out if you go on lengthy diatribes (like this!) very often, people won’t read them. It helps to break up long blog entries into sections, but the reality is a new viewer will likely not care enough about what you have to say to read a long long LONG post. If you’ve read this far in my post, I’m flattered. Sometimes, you can “earn” a reader’s time by keeping them interested in what you’re saying long enough to read something of length, but if you post novels every day, your readers won’t read them. (This does not apply to actual writers whose blogs are an extension of their professional work — they get the luxury of loyal fans)
And here’s the deal: It’s OK to post something short. As writers we often think that if we don’t have X number of words, it’s not worth posting. Poppycock. There’s nothing wrong with short, intelligent blog entries.
7) A Break is Better than Crap
If you’re burned out and hate the thought of blogging: Don’t. If you’ve already built up a community (no matter how small), you might want to announce your hiatus. Heck, the encouraging comments you’ll likely get will help get rid of your burnout. It’s really a basic rule: If you’re blogging for fun, and you’re not having fun, change what you’re doing. If that means to take a break — do it. If that means to start recording some audio messages instead of writing — do it. If you’re not having fun, address it before you start to hate your blog. Maybe a simple theme change will help make your site feel fresh. I change my whole look about twice a year. Sometimes that change is enough to inspire me all over again.
My last bit of advice is just to write. If you’re a blogger, or soon to be blogger, it’s likely you’re that person (like me) that just needs to write. So do it. If no one but your mom ever reads what you write — ask yourself if that’s OK. It might be. People have been keeping diaries for centuries, and individuals have been writing in private for a lot longer than the Internet has been hosting blogs. If you’re a writer, write.