ten tips for new bloggers

As a grizzly old veteran of the blogging business (3 months on this blog but 3+ years on a previous one) I have a few ideas about what makes a blog successful or not, at least in the early stages. Part of this knowledge comes from running a blog for years and years and years… with no readers. I then blew up the site, refocused on different topics, changed the way I approached building a blog, and voila! Readers. My site is certainly no Zen Habits, but the traffic levels are continuing to trend upwards. Here are ten tips on how I did it:

Get a domain name. I know that not everyone think a domain name is a reasonable expense, but your site will be taken far more seriously if you register a domain name. I kept a blogger account for years, but once I switched over to using bripblap.com I think people took it more seriously. I’m not saying you have to host your site and start using WordPress if you aren’t ready to, but at least get a domain name and have it redirect to your blogspot.com or wordpress.com (or LiveJournal, etc.) blog.

Leave comments. I like getting comments. The old advice “give and ye shall receive” is completely true in this case. If you leave meaningful, insightful comments on other blogs, those bloggers and their readers are more likely to come visit your blog and leave comments. Maybe not at first, but keep plugging away. I know that there are a few sites in the blogosphere that have very active readers who love following comments – The Simple Dollar always has dozens of comments for even the briefest posts.

Find out what other bloggers in your field are reading. One of the first exercises I did when I decided to leap back into blogging was to go to a few of the “big names” in the fields I’m interested in (personal finance, parenting, health, environment, career, and blogging) and go through their blogrolls. Those blogrolls are there for a reason. I identified the blogs from the “big guys” blogrolls and kept working my way down. I found a few gems here and there, many dead blogs and a few that simply didn’t appeal to me. That exercise gave me an idea of what people find appealing in those areas and helped spur me on some topics.

Post daily. This one may irritate people, but don’t go more than 24 hours without a post. If you use a free blogging service, this may be difficult, but WordPress lets you load up posts for future publishing. Even if you are going to Antarctica for two weeks your blog can look like you never left. This is important. Many fine writers’ blogs I’ve come across start off strong then trail off over time to four posts a week…three…one every two weeks…dead. However, avoid the temptation to leave “oops, sorry, busy, no time to blog!” posts to fill space. I did that once myself and saw half of my RSS subscribers unsubscribe, and it took me a week to build readership back up to where it was before I did that. Even if you write a three-line post (“here’s a great tip on how to clean countertops: use white vinegar and water mixed 1:3 in a spray bottle! non-toxic, too!”) people will keep coming back.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Most browser users are simple folk. When they come in from a hard day’s working the soil – figuratively speaking – they don’t want to figure out that your site uses bold lettering to indicate hyperlinks, a big book icon to subscribe to RSS or cursors that turn into butterflies when you click something. They want blue underlined hyperlinks, the big orange icon and no further monkeying with their browser setup. Just don’t do it.

Keep the site clean. I think most people understand that pop-up ads, 5000 adsense links, endless widgets and noisy graphics distract from a site. The most popular sites can get away with being visually busy not because they arranged it just a little better, but because they have great content! A new blog doesn’t have that luxury – a sloppy design or aesthetically unpleasing design will scare people right away before they get a chance to become readers. At first, keep the ads and widgets and fancy text to a minimum.

Don’t use partial feeds. I understand that most bloggers don’t get any ad revenue if you don’t visit their site. I don’t. However, I am happy if someone signs up for my feed, and it’s up to them to come to the site on their own time. I try to offer other resources at the site to lure people in, but if not, fine. I think a partial feed in your RSS feed is a none-too-subtle bash at your readers. I don’t subscribe to any partial feeds, personally. Too often I want to skim through my Google Reader rather than flipping from site to site. If I find something good, I’ll flip over to the site and leave a comment, but I want that to be by choice, not because I’m forced to go.

