Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tips for the new blogger

Now that I'm coming up on my first anniversary of blogging (Oct), I started thinking about all the other people out there who are starting their new blogs for the first time. And there are a lot! According to Technorati, an estimated 75,000 new blogs are created every day. That's nearly one every second!

When I first contemplated starting this one I had a lot of questions - and could have used the wise advice of someone who was just completing his first year of experience. How convenient! Why it seems I could provide that same advice right now. What a coincidence!

For example, just 11 months ago I was sitting at my computer scratching my head and wondering such things as: What should I write about? What should my blog look like? Do I want anyone to read it? If so, how will I attract an audience? And most importantly -

How can I make the reader's experience as enjoyable as possible?

So, from someone who has just finished blogger bootcamp, here are a few points to consider - in no particular order:
  • Keep it short. In general, anyone who reads more than 10 blogs a day will appreciate this one. Most busy readers will only skim the lengthy posts - or worse, bypass them and wait for a shorter one the next day. As a new blogger it's tempting to want to share all your insights with the rest of the world right away, but trust me - you'll be glad you spread out your thoughts later on, when you're scrambling for something new to say.
  • Slow down. Some people may debate this one, but as a reader I don't necessarily have time to read something new from a blogger every day. Give your readers a few days to cycle through the other blogs on their list. Besides, there are relatively few people out there who are creative enough to come up with clever new material every day, and like me, you're probably not going to be one of them for awhile.
  • As well - Write when you've got something to write. In other words, you don't need to put a post out there that says, "Nothing exciting happened today, but hey - check back tomorrow!" just because you feel you need to post frequently. Frequency is not a replacement for content.
  • Make sure you provide a subscription service or RSS feed. Most busy readers will subscribe to your blog and read it "off-line." This means they might not actually visit your blog - but it doesn't mean they're not reading it.
  • Reciprocate. If someone is leaving comments on your blog on a regular basis, return the favor. It doesn't have to be anything prolific - just a few words that says "I heard that!" When your blog becomes so famous that you can't possibly reply to all your loyal readers, then you'll know you've finally succeeded! Karl, over at Secondhand Tryptophan initiated a great conversation today on both of these last two points. Check it out.
  • Keep it clean. There's no real reason to have to drop F-bombs (or worse) in every other sentence. If you think that's required to make your posts interesting or funny, then your writing probably doesn't stand up on its own. I do find it funny however when someone uses a strategically placed expletive to drive home a humorous point - as long as it's relative to the story and not vulgar.
  • Don't stress out on the whole "designer template" thing. Sure it's nice to have something a little different than the 5 standard default templates your blog service offers, but once the readers have seen your layout the first time, the only reason they come back is for the content - not the pretty header. The most important thing is to keep it readable. Don't sacrifice readability for an overly "artsy" appearance. A pink font on a dark blue background might be pretty, but is also very hard on the eyes and will eventually turn your readers away.
That's just a few tips I can think of off the top of my head right now. But hey, why should I do all the work? I'm sure you all will have other suggestions that will help out the new blogger as well - so please, feel free to chime in - bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

What advice would you offer to a new blogger?

23 comments:

Schnozz said...

I like how I violate ... um, ALL of these rules. I feel like I should get some sort of reverse medal or something!

Schnozz said...

Oops--I missed that I was supposed to offer advice. My biggest peeve is when people think blogging is not a part of reality. Everything is a part of reality. Secretly insulting someone on your blog is like shouting it from a streetcorner and hoping they won't happen to walk by. If you wouldn't say it to their faces, don't say it online. I think about 99 percent of every blog train wreck I've ever seen could have been avoided with this piece of advice!

Dave2 said...

I suppose that it all comes down to why you want to blog. If you goal is the attract the largest audience possible, then sure... you should cater every entry towards making your blog experience as enjoyable as possible for your readers. There is nothing wrong with this, and journalists do it all the time.

I take the opposite approach, however. I don't blog for an audience, I blog for me. I would rather have ten readers who truly want to read what I have to say than ten thousand readers whose only reason for visiting is that my entries are short. I don't worry about length. My entries are as long or short as they need to be to say what is on my mind.

