On this page, I’ll share what I’m learning as a newbie blogger. I’ve only been blogging since April this year (2011) and it’s now October as I write. I don’t know nuffink yet. Well, not quite. I have my own learning experiences which are as valid as anyone else’s and I have the advice of others I have never met but who have encouraged me as I bumped into them in the Blogosphere. On this page I’ll freely pass on anything I’ve learnt and been taught so I will add to it from time to time. If you are already a blogger reading this, feel free to correct/update me and leave your own comments and experiences.
Just do it.
For me the hardest thing about blogging was starting. To be honest I didn’t really know what blogging was and had never read or followed any. Blogging is different things to different people depending on what you want to do with it. For some, it’s a business enterprise where money is made by leading interested customers to a point of sale. Money can also be made through creating enough traffic to your site to make hosting advertising profitable. For most ordinary folk, from what I’ve seen, blogging is just a creative vent and a space for free and personal expression. You don’t need to be a literary genius to blog. You just have to be you. It’s your space. Your thoughts and words are as valid as the person next to you. You have a life and therefore you have something to say. If you come into blogging afraid of the judgement and criticism of others then you are choking yourself from the outset. Most of all, don’t shy away in fear of the blank screen wondering what you are going to fill it with. Just put one foot in front of the other and venture out. You can always change and edit stuff later and as often as you like. Nothing is set in stone. The most important thing is that if you have just an inkling to do it…then just do it.
Do you need to have a set direction for your blog before you start? That depends. You might have a particular hobby or interest that you would like to share with others, so for example you might be a great amateur cook or photographer. Your blog will then by default be focused on your interest and should not deviate much from it because you will attract others who come to your site because they have a similar interest or appreciation. But blogs don’t need to have a set direction in mind before you start on your journey. They can just evolve along the way. My blog is my second attempt at blogging and I do have a direction in mind for this one but that is only after I first set out with my previous blog which was random and had no set purpose but it was just by doing it that I learned stuff along the way and I’m still learning stuff….boy am I! I’m using WordPress for this one whereas I used Blogger for my old site and it’s taking me ages to get my head round how to do things, but I’m learning. So back to the point…no, you don’t need to have a set direction for your blog. It’s an expression of you. The first people who will read it are most likely to be your friends and family and they will expect to see an expression of the person they know, though you may well surprise them along the way if you engage them to follow. More about that later.
If you have never blogged before and are not web techie savvy like me, then probably one of the best routes into the Blogosphere is via one of the free web hosting sites such as Blogger or WordPress. Now, I’m being honest here….I have only been blogging for 6 months as I type and I may well come back to re-edit this section again the more I learn. Blogger was an ideal starting place for me – very easy to set up and use, very easily findable and comprehensive FAQ’s and most of all its highly useful forum called ‘The Coffee Shop’ (or TCS) where you can interact with other bloggers and ask then questions and learn from them. In fact it was this latter that most of all helped and encouraged me to keep going. There are so many benefits to starting blogging this way using a site such as Blogger because it is owned and run by Google and you get all the advantages of that but there are some serious pitfalls too. Blogger is harsh and uncompromising in shutting down blogs if they stray even ever so slightly from their rules. My own site on Blogger fell victim to this. I was picked up for being a ‘spammer’ even though I was not. My site was a genuine private site but one thing I did do that I think got me in trouble was to advertise certain of my postings on a widget called ‘Feedjit‘. Feedjit is a gadget you can add to your site that lets you know who has visited your site and where in the world they have come from. There is a space on there that you can pay to run ads. Feedjit is not part of Google and they have a team that vet ads before they are allowed to run and they will even feed back to you why they will not run an ad and what might need changing on your own site to comply with Terms and Conditions for running the ad. I had run several ads over the time but the last thing I advertised – and this is what I think got me shut down – was a post on my forthcoming trip to Israel, even though the post itself was non-political. Feedjit had cleared the ad to run after reading my post and that post was even cleared to run on a Blog syndication site called the ‘Blog Farm’ (more about them later) who also fed back to me when I asked them that there was nothing controversial in my post. I guess someone somewhere took offence at the name Israel and complained to Blogger and hence I got shut down. Interestingly, I was on my site at the very moment it got shut down and had noticed from Feedjit that among the people who had most recently read my advertised post were some from Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Go figure. OK, so coming back to the point of this section, I’d still recommend Blogger as a starting point but just be careful. From the feedback I got from bloggers I met on there who then became friends on Facebook, having a site shut down by Blogger is not an uncommon occurrence. Once they do shut down your site, there is a lengthy appeal process to reopen it, which quite frankly was the last straw for me with them oh….and if you also have a Gmail account that you open your Blogger account with…..they will shut that down too even though your email address and its contents have nothing to do with what you posted in your blog. Needless to say, I’m with Yahoo and Hotmail now.
