I officially began my 20th year of blogging this month, and I thought I’d look back on some good blogging decisions from the last 19.
Normally, I’ll lead off the month of February with a few words on reaching another blogging anniversary. This year marked my blog’s 19th birthday. So as I begin the 20th year of Patrick’s Place, I thought I’d look back at my best blogging decisions.
I don’t believe any blogger has all the answers, though some work hard to convince you they do. I’ve made a few good blogging decisions over the years. In case it helps another blogger, here are five I think are worth a mention.
1. Not choosing a narrow niche
This is the first major “rule” of blogging that I broke. Anytime you look up “blogging rules,” you’ll almost always see that “Find your niche” will appear toward the top. The blogging gurus out there insist you should find one narrow topic on which you can build yourself as an “expert.” You’ll then build your content around that narrow topic.
If you want to branch out to include content that isn’t primarily focused within that narrow niche, you should find a way to tie it in…or start a second blog focusing on that niche.
At this blog, I focus on seven primary subjects: Blogging, Grammar, Faith, TV, Tech/Web, Journalism and a catch-all-else category I call Life.
My most popular category of those seven is grammar. That subject tends to get the most page views and it’s evergreen content in that category that is often among the top page views.
Sure, I could have focused solely on grammar from day one. But I don’t know how long I would have wanted to keep writing on just that single topic. As much of a grammar nerd as I can be, I would think after 19 years that I might have tired of talking about nothing else here.
I also find, however, that my readers also seem to appreciate variety. If I look at the top 10 posts of the past year, I find that four of them are in the grammar category. Three fall in the life category. Two of them fall under the TV category and the remaining one falls under the tech/web section.
The top post in the past year, in fact, isn’t a grammar post. Of all things, it’s a post about a curious banking rule change in which they suddenly now require an ID when you want to deposit cash.
I noticed the change out of the blue one day when I made a deposit of birthday money and questioned it. When the bank explained the policy without explaining the reason for it, I researched. It led to a post. Apparently, it has happened to enough people who were just as curious as I was that they’ve ended up on my site searching for the same topic.
Who would have thought?
2. Switching to WordPress and my own domain
I started this blog in February of 2004 on AOL’s now-defunct “Journals” platform. After a kerfuffle about censorship on that platform, a bunch of us left for Blogger. But in March of 2007, I took a bold step: I bought my own domain, this one, and switched from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress.
I am tempted to say that if I’d known in 2004 what I know now, I would have started in WordPress from the start. But I can’t honestly say that. Starting off in AOL, where there was a strong blogging community, gave me an audience that was larger than I deserved. But it was having that audience that motivated me to keep going.
I’ve posted many times about the importance of owning your own domain when it comes to blogging. A fellow blogger on AOL lost all of his graphics when an over-eager editor responded to a bogus complaint about one single image and deleted the entire graphics folder associated with that blog. In more recent years, we have seen people get banned or suspended from various social media platforms. People like to call social media “microblogging.” I don’t.
But if you consider your “blogging” activity to be done on a site like Facebook or Twitter — or Instagram or any of the others — you really need to rethink that. What would happen if you woke up one day to find that the platform in question had been hacked or had shut down? Where would your content go? How would you get it back? (Spoiler alert: You probably wouldn’t.)
Having your own domain means you’re in control of your content. You can use backup plugins to make sure that if the worst happened, you wouldn’t lose anything.
You can’t depend on a third-party service to do everything for you, particularly when you aren’t paying to post there!
3. Reducing my posting schedule
I did something I absolutely did not intend to do on Jan. 5, 2013. It was on that date that I posted the first in more than six years’ of consecutive daily posts. It took me a while, probably a couple of months or so, to realize that I had not missed a day. That’s when my stubbornness kicked in.
When I realized I hadn’t missed a day for however long it had been, something just clicked in my head. I suddenly felt the need to keep that going. I don’t know why.
But I realized I was putting more and more pressure on myself to not miss a day. Even with the editorial calendar I relied on (and still do), I found it harder and harder over time to conceive a week of posts week after week.
Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to keep that streak going for as long as I did. But finally, I made a change.
Actually, I made two changes to my posting schedule. Back in July of 2019, I decided to drop weekends. That took my weekly blogging “obligation” from seven posts to five. Nearly a year-and-a-half later, in November of 2020, I killed Friday posts as well. There have been a handful of Fridays on which I’ve made a post. But that quickly became rare.
From that 7-day streak, I cut the workload nearly in half.
With it, I cut the the deadline pressure I’d been putting myself under for all those years. It has made blogging easier. By removing some of the pressure, I’m enjoying it more. If I hadn’t forced myself to relax the daily posting obligation I forced on myself, I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain any level of quality by this point.
4. Paying attention to stats
I could always have just written my little posts and gone about my day. No one ever required that I install Google Analytics on this site. And certainly no one forced me to monitor which content is resonating.
Not doing so would probably have kept me from floating grammar as a “priority” category for me, since that’s the category that most often resonates. But not doing so would also have kept me from random posts like the banking policy that history has shown me also has the potential to do well.
Paying attention to stats has also helped me make changes in the layout and in other areas that have helped me better focus on the kind of content to which my readers seem to naturally flock.
5. Not giving up
The average blog’s lifespan isn’t even a year. In fact, it isn’t even six months, according to research I found back in 2016.
If this blog had folded after 100 days, it would have been put to bed in about June of 2004. I certainly wouldn’t have been writing about my blogging exploits 19 years after that very first post.
Like many bloggers, I do check out my stats. I’ve watched the number of comments dwindle, like most bloggers have, as social media became more of a place where comments happen.
I can’t say those things don’t bother me.
But over time, they’ve come to bother me a lot less. I’ve found other things that keep me wanting to write. That’s what blogging is all about. When the average blog gets shuttered 100 days in, it’s critical that you find a passion that will keep you writing through Day 101. And then Day 102. And so on. After 19 years, I suppose I’m approaching Day 7,000. (Even though I’m not posting daily…I’m still thinking about the next posts even on non-posting days.)
No, I never thought this blog would see the start of its 20th year.
But I’m glad I found a way to keep it going long enough for that to happen!