Sunday, June 12, 2011

What I've learned so far: Advice for beginning bloggers

I've been blogging for more than seven years now. My blog isn't exactly wildly popular, as far as blogs go. In fact, much of my traffic comes from Google searches by people looking for an explanation for the headless rabbit they just found in their yard, or wondering what ever became of the "That's All!" girl from Hee Haw. But over the years I have made some observations about blogging: what works, what doesn't work, what blogs are popular and why, and things like that. Yesterday I presumed to write these out in an email to someone who is just starting out as a blogger. As the list grew, I realized I was writing something that could serve as a post on my own blog.  So, with a little editing and reformatting and a few added bits, here it is.

- The best way to get people to visit your blog is to leave thoughtful and relevant comments on other blogs that allow you to also post your blog address. The person running the blog will often stop by to visit your blog, and if they have a lot of commenters, some of them might follow your link back to your blog. If the blog that you're commenting on covers topics related to your own blog, you might actually pick up some regular readers.

If you're a regular blog reader, this sort of thing can come naturally. You probably have a few favorite blogs that are relevant to your interests. Perhaps some of the regular readers (or even the writers) of these blogs would be interested in what you have to say on your blog.  Well-written comments can give them a sense of the quality of writing they can expect when they visit.

- But don't leave comments like "Nice post. Visit my blog!" I get those all the time, and usually delete them, because they're usually what's called "spomments" - spam comments usually left by spambots in an effort to drive traffic to another site, or just increase the other site's Google rank by increasing the number of sites linking to it. So even if these comments are being left by real people, they're getting deleted.

OK, confession time: I actually created NEPA Blogs originally because I wanted to come up with a way to increase my Google rank by creating a site that would link to lots of other sites (including mine) and in return be linked by them. Only I sort-of forgot to ask anyone to link back to NEPA Blogs, and failed to even tell most of them that I had linked to their sites. The whole sordid affair is explained here:

- Another don't is "link exchanges" - "You link me and I'll link you." I find that a little skeevy - it's like endorsing a product when you know nothing about it. If you like someone's blog, link it, and if they like your blog, they'll link you.

- Set up some sort of visit tracking program. I use SiteMeter: it's simple and gets the job done, and even the free version provides a LOT of information about how people came to your site. (It also crashed the Internet once. That's something.) You can find out what posts and/or topics people are most interested in.

- Blog on a single topic. This will allow repeat visitors to have some sort of idea what they're going to be seeing when they come to your site.

Some examples:
The Comics Curmudgeon
Cake Wrecks
The Dinosaur Toy Blog

- Blog on a wide range of topics. People will come to your site because they will never know what to expect next! Also, you'll attract a lot of searches for different topics. You can never predict which topics are going to attract visitors.

Some examples:
Francesco Explains it All

- Blog on a popular and/or controversial topic. Sports, politics - people respond to these topics, and these are the easiest ways to get a lot of visitors. If you can stand to blog a lot about sports and/or politics.

Some examples:
Gort42 - local politics, sports
Bad Astronomy - Astronomy, skepticism
The LuLac Political Letter - local politics, nostalgia
The Conscience of a Liberal - Economics, politics

- Don't let the bastards grind you down. You'll get a lot of spam comments, which are disheartening. You'll also eventually attract trolls and snipers. Trolls are people who will come to your site to pick a fight with you, for the real purpose of attracting visitors to their own site. Snipers are anonymous; they just attack to be jerks. Sometimes they will pretend to be multiple people, so it seems like a lot of attacks are coming from different directions. (Here's an example of this: I think all those negative comments are actually a single, seriously disturbed person.) Enough negative comments may make you want to quit blogging. Don't. Also, don't respond to these attacks (like I did.) These jerks thrive on attention, and every response you give to them just makes them want to attack more. If things get bad, activate comment moderation, where you have to approve every comment before it gets posted, and just don't post trolls or snipers.

- Blog like nobody's reading. If you worry about who's reading you, you may become self-conscious and hold things back. Blog about what YOU want to blog about. Or create an imaginary ideal audience and write posts for them. Even if they're not out there now, in time they may start showing up, and may someday read your posts. (And having lots of posts already written that appeal to them is a great way of making sure they stick around!)

- Eventually you may want to quit blogging, for whatever reason. Don't. Just go on hiatus. You can post a blog announcing that you are taking a break, and people will wait for you to come back. Someday you may want to come back, and your blog will be waiting for you.

- WRITE DOWN YOUR BLOG PASSWORD. I know a number of people who have had to abandon their blogs because they forgot their password.

- Get yourself a "blogger buddy," a friend you know both online and in real life. If they're a blogger, link to their blog; if not, leave them sealed instructions for how to post on your blog. Then, if something happens to you - if you die, or are in the hospital, or suddenly run off and join the Peace Corps - someone can let the world know what happened to you. I first proposed this back here - - and saw a real-world application of it just last year:

- You only get so many of what I call "Blogging Energy Units" each day. With them you can read blogs, write comments, write posts, modify your blog, OR use Facebook. When you've used them all up for the day, you're done, and you can't do anything more until you recharge. It's very easy to spend all of your BEUs on Facebook, or reading posts, or writing comments, and then when you try to post on your own blog you find you're all out!

