Tuesday, August 03, 2010

70 Practical Suggestions for Bloggers


Some years ago, I published a series of posts where I shared lessons I had learned about blogging. These posts are still in the archive, but I stopped referring people to them because much of the advice now seems dated. I have long promised to create an updated version. Today, it's finally finished.

Here are seventy suggestions for beginning bloggers. This list is by no means a cookbook. Each blogger must find their own unique path. But if I can help make their journey easier, I am delighted to assist.

I divided these suggestions into four general categories: Approach, Style, Content, and Technique.

Approach:
  1. Have fun. Be creative. Share yourself. Do what feels right.
  2. Arrange blogging around the rest of your life, and never the reverse.
  3. Check out blogs you admire. Notice how they do things. Look for good ideas you can adapt.
  4. Explain your vision for the blog early and often. This kind of statement will help to attract and retain the kind of dedicated readers you seek.
  5. Stay on topic and on message as much as you can. It's your blog and you can write pretty much whatever you choose. However, it's helpful to have a unifying theme that can be easily understood by first time visitors.
  6. Respect your readers. Their time is precious too.
  7. Try to learn something new every day. Use your new knowledge to make your blog better or your readers better informed.
  8. Ask for suggestions and comments. When you receive them, take those ideas seriously.
  9. Avoid being too predictable. Change things up from time to time. Strive to surprise and delight your readers.
  10. Pay it forward. Help bloggers who are just getting started. Who knows? They may become a blogging superstar, or better yet, a good friend.
  11. Get involved with the informal community of bloggers. These people can provide valuable support, both personal and technical.
  12. Avoid judging people or their beliefs in all but the most extreme cases. There's generally no benefit to be derived from offending someone.
  13. If you receive an offensive comment, delete it immediately without mention.
  14. Avoid becoming too commercial. If you choose to have advertisements, that’s fine. But no one wants to visit an online billboard. Pop-up windows and loud audio are especially offensive.
  15. Be honest with people, but not too honest. Avoid sharing details that reveal your specific location and full name, especially if you’re female. Like a superhero, you must protect your secret identity.
  16. Be positive. Some people may demonstrate sympathy for your troubles, but few readers will return to a blog dedicated to whining.
  17. Take one step at a time. It doesn’t make sense to promote your blog heavily until you’ve accumulated a decent sized body of work.
  18. Try to be nice to people. Most of them deserve it.
  19. Set reasonable expectations for your blog's growth. It can take months of regular posting to build a sizable core readership.
  20. If you are serious about blogging, schedule some time each day for this purpose.
  21. Recognize that blogging involves more than writing posts. There are also important backstage conversations with readers and other bloggers. These exchanges are essential, though time-consuming.
  22. Don't feel intimidated when you talk with popular bloggers or models. They're real people too and most are happy to converse with bloggers who have similar interests.
  23. If you don't know your way around, it's OK to follow the crowd. Once you do know, however, it's better to let them follow you.
Style:
  1. Work to create a unique and memorable visual style. Build a brand. Choose a distinctive title, tag line, font, color scheme, logo, and layout. Make it identifiable and uniquely your own.
  2. Recognize that a blog is an organic entity. Most successful blogs change and grow throughout their existence. Sometimes, blogs move in directions that their creators could not have foreseen at their inception. Don't be afraid to redefine your blog when opportunity knocks.
  3. In general, a clean, consistent, and uncluttered presentation is superior to visually busy pages. Blog widgets can be beneficial, but when used to excess, they draw the reader's attention away from the content you want them to see.
  4. Spell check and proofread your posts.
  5. Check the links in your blogroll regularly. Trim the dead or inactive ones.
  6. Most readers never explore a blog's archives. It's sad but true. For them, all of those great old posts simply never happened. You can encourage visitors to look around by adding navigational aids such as thematic tags or drop down boxes.
  7. Structure your text for easy reading. Avoid long paragraphs and run-on sentences. If you frighten the reader with huge blocks of impenetrable text, they are likely to make a quick exit.
  8. Artistic presentation is wonderful, but people need to be able to read your text. If the text color is too similar to the background color or graphic, it will be difficult to discern. Many visitors will choose not to work that hard.
  9. While we're talking about text and readability, if you're expecting any visitors over the age of, oh, say 35, you'll want to select a clean font and a reasonably large point size. I find the default text size in many templates to be too small.
  10. It's generally best to let readers know the subject of each post in the title or first paragraph.
Content:
  1. The three most important ingredients for a quality blog are content, content, and content. Only strong material will keep readers coming back.
  2. Talk about subjects you know. Especially if they are subjects you love.
  3. Share the love. When someone takes the time to comment or send an e-mail, try to acknowledge their contribution and respond.
