In reading through Pro Blogger today, I found an interesting post entitled Rookie Lessons for New Bloggers, which was a guest post by Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship. As somewhat of a rookie myself, I decided to quickly jot down my thoughts. This soon turned into the following full post which I figured I’d share with you all.
Blogging is Difficult!
There. I said it. Blogging is difficult. Even more so for someone new to online publishing — the “blog rookie” if you will. Sure, there are tons of success stories, and great resources with tons of information. That’s enough, right? Perhaps. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy to sit down and write a successful blog! The process of simply setting up a blog can be intimidating and time consuming, especially if you’re trying to setup a unique domain name and host the blog on a server as opposed to going through a ready made blog site such as WordPress.com or Blogger. We haven’t even begun to write yet, a task which for many, is harder then they anticipated. After an initial burst of energy and great ideas, finding topics, images and motivation can become difficult. And we’re not even to the part of this venture where you have to actually market your blog. That’s right. Sites don’t just take off and become profitable on their own. Along the way, mistakes are made. Lots of them. Yes. Everyone makes mistakes when blogging and anyone who claims they haven’t is lying to you.
So, what are us rookie bloggers to do? Persevere. Work hard. Blogs are made from blood, sweat, and tears – both literally and figuratively. My first six months as a blogger required probably 2 – 3 times as much time spent performing non-writing task as is spent actually writing content. And once I was over the initial hurdle of getting things setup and a tidy stash of articles posted on my site, I got to start the really hard work — marketing. Make no mistakes, starting a blog is a long, hard and time consuming venture. Most successful bloggers have been at this for years!
My Perspective on Blogging
While Katie makes some great points in her article (which I strongly encourage any blogger, rookie or not, to read), I find my list of rookie mistakes to be quite a bit different. Now let me explain a little about me so you know where I’m coming from. I’m a software engineer. I spend copious amounts of time writing code and studying algorithms. Therefore, some of the more cryptic tasks such as server administration and layout design are areas where I have some actual professional experience. However, while I may have an advantage in the technical aspects of blogging, I have zero marketing experience. I also have limited amounts of time as I am currently employed in a full time engineering position.
Therefore, for me, blogging is as much about making my blog as easy to maintain as possible as it is about writing quality articles. Sounds weird? Possibly. But by writing my blog in a search-engine friendly fashion, I’ve managed to get close to 75% organic traffic (traffic from people searching on Google, Bing or the like). Remember, I have zero marketing experience and therefore, am initially relying very heavily on search engine traffic. I’ve also customized my theme such that writing posts is easy and minimal time is spent trying to get things to “line up” or “look right”. This is key. This means I get to spend more time writing, which for me is the whole point.
Prerequisites to Launching a New Blog
With as much time and effort as it takes to start to develop initial content, should people really be worried about doing anything but writing when they launch a blog? In my opinion, yes! It’s important to step back and do some research – research on web hosting, content management systems (CMS), and theme selection. These items will play a huge role in your success down the road. And let me tell you from experience, it’s much easier to start with the right web host than switch everything over in a year. Or even worse, start with the wrong CMS and try to import all your articles into a new system — possibly breaking links, pictures and a slew of other items in the process.
So what follows assumes you have a functioning blog, and have chosen a CMS that you’ll be using. If you haven’t gotten this far, don’t stop reading! But please do bookmark this, and any other interesting article you have on the subject of actually blogging as you’ll need them down the road when you are setup.
Common Mistakes – and Possible Solutions
Below is my list of what I feel are the five worst mistakes a rookie blogger can make. Some, I have personally made while others I’ve happily avoided. Where possible, I’ve tried to include realistic approaches to fixing many of them, but in some cases, my advice may not apply. You get the idea.
1. Poor Website Design
To me, there is nothing more obnoxious than a blog layout that is impossible to read. I’ve seen some really messed up sites out there that apparently are making money for the author. Just think how much better they would perform if they actually were designed for the reader! Examples of bad design include the following:
- Text overlapping photos – This makes the photo impossible to enjoy as well as making the text unreadable. If people can’t read the text, they go elsewhere.
- Blinking text or bright colored text – Think about your audience. Can you stand to look at the page for long periods of time? You want your readers to read your blog. Your blog should not look like a Hawaiian shirt (unless of course, you’re trying to market Hawaiian Shirts).
- Poor navigation – Give the reader something to click on. If an article is discussing a difficult topic, link to other sites that have more information for the reader. What’s more, make sure the reader can find you home page or other posts.
- Text only – Modern web browsers display images. Use them! Long, text only posts, are boring to the reader. Embed videos, pictures and keep things interesting!
There are so many good, inexpensive (some even free) blog themes out there that using a poorly designed one is simply inexcusable. Personally, I did everything in my power to avoid these pitfalls, and yet I’ve still re-designed my theme a couple times in an effort to make things even better. My site is still not perfect, but it’s much better than when I started. Looking back, a $50 theme could have saved me a lot of time. This bring me to my next point.
2. Insufficient Time
I know this is a sore subject — especially for those who blog in addition to working full time (myself included). But quite frankly, blogging is a serious commitment of your time. From what I’ve seen, for a blog to thrive, you have two options. The first option is to post really good daily entries that engage the reader (think about Heather Armstrong’s Dooce.com). This takes, at a minimum, an hour per day. Or, you could do what many tech blogs do (and what I’ve tried to accomplish here with my site) and post more in-depth articles for your readers on a less regular schedule. You should ideally be posting 4 entries per week (at least) in an attempt to grow content (though not all of them have to be overly long). Again, think 4 hours minimum for your one in-depth article each week and an hour for the other three. Not to mention that another hour per day (at a minimum) should be spent researching your topics, reading blogs and making helpful comments, marketing your blog through guest posts, etc… At the end of the week, you’re easily talking to 20 hours per week. I know full time bloggers who report working in excess of 60 hours per week.