Stop and take a breather.
OK, you just got started and now I’m suggesting you stop. This is probably more a note to self more than anything else but assuming you have now chosen and set up your blogsite and tarted it up the way you like it and you have just written your first post. Pause for a moment before you hit the ‘publish’ button. Save it (well actually it will have auto-saved itself) and go do something else for a while. Come back to the post with a fresh mind. You will always find better ways of expressing something and spot spelling and grammar mistakes. One big point that can turn off readers – especially fellow bloggers – is poor spelling and grammar. Fear not – you have a spell checker to help you. You don’t have to be werd perfick but never let your posts seem like you don’t care about what you are posting.
Break it up.
If you have a lot to say in your latest blog post be sure to break up the content using paragraphs and images. First sight for the reader of one long solid chunk of copy can seem daunting and will disengage them before they’ve given you a try. Again speaking to myself here…but there is nothing wrong with a short post.
Build an audience.
Once your blog is up and running, you will want to build an audience that will read and follow it. Oh yes you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be writing a blog but a diary instead. The most obvious way to start getting readers is to let your friends and family know. Email them links and updates…yeah make a bit of a nuisance of yourself. Use social networking (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc). Make sure you build into your blogsite as many ways possible that people can use to bookmark you or follow you and also share your posts on social media. This can be done by adding widgets to your site that contain links to the most popular social networking sites. To get your blog to a wider audience outside of your friends and family will require some effort but this is where you will see payback. Friends and family may engage with your blog for a while and out of friendship, but at best – unless you really are the next best thing since sliced bread – they will be sporadic readers and for some remember that prophets are seldom welcome in their home towns. Besides….isn’t it great to find yourself interacting with and seeing people you have never met visiting your site and leaving comments? So how do you get to a wider audience? One of the best routes is to join blog forums and get involved in the chats, debates and the sometimes inane nonsense there. I have already mentioned ‘The Coffee Shop’ that is part of Blogger. There will be other forums like that but a note of caution. Any such forum is basically an open market (that’s literally what the Forum was in ancient cities) where people can banter and very often slag each other off. Given that the Internet by its nature brings out often the worst in people, you will find forums full of discussions and rants that you may disapprove of. That’s just life. But you will also be amazed to find that people whose behaviour in the forums is quite diverse from your own but who may find your blog and choose to follow it.
Interacting with fellow bloggers on forums will require some time investment. You will need to keep up an appearance there and that will mean visiting it and contributing regularly. Participate in discussions and post a few of your own. As people become aware of you and get a feel for your personality, they might then be drawn to your blog but that is not a given just because you have entered the forum. You will also build an audience by being part of an audience. Have a look at other people’s blogs. READ THEM. Respond to them, follow them and comment on them and you are likely to find they will reciprocate. Remember they are also looking for an audience and they will be monitoring their sites to see who is visiting them and reading them and they will be keen to keep you as a reader too.
Other ways of finding an audience – and here I’m really talking about the ordinary Joe Public like me wanting to put out our random stuff rather than the bloggers who have a business or speciality interest – are to advertise on widgets and gadgets as I have mentioned above but as stated, be careful with this. You might also look at blog syndication sites such as The Blog Farm, which I have used and like but here you are looking at a financial outlay because you are essentially entering the realm of commercial advertising. You get much more effective results from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Stumbleupon and Delicious plus they are all free.
How do I know I’ve got an audience?
Well, the freinds and family you first publicised your blog to will feed back to you via email and word of mouth and possibly comments on your blog. With Blogger, you will get a free stats package that will tell you on a weekly basis how many people visited your site, which countries they came from, what content they looked at, what web browser they used, what other sites referred them to you (ie, if you posted up your blog on Facebook etc, you can se how many responded to your post and came through to your site). I’m still learning what WordPress has to offer in this way. You can also add all sorts of widgets to your site that will give you basic stats counts. If you are looking for more sophisticated stats on your visitors, then I recommend Tynt. It’s free to set up and it will give you deeper insights not just into what content has interested your audience but what people have copied from your site and shared with others and how, whether by email or social networking and how the desirability of your content compares with websites in general that Tynt measures. All you need to do is sign up for a Tynt account, embed their code on your site which is hidden to your visitors and you will then receive a weekly report and, again, it’s all free.