  4. Get your readers involved. People love polls, quizzes, and open questions that invite discussion. Let them be part of the blog too.
  5. Be topical. People love news. This can be as simple as tying in the theme of a post with a holiday or popular event.
  6. Pace your posts. Many readers examine only your most recent article. If you post much more than once per day, even your regular visitors may miss seeing some of your best work.
  7. Pace your comments too. I've discovered that some readers will not comment after I have responded because they think the discussion is now over. As a result, I sometimes purposely wait several hours before weighing in.
  8. Variety is the spice of life. It also spices up a blog. Avoid posting two similar features back to back. If possible, separate them with a very different post.
  9. It's fine to blend fact with fiction, so long as you explain to readers which is which.
  10. Lightweight “filler” content like photos, memes, and polls have a rightful place on most blogs. Few bloggers can produce high quality, meaningful content every day for any extended period of time. Occasional “filler” posts allow a blog to stay fresh for readers without causing burnout for the blogger.
  11. When quoting another blog, be sure to reference and link both the author (using the main blog page) and the specific post. Proper citations are a sign of respect.
  12. If your blog is intended for a mature audience, beware of links to or from vanilla blogs or web sites. These can cause problems that no one needs. If a vanilla blog has linked you, you may want to write the owner and politely ask them to remove the link.
  13. Conversely, if your blog is linked by a site that you feel is offensive, you might consider writing to them. This is far from a sure proposition, but it might work.
  14. I find that unless a post is positively riveting, many readers lose patience somewhere around 1000-1500 words. Consequently, even an excellent post can be more effective if broken into bite sized pieces.
  15. When another blog mentions your blog or cites your material, it is good practice to publicly thank them for their kind gesture. These folks are doing you a favor by sending you traffic and readers.
  16. You may encounter spam blogs that steal your text, or more likely snippets of your text, in order to draw hits from search engines. As of today, there isn't much we can do about these creeps. Save your energy for a worthwhile fight.
  17. It's all right to be outrageous or controversial sometimes, as long as it fits the theme of your blog. Many readers like a good rant once in a while. Just make sure you know when you're ranting and, for the readers' sake, please label it as such.
  18. Every time you have an idea for a post, write it down immediately, even if you don't think it's a very good one.
  19. Maintain a file of post ideas. Consult it when you need a topic.
  20. Prepare some posts in advance. These posts can then be used when time and energy are at a premium. It reduces stress on the blogger and keeps the blog fresh and original.
  21. Consider incorporating regular features. They give readers a reason to return.
  22. Remember that the Web is a flexible medium. You needn't stick to a diary format. Your entries don't have to be prose. Consider poetry, humor, music, video, games, or whatever you think readers might enjoy.
  23. When used in moderation, teasers and hooks boost readership. A teaser is a reference to an upcoming post that encourages readers to stop back. A hook is an intriguing post title or lead-off sentence that draws the reader's attention and makes them eager for more.
  24. Avoid spending too much time on any one post.
  25. Consider guest posts as an alternative content source, but make sure they fit the tone of your blog.
  26. Your arguments will carry more weight if you back them with meaningful quotes or statistics.
  27. If a topic or formula works, use it again.
  28. Remember that it’s ultimately your blog. As writer, editor, and publisher, you make the final decision.
Technique:
  1. Post as often as you reasonably can. Readers flock to ever-changing blogs and stop visiting those that become stale.
  2. Install a counter and regularly analyze your traffic data. The statistics can tell you a lot about who is visiting, from where they came, and what they choose to read.
  3. Links are a critical element in increasing readership. If your link is on a popular page, you will get a lot of first time hits. Few big name blogs will give you a link unless you link them first. Link the blogs you would like to have link you. Choose blogs similar in topic and tone to yours. Then visit those blogs and get involved in the conversation. Beyond a valuable link, you may well find help, inspiration, and friendship as well.
  4. Register with search engines. Go to the major search engine sites and submit your blog.
  5. Learn about RSS feeds and syndication. It’s an easy way to make your blog accessible to more people.
  6. Test your pages to ensure they look right in common browsers.
  7. Back up your blog content and your template, just in case.
  8. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, it's best to adhere to basic blogging conventions such as placing newest posts first, allowing comments, including a date and title with every post, and making embedded links easy to spot.
  9. You can easily promote your blog by regularly commenting on similar blogs. If you are inclined, social media tools such as FaceBook, Twitter, and MySpace are another excellent method for getting the word out.
So there you have it. Not all of these recommendations apply in every situation nor for every blogger. But this is what seems to work for me. I hope your blogging experiences are rewarding and fun!