Let me put this in perspective. For many, until your blog is thriving and making a decent income, you’re working a full time job. Many of us are married and/or have children. That means you’re working a full 8+ hour day, plus commute, and coming home to another 2+ hours of work to be done. Do you have the time?
For me, this has been quite possibly the biggest hindrance with growing readership. Depending on my work schedule, I often find I have little time leftover for blogging. In fact, I actually have a couple gaps of months in between posts. Clearly, my site lost readers over these posting gaps. I’m still trying to get things back on track which is forcing me to jump into the marketing game and brings me to my next point.
3. Insufficient Marketing
Katie has a great discussion on how to become active in the blog community and make your comments count. She also discusses the idea of participating in carnivals / memes (defined here). But there is more than just getting your name out there and getting links to your site. I’ve made numerous comments on other people’s sites and sometimes am rewarded with additional traffic. More often than not, I’m rewarded with single digit clicks. My conclusion is that you have to network – to make personal connections. Now at this point, anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m really really bad at this part. So in a way, me discussing the merits of networking is akin to the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. But I’m working on it. I’ve started posting links to my recent articles in my Twitter Feed (feel free to follow me) and I’ve attempted to get out there and continue to comment on related articles hoping it will at some point pay off. I’m not sure it’s working, but only time will tell.
Most of all, it’s important to provide a product people want and then drive the right people to that product. The problem is, I’m not sure how to target the right people. It is this point that’s one of the other factors holding my blog back. Therefore, I don’t have much in the way of a solution to this particular problem. Do you? If so, leave a comment!
4. Poorly Written Blog Posts
Not everyone is a great author. It’s a simple fact of life. But let me be frank with you and say this: if you’re writing on a publicly accessible medium such as a blog, it’s time to face reality and write in a manner that is readable. Now I’m not going to tell you exactly what that means for your particular blog. But there are a few definitive issues to think about:
- Slang – I’m not saying to never do it, but shortcuts commonly found while reading a teenager’s cell phone have no place on a blog. Many people won’t understand the shorthand and therefore, you inadvertently alienate a portion of your readers.
- Capitalization / Punctuation – Simply put, people have to be able to easily read you posts. Feel free to take some creative license here, but remember — if the readers have to expend too much time trying to figure out what you’re trying to say, they will go elsewhere.
- Lists, Headings, etc. – Again, use them. A well organized post is much nicer to read.
- A picture is worth a thousand words – Sometimes, the best way to show something is visually. Use photos, graphs, charts, etc. to make your point cleanly and concisely.
- Spell check – I know this is basic but I’ve seen some blogs with awful spelling errors. And while I can’t claim to be excellent at spelling, there are spell checkers available that make this task pretty much automatic.
The whole idea behind having a successful blog is to communicate information. You are trying to build a relationship with your readers, and it’s important that they can understand you.
I work very hard to attempt to keep my writing understandable. I feel I’ve succeeded, but I still find the occasional typo that’s crept into an old post. It’s frustrating, but part of the experience (or so I try to tell myself).
5. Participate on you OWN Site
That’s right. Not only do you have to write posts, do research, keep you site running smoothly and all that fun stuff, you also have to get involved on your own site! Sounds basic, right? But let’s face it, we’ve all seen sites where you comment or ask questions and the author never checks back in. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying.
You are trying to build a community. You’re trying to grow you readership. If people have questions, it behooves you to do your best to answer them. Reader’s like to feel like they are a part of something so you have to do your best to include them.
It’s pretty amazing when you start seeing comments come in from complete strangers!
My Final Departing Advice
Katie ended her article with a final tip which I found really appropriate.
…you need to believe you’ve got something good, work hard shamelessly promoting your own site, and get lucky sometimes.
I think she really hits the nail on the head. While I make no claims my advice is worth more than hers, I felt it appropriate to end my discussion with a parting thought as well.
I realize this sounds somewhat trite, but due to the fact that blogging is a lifestyle, it’s absolutely critical to write about something you care about — something for which you have passion. Your blog is going to become a huge part of your life. It’s much better to shape your blog around your lifestyle than the other way around. I learned this the hard way when I first started my blog. Essentially, I had narrowed my focus to just a small portion of my interests and was having a very hard time staying motivated to write. So I didn’t. Clearly, this was bad and I came to the conclusion that writing only about photography didn’t consistently inspire me. I learned very quickly that if you don’t write, it’s next to impossible to succeed. Lesson learned – the hard way. So, I’ll stand by my advice. Pick a topic that inspires you. Something that’s a part of you life already and you like to research and learn about. Since I’ve expanded my blog a little to include blogging, SEO and technology (while still trying to maintain a focus), I’ve found it much easier to come up with articles and get excited to spend some time writing them. It’s still a work in progress, but I do feel that things are moving in the right direction.
With this said, my focus over the holiday is to prepare for the New Year with a project I’m passionate about and yet have somehow had very little time to implement. Check back! Great things are happening here at Digital Notions!
If you have any advice or comments, feel free to leave a note below! I’d love to hear from you!