- Post links to your blog posts on Facebook if you want to make sure your Facebook friends are seeing your posts. But be aware that in this situation people will probably leave comments on the Facebook post rather than on your blog itself!

- Make sure your blog has an RSS or Atom feed to allow "live updates." This will let other people know automatically every time you have put up a new blog post. I know of several excellent blogs that don't have any such feed, and the only way to know that they have a new post is to visit their site and check. If you're following dozens of blogs, like I do, this can get tedious, and is something you'll probably forget to do more often than not.
- Restrict your feed using your blog software's settings to foil "scrapers." Scraper blogs are sites that simply steal content from other blogs and repost it on their own sites. This means that people can read your work without ever visiting your blog. Even legitimate aggregators like Google Reader do the same sort of thing, unless you specify that you only want to "syndicate" the first so many characters in your post, or up to the jump-break (as I do.)
- Use descriptive or interesting titles for your blog posts. Be creative. I know a few blogs that use the same generic title for each post. This isn't a very good way of piquing someone's interest. Most RSS/Atom feeds display the title of your latest post. Use a title that will make people want to read your post. 
- Consider adhering to a blogger code of conduct. Here is a post about one such proposed code.
- Keep on blogging. To become a writer you must write; to become a dancer you must dance. Blogging is like that - to become a blogger, you must blog.  If you want to be a blogger, follow Lady Gaga's advice and just dance. Or blog. Whatever.
Does anybody else have any suggestions?


Lucy said...

Good advice, thanks.

I've had a blog since 2008, however I got bored of it and 'hid' it from everyone because I felt pressured into writing more often than I felt like and got self-concious about my writing too.
Perhaps it's best to set a certain time of day (or week) to blog.

I since deleted all my previous posts and I've started from scratch... This time I hope I can keep up with it.

I've focused more on one topic that I'm passionate about this time. Hopefully I can 'just dance', like you said.

Martina said...

I am new to blogging and enjoyed your informative read. I will endeavour to remember it lol. No doubt when I come across a problem I will recall your advice.

Ears Open Wide said...

Thanks Monkey for the tips : ) Would you mind telling me how to do the RSS thing? I searched through my settings and couldn't find it. I don't even know if it's ok to ask you this here, but I am going to go out on a limb and do it anyways. Thanks again!

D.B. Echo said...

Ears Open Wide, the RSS/Atom thing (more properly called a "web feed" and described here - is automatic on most newer (within the last seven years or so) blogging software. I have seen older and custom-designed blogs that do not, as far as I can tell, provide any sort of feed - here is one example: . I don't know how you can manually export your content to a web feed. My best advice would be to use a blogging platform that does it automatically.

Are you sure you're not exporting content to a web feed already? Try using an aggregator like Google Reader to read your blog - if it displays your posts, then you've definitely got a web feed.

Melody said...

Hi! I was looking at the newest entry of Hyperbole and a Half and a link to a certain post of your blog showed up underneath the comments, and I decided to check it out. After deciding I was interested enough to check out the rest of the entries, I clicked 'Home' and ta-da! here I arrived.

In my opinion, beginning a blog over at Blogger is much more complicated than in Livejournal. I've had a blog in Livejournal for years, and it is both visited and commented. However, you have all sorts of tools to get 'followers' and to find interesting enough blogs out there. You have communities, for example, in which you can introduce your blog and look for other blogs.

However, yesterday I arrived at blogger, intent on beginning a new blog, one which didn't focus on my personal life. Imagine my surprise when I realized there was no means of, say, divulging my blog. For example, there was no 'section' where all the recent posts in all of Blogger were displayed.

Many people would be tempted to give up. 'Aw, I don't know anyone in real life who will want to watch my blog and/or comment, I'll never be anyone, bla bla'. However, I stumbled upon your post and I found it very informative. I think you have managed to capture something true here, and many beginner bloggers (such as myself, when it comes to Blogger) would/will definitely benefit from this.

All this chit-chat just to thank you for the post, basically.

Anne McCormack said...

Can you explain how to restrict your feed? I use blogger. Thanks for the tips!

D.B. Echo said...

Anne, it's done like this:

1. From your Blogger dashboard, select "Settings", or from the top bar of your blog, select "Design" and then the "Settings" tab.

2. Click on "Site Feed." (Fourth button from the right.)

3. Now you have options: "None," "Short," "Full," and "Until Jump Break." "None" will not send out your site feed; "Short" is supposed to send out the fist so many characters, but I could never get it to work; "Full" sends out the whole thing - I think that's the default; and "Until Jump Break" only sends out the text prior to the jump break. That's what I'm using.

4. To use this option, you also have to be using "Jump Breaks." This option is on the "Compose" view of the post editor. It's the seventh icon from the right, inbetween the "Insert a video" clapper and the "Alignment" dropdown. When you click this, it inserts a "jump break" at the point that you've clicked. Any text before that will appear on your main blog page, and in feeds; to read the rest you will have to have clicked on the post itself, or clicked on the "Read more" link at the end of the section.