Update frequency is indeed a debated topic. Personally, it doesn't bother me if somebody doesn't want to read my blog every day and only checks in occasionally. I need to write something new each day because I know that if I ever get out of the habit, I'll write less and less frequently. Daily blogging is what keeps my blog alive. Without it, I am confident it would eventually die out because it's all too easy to "skip just one more day." I'd be skipping EVERY day in short order! :-)

I've also found that writing even when I don't have something to write about can lead to some of my most creative entries. Sure it bombs sometimes, but that's part of the process. There's no rule that says you have to post every entry you write though... sometimes the writing practice is reward enough (even if nobody else is going to see it).

In the end, I don't disagree with you, I just have different goals... I am glad that there are people who enjoy my blog, but ultimately I write to please myself. I don't worry about how many people read it or what I should do to keep them coming back. It's not the most popular approach, but that's okay!

Anyway, congratulations on your one-year blogiversary, and keep writing! :-)

Harmonica Man said...

schnozz – I wouldn't think of these as "rules" but more as guidelines for a new blogger looking for a starting point. Last I checked no one had appointed me President of Blogland. I love the fact that you once wrote a post where I had to click "next" 12 times to get to the end. It was soooo... you!

dave – I was hoping you'd offer your viewpoint since I knew you didn’t fit the model I was describing. It's your bizarre uniqueness that makes your blog so entertaining – but I caution new bloggers… DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO WHAT DAVE DOES – HE IS A PROFESSIONAL!

Dad said...

I like a writer that is not a one issue blogger. Your honesty, wisdom, and humor tell me that you could be another Dave Barry. "Anything worth doing, is worth doing for money" comes to mind. Come to think of it, I could be prejudiced! P.S. What happened to the Golden Boy?

Waya said...

Great post! I could have used these guidelines 8 months ago!! I love reading what you have to say, and I'm so glad to have found you via Lucinda.

I used to feel that I have to post every single day, but then I got "Blogging burnt out" plus the houseworks got piled up pretty fast, and the kids needed to be fed and bathed, inconvenient huh?!

So now, I post when I have something substantial to say.

I agree with schnozz re: insulting someone on your blog. Keep it off the net and talk to that person direcly, is the best approach I think.

My advice? Just have fun doing it. If it becomes like a chore, then it's time to put your blog to rest. And I think it's ok to post a negative comment and reply to that comment yourself. It shows that you are human afterall, not everyone will agree with you. And it's ok to agree to disagree. It's a big blogosphere, and you can't please everyone. Ok, that'll cost you 2 cents. ;-)

Waya said...

Oops, sorry I forgot to congratulate you on your upcoming anniversary! *sheepish grin*

Karl said...

Woo hoo! One year. My one-year mark is this month. On this blog, anyway. I've been blogging for a lot longer than that.

You bring up a lot of good points and I, too, violate a lot of them. Like Dave, I find that if I don't blog every day, I'll be more likely to CONTINUE not blogging. It's a habit I try to stay, um, in the habit of.

Thanks for the link, by the way. ;)

Mooselet said...

Congrats on the one year that is forthcoming. So many blogs die a quick death (go browsing sometime and see) that I wonder how many of that daily 75,000 make it to one year.

My sage advice is thus: Make sure it's fun. If it becomes a chore, like doing the laundry or cleaning the toilet, then you need to re-evaluate your motivation and what you're doing. I go through fits of posting daily, and then I will go for days in between. All depends on what else I have going on in my life (usually a lot!).

Pressure to cater to a certain audience can be strong, especially if you try to grow your blog. If it is contrary to your own personality, however, then you'll quickly find yourself in a rut. Resistance is not futile. Stick with what you know and enjoy and bugger "everyone else".

Finally, it takes time to find your own style and voice. Don't rush the process and don't be afraid to experiment. I like having a custom template as it suits me. It's like decorating your house, in a way. And sometimes your tastes change. But do avoid overkill - just like you wouldn't do up your living room in every colour imaginable, nor should you your blog.