Make yourself accessible. If you want to be the mysterious X-Blogger and be anonymous, that’s fine. If you do decide to do that, though, set up an email account at Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo like “mysterious-x-blogger@gmail.com.” Don’t keep people from emailing you just to remain anonymous. Even if you aren’t anonymous, make sure that you allow people to contact you very easily. Keep a contact page or put your email on your site (here’s a handy site to generate email logos to help dodge spammers). Make sure you reply to every email, even if you don’t have much to say other than “thank you for reading!” People want that feedback, and if they get it they’ll be more excited to keep coming back.

Don’t do link posts. If you want to write a paragraph mentioning a URL somewhere else, fine. Make sure you explain where the reader will go (e.g., “warning! PDF link!” or “read my article about quasars here”). Most people don’t like being told to read here and here and here for more information. A blog that’s filled with one-line posts (“hey, check this out! <EOM>”) should be moved to Twitter or Tumblr.

Spellcheck, grammar proof! I know people hate being told they need to spell correctly. An occasional typo is fine. I recently visited a blog that prominently displayed “Please visit our sponsers!” towards the top; a big banner that you couldn’t miss. There is really no excuse in this day and age for misspelling words. If you have trouble with “there” versus “their” or “it’s” versus “its”, spend a little time with Strunk and White. Not everyone cares as much about spelling as I do, true – but do you want to lose readers because they came to you’re sight and wrote someting tuff to follow their? It’s annoying enough to me that I’ll move right on.

As a final bonus tip (#11) I will tell you the most important tip on starting a blog: love the subject. I liked (not loved) politics, so I started out strong on a political blog, but I found it really just made me angry and frustrated after a few years. I love writing about all of the topics I cover now. I would do it for no readers, honestly. But I love the feedback and it does exactly what it says – it feeds readers’ interest and enthusiasm straight back to me and helps me develop even more passion for what I write about. If you don’t like personal finance, don’t blog about it. If you get bored by productivity writing, don’t do it! If you love astronomy, don’t try to blog about the market just because you think that’s the way to make money. I realized that I’m passionate about learning about and teaching certain subjects and there was no reason not to blog on them. I took some unrelated topics and started other blogs (on movies and books) and eventually as I get into more and more of a groove I’ll start others (maybe on other topics that wouldn’t quite fit Brip Blap like food and travel). But I have decided never to worry about starting a blog on auditing (my profession) since I realized I have very little enthusiasm for it as a writing subject. I’ll stick to the fun stuff!

Now go out there, start a blog (or update your existing one) and let me know if any of these tips helped you out, I’d love to hear about it.

17 comments

  • You know, I find myself nodding as I read the tips. Very well written, and for a while, I thought I was the one who wrote it. However, there are certain debatable points, e.g.
    (1) partial vs full feeds — a lot have been said regarding this, so I’d like to think that this is a personal choice, and not one that will determine the success of one’s blog. Just my opinion though πŸ™‚
    (2) don’t do link posts — link posts can be done very impressively if the blogger avoids using anchor texts that read “this” or “click this” or “read more here”. I’ve come across pretty interesting link posts in which the bloggers were able to incorporate the links very seamlessly into the posts πŸ™‚

  • Great lists.
    I’ll disagree about the need to post 7 days a week – although that would increase the readership I’d say the posts during the five business days are the important ones to do. If you are really keen on building readership then go for it – I’m more worried about burnout.
    I didn’t know that wordpress allows future posting – will have to look into this.
    Partial feeds drive me nuts.
    In the Canadian PF world – linkposts are part of the scenery. I haven’t done one yet but I don’t have a problem with them.

    Mike

  • A great list. I am on a quasi-political/pop culture blog and frankly, I don’t love it as much as personal finance.
    What do you think of scrapers and using a full-feed? I have a full-feed because around DC, it’s difficult to get out past DoD firewalls, so my military site readers have asked me to turn it on.

