Having a clear objective, a plan, and a checklist for blogging to break it down into manageable, actionable steps can help. Read through this post, from start to finish, then work your way from top to bottom. Even if you already have an established blog, you may find things to improve on and things you hadn’t thought to do before.
Sit down with a pen and paper, or use mind-mapping software. Ask yourself these questions, and jot down answers as fast as they come to you:
- Who am I? Who are my readers?
- What are my objectives?
- What are readers’ objectives – why should they keep coming back for more?
- When will I blog and engage in social media activity? When are the best times to post?
- Where will I spend the majority of my time and effort?
- How will I present myself online? How will I choose your domain/subdomain, site, and blog names to establish the “brand” that is uniquely me? How will I express that visually, through my blog template and images? How will I demonstrate it with the content I write and the posts that I share on social media?
- How will I measure and track whether I’m making progress towards my goals?
Pin this one to the corkboard in front of your desk and refer to it often as you set up a new blog, spruce up an old one, or set up your social media strategy to promote your posts.
- Increasing name recognition and credibility as an author – having a presence on the Internet is essential for this
- Gaining a better understanding of your audience and establishing a relationship with your readers
- Networking with other authors
- Learning what works and what doesn’t
- Getting feedback on your writing
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Choose a meaningful name for your site and title for your blog, overall. Ideally, this will match or coordinate with your domain/subdomain name(s). Choose a meaningful title. There are enough “Random Thoughts” on the Internet, now. Make yours more purposeful; consider key search terms potential customers might use to find you as well as interest-piquing ways you can frame them as a title or subtitle or “slogan.”
Have an “About Me” page and a Gravatar/profile photo. Unless anonymity is your brand, a friendly, smiling photo of you works best and gives you some credibility as a writer. Do not use a stock photo of a celebrity or model! Show your reader you – even if you have a wart on the end of your nose. Sure, someone might be a complete troll and comment on the wart, but that says much more about them than it does about you.
Write regularly. If you visited a blog and saw that the last post was dated six months ago, or referenced a news event from two years ago with the words, “Yesterday, this happened…” what would you think? You might think that the blogger had died, or at least given up blogging. Worse, you might think they’d stopped writing, altogether. At least one post a week can keep a blog looking active, fresh, and worth visiting again. Avoid writing ten posts one week and nothing at all for the next month. Most blog platforms offer a way to schedule posts ahead of time, so use that when you have time to write ahead.
Write meaningful titles and headings. It’s okay to write Upworthy-style titles, now and then, provided you deliver on the promise and don’t annoy the reader who falls for them. A clever title that doesn’t provide a clue about the content of the blog post won’t bring in interested readers in the first place, but a too-clever title that misleads readers into clicking, then fails to deliver, will mean lost and grumpy readers.
Write posts that have just the right number of words to cover the topic. Forget about short posts, long posts, and word count, unless you are writing for someone else, for pay. Your own blog posts should be just as short or as long as they need to be.
Organize your thoughts. Use an outline. Edit your draft to rearrange paragraphs so that they flow logically and not repetitively. Restate ideas for emphasis, but don’t just paraphrase them and restate them to “pad” the post and make it longer. This isn’t high school and there are no points for hitting exactly 850 words.
Use images to give your post visual appeal. If your blog platform lets you set a “featured image,” this (or the first image in your post) will likely be the first thing newcomers see when the post link is shared on social media. This, and the post’s first few lines of text, or a pre-defined excerpt, depending on your blogging platform, will be the first – and sometimes last – impression readers have. Readers have a finite amount of time and attention; don’t waste it.
Use images to illustrate your thoughts. Images not only aid in understanding the text, they serve to give the eyes and brain a visual break – in much the same way “white space” and headings do. Break up longer posts with relevant images, if possible. Don’t use completely unrelated images, though – they can be distracting and confusing.
Ensure that all images used are your own, original work or are properly licensed for you to use, by the person who created them. “Found on the internet” does not mean “public domain, anyone can use it.” Blog images do not have to be slick, professional, magazine quality photos. It’s better to create them yourself – and more fun. If you have a smartphone, the built-in camera is probably more than adequate to the task of taking good blog photos! Your readers will enjoy seeing you and a glimpse of your world, more than they will enjoy seeing the same stock photos other bloggers use over and over. Bathroom-mirror, duck-lips selfies are out, but action selfies – you doing something fun and blogging about it – never go out of style! If people weren’t at all interested in you, they’d spend their time on the other five billion blogs out there, instead! Other ideas and sources for images:
- Screenshots for technical “how to” posts
- Word clouds
- Images created with Canva or PicMonkey
- Getty Images for Bloggers (http://www.gettyimages.com/resources/embed)
Use image editing software to clean up your own images – focus on the main idea, correct lighting and color issues, and add text or watermarks. Invest in Photoshop or PaintShop Pro, or use a free image editing program or app, such as Gimp. Crop images to put your main subject in the most eye-catching position (look up “rule of thirds” – this isn’t always “dead center”), and “fix” poorly lit images. You like quotations and inspirational text? Add your own. Add a favorite (brief) line from your novel. Add a funny caption. Get creative.
