The one blog post I have written which got the most attention was on my old blog, called ‘My Ten Thoughts on Successful Blogging’. It received quite a few links and comments, and it was pretty clear that I had got a few things wrong. So, taking some criticisms from the original post, and adding in some of the stuff I have learnt over the last year or so, I thought I would give it another go.
1. Read more blogs
What you get out of your blog depends entirely on what you put in. Good, interesting blogs do not evolve in a vacuum. Read as many blogs as you can. Not only will you pick up on useful tidbits to improve your blogging, you are exposing yourself to new ideas and content you can discuss yourself. There are plenty of blogs-about-blogs. This might smack a little of navel-gazing, but with any new form, evolution comes through discussion and collaboration. Pick up new ideas and put them into practice. Listen to what experienced bloggers have to say.
Two blogs that you must subscribe to, and visit daily, are Steve Rubel and Robert Scoble. These two write more sense about blogging than anyone else. They also provide great links – after a couple of weeks your blogroll will have increased tenfold. These guys drag your ears to the ground where theirs are.
You have to use an RSS aggregator. Try out all the ones to can find till you find the one that works for you. I’m sticking with Bloglines. All the time I try out others, and every time I come crawling back. The one advantage with Bloglines for me is that it enables me to scan quicker than anything else.
Subscribe to anything you might think may interest you. Don’t discriminate in the blogs you subscribe to. It won’t take up more than a couple of seconds of your time to scan them, if there’s nothing to interest you. But there might be that one article that pops up in a few month’s time that makes it worthwhile.
Subscribe to link blogs – they are a valuable resource of interesting posts and new feeds to subscribe to. Likewise, check out people’s blogrolls if they make them available. They should.
I guess this remains pretty much the same. Only mentioning Rubel and Scoble shows how few blogs I actually read when I originally wrote this – the list now would be huge. It would also add in listen to podcasts as there is tonnes of great stuff out there on that medium too. Links blogs don’t seem to be around any more – sites like del.icio.us seem to have dominated in that area – especially when you have an automatic daily posting of your bookmarks to your blog.
2. Use a link blog
Have a separate link blog that you can post quick links to interesting articles on. This has a dual advantage – you can save items for later viewing, and you provide your readers with details on what you’re reading, offering them an insight on your perspective and where you are coming from.
3. Make sure your blog has a feed
People who blog without RSS feeds don’t deserve to be read. Blog engines that don’t produce them don’t deserve to be used. No-one has the time to look at individual blog sites, that’s what the aggregators are for. Never presume that your content is so great that people will go out of their way to read it. Make life as easy for your readers as possible.
This is more-or-less right, if somewhat unecessary. Perhaps it could be said that blogs without RSS feeds aren’t blogs. Things I could add here are use of services like FeedBurner – so that you and your readers get the most out of your feed.
4. Find a niche – but evolve it
There’s no point writing on some esoteric subject from the off. What are the chances of anyone coming by you? Write about a few things that interest you to start with. Focus on the one you have your eye on, by all means, but include other stuff too.
Really importantly, be regular. Keep the posts coming, at least a couple a day. If you are going to be away, let your readers know. The last thing you want is people thinking the blog is dead and unsubcribing. It’s a commitment to be taken seriously.
Over time, your blog will evolve, and its niche will become clear, if you want one. It’s an organic process. But unless you are a total weirdo, if stuff interests you, the chances are that there are other people on the web who will be interested too. But you have to cast a wide net to begin with.
Hmmm. Well, my old blog was a mish-mash of stuff and in the end it actually stifled me. I would completely disregard this, and actually try to focus on something in particular. The power of the search engines and tools like Technorati mean that people will find you. Unless, of course, your chosen niche is unspeakably dull. Being regular is a good thing though – I would say you want to make at least a post a week.
5. Link, link and comment
Link to everyone you mention in a post – it’s common courtesy and makes your blog infinitely more useful. No-one would want to read a blog, only to have to switch to Google to find what you’re on about. Use trackbacks to let people know you are reading them and commenting on them. Use comments on other blogs to make salient and constructive points. But don’t do it for the sake of it. The more interesting your points, the more likely people are to sit up and take notice, and subscribe to your blog.
Make sure your blog allows comments, otherwise you are just having a conversation with a mirror. Always respond to comments people leave on your blog at the start, when there aren’t too many, so that a relationship can be formed with your readers. If someone comments on your blog, do them the courtesy of commenting on theirs. The key words are reciprocation and collaboration.
I think this all still holds true. Commenting on other people’s blogs doesn’t bring you any higher in the search engine rankings in these days of nofollow, but commenting on the blogs in a similar field to yours can only bring you attention, especially in those blogs that don’t have too many. One addition to this thought would be to ensure you have pings enabled on your posts. Turning this off means that people won’t know immediately that you are linking to them Sure, it makes your posts take a little longer to arrive on the web, but it’s worth it. Oh, and link to specific posts, not just domain-level links.
6. Keep notes on everything
You never know when they might come in handy. Always keep a simple text editor open, like Notepad on Windows, so you can tap stuff in as it occurs to you. Keep a notebook. Use an email account as an idea store. Ideas for blog posts can come from anywhere, from a conversation, an email, a book, a magazine or newspaper. Keep your eyes open and keep a way of recording what you see handy.
Now, of course, I would suggest using services like BackPack, PBwiki or Stikipad to store ideas. I would also encourage you to discuss them with other people, if you aren’t sure there is much of a post in it.
7. Make sure your presentation is good
Some people disagree on the need for good spelling or grammar, but I think it’s essential. I find it puts me off reading, as all I can think about is the mutilation of the English language in front of me. It’s true that the brain tends to skip some spelling mistakes, and no-one is error free, but its a good idea to read stuff back to ensure it makes sense. Capitalise sentences. That’s a big one for me. Avoid swearing, it can needlessly put off readers.
