Most of the time when I’m writing about blogging I’m usually addressing people who have been blogging for longer than a year or so. I don’t often write things that are for new bloggers because I figure that there’s so many other things out there for them already.
I have touched upon the subject here and there, especially when I wrote my pillar post about better blogging and then decided to break it into two parts. Since blogging is my thing, and I like to both share my opinion and hopefully educate and teach some ideas that both new and long time bloggers might not have thought about, I decided it was time to go to the beginning with a few of my ideas and beliefs.
This isn’t overly comprehensive though; that’s why I’m only covering 6 items. Still, I think you’re going to get your money’s worth from these blogging tips; let’s see where it goes.
In November 2011 I spoke at a local social media conference on the topic of business blogging. It went over really well, and I had more than 50 people crammed into a small space, as well as another 20 or so standing outside the door, to hear me talk. That felt pretty cool I must admit, but it proved to me that blogging is a pretty strong topic for a lot of people.
I was asked whether it’s better to use a free service or to self host. I always promote self hosting whenever I can, but I gave pros and cons of each during the presentation. Since this is my blog and my space, instead of giving both sides of this issue I’m going to talk only about the benefits of self hosting:
1. If you don’t own it, then it’s never really yours. Free sites get your stuff, which means you’re supporting and helping them more than you are yourself. I’ve heard from a lot of people how hard it is to move their content to their new space when they decide they want to go the self hosting route. If you’re unsure if you can blog and want to test yourself then going the free way is a good way to test yourself. After 3 or 4 posts, if you’ve got the bug, paying for a domain and hosting is the way to go.
2. Do you want to take a chance on being censored? I’ve said this here often; there’s no such thing as free speech. There’s definitely no such thing as free speech if you use a free service. You can be blocked and dropped if either too many people complain or the right person complains. You could be dropped if no one complains but the owners don’t like what you have to say. Once they shut you down it’ll be hard for you to get any of your content back; why take the risk?
3. Why let another site get the benefit of your words? With self hosting, you get all benefits from what you write. If you attach it to your website by popping it into a subdomain you help your website grow as well.
An argument one of my friends uses is that you’ll get more eyes on a site like Huffington Post or Niume (I almost said Medium, but I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be around). I said that’s a 90-10 proposition against the writers because those sites have so much content that most of the time only well known writers get a big bounce from it. If you have a strategy of using those sites to drive people to your own site, that’s one thing. You still need to have your own space so you can benefit from it if it works out for you.
4. You can’t always market or sell anything on free sites. Most of those sites don’t like it if you want to sell stuff in sidebars of pop affiliate images in the middle of your posts; not that many of your blog visitors will either. lol Adding affiliate links to your posts or having banner ads might get you tossed off free sites like WordPress.com. If you’re looking to pitch a new product or service to someone, it’s better to do it in your own space and promote it via social media.
5. Design, design, design. With WordPress, the self hosted version, there are literally thousands of different themes out there, free or paid, that you can use and modify for your purposes. With free you don’t get as many choices. If you go beyond WordPress you can probably find lots of themes developed for other blogging platforms. No matter what, you have a better chance of creating or having someone create something for you that doesn’t look like a site everyone else has.
You’re probably read many articles where people will recommend that you select a niche to write on to get targeted traffic to your blog. This is both a good and bad thing; let’s talk about the good first.
Niche blogging means you write posts on a specific topic to target people to come to your blog that are looking for the information you’re writing about. With niche blogging you have the potential of making more money, either by selling products or providing services geared towards that audience. You can pretty much figure these people came because they want what you have to deliver without much deviation. There’s no guarantee that you’ll make money, but at least you have a pretty good shot at it.
Here’s the bad. You can define your niche so finely that you’ll quickly run out of things to say. I was once asked to consider writing a blog for a company that specialized in forensic loan analysis. I realized after 2 articles that there was nothing left to talk about so I moved on. I looked at that blog a few months later and saw that they had no more content after my two articles. I felt bad but it was a tough topic to write about.