A blog is a personal thing, and I like when I get a sense of the person through all the things that make their blog their own.

Right, that'll be $10 please.

Harmonica Man said...

dad - Dave Barry? Thanks, but I wish.

waya - Good advice! And you're right. Every so often I post one of these "opinion" pieces that I know 1/2 of my readers will not agree with. But like you said, it's ok to disagree. That's the beauty of free speech!

karl - Congrats on your blogiversary as well! Technically mine is still a good 6 weeks out but it is coming up fast!

mooselet - Thanks for the sage, I was running low. Love your comments! One thing is guaranteed - if you read blogs like ours long enough, you WILL get to know the person behind them! And to me, that's the point.

Dave2 said...

You should have said "DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO WHAT DAVE DOES BECAUSE HE IS INSANE!!" - then people might actually believe you!

Bugwit Homilies said...

To me, it's very simple. I blog because I like to write. I blog instead of keeping a journal. I'm trying to polish my skills instead of just blabbing. I visit the blogs of people that I enjoy reading and whose personalities I like.

I'm not trying to produce the most-visited blog on the net.

So here's my advice: Write well, be interesting, visit a few blogs that you like and the rest will take care of itself.

Bugwit Homilies said...

Oh, yeah, here's anoth piece of advice: If you want a lot of readers, pretend to be female and post a picture of a hot babe.

min said...

post a picture of a hot babe.,

Bugwit!!! You mean post a picture of a cute baby!!!

Bugwit Homilies said...

Min: Babe if you want to attract guys, baby if you want to attract moms.

wendy boucher said...

Happy Almost Blogiversary. My first is in October too. I think your advice is excellent for the generalists out there.

Chanakin said...

I can't think of anything else to add. Do it until it stops being fun is my thinking.

Congrats on your 1 year!

Blog-o-licious said...

I almost feel like you're preaching to the choir... so I will try to head your advice. thanks!

Heather said...

I'm still a newbie in the blog world, but I just started mine on a whim. I'd never read a blog until the night before I started my own.

I'm sure I violate almost all of your guidelines...but oh well!

It's been therapeutic for me to write. It turns out, a few people actually read what I write. As a comment junkie, I like it when people comment. But I'd probably still write if noone read it.

I agree with the, if someone reads you, and comments you should try to read them and comment too. This is something I try to keep up with as much as I can... Of course I read and comment more than I get read and commented on...

But really, the keeping beefs off the net? If I had no outlet to complain about my MIL, my head would explode. And would YOU tell all your beefs to your MIL? Not if you want to stay married...

Happy Blogaversary!

Kal said...

Good points HM.

Some folks get really wrapped up in their templates, which just end up dressing up a rather boring blog.

It's funny you mentioned the RSS feed thing, the first thing that I noticed about you was the feedblitz option, which I thought was really nice.

Like the others, though, I tend to think frequency matters, because the first time you miss four days in a row, you'll notice people leave and don't come back.

Now granted, those are the casual readers, but casual readers can turn into constant readers with some love and attention, so I hate to give anyone a reason not to show up everyday.

As always, a well written and cogent entry!

Jenny said...

Perfect advice.

i guess my only advice would be...right for yourself...because in the end this is going to be a wonderful journal of your life.

Also, don't tell your in-laws about it because when you write nasty things about them they'll totally know.

yellojkt said...

These are great tips. I had the hubris to give blog tips in my first month of blogging, but yours are very similar.

I draft my entries in Word and when I go over one page, I know it's time to wrap it up. I try to post 3-4 times a week so that everybody gets at least 36 hours to catch up, but most comments come in the first twelve. This gives me more time to think about my next post.

My two most popular entries are about a hot hooker and a cute baby, so that can go either way.

My advice: Plug your blog shamelessly in the comments section of other people's blogs as often as possible.

jgf said...

I blog as a journal. It is really for me and a way to keep up with the family all over the US.

My advice: Mix it up. Don't always write about the same thing whether it is politics, family or anything else. Most readers read your blog because they find something in it that speaks to them.