When I started blogging, I never thought I would write a post on how to write a blog. Yet here I am! A pretty unsuccessful blogger hoping to pass on some words of wisdom to those just starting out or those who have broken down on their blogging journey.
I started blogging way back when I was at uni, between 2001 and 2004. I didn’t have an aim or a goal. I just wanted to write and my blog was basically a diary on the internet. I also had no aspirations to get hits. I didn’t know if anyone was looking at what I wrote and I didn’t invite comments. I just blogged and it was great.
As time went on, I lost interest and other things took priority. Life, mainly! Then I met someone who also had a blog and it rekindled my interest. She was doing a blogging challenge of a post a day for a hundred days, and it sounded interesting.
I started to post fairly regularly with the help of the Daily Prompt. I used the prompt to stimulate ideas when I didn’t have any. I also kind of liked the community spirit generated by the nature of the “pingbacks” to the Prompt. Pingbacks exposed my posts to other like minded bloggers.
I started to get “real” hits, but only to the tune of maybe 10 a day from a semi-regular following, all referred from WordPress.
One day I decided to experiment. I opened my posts up to “likes” and my blog up to following, so that my posts would appear in people’s WordPress readers. I also tried to get more involved in the community. I started critiquing and providing feedback in WordPress’ Community Pool, as well as asking for feedback on my own posts.
My stats rocketed up by comparison to where they were, but they’re not what I would call impressive compared to other WordPressers I’ve seen. I have 93 followers and a few weeks ago I just jumped over the 1000 likes mark (which I still find staggering!) in about 5 months. I’ll normally get 20-30 visitors a day, and sometimes that will amount to around 50 page views. I’ll get a few likes, maybe the odd comment.
So, just to point out and say this myself right now so you don’t have to – I AM NOT SAYING THAT I AM A SUCCESSFUL BLOGGER!!! But I’m also not so embarrassed as to not show and tell you my stats.
I see other people’s blogs, though, which I don’t mean to belittle but I need to say this to make my point… Sometimes these are posts just about their pets or their gardens, or their pets in their gardens, and that single post alone has 60 likes.
I would review my content as a result. I have a formula for my posts. I like to add a personal anecdote or story and tie that up to a life lesson or suggestion or scientific facts or social commentary, followed by an apt song lyric as a soundtrack for the post. I thought it to be a fairly solid structure. I was pleased with the outcome even if those posts aren’t as popular as others.
But I realised that my mindset has changed. I realised that I liked the attention and reaching people and that my focus was on Daily Prompting rather than writing freely. There were two things that made me realise this.
The first thing was when the pingbacks weren’t working and no-one got referred to my blog via WordPress. It felt like it gave me freedom to write, which is odd because I’d never felt restricted by the Prompt. The only answer was that I liked the hits.
Secondly was when I tried to advertise more on social media. I set up a plugin to tweet links to historical posts on my blog, and the plugin uses tags as hashtags. I was going back adding tags to old posts and I was hit by the dawning realisation that a lot of what I wrote even last year isn’t what people would be searching for on the internet. It was a very generic diary, and one that would only get a following if people found the writing funny or somehow connected to it. It wouldn’t be found via Google though, so would never grow organically.
I dived back in to the Community Pool and I began to notice an increase in people asking how to grow traffic. The requests for help would come primarily in two ways – “I’ve started blogging yesterday but no-one has visited yet – what am I doing wrong?” or “I’ve been blogging a few months and I got a lot of hits at the start but now no-one is interested – what am I doing wrong?”
Just Not That Interesting.
It got me thinking about people’s expectations around their blogs and here I think there are some cold hard truths.
The first is that sometimes your posts just aren’t as interesting as you think they are. Ask yourself how someone would find your post about your holiday in Paris above everybody else’s blog post about their holiday in Paris within one day of you posting it, without you telling them that it’s there. The answer is that they’re not going to, unless…
(OK, this isn’t a seemless link, but they are related points!)
The second point is that sometimes posts just aren’t as interesting as you think they are. Some people I think see famous bloggers making a living from a YouTube channel and assume that they got there easily. They didn’t. They got there because they worked hard and people loved their content. It has an x-factor that means they can write a post about their holiday in Paris and people won’t only find it by searching on Google, but they’ll actively go looking for that particular post.
I know that sounds harsh, but I’ve been telling myself that I’m just not that interesting too. I read and follow a lot of blogs that don’t get tens of thousands of hits (I’m guessing here, and not criticising!) but the bloggers write about their holidays and I enjoy their posts immensely and I’d love them to get more readers. But I think some people start with their expectations in the right place and others assume that all they need to do is write a post on the internet and they’ll be a sensation.
There’s two steps for me, and I think people miss the first. The first is that you need to be found, and realise that you don’t just appear. To do this you need to write posts that people will look for and that are massively original. The alternative is to work really hard through social media and networking so that people share your work and it gets noticed. Realise that when you are blogging, you are putting your thoughts, words and deeds in to a massive blackhole of the internet, so they’re not easy for people to find.
To get found you may also need to have at least an awareness of search engine optimisation and write with focus. I realise this is easier to explain on a business website than a personal blog, so I’ll use an example of a site that I made for my archery club many, many moons ago. The site’s purpose was to get new members to join us after paying for a series of lessons. If people wanted to find sites offering archery lessons local them to them, what would they search for? Answer: archery lessons in [place name]. This had to be the most important phrase on my site.
