If you’re considering starting a blog or you recently have, I have a few blogging suggestions I’d offer from a baker’s dozen years of doing this.
February 7 is the birthday of Patrick’s Place. This year, the blog turns 13 years old.
I know, I know, everyone has their own list of rules when it comes to blogging. Some people follow them to the letter with no success. Then they start breaking them one after another and find no more success that way. Even so, we love asking for and giving out our own blogging suggestions.
With very few exceptions, I think most “rules” are dependent on the blogger and the blogger’s audience. There are a handful of things I think should be done regardless…but not nearly as many as some other bloggers might say.
Here’s a list of 13 suggestions I’d offer to anyone who’s new to blogging or pondering a blog sometime in the future…or even those who have been blogging for a while and are looking for ideas to rethink things a bit.
1. Decide what you want to accomplish.
When I started this blog, I didn’t have a formal plan, but I knew I wanted to try to provide some (hopefully) entertaining insight into a variety of topics. The topics have been tweaked a bit over the years, but a lot of what went into the little big of planning I did still is valid.
But no matter how detailed a plan you have, there’s a more important question to ponder: What will define “success” for your blog? Comments, social shares, email signups? If you know specific things you want your audience to respond with, that can help how you shape your content so that you’re sure to ask for those things.
2. Choose a topic area.
What is your blog going to be about? That’s an important question. Some will insist that you should choose a narrow niche and stay solidly within those lines. I didn’t do that. Over the course of the 13 years of blogging here, I did splinter the blog into several single-topic blogs.
To put it mildly, it was a disaster — at least from my point of view.
Each blog had comments and regular readers, but I was miserable: I never felt I gave any of them enough individual attention and I felt like I was scattered all over the place. This format — with topic days — worked much better for me. There is actually a school of thought that having a more “versatile” blog might not be such a bad idea. Your mileage may vary. But it’s a decision you should consider before you get going.
3. Can you come up with 13?
Recently I wrote the number 13 can be a “magic number” for bloggers. That also applies to would-be podcasters or video posters, too. There are 52 weeks in the year; divide it by four and you get 13. Do the math and you’ll realize that’s a quarter of a calendar year. Can you come up with 13 post ideas before you ever launch your blog? (If you start off posting one post per week, that will get you through the first three months.)
If you are considering adding a new category, could you come up with 13 post ideas for that specific category? Doing so will help the ideas flow for a while; you’ll have a full three months’ worth of weekly posts to write before you have to come up with a 14th idea.
In this post’s case, of course, I chose the number 13 because it’s the blog’s 13th anniversary. Coincidences do happen, you know.
4. Decide on a reasonable posting frequency.
If there’s one question I hear more than any other from people who are looking for blogging suggestions, it’s this one: How often should I post?
The two obvious problems with this question are that it assumes there’s one magical formula that works for everyone and that it assumes you, the blogger, have unlimited time so that you can immediately drop everything else so that you can blog with the same frequency. There isn’t and you don’t. Decide how often you can reasonably post and start there. I didn’t always post daily, after all. It took quite a number of years to reach that point…and there are still times that coming up with a next post is difficult. But if I’d started with the notion of posting weekly, this blog would have lasted for all of about 13 minutes, not 13 years.
5. Consider your audience.
I shake my head and chuckle every time I see a blogger who insists that he blogs for himself and “doesn’t care” what his readers think. With blogging, it isn’t all about you. It’s about the relationship you build with the people who will come back and read your next posts. If you don’t value those readers, you don’t deserve them. Sooner or later, they’ll realize you don’t value them and they’ll stop visiting. There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself, but you should do so with your audience in mind.
6. Make sure you have a thick skin.
Sooner or later, you’re going to offend someone, and often, it’ll happen with a post that you were certain wouldn’t offend anyone. You’ll get some nasty, mean-spirited comment from someone with an obvious lack of home training. They may have deep personal convictions about the topic you’re writing about, or they may just have a really bad toothache that day, and they’ll respond by attacking you.
Their tone won’t be appropriate for the situation and would never be a tone they’d display if they were talking with you face to face. But these “keyboard warriors” won’t hesitate to give you a piece of their narrow, simple little minds when they’re sitting in their underwear eating Cheetos and happen upon your blog.