37 comments :

Bumtickler said...

Thank you for sharing all this.
There are a lot of good ideas for me.

Heather B said...

Great tips. Thanks!

Hermione said...

Bonnie,

I think you have pretty much covered all the main points in this excellent post.

I wonder what 1000-1500 words look like. Would that be about 2 or 3 screens (pages)? I seem to recall a guideline that a reader shouldn't have to page down more than three times, making 4 screens the maximum size for a post.

This post is bookmark-worthy!

Hugs,
Hermione

Bumtickler said...

Hermione,
This post is 1270 words.
Just to give you an idea.
WordPress shows word count when you are writing a post, so I put this one there, just to get an idea myself.

abby said...

WOW..as a new to blogging reader thanks soo much...i hope to come back to this and start using some of the ideas! abby

Misty said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing the list.

Misty

ronnie said...

Bonnie, excellent post and great tips. Thank for sharing.

68, that I must do. I keep meaning to back up my blog and template.

Love,
Ronnie
xx

Greenwoman said...

Nice post Bonny!

spankedbywife said...

Bonnie-
I can't thank you enough for what you have posted. Its truly Blogging 101.
Thank You, Thank You, ...
Ken

Emilie said...

Bonnie, thanks for the helpful tips.

Do you have a suggestion as to the best way to back up a blog or is it a matter of doing a copy and paste of each post individually?

Emilie

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the tips! They were also very inspiring, not just informative, by the way :-D

X
Maria

Em said...

Bonnie, what a wonderful post! I am always very careful to protect my privacy and that of anyone mentioned in my blog, but I love the idea of protecting my secret identity!

Rose Cleome said...

Bonnie, I read your blog not only because it is so interesting, but also for your fine use of the English language, your consideration for your reader, and for two senses--your common sense and your sense of humor! I wish more blogs were written with as much care as yours. New bloggers would do well to take a crash course from you!

Cara Bristol said...

A lot of great information. A good reference for a blogging newbie like myself!

Bonnie said...

BT - You're very welcome.

Heather - I'm glad my list is helpful for you.

Hermione - For reference, this post is about 2000 words. I considered breaking it up, but figured I could get away with a longer post because the structured presentation.

BT - Yes, that looks about right. Thanks!

Abby - That's fantastic. Enjoy!

Misty - You're most welcome.

Ronnie - Your content is too good to lose!

GW - Hi! It's great to hear from you again. Please feel free to drop by anytime!

Ken - Thanks. That was what I was trying for.

Emilie - Blogger provides a backup utility. Click the big B in the upper left hand corner of your blog. After you sign in, this should take you to the dashboard page.

Find the name of your blog and beneath it, click the word Settings. On the page that comes up, find (at the top) where it says Export Blog and click on those words.

When the next page comes up, click on the words Download Blog. This will download a copy of all your blog posts to your PC.

To download your template, click on the Design tab at the top. Next, click Edit HTML on the menu immediately below the tabs. Click next the words Download Full Template.

This is how to backup your blog in Blogger. If you use WordPress or another blogging tool, your mileage may vary.

Maria - Thank you! I always seek to inspire.

Em - Holy aliases, Batman! Keep that mask on tight.

Rose - Why, thank you. I am happy to be able to assist when I can.

Cara - If you have any questions, you know where to find me.

sixofthebest said...

