My opinion is that blogging is over-saturated in general. The market is full – everyone has a blog these days and the competition to gain readers is pretty intense. I am too off-colour and thoroughly non-inspirational to ever be a raring commercial success – but I have learned a lot in the 6 years I’ve been blogging. Maybe some of it will be helpful for you:
1. Get off Blogger
This is the thing: when you have your content on Blogger, you don’t have ultimate control of your site. You can’t tweak it easily so that it can make you money, you can’t use plugins that will help you understand SEO better, you can’t do squat.
Sure it’s easy though. I started with Blogger myself and I loved it. But in the long run, it’s like google is handing you a fish which will feed you for a day; self hosted WordPress is teaching you to fish. You’ll suffer in the beginning (and oh, how I suffered!) but you will be so, so much better off in the long run.
2. Get off WordPress.com
WordPress.com fools you into thinking it’s like the self-hosted WordPress.org.
You can’t use plugins with WP.com, you are stuck with their ads in exchange for the free hosting. It’s not a fair trade because your own hosting won’t cost you more than $100/year and you can literally make thousands of dollars from your own site through ads if you are savvy.
But plugins are not all about making money – it’s also about expressing yourself creatively. Want to use a really cool photo gallery? Different share buttons? Want to upload your own themes? Or create community forums? Plugins let you do all that. And WP.com won’t let you use them. Boo.
3. Get familiar with SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. That’s where you make your content so that google will display it when someone searches for something you’ve written about.
I’ve always loved playful titles for blog posts. But by and large, calling a post “skyfluff love” won’t do you favours the way that a post called “3 Things That I Love About My Child With Down syndrome”. You want your post to be boring enough to be caught in the SEO net, but catchy enough to catch a reader’s eye. Not fun writing, I know. But necessary.
4. Learn how to market
Blogging really seems to me to be the fine art of regularly writing short pieces, coupled with relationship building, and generous doses of tech savviness and artistic flair thrown in for good measure. Marketing is showing people what you’ve written in a way that makes it easy for them to engage with. If you have some tech savviness, it can be easy to set this up, but it takes monitoring and work.
5. Know your platform
In terms of blogging-as-a-career, I think blogging is most useful as a platform. Build a connection with your audience through blogging, then moving to whatever else is meaningful for you. Use your blog as a diving board to your book, your movie, your project, your nonprofit, whatever.
6. Pictures are important
Photos can move your blog to the top – they are *that* important. If you like photography, it’s worthwhile to learn how to be a better photographer and how to optimize your photos for the web. If you don’t like photography, it’s not a bad idea to stalk free photo sites to build your own personal stock photo arsenal.
You need photos on your blog, point blank. Good ones.
7. Have clear goals
I think it’s incredibly helpful to know why you are blogging and what you want to get out of it. Is it that you want a large readership? You want friends? You have stories to tell? Do you want money? I mean, how are you going to define success for yourself?
There are no right or wrong answers, but the answers that you give yourself will help you in creating your plan and help you identify areas you want to focus on.
8. Create emotional distance
I have to put this one in for those of you who are like me, very sincere and sensitive and wear their hearts on their sleeve. Man, have I been burned through blogging! Mikey’s had to remind me time and again that while I feel like I know people that I “meet” online, I really don’t know them.
I’m talking about other bloggers in particular – my experiences with blog readers have been overwhelmingly positive (- in fact, it was meeting a reader in real-life that got me back to blogging when I was going to stop because I was tired of having my feelings hurt).
My advice is to keep some space. Trust people, but remember that you really don’t know them, so if they do something stupid it won’t hurt (as much).
9. Listen to yourself first
There are exceptions to every single thing I have written about here. There are some huge bloggers that use Blogger – but it doesn’t matter what they do because they’ve had viral posts, are professional editors and/or write for larger networks or sites. This doesn’t speak for the average blogger.
There are also people who wander around without goals and are blazingly successful. There are people who suck at SEO, who post photos rarely (if at all) who have a large readership. There are exceptions to every*single*thing I’ve written.
So this is why it’s crucial to listen to yourself: people are going to tell you 50 million different versions of how to be a successful blogger (trust me; I read most of ’em). In the end, it’s your story, it’s your blog. It’s your deal, your gig, your show.
If you know your own goals, you’ll be able to roll your eyes at someone telling you how important it is to self-host because you know that making money isn’t a priority at all for you; you just want something simple to connect with your buddies. Or if money-making is your goal and you don’t actually like writing that much, you can smile and shake your head when people talk about story-based blogging.
10. The Useful and Useless….
I love blogging. It’s basically an online version of what I did growing up with my diary-writing. I love connecting with other people, I love stories and storytelling. I love the integration with art and craft. I love how it pushes me to learn and stay on top of developments in this field.
As much as I love it though, I think it’s a sea that is absolutely packed with fish. I think it’s only going to get harder to make a living from telling your stories in this venue, but I think the diving board of blogging-as-a-platform has grown significantly larger.
Sites that I Found Really Useful:
wordpress.org: explains plugins, the forums are fantastic for learning
bluehost.com: superior chat-based customer service
w3schools: for practicing css
google: no, seriously, when I see something I want to do or figure out, I google it – and keep googling until I have an answer. I learned almost everything about this through google
Books that I Found Useful:
- Using WordPress (- can’t buy it? no problem: local libraries carry this gem)
- Professional Blogging For Dummies
- Head First HTML and CSS – this was GREAT; really clear, easy to use and got me – a non-techie – going
Sites that I thought were a big, fat waste of time for growing readerships:
BlogHer: For established bloggers, this is probably awesome. But if you are not established, it doesn’t seem worth it to put their ads on your site, receive half of what the ads yield and then get very little traffic from them.
Any of those Mom-Blog things: there are a ton of them. Huge blogging networks with thousands of blogs participating. I added my RSS feed to all I could find, actually participated in quite a few (and that includes BlogHer), but fuggedaboutit. Trying to get a foothold in those places is like a fish trying to get noticed in a giant aquarium. Or something.
So that’s it, my 10 tips on being a better blogger, helping you learn from my (numerous and gigantic) mistakes. If I’m going to add a PS Tip, it would be to lay off on a new blog facebook page – facebook pages for businesses/blogs used to be great, but now facebook only shows 2% of your audience your content. If you pay them, they’ll show everyone.
My advice? Stick with your personal profile and start putting energy into g+ and twitter.
Good luck! Not that you need it 🙂