Your blog site should look nice too. Regular readers will be subscribers, but to attract new readers it’s a good idea to look like you know what you are doing. Try to avoid the most common templates that are available, make yours distinctive.
Try and make your posts stand out too. If there is a relevant image available, use it. Sign up to Flickr and post your own photos. Set up a random photo generator near the top of your page, it creates interest and makes people stick around.
Provide links to your blogroll, your link blog, other sites you are involved with. Have links to sites you visit regularly, it helps give new readers an impression of who you are. Include an email address so people feel you are accessible.
Choose a blog engine you like and trust. Make sure it has the features you want available. make sure its intuitive for you to use. Does it fit in with your methods of working? Consider your URL, and where you host your blog. Splashing out on webspace and a nice address can make you appear more committed, more serious about what you are doing. But it isn’t essential. If your content is good, you will rise up the Google ranks and people will find you by search, or though others’ links. Don’t change your URL. Stick with your decision. Don’t frustrate your readers.
To categorise or not to categorise? Some do, some don’t. It’s not that important either way. If you write on a diffuse range of subjects, it might be an idea to. It’s a good idea to give your posts titles though – it makes scanning on aggregators much easier.
Heh. There is only one choice of blog engine, of course, and that is WordPress. Also, hosted services aren’t that much of a barrier these days, especially with the likes of WordPress.com and others. Please don’t use Blogger, though. Do use categories and also, do use technorati tags. Look around for plug-ins and other extensions to make your blog easier to use for your readers. Don’t make it too personal though – if it is a blog about a specific topic, it might not be a good idea to have a Flickr feed of your holiday photos in the sidebar! I didn’t follow another piece of this advice – I did change my URL. I’m not sure how many readers I lost (I don’t even know how many I had in the first place). But sometimes a change is a good thing. This blog is far more focussed than the previous one, and because it was properly planned, I think it works better too.
8. Be interesting, even controversial, but not stupid
Don’t blog about things you shouldn’t. Don’t leave yourself or (even worse) others open to personal criticism because of what you post. If you don’t fully understand an issue, don’t blog on it – yet. Read more, take in other people’s views. Don’t make yourself look an idiot. Don’t flame people. What’s the point? You can disagree with others while remaining polite. It isn’t hard. Don’t deliberately take an extreme stance to provoke reactions. The most likely effect this will have is that people will ignore you.
I think this is fair enough still. There are bloggers out there who write explosive flameposts, which gives them a spike in readership, but it is only ever short term. The best way to get readers is through a slow accumulation of readers through good writing, and sensible linking and commenting.
9. Be funny
Hey, why don’t I take my own advice?! Everything that is good has jokes. Even the most bleak books, TV shows, films have jokes in them to make them classics. Even if it’s a black, dry seam of humour, it keeps the reader interested and coming back. Another way of putting this would be Don’t be boring. Don’t take yourself, your posts or your blog too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Respond positively to criticism.
I’m still not sure if I am any closer to this one. One blogger who has had a meteoric rise through the rankings (for a number of reasons) is Guy Kawasaki whose posts are always informative, but also amusing and self-deprecating. This is a Good Thing. Don’t take yourself or (even worse!) your opinions too seriously. Do respond to criticism, and be humble about it. Admit your mistakes and rectify them quickly!
10. Stick at it
No-one’s leaving comments. No-one is trackbacking to your posts. You don’t register until the 300th page on a Google on your name. Welcome to my world! But don’t give up. Think about why you started your blog. Was it for fame and adulation? Yes. Was it to get an enormous Google PageRank? Yes. Oh. Well, that isn’t going to happen, at least for a long, long time, or until you get a job at Microsoft or Google. Instead, focus on the smaller positives. Maintaining a blog keeps you in touch with friends and family who might read it. And if you only have a small number of readers, well, you owe it to them to keep going. Plus, your blog posts are improving your skills as a writer, which has to be a good thing. But most of all, you are taking part in a collaborative project, the blogosphere, which is on a quite remarkable scale. Someone, somewhere, is listening.
Of course, one thing I have come to realise is that they might not be. But that’s no reason to give up, is it?
Now for some extras:
11. Get the right software
We covered platform and plug-ins in #7, and briefly mentioned BlogLines in #1. But there are other things to consider too. Like an offline blog editor. If you are going to be writing some big posts, it might be an idea to use a system that lets you work away from your blog and to take a more measured approach. try BlogJet first, for maybe a free one like Qumana or Zoundry What about an offline aggregator? Products like FeedDemon and others let you download the blogs, and you can take them away from your web connection to read. Sometimes a bit of distance helps.
When you are starting your blog, plan like buggery. It’s nice tinkering, but leave too much to do when your blog is live opens you up to things going wrong. Work out what plug-ins you are going to need. Set up accounts with del.icio.us and FeedBurner. Decide on your theme early, and make sure your plug-ins work with it. If you are going to have advertising on your site, set up the accounts and integrate the ads into your theme. Are you going to have contributions from other people? If so, you need to have a look at the account authorisations on your site. There are lots of things to think about, and doing so in advance makes life a lot easier.
13. Subscribe to comment feeds
You can use a system like CoComment to follow reactions to comments you have made, but sometimes it’s better to get all the comments made on your favourite blogs. Don’t bother if there are hundreds of comments on each post, you’ll just get flooded out with information and won’t end up reading any of it. Instead, subscribe to the comment feeds of smaller blogs, ones you contribute comments to yourself on occasion, and interesting stuff always pops up.