You’ll have to learn to ignore those folks. You can always create a comment policy that bans rude behavior: once you do that, their return visits can be dealt with as simple as clicking the “delete” button.
7. Forget you ever heard, ‘Write every day, no matter what.’
This is some of the most absurd advice I’ve ever heard. Think about it: what would you expect to produce when you write something when you’re sick, tired, or just don’t feel like writing? How much quality can you reasonably expect?
Brace yourself for a shock: there are going to be days when you don’t feel like writing…when you’re tapped out of ideas…when you’re just not feeling it. You don’t solve those feelings by forcing yourself to sit at a keyboard and write anyway. Solve those feelings by getting out of the house and doing something, going somewhere, taking photos, spending a meal with a close friend. A post idea will smack you right in the face.
8. Get a few posts ahead.
Let’s say you’ve committed to doing three posts per week. Then let’s say you experience that Blogger’s Block from #7 above. You have a post due.
Suddenly, there’s that much more pressure on yourself to finish the post. So unless you’re willing to be flexible on your posting schedule — which isn’t necessarily a good idea if your audience is conditioned to know what your schedule is — you’re going to crash something together that might not meet your typical quality standards. It’s so much easier when you can get a couple of posts ahead and simply schedule them with an editorial calendar. It immediately takes the pressure off and gives you more time to spend writing the posts you actually want to publish.
I started this post back in January. I scheduled the post just by title — so I’d see on my calendar that this was a topic I wanted to handle — back in December. That way, it was in front of me and I was pondering ideas even before I really sat down to write it.
9. Shoot for the Snowball Effect
No, I’m not talking about paying off debts, although the “snowball effect” is a valid point there, too. I’m talking about getting ahead on posts or specific topics on your blog.
Once you have a few extra posts scheduled and waiting to appear, you can use some of that time you’ve just freed from the dreaded deadline pressure to keep writing and get that much further ahead. The further ahead you get, the better you feel. (And don’t forget, just because you schedule something in advance doesn’t mean you can’t reschedule it for even later if something more pressing or more timely comes along.
10. Stop looking for a magic formula.
I mentioned it before, but there’s still an insistence among bloggers that there’s a magic formula for things. No one size — whether it’s the number of words per post, the number of steps to crafting a post or the number of times per week you post — fits all.
And that’s okay. Write the best, most complete, most thought-out posts you can in a consistent schedule that gives your audience an idea of what to expect and focus on repeating that plan.
11. Check your stats and learn from them.
I’m a big believer in checking my stats. In the real job, I do so every day. On my website here, it’s not every day but it’s often. I tend to look for trends and year-to-year performance. It’s the best way to measure whether you’re truly growing your audience because reading and visiting patterns can change so wildly month to month or seasonally. I’ve changed topic areas and web designs based on what the stats tell me. I’ve dropped features and launched others based on whether the stats tell me they were successful or, at least, of interest.
It’s amazing what you can learn if you just pay attention.
Here’s a post I wrote about the three stats I pay particular attention to. There are others that might be equally valuable to you, but I highly recommend that you learn Google Analytics and use it for your own blog.
12. Build a community.
Nurture your readers before the fact by crafting well-written (yes, grammar does matter on a blog) posts and after the fact by engaging with them and responding to comments. Readers who feel valued, even when they don’t agree with you, will come back.
I have readers who’ve been along for this wild ride from almost day one. That’s 13 years! And I can promise you there’s not one of them that agrees with me on everything I write. When you have a sense of community with your readers, those who are loyal enough to keep coming back know you can have genuine conversations. I may have convinced them to rethink their positions a few times over the years, but I can honestly say they’ve changed my mind on a few things, too.
I don’t know why a blogger wouldn’t want something like that.
13. Remember the four most important words.
I borrow these from the late Don Hewitt, the man who created CBS’s 60 Minutes. Hewitt said those words to both people within his organization and young people who asked him about the secret of being a good journalist. It applies to blogging, too. Those four words are: “Tell me a story.”
If this is your first time reading my blog, thank you for visiting and I do hope you’ll be back. If you’ve been here before, thanks for returning.
I hope we’ll all be back next year to celebrate year 14!