  • @Pelf: I guess maybe what I mean by link posts isn’t clear. On my politics blog, I would have a post like this: Aug 30, 2004: http://www.somewheresomewhere.com/ and nothing else. I think that turns people off. Of course if you have a link post with a little bit of commentary there’s no problem. I do a “link roundup” every Saturday. I try to put some commentary in there, though. Partial vs. full would be an interesting poll – but I suspect more people dislike partials than not. But you’re right, people have different opinions!!
    @FP: OK, I’ll modify my tip to say 5 original posts per week plus some sort of activity on the weekends. I don’t post any real original stuff on weekends – I do a link roundup on Saturday and a poll on Sundays. You could debate the weekend stuff but I still think when you’re first starting out you need as much movement as you can get. If I get far enough ahead in my writing (a big IF) I plan on taking Brip Blap up to warp speed in September and going 3 a day (1 link roundup in the morning, and two posts in the day – a la The Simple Dollar).
    @Mapgirl: I don’t like scrapers since I get scraped. If I get linked back to, I won’t say anything. If I don’t, I get furious and plan to hire a lawyer and sue and then calm down and return to reality… I think a full-feed is critical. Most of my corporate clients block most blogs, but don’t block my reader, so if I want to read blogs at work I HAVE to read a full-feed. Otherwise I can only read the blog in the evenings, and my evenings are usually reserved for family stuff (and commenting on various blogs).

  • Now that you’ve clarified what you mean by link posts I’ll agree. πŸ™‚ I came here to say “no I love link posts I love to see me linked and I love to find new blogs through what other people I like are reading!”.

    but now I get it. lol

    I post too much. I am working on finding the balance between posting enough for me to be happy and to not scare the world away from subscribing. No, not another paidtwice post! Argh! lol. But I am like that offline too… a talker. lol.

    Of course, my friends all say “post every hour we love it” because they are insane πŸ™‚

  • You *should* post every hour – I like your blog, I’d read it…!

  • lol… every hour… yeah I’ll get right on that. That was nice of you to say though πŸ™‚

    I actually read somewhere… don’t ask where, one of those important pro-blogger sites, that one of the top ten reasons people unsub from RSS feeds is too many posts a day from the site. I was shocked! heh.

    Less posting per day lets me have more time to comment on blogs ;). And I still post 3-4 a day so it is not like I went to 3 a week or something. Heh.

  • PaidTwice – interesting comment about the RSS fee. I don’t know how most surfers manage their subscriptions but once I add someone, I only ever remove them if:
    A. I don’t like their material or B. too many sponsored posts.

    Ironically if I add someone and they never post again, I will probably never remove the subscription.

    Mike

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  • Great post! I totally agree with offering full feeds. I usually remove the sites that only offer half feeds. I don’t have the time to be clicking through to read every post. If something in a full feed is great, I often click through to comment, though.

  • sfordinarygirl

    Great tips especially the domain one. I’ve thought about moving to a new domain name a lot recently but I’m very tech-challenged and scared of doing my own archiving system, feeds and even figuring out code.

    Posting daily is hard – there’s always so much to say but less time to write something in-depth and thoughtful.

  • Excellent tips. I figure a lot of it out on my own, but it would have been nice to run across this. Some it’s just handy stuff to know if you haven’t blogged before, and some is strategically important.

    Then again, I feel a blog without an opening strategy which develops into a blog with a theme and strategy is often the best. Maybe I’m partial to that idea because my blog did that. πŸ™‚

    When people start blogging with the idea that they’re going to make a profit or develop a business or become famous, I don’t know if it works out as well. Maybe that’s because they forgot number 11. πŸ˜‰

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  • Hey there, these tips really are helpful. I am in the process of writing articles for the blog that I will set up (hopefully) in the near future. I want to check out wordpress as I have heard reference to it multiple times in different posts. It might be helpful one day, if you are so inclined to have a vocabulary lesson in blogging for us newbies and not so technologically sophisticated. I'm getting better, but I frequently get stumped on terms like “partial feed,”wordpress,” and “adsense.”

    Anyway, thanks for things that you have explained. You'll probably like to know that I have only subscribed to one or two sites… I don't have a RSS feeder thingy… I haven't figured that out yet. I get all my RSS subscribed content by email, which can be overwhelming when you are subscribed to many sites. So, I physically go to all of the sites that have in my favorites, including this one. It keeps me stimulated… and its good to know that it helps your revenues as well! =0) Thanks for writing.

  • Great advice. Thank you

  • Great advice. Thank you