How often should I post up content?
No hard and fast rules here from what I can gather. I guess it depends on how much you feel you have to say and what type of blog you are running. So let’s say your specialist interest area is computing technology, then it’s pretty certain that you’ll post up fairly frequently to keep up with an ever changing industry. If you are more a poet or photgrapher, the frequencies of your posts will depend on your creativity. Once you have regular followers, you will need to keep adding fresh and interesting content or risk losing them. Bloggers have been known to invite a guest blogger – a friend or someone they trust – to take over adding and editing the content on their site if they have to take a break for any length of time…I don’t know, like go on holiday, have a baby….fight in Afghanistan or something like that. That can add a new dimemsion and keep your content fresh while you are unable to attend to it. Just make sure your guest editor is not funnier or more creative than you! If your blogsite is for something like a club or a community, say a church or book club, then who ever sets up the blog can appoint a number of people with admin rights to post up new content and share the burden. Best to keep numbers of people with these admin rights to a minimum and make sure you set up some ground rules between you as to what the content should be, frequency of posts etc or you will risk the site feeling somewhat schizophrenic to the reader.
Not everything you hear about internet chat rooms is negative. As I wrote higher up the page, the web and especially chat rooms can bring out the worst in people who are free to lambast each other with anonymity and geographical distance. My experience on Blogger’s ‘The Coffee Shop’ was I’d say 95% positive. It’s a great place to learn about blogging and to find out that people share exactly your frustrations and hang-ups. It’s a good place to get known and acquire an audience but it does require staying power and effort and time. If you are also active on other networks like Twitter and Facebook, then at times it can seem like you really are Johnny No-mates spending all your time there. That’s a warning…you can get sucked in to that if you are not careful. Make days for yourself where you don’t touch social media at all. Put on a mucky long overcoat and nothing else and go jump out of bushes at the old ladies in the park for a change. It’s fun…trust me.
As a ‘newbie’ in the forum, you are fresh meat…seriously. Now don’t be scared. The more established members are checking you out and it may take a while before some of theem respond to your comments. They will then do one of 3 things with you: engage with you, ignore you or jump on you like a bunch of blood-starved Harpies with Rabies. Be cautious. There are always ‘top dogs’ in every chat room. These are the ‘lifers’. The reason they are top dogs and have the most mates and followers is because they spend almost all their waking moments there. Once you have identified the top dogs, never try to ingratiate yourself to them. They can smell a creep a mile off.
As a newbie, it’s OK to ask questions and I have been impressed with how patient and giving some of the Blogger veterans were when they get a constant stream of newbies coming on and asking the same questions. The first question most newbies want answered is what other bloggers think of their site. It’s a fair and valid point but be careful how you ask it and my advice is not to ask it straight away. I have noticed that despite all the shenanigans you find in forums, bloggers are willing to help and support each other. They know blogging is a thankless task often with little or no feedback, but true bloggers are dedicated and for many it’s a much needed form of release and creativity so large audience numbers are irrelevant. Never, never, never try to ‘bribe’ would-be followers with a comment in the forum that says ‘hey check out my new blosgite! Follow me and I’ll follow you!’. Never spam other bloggers and if you are going to head down the path in the forum of just becoming a troll and attacking everyone in sight then on your head be it.Bloggers know many ways to skin cats.
Post-script (March 2012)
Having been a blogger now for 11 months I can say from my own experience that while Blogger was a good way to start off into the Bloggosphere, I would never, never, never use it again. In fact the whole experience I have had with them as part of the Google group has made me switch my default search engine to another. My advice now after 11 months on the road is ditch Blogger. Back-up, save your stuff and move on. I did back-up my stuff and some of it I have pulled across to this site. Not much, tho’. Blogger was my Kindergarten. I’ve moved on.
This site is my own domain but powered by WordPress. WP is like University compared to Blogger and I’m still trying to get my head around it. There are more options to choose from than I know what to do with but I must admit that unlike Blogger, which gives you all-inclusive off the shelf packages, WP requires you to think and to be IT savvy. I’m not and so I guess I’m not making the best use of what they have to offer. However, I don’t think I’m doing all that bad. I may not be making the most of social media to self-promote but to be honest I don’t have what it takes to attract a massive audience in content or style. Like I said on the ‘About’ page, I mainly write for me. Very self-indulgent I know but there are worse things I could do with my time and thoughts.
That said….I have no regrets whatsoever about shifting away from Blogger.