Be thorough, specific, and never wishy-washy. Cover your topic from end-to-end. Give specific and complete information, not just a vague overview masquerading as a “how-to” article. My grandmother handed down to my mom her recipe for chicken noodle soup. She forgot a key ingredient, and my mom’s first attempt to make the soup was disastrous. “Oh – did I forget to mention that you needed to add chicken broth?” Don’t forget to include key details! Also, when advocating a position, expressing an opinion, or telling readers what they should or should not do, be bold and take a stance – or present both sides of the argument convincingly without appearing to waffle between them, teetering with uncertainty. Let readers choose, but don’t confuse them by muddying what you believe are the pros and cons of a thing. Few posts are more annoying than the sort that start out with “Five Things You MUST Do Right Now” that end with “These are some good things to do, but it’s up to you. Maybe they won’t work so well for everyone.” If you really believe that, maybe you shouldn’t write that blog post in the first place.
Link to relevant posts, both on your own blog and others’ blogs. Links should always be added to enrich the information presented on your blog – to enhance your readers’ experience. Links should be trustworthy, useful, and anchored with meaningful text. That is, rather than linking to a great post by highlighting the words “click here,” use words that describe the information. For example, if you have this sentence: “Allie describes how to set up a standard manuscript template in Word 2016,” make “how to set up a standard manuscript template in Word 2016” the clickable link. If another blogger has already provided this information in a way that is clear and helpful, link to their post. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! Links between bloggers help us all, and good links counteract the spammy, shady, nasty links that threaten to destroy the interconnected and sharing spirit of the internet. If you have a relevant past post on your own blog, add a link. Edit the past post, too, to add a link to the newer information! Blogging is an ongoing act of editing and publishing “new editions”!
Cite sources. Give credit where it’s due. Unless you’re aiming to sell reprint rights, there’s no real need to follow a particular citation style – but do include the source title, author, publisher, year, and URL (for online works) or simply link to them if you’re just giving a brief reference. Do not copy and paste whole chunks of text or images – giving proper attribution does not necessarily mean you have a license or right to use the material. “Fair use” is a defense against a charge of copyright violation; “fair use” is not an absolute right. There is no legally defined acceptable length for a quotation or excerpt, so use as little as possible – no more than what’s needed to make your point. Link back to the original source for more information.
Eliminate flaming hoops. Popups, animated ads, video and audio that automatically plays when the page loads, demands to “Like” or “Subscribe” to the page before revealing content, creepy little boxes that won’t let readers leave when they want to, CAPTCHA codes (especially the kind that demand readers solve math puzzles or read fuzzy little images with text and numbers) – all of these are what I call “flaming hoops” and they do not provide a pleasant user experience. In fact, some of them may violate usability standards and appear to deliberately exclude visitors who have certain types of disabilities. Exercise empathy in your blog design.
Allow a limited number of URLs and trackbacks in comments. If you can implement a commenting system and anti-spam measures that enable you to safely do so, allow one or two URLs in comments, and allow trackbacks (a sort of “comment backlink” to someone who links to your blog from theirs). You can throw these into the moderation queue and approve them on a case by case measure; you can, as a matter of policy, ban (blacklist) any commenter who abuses the privilege. CommentLuv plugin is one way to “reward” all readers with a link to a recent post, but consider allowing one or more meaningful links in the body of a comment, as well. You can put a note at the top of the comments section warning that these links should be relevant, non-promotional, non-commercial links. But sometimes, it’s good to add more depth to a discussion by referring to other sources of information. And trackbacks are a nice reward for other bloggers who bother to mention and link to your posts.
Respond to readers’ comments. This is not to say, “Never let a reader have the last word,” or to suggest that you continue to respond when the conversation is naturally over. A series of “thank yous” and “oh, no, thank you!” is unnecessary. But when guests visit, and take time to leave a comment, respond to them and let them know that they are welcome.
