It has been a while since I cracked open the Feedback Files. While I receive a lot of questions through this site, probably the most common have to do with blogging. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve made several promises that I would soon write an article suggesting some things to consider when beginning a blog. Today I’ll keep those promises. I’m going to offer six tips for new or prospective bloggers. I hope you’ll find them helpful.
For people who are considering beginning a blog, I think the best place to begin is with your motives. It is worth asking yourself, I believe, why you wish to blog. And more so, it is worth considering why you want to have other people read your blog. I receive lots of questions from prospective bloggers and can often detect an underlying attitude that seems to say, “I have something to say that the world needs to hear.” That may well be the case, but I wouldn’t take it for granted. Some people truly do have good reason to desire that a lot of people read their blogs; others do not. There are some who wish to gain an audience more for their own sense of pride or accomplishment than to truly bless those people.
So before you begin your blog, ask why you should want to blog. Ask what you can contribute to the blogosphere. And once you begin the blog, ask why you want other people to read it. Question your motives and do not take for granted that other people will or should read your site.
Most people blog what they know (the exception being a handful of “professional” bloggers-for-hire to write about anything that will pay a few bills). If you write frequently, you’ll soon exhaust all that you know. After all, you have a limited number of stories to tell, a limited store of knowledge to share. So if you want to blog, make sure you are continually challenging yourself in the area you write about. As a Christian, this means that I dedicate myself to the Christian disciplines to ensure that I am continually growing in my knowledge of God as revealed in His Word. It also means that I constantly read good books (and some not-so-good books). These two disciplines provide me with the food for thought that keeps me writing and, most of the time, provides me with topics to write about. I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again: if I stopped reading the Bible and stopped reading good books, I’d have nothing to say. I’d have to pack it up and move on.
I have found blogging a wonderful way of ensuring that I continue to grow and mature as a Christian. It has forced me to dedicate myself to learning and has really become one of my spiritual disciplines, as strange as that may sound. It has caused me to have to grow up. I know of many bloggers who would say the same.
The blogosphere has rightly been compared to a network or an organism. Blogs are best seen in this way—as a kind of social network where one blog is connected to another. Those who do best in this community are those who participate in it. So do not see your blog as being isolated from all other blogs. Instead, see it as part of this community and see yourself as a participant. This means that you will want to read blogs that deal with similar topics as yours and that you will want to see these blogs not as competition but as friends.
Here are just a few tips:
- Link often to other blogs. Do not allow pride to keep you from linking to great content on other sites.
- Comment on other sites and participate in discussion at other blogs.
- Carry on conversation begun on other blogs by writing about similar topics on your own.
One of the best ways of getting your blog noticed, is to be recognized by one of the more popular bloggers in whatever area you choose to write about. Many blogs “arrive on the scene” after being linked to by a very popular blog. There is a temptation, then, to send everything you write to these bloggers hoping that they will link to you. While there is nothing wrong with sending a link to a blogger if you feel you’ve written something particularly good and relevant, do so with some caution. It is better, I think, to simply link to their articles, knowing that most bloggers keep tabs on who is linking to their blog. Write great content relevant to discussions on the more popular blogs and hope that your articles are noticed and linked.
If you are going to go through all the trouble of creating and writing a blog, you may as well optimize its exposure to the rest of the world. There are a lot of great blogs out there that deal with blogging. They tell you how to use the tools available to you in order to optimize your blog’s exposure to your target audience and to the search engines. I will largely leave you to explore those blogs. But here are just a few tips:
- Submit your blog to Technorati and learn what Technorati is all about.
- Ping Google’s blog search every time you post (your blogging software may do this automatically.
- Ensure your blog is using search engine friendly URLs.
- Subscribe to Google or Technorati Alerts for your blog or your name or any topics you cover extensively.
- Keep tabs on what others are saying about your blog through Google Blog Search (click here to see an example of what this looks like for my blog).
- Consider reading a few of the blogs about blogging, such as ProBlogger or Performancing.
Though the last point encouraged you to optimize your blog, I would do so cautiously. Here’s why: Blog optimization may inadvertently lead to a dangerous amount of navel gazing. I have seen far too many bloggers do all they can to optimize their blog at the expense of making their site worth reading. They dedicate endless amounts of time to following all the rules and will do almost anything to get readers to their blogs. But they forget that a reader will only stick around if the content is worth reading. In many cases it is not.
If you want to be successful at blogging, make sure that your first priority is writing good content. I tell this time and time again to people who ask me for blogging tips. Worry first and foremost about writing good content. Don’t expect people to read your site unless the content is good. Write right, and eventually the readers are likely to follow. If your content is good and compelling and well-written, people will find it. So write well and write a lot. Then worry about having people read it.
Let me close with the importance of discipline in blogging. I’m going to suggest three different ways in which you should exercise discipline as you blog.
First, there is good reason that writing and journaling have long been considered important spiritual disciplines. I have found often that I do not really know what I believe about something until I have written about it. Only in writing down my thoughts am I able to press to the furthest extent to learn what I really believe. Writing has become a critical discipline for me and one that tells me much about myself and the state of my heart.
Second, writing does not come naturally to very many people. And even the most natural writer will find his skill increasing with practice. Anyone who wishes to be a good writer will need practice. So if you want to blog and want to make your writing available to the public, be sure to discipline yourself to write often. Not everything you write needs to appear on your blog. But discipline yourself to write so that you can get better at it.
Third, people who read blogs tend to get into patterns. If they know a person updates a site daily, they may well make that site a daily stop. If they know that a person blogs only every Wednesday, they may make that blog a weekly stop. So try to form patterns with your blogging so your readers know what to expect. Try to blog consistently, whether consistency means once per day or once per week. Discipline yourself to write consistently.
I hope these tips help a little bit. If you’ve been blogging for a while, feel free to add any tips you’ve found particularly helpful.