Next, it’s possible that the niche you’re writing about leaves little for people to comment on. For many people, comments are the life blood of a blog and if people come and don’t see comments, they usually don’t stay long, even if you’re offering them something good. This probably hurts me on my business blog when I write on the topic of diversity. Those articles are fairly deep and detailed, and all people can often do is write a one line comment (which I won’t keep) or not comment at all.
The best way to write a niche blog is to select a topic that offers you many things to talk about and allows people to give their opinion on. I once wrote a blog for a chiropractor who also allowed me to write about alternative medicine and practices. That gave me a world of things I could write about, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It also generated some comments from people who hadn’t heard of some of those things. If you can be creative with your blog, niche or not, you’ll have fun and your visitors will feel the fun you’re having and contribute to the process.
One of the major conversations all of us who talk about blogging concerns the proper length of blog posts. Over the years I’ve often said that there’s no magic number of words for blog posts. I’m partially going to walk back on that one, but I do have some caveats.
You as the writer do have to consider what’s long for you and your particular audience. For instance, if you’re telling a story, then length doesn’t matter because a story is a story; people love stories, and stories are done when you get to your conclusion.
If you’re instructing someone on how to do something they might find important, length doesn’t matter. What matters most is that you give all the information others might need without any shortcuts that leave out specifics they might need.
However… things have changed over the past few years. As I mentioned in last week’s post about the Panda hit I took from Google, these days length has indeed become an issue. Whereas years ago we could get away with posts that hit at least 350 to 400 words, these days you risk the big G penalizing you if you’re not closer to 800 – 1,000 words at a minimum. Some folks like Neil Patel are recommending you not put out anything less than 2,000.
This negates what I used to say about writing multiple posts surrounding a topic and spacing them out than trying to get it all into one post. These days, it’s all about having longer posts and, when you can, adding what’s called pillar posts here and there. For instance, I wrote a post titled 55 Tips And Ideas About Blogging just after my 55th birthday that ended up being close to 3,600 words. Google loved that post, even though it didn’t get tons of comments. Because Google loved it the article got a lot of traffic and it got a lot of shares from Twitter. It seems that authority does have a number of words these days, as long as you’re not rambling.
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Does one line make a blog post? What about two paragraphs as a full article all the time? Very short posts makes it seem like either you have no idea what you want to write about or you don’t know enough about your topic to be able to convey whatever your topic is. They feel incomplete if they’re too short.
Yet, it’s possible that for your niche that’s what your audience wants. At a seminar I went to last week, the speaker was saying that if you’re good at generating traffic on your own via social media or live networking that it’s possible for you to have a successful blog even without the blessing of search engines. It’ll take a lot of work and probably great visuals (see images below), but it can be done.
Editing And Grammar
There’s always this interesting discussion about how well a blog post needs to be edited before it goes out. I’ve read different theories on how it does or doesn’t matter, and how what’s most important is the message the writer is trying to get across.
Editing is very important, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. I come across many blog posts that are written so horribly that I leave before I even get to the meat of what it’s all about. The human brain has been proven capable of muddling through badly written text to figure out what the writer is trying to say but who wants to work that hard all the time? Bad spelling, punctuation, and skipping words doesn’t make for an easy read, and if truth be told, missing words will drastically change the meaning of some posts.
Yet, I had lunch with a marketing expert who told me that sometimes a way to disrupt people and actually keep them reading your articles is to throw in a mistake here and there… on purpose. His point was that these days more people tend to skim an article that actually read it, and an error here and there will interrupt their skimming and make them pay more attention at the points where the errors have been made. It’s probably a good marketing ploy but I just can’t do it intentionally. 🙂
Readers tend to make allowances for people who aren’t from the same country as the writer when reading their posts, but we’ll only accept it to a point. If all you’re doing it telling your story, it’s acceptable. If you’re writing a tutorial or, even worse, trying to market something, we’re not sticking around.
