I’m taking a timeout with my theme this week to mark the occasion of my 700th blog post! I first started writing this blog in the middle of January 2010 so it’s been about 2 1/2 years. As I reflect back on all those posts, I would like to share some of what I have learned about blogging.
1. Pick a topic
Some people have a blog where they write about pretty much whatever they want each day. That’s fine of course but in order to keep people coming back they have to have a reason. Most often it is because you are writing about a topic that interests them.
2. There is an audience out there
The total population on the net is well in excess of a billion people and growing quickly each day. I don’t care how obscure the topic you write about is, somebody out there will be interested in following it. Have faith that people will come.
3. Stick to a schedule
Your audience is much more likely to keep coming back if they know you will be posting on a fairly regular schedule. I try to post once a day. It’s hard sometimes to find the time but it’s a discipline. I know this blog has regular readers so I do it for them as much as me.
4. The title is king
The post in terms of most views of all the ones I have written is one I wrote back in May 2010 called Google’s Free Open Source LMS. While it is a decent post it is mostly reporting on news with some of my thoughts with it. It’s not really what I consider my best work by any shot. So why it is popular? If you search for Google Free Open Source LMS it is link number 2 on the first page. That ranking is primarily because of the title of the post. Also, keep in mind that your title is often all people will see in RSS readers and on Twitter so it has to be good. You don’t want to make a title too cryptic and yet the best ones are usually a little bit clever. I have also found that if I am writing a post I am really happy with, the title will just come naturally.
5. Pictures and videos
I don’t know why but people really appreciate a picture in a post. Perhaps reading just a block of text is too much like reading a textbook? I don’t know but I have noticed it myself as I surf the web so I try to include some eye candy. I usually stick to Creative Commons images via a site called Compfight.com. Oh, and always give credit for links and images you use. It’s courteous and it actually helps your search rankings.
6. Hook up with information sources
If you plan on blogging regularly you will need a steady stream of fresh information to keep your thoughts moving. Your brain is like an engine, keep it full of fuel. I use Google Reader and fill it with RSS feed of sites I like to follow.
7. Break big ideas up into smaller pieces
I find that I am usually working on several big ideas at any one time. While I can blog about these directly, I like to lead up to them over several posts. It helps me clarify my thinking. I read somewhere that a person typically wants to spend less than 5 min reading a post. The blog format is larger than Twitter but smaller than a magazine article. Think of it as snack size. I am sometimes guilty of writing fairly lengthy posts but I am also a rule breaker. Sometimes an idea just has to be laid out in one go.
8. Twitter is a great way to market yourself
Twitter is a community of people who have organized themselves into groups according to interest. Therefore you should be able to find a group that would be interested in your blog. Feel free to send out a link to your posts. I would recommend only sending it once though. Word will get around via Retweets if your post is worth. Multiple tweets annoys people.
9. Always respond to your commenters
I don’t get a lot of comments but that’s ok. I just assume everyone agrees with me. (just kidding). I feel when people read my blog it’s like inviting them into my house. In order to be a good host you need to respond to comments. If not it looks like you don’t care what other people thing. That is a good way to lose followers. Also, occasionally someone will disagree with you strongly. That is ok too. You can disagree but always do so respectfully.
10. Link back to yourself
After 700 posts I have a body of work now. Many of the topics I now write about are continuations of previous thinking. Therefore I find I link back to previous posts quite a bit. This helps new readers get up to speed on your thoughts. You know when you are watching a TV series they sometimes show a “previous on” section at the beginning of the show? This is the same idea.
11. Tags and categories
Virtually every blogging system allows you to tag your posts with keywords and categories. I didn’t use this as much as I would have wanted to in the beginning. The reason I regret this is with so many posts I sometimes have difficulty finding previous things I wrote. It’s easier when you can just select a topic and see all the things your have written. I will someday go back through my posts and recategorize them.
So that’s some of what I have learned. I hope this helps people get started blogging or improve their current skills. Keep at it and make sure you are having fun! If it becomes a drag then don’t do it! (especially if you aren’t getting paid )