Enable email notifications for commenters. On most, if not all, blogging platforms, there’s an option to “subscribe to comments” or “be notified when anyone replies to my comment.” The first option sends a notification of every comment on the post (or blog); the second just lets commenters know when someone has replied to them. Either way, don’t assume that everyone will return to check – make it easy by giving them an obvious way to follow the conversation.
Comment on other blogs. Don’t be a self-centered blogger who never plays with the other bloggers. Eventually, that is a very isolating tactic that can defeat all your other efforts at promotion and networking. Focus on giving, and the world will give back to you.
Make it clear, in your comments, that you’ve read the post. You don’t want to be mistaken for a spammer. While a quick word of praise is never a bad thing, it can seem spammy or dismissive when it comes to blog comments. If the post doesn’t inspire anything in the way of normal conversation, try to find another post that does – comment on that one, instead.
Keep the “Social” in Social Media. Most people do not eat, breathe, and dream about business 24/7. They sure as heck don’t care about your business 24/7. You don’t need to express an artificial, forced interest in theirs, either – odds are, they’ll tell you about it if you seem open to them doing that, or if it comes up naturally in conversation. Again, there’s nothing wrong with shameless self-promotion, but others will help you in that if you show an interest in them first. Consider promoting five other people – their blog posts, their books, their art, their music, their products, their business – for every self-promotional or self-indulgent (non-conversational) post you make. And don’t forget to make conversation, or people will forget you’re human.
Use automation sensibly. I use a plugin, JetPack Publicize, to automatically share my blog posts to my blog’s Facebook page, my Tumblr, and Twitter. I use IFTTT to share selected posts (based on pre-defined hashtags) to my blog, Twitter, or Pinterest. If you automate anything, draw it out on paper to ensure that you’re not creating a weird, endless loop somewhere, and that you’re not annoying everyone by sharing the same post multiple times in the same place. Don’t be a robot!
Remember that each social media platform has its own character. Take time to understand the sorts of posts that “work” on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr. These platforms will work better for you if you use them effectively and don’t just throw content at the wall, hoping it’ll stick like spaghetti.
Develop empathy or stay off the internet. The internet is global. Its users come from all nations, all walks of life. Their education and their experiences and their cultures are richly diverse. Count to fifty before taking offense at something a stranger, half a world away, says to you. Perhaps your language is not their first or even second language. Misunderstandings can be fixed, through clarifying questions and answers, if your knee jerk reaction isn’t to take a perceived slight and insult their mother in return. People the world around love their mothers – if you need a starting point for finding common ground, ask “How’s your mother?”
People are not different just because they’re online. People sometimes let down their carefully crafted facades and show their true colors when they think they’re safely on the other side of an anonymous computer monitor. If they behave rudely, cruelly, hatefully, or trollishly on the Internet, they are rude, cruel, hateful, trollish people – make no mistake and make no excuses for their behavior. The internet only brings out the worst in people because it’s there to be brought out in the first place. That said, most people are pretty nice – they’re not all that different from us. It’s okay to be angry, sometimes. It’s okay to be a grouch. It’s okay to have “stupid days” (or so my friends tell me, when I’m in the throes of one). But it’s not okay to engage in personal attacks against others.
Respond thoughtfully to criticism. If someone offers you criticism, think about it. Consider, for a bit, whether there’s any fairness in it or useful insight to be gleaned from it. Disarm them with thanks. Don’t fight. If it’s not fair, correct any misinformation, but don’t fight. I once got some pretty harsh criticism from a stranger, and consoled myself by thinking, “Better he should bitch at me than kick the dog.” It turned out he was having a lousy, rotten day and had been the brunt of unfair criticism, himself. He apologized later, and we became friends. Remember, how you respond to criticism and personal attacks is noticed by other people – people who may matter to you more than the person you’re responding to. Don’t alienate them by retaliating or acting like an angry troll.
As is often the case, I was inspired by my friend Mitch Mitchell to think of my own list – not of “31 Big Mistakes People Make in Blogging and Social Media” – but of things we should all keep in mind and work to do a better job of in blogging and social media. My first thought on reading his post was, “Only 31?” But most mistakes aren’t the end of the world, and there’s no pleasing everyone. Some days, we’re doing well just to avoid swallowing our feet. We’re only human, after all.
- Any steps I’ve missed, here? Got any pet peeves when it comes to bloggers and blogging? Let’s talk about them in the comments. That includes you readers who don’t blog – tell us what you love and hate about the blogs you read.
- Have I practiced what I’ve preached? What do you like or dislike about this blog, in particular? (Go ahead – give constructive criticism when asked! If it feels uncomfortable, try listing one or two things that need improvement, and close with one or to things you particularly like.)
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