Dear Bonnie, I read your 70 helpful hints, for a successful blog, and you are 'right on' on all of them. Here are the ones, I find important. #12 Don't judge people. From my point of you, they come in all sizes, shapes, and opinions. #29. Explore their archives, I love doing that, and they are fun. #30, #31,Take time out to read their comments, and maybe answer some of them. #50. Yes, it is alright to be controversial or outrageous.

Dave Wolfe said...

An excellent list for new and old bloggers alike, Bonnie! Thank you very much!

"Wolfie"

jane said...

Many great tips I know I will be using! Thank you!

talesofnaughtiness said...

This is really helpful, and I know I'll be coming back to it.

One question that I do have: do you think it is better to have entire posts visible on the front page or to have only the beginning visible and then have a "Read More" button linking to the full post?

I ask because I've been using the latter so far, but it seems like almost all of the blogs I look at don't, even ones that regularly have posts much longer than mine. They seem to be doing pretty well, so I wonder if I'm the only person who gets frustrated having to scroll for miles to reach the second post on a page....

On the other hand, this probably just a personal preference thing and I'm giving it too much thought.

Bonnie said...

Tales - I tend to favor breaking long posts into bite-sized parts rather than using a jump. My thought is that after the jump, a long post is still long. The risk remains that readers may lose interest and choose to move on. If they do, the rest of the blog is not immediately visible to provide an alternative.

Also, I think some readers tend to scan posts looking for something of interest to them. If most of your content is concealed behind a jump, they may not find it.

With that said, there are many wonderful bloggers who routinely employ the jump. It's a part of their style and it works well for them. So, at the end of the day, it is as you suggest, probably a matter of personal preference.

Em said...

Tales - I read most of the blogs I follow through google reader, and generally on my phone. I'll admit, that if a blog (or a blog's feed) only shows a part of the post, I very rarely click over to the actual blog to read the rest. Especially on a phone it can be a bit of a pain.

thecanery said...

Bonnie

Many thanks for the 70 tips, and for linking to my blog.

Rod, "The Canery" author

Gracie said...

This is an excellent resource, and it inspired my latest post. Thanks so much for compiling these tips!

Molly said...

Great list...I shall be back to go over it again in the future. I have had many people ask me about this subject and it one of the many on my 'must write about list'.

Mollyxxx

Sadey Quinn said...

This is fantastic-- I agree with everything and even have some new ideas to consider. I especially like the idea of writing down every single idea, whether I think it's good or not. :)

Ellsie said...

Thanks for linking to this. There are many helpful tips in here for a first time blogger.

-The Liberated Gnome

T said...

Great tips. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Blondie said...

Bonnie, I don't know how I missed this before but thanks. This has really answered some questions and gave me a little direction. As usual you have been helpful.

still.learning.the.hard.way said...

Great help Bonnie, lots to learn!

Blue Bird said...

Thanks Blondie! I wish I had found this info before I started my bllog.

Collared Cassaundra said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm still learning and this was a great help!

Ami said...

What a wonderful and helpful post Bonnie, and just in time for when I need it! It's going to be very helpful to me. Many thanks! Ami

Terpsichore said...

Thank-you, Bonnie, for such a wonderfully informative post. You are such an amazing resource and inspiration to so many of us. I have to be honest, though. I am glad I did not read this before I started my blog or I think I would have been too intimidated. :-) There are so many amazing blogs out there, your's amongst the very top. Thanks again for all the tips. I am sure to refer to this post again. :-) Best wishes, Terpsichore

Clementine Rose said...

Thank you for this, Bonnie. It must have taken you hours; you are an incredibly generous and supportive blogger.

I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read -- I have actually stopped reading certain blogs for reasons you warn against here. I will definitely be taking your tips into consideration.

Janey said...

Thank you Bonnie, this information is really helpful. I'm still trying to find my way and work it all out. Your tips are a great help.
Janey

Autumn said...

Thank you so much for this well thought and perceptive post. I wish I had read something like this the first time I started blogging.

And thank you for linking my blog on your site. I appreciate it. =D

~Autumn

Ashlyn Cane said...

This was so helpful! Thanks for posting. There is so much more to blogging than I ever realized!

Post a Comment