5. You can customize this text by opening your blog's "Design" view and then clicking the "Edit" line in the "Blog Posts" rectangle. You can type anything you want in the "Post page link text."

You can test this by trying to look at your own blog through Google Reader. If everything is working correctly, only the text up to the jump break should be shown, with the option of clicking through to your original post to see the rest.

Good luck!

Gone Sale Racking said...

hi- I just found your blog via a post from Blogger Buzz- "The best blogging advice you’ve ever received."
I just started a blog and have a facebook page linked to it. I have been commenting on a lot of other facebook pages and got a couple of readers that way. Do you think it is best to stick with a particular topic all the time, or to expand and shift gears a bit to see what works? Thanks for the great advice you have posted here! (if you want to check out my blog it is

D.B. Echo said...

I think doing a single-topic blog is probably the better way to build up a following of regular readers. There are a few that I read, and I know what to expect each time I go to them. If you're running ads on your site, this is also a good strategy for getting specific, relevant ads based on your content.

Having said that, I prefer blogs that are all over the place. You get a better feel for the blogger that way, and you'll read things about all sorts of topics. These blogs also attract lots of readers through search engine searches for topics mentioned in the blog.

I've got several blogs, including a single-topic blog about solar energy in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And with that blog, I've hit a lull: there just hasn't been any new news about solar energy in this region recently. So that's another problem with single-topic blogs.

Kate Warren said...

Hi there, As a new blogger I found your post (and all it's comments) informative and interesting. I am still learning when I have time, in between blogging itself.
I have two questions; Firstly I tried to leave a comment on someone's blog and each time failed after entering the word verification. Secondly, I know I have one follower (a friend in the real world) but my account does not show any followers. Your replies will be most welcome. Thank you :-)

D.B. Echo said...

Kate, the comments thing could be one of several issues. A few years ago (December 3, 2005) there was the dreaded "smenita" incident, where every word verification word presented for a few hours was "smenita" - and entering those letters would get you nowhere.

Many blogs also use comment moderation. Most of the time you will see a message that tells you that your comment will appear after it has been approved, but other times it just looks like your comment has disappeared. If you didn't get a word verification error, this might be what happened.

Blogger's comment system has been funky since the beginning of June, due to the rollout of some new security features. This means that on some blogs using a specific type of comment display (the pop-up, not the full-page), attempts to comment will always be challenged, and commenters will be told they have to sign in and enable cookies, even if they are signed in, even if the blog allows anonymous comments. It doesn't sound like your problem falls into this category, but here's an informative post on this issue and what can be done to fix it:

The "Following" problem I'm a little fuzzier on. It's possible to follow a blog anonymously - is it possible your friend has done this? Or could your friend THINK he or she is "Following" you when in fact they are, say, subscribing to your blog through an aggregator like Google Reader?

There are actually several known issues involving Following, with fairly technical solutions. I've currently got your blog open (it's very interesting!) and I am not seeing any Followers. Here are the posts related to this:

Good luck with that!

Kate Warren said...

DB, Thank you for your speedy and detailed response. I will read your recommended blogs and endeavour to sort things out. I didn't think for one minute you would open my blog, but I am pleased you did and that you found it interesting. I hope that you will pop by from time to time to see how my blog progresses. Should you come across anyone else writing on a similar theme, I would be more than happy to hear from you :-)

hyperstar said...

Google+ might help bloggers too, I haven't posted here since 2008 when it was set up

Stacey Starting Over said...

Great advice. I'm pretty new to blogging and technology in general. I promote my blog to my friends on facebook, but my preference would be for it to be anonymous since I talk about some personal stuff. I just don't know how to get the traffic. I will start checking out blogs with similar topics. Have you ever seen local community colleges or places like that offer classes on blogging tools, etc.? Just curious. Thanks.

Madhuri Sachi said...

I just started blogging today actually and I thought this was very informative and useful to help get me on my way. I really had no idea how vast the blogging community was and now that I have been going through different blogs I have found lots of useful tips and tricks. I think I am most worried about mean comments, but I will remain positive. Thanks for the advice!

D.B. Echo said...

Stacey, a week later I've responded to your question - in the form of a blog post:

...tom... said...

hey there DB...

Interesting stuff.

As I was reading I was thinking that I needed you to explain 'jump break' to me . . .and then I see you have in a comment..!!

Now I just need to check it out see if I am missing something important. ...:minism:...


SpecialK said...

Thank you for the informative post. I just started blogging in June and have enjoyed it as a creative outlet (I used to work in communications and am now on maternity leave) but was starting to feel discouraged as it appears that no one reads my blog. With the new blogger stats, I now see that I am getting hits but need to do something - be more interactive? - to get responses. Although everything's done online, it's nice to have a dialogue of sorts. Thanks again for the tips! I will keep them in mind when I'm reading others' blogs.