Most blog software or browsers automatically highlights misspelled words, so there’s no excuse for that sort of thing, even though there are lots of words I tend to use that I have to add to the dictionary of the browsers or Word… even after all these years. Try reading your post out loud after it’s completed to see how it sounds to you. It’s easier to pick out mistakes when you hear it.
No one expects perfection, so if a word here and there is off, no biggie. But if your entire text is wonky, people are going to hate reading it and you’ll find it hard to keep a following.
To Image Or Imagine
Blog posts should have images; that’s cut and dry now, though some years ago it wasn’t a big deal. Some people believe that every single blog post should have an image, and longer posts should have multiple images (like this one). Some people believe that there shouldn’t be an image on a blog post that doesn’t go with whatever the post is about.
My response to all of this? It depends; I’ll explain myself.
Over the past year I’ve started using a lot of my own images for my posts for a couple of different reasons.
One is because not everything I write about has images that actually pertain to the topic. For instance, there aren’t a lot of images concerning blogging. This mean I either have to look for images on writing or do off the radar and put up an image that has nothing to do with the topic. If I’m going rogue, I might as well use my own image and add my own words to it.
Two, because last year I got a couple of letters from photo copyright companies saying I had some images on old blog posts that I thought I had a legal right to use. One I’d gotten from Flickr, which was before Flickr had tightened up its rules for what people could add to their accounts. The other was an image I’d seen in multiple places and thought it would fit a post I was writing. Even though I still use Flickr via my Compfight plugin, I mix in a lot of my own images because no one can accuse me of stealing their stuff if I’m in them. lol
One last thing about images not being used is if you’re using something else in its place. Last month when I was writing a blog post a day on my local Syracuse blog, one of the posts had 9 short videos highlighting things in central New York, and those in essence became the images. Of course that post violated the word count rule but it turned out to be popular with the local crowd. 🙂
Will People Like Your Blog?
Well now, we’ve finally come down to this. Will people like your blog? Is it worth the time to start or continue?
Have you ever wondered what makes a movie good? There’s no real formula that applies to everyone. That’s because every person has their own ideas of what makes a movie good or not. For instance, I went to see the movie John Carter with a friend of mine some years ago and we both liked it, but the reviews ended up coming in close to 50-50 as far as who liked it and who didn’t, and the movie tanked at the box office.
Many people say that they’re not sure whether or not people will like what they have to say. I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter who likes it as long as the person writing it likes it, and I stick with that. None of us can please everyone, and the topics we select aren’t going to be for everyone. Do you believe that the entire world is interested in the topic of blogging, whether or not they blog?
There’s nothing wrong with being liked, but when did that become the criteria for whether we do something or not? I can’t believe how many parents I see who don’t really parent their kids because they’re afraid of not being liked. I can’t believe how many teachers won’t do their job and fail a kid that deserves it because they’re afraid that neither the school or the parents will like them.
Blogging and writing are supposed to be about truth, education and entertainment, perceived or real. If you have something to say, say it. The majority of us try to be honest and relatively kind, even when we’re griping about something.
If you let the question of whether or not people will like your blog or what you have to say hold you back too much, then you’re not worth anything to anyone. It’s never the opinions one has that makes people upset so much as how they say what they have to say. Think about that if you’re worried about being liked or not.
Every person needs to have their own voice on their blogs. Authenticity is the only thing that really counts in blogging. If you’re authentic, even people who might not share your interests might still read what you have to say because they feel your passion. Those who don’t care what you have to say or aren’t interested in your passion… those people aren’t your audience. You will find your audience if you write, and of course if you cultivate them. If you can get to 50-50 you still get to call your blog a success.
Now I’ve had my say, and I’m around 3,000 words. I hope I’ve helped some of you with these blogging tips. Let me know your thoughts or ask your questions, and I’ll see what I can do to address them.