So there I set out a clear vision about what I wanted to be found for and then I could think of ideas for achieving that. Fine, it was fairly niche, but the principle still stands with a slight difference – a blogger wants someone to frequently find one post at a time. The depth of visit is pretty shallow. A website wants you to explore and go deep, but maybe only once.
From my experience, the more generic the blogging subject, the harder it will be to be found. To explain, all my posts are automagically posted to Twitter when I click the publish button. Let’s take a recent generic post as an example. “City Living” had a very generic two word title and I published it with #home. No hits from Twitter.
My post about gaslighting used an uncommon word in the title (yes, “gaslighting”) and I used #mentalhealth and #IfMyWoundsWereVisible. It had an interesting word in the title, a niche (although large) hashtag and another hashtag linking it to a specific narcissistic abuse awareness period. Six hits from Twitter within an hour.
I’m not an expert, but hopefully this will explain why your post about your holiday to Paris isn’t getting the hits you wanted. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that no-one has found it yet and you need to work hard to make people see.
The second step is the one people know and ask about, and that’s how to be liked. This is purely subjective because people like what they like. You can write with flare and invention and wit and wisdom, but that isn’t always enough.
This answers the second question about why you had high initial interest, but then it tapers off.
Think about it… You write a post about your holiday in Paris. You advertise it in blogging communities and on Facebook. You instantly get the hits from your friends on social media, so you get a spike in your stats. You pick up some referrals from the community and a few likes and maybe a few comments, and that story about the Eiffel Tower? Hilarious! Some people come back because they want to read your next post so you get some repeat hits to your homepage while people wait for your next masterpiece.
This is where something else I’ve noticed comes in. Just like musicians struggle with that “difficult second album” I think some people have some great ideas for a blog post or even an entire blog but when it comes to taking it further, they’ve either exhausted all their ideas or the blog has no natural way to evolve in to something else. This can mean that it becomes stale and repetitive and people don’t want to come back because you’re still talking about that holiday to Paris three weeks later!
And again, it’s not that your eighth post in three weeks about your holiday to Paris is poorly written, it’s just that it fails to be inspiring when people are reading the same thing repeatedly. This isn’t to say that your blog shouldn’t have a theme, but make sure that it’s wide enough to give you the space to be progressive.
Themes is an interesting topic for me. My blog doesn’t have one, and I don’t care about that. This is where I’m going to get really hypocritical. Some people do have themes, and I’ve noticed this especially from communities, but they actually have absolutely no “authority” (for want of a better word) to talk on the subject, or at least they don’t say that they do.
The author of the post has to have some credibility for me, either from physical qualification or experience. Taking an extreme example, if someone is writing a post about how to perform complex brain surgery, I want them to be a brain surgeon. This, to me, adds authenticity and it means that I’m going to want to come back because I know that the author knows what they’re writing about and should be able to hold my interest for a prolonged period.
OK, one last harsh truth. From my experience, a “like” in the world of the small time blogger doesn’t necessarily mean that people like your post. It can also be a “please come and look at my blog!” request. Maybe this is easier for me to spot with fewer visitors than some, but how many other people have noticed that they only get visits or likes from people after they have liked one of that person’s posts? How many people have noticed a regular visitor to your blog not visit again once you’ve followed theirs? Me too.
Lessons and Progress.
I realise I’ve been critical and hypocritical here, but the intention isn’t to upset. The intention was to make people assess their blogging goals so they at least think about how to move forward. In very business speak, assess what blogging success looks like to you. If you’re not achieving it, be really critical about why.
If you want to be a blogging sensation and monetise your blog and make a living from telling the world about your holiday to Paris, good for you! If all you want to do is reach a few people every now and again to tell them that you had a great time in Paris, good for you! Just realise that your goal should affect what you do because very few of us can be successful without hard work.
As I’ve said, I have no real goals for my little bit of the internet. I’m pleased a few of you like what I write and find the time in your lives to read it. Time is precious and I am genuinely honoured that some of you spend that time on me.
Because I have no goals, I’ve started experimenting with what I write, to see what happens.
The plan is to do “editorial” or news related pieces because a) it will keep me up to date with what’s going on in the world and b) I want to see how they’re picked up by any potential audience.
I’m going to post product and place reviews. I’m interested to see whether they attract attention at all, and then for how long. They should have a certain longevity (in theory), and if I pick unusual or very specific things, they should be search engine / Twitter friendly.
I’m temtped to try vlogging once I work out the logistics of that. I think it might be my weekend coffee share.
And you know what? I’m going to continue the Daily Prompt when I feel like it. However, when I write my posts I want to pretty much keep in mind that the post should have longevity. It’s still going to have a story, but I want it to have facts and opinion too. That way it should be relevant to someone who might find it in a year or two.
Most importantly though, I’m going to keep in mind something very important.
I’M DOING THIS BECAUSE I WANT TO!
No-one has told me to blog. I’m not sure many people will miss me when I’m gone from the blogosphere. I just enjoy writing.
Let’s see how it goes.
Standing in the Hall Of Fame (yeah, yeah, yeah),
And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah, yeah, yeah)
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame (yeah, yeah, yeah).
And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah, yeah, yeah).
And you’ll be on the walls of the Hall Of Fame.
(Be a champion.)
You can be a master,
Don’t wait for luck.
(Be a champion.)
Dedicate yourself and you gonna find yourself
Standing in the Hall Of Fame.
Hall Of Fame by The Script