I quite often have people get in touch to ask me for tips on blogging. (No, blogs aren’t dead and yes, there is still a place for blogs in 2020. To that end, the forthcoming book Blogging for God’s Glory in a Clickbait World is worthy of a pre-order.) Earlier this year I offered some tips on starting out in blogging and today want to follow up with a few random tips for Christian bloggers. Most of these tips are quite granular and address ways I see bloggers potentially but inadvertently undermining their own success.
Don’t label book reviews as book reviews. As any blogger knows, headlines are extremely important for catching the attention of potential readers. In most cases, a headline that beings with “Book Review:” is not going to make much of an impact. Consider, for example, two options for Tara Isabella Burton’s look at the rise of the “Nones” and how they are creating and adopting new forms of spirituality. The first might be “Book Review: Strange Rites” and the second, using the book’s subtitle, “New Religions for a Godless World.” I rather suspect the second option will prove far more effective. An exception might be when the book is well-known or highly anticipated to such a degree that the title itself is going to grab attention (e.g. “Book Review: Girl, Wash Your Face”).
Don’t lazily blog your sermon. Monday mornings bring a suspicious number of three-point, alliterated, expository blog posts. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with blogging a sermon, it does involve mixing media. Just like a blog post typically won’t make a great sermon, a sermon typically won’t make a great blog post. Why? Because they are different media. It’s usually better to “remix” a sermon before blogging it. That may mean focusing on one idea instead of three and emphasizing application more than interpretation. But a straight copy and paste of a sermon is rarely going to make for an effective article. Further to this point, if you are going to blog content from your sermon, don’t necessarily tell people it’s from your sermon (or, if you do, tell them at the end)—people don’t visit blogs to read sermons. Let your sermons be sermons and your blogs be blogs.
Remix older authors. If you find an older author whose work resonates with you, you may enjoy remixing some of his or her work. What I mean is you might find a passage by a Puritan author that moves or inspires you. Instead of simply copying and pasting it and asking your readers to work their way through it, you might “remix” it in your own words, essentially making it your own. Where a lot of people are driven off by antiquated prose, you may compel them by freshening up the language and perhaps updating the illustrations. Of course, you should be clear (at the end) that this work has been inspired by someone else or is a remix of their work. And it’s probably best to do such remixes only with authors whose works are no longer under copyright. (See, for example, Blessed Are the Weak.)
Make sure your RSS feed is operative and effective. While RSS remains a bit of a mystery to many bloggers, it is the means through which a lot of “power users” access blogs. Essentially, RSS is a technology that allows people to read your content through an app instead of directly on your site. Some people (myself included) distribute full articles through RSS while other people distribute partial articles (so that if people want to read the rest, they need to click through to visit the site). But where a lot of bloggers go wrong is in having an RSS feed that is only a few words or a few sentences long. Be sure to distribute at least a few paragraphs so people who read via RSS can get at least a substantial idea of what the article is about. If you don’t, they are far more likely to skip over it than to click through it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a podcast. Podcasts and blogs are very different forms of communication that demand very different skill sets. Not everyone who is good at one will be good at the other. And there’s no rule saying that every blogger also needs to be a podcaster. I suspect that for the great majority of us it’s best to focus our efforts on one of them, not both. It’s better to do one thing well than two with mediocrity. There may have been a time when there were so few podcasts in the Christian space that it was easy enough to gain an audience. Today, though, the competition is fierce and the monetization difficult. You’ll probably find it’s not worth the investment in time and money unless you can offer something fresh to the growing ecosystem.
Make edifying content your greatest concern. A lot of bloggers spend way too much time trying to gain an audience and way too little time writing edifying content. While I understand that most people want readers (since, after all, there’s little point sharing all this material if no one will read it), the solution is not to fixate on getting readers at the expense of creating compelling content. For every one hour you spend on SEO and Facebook ads and all the rest, spend ten hours writing really, really good content. (Also, somewhat parenthetically, don’t make up, distribute, or announce that you’ve received meaningless awards.)
Think mobile and email before desktop. Back in the early days of blogging we could assume that the majority of readers would be accessing a blog by typing the address into the browser on their desktop computer. But those days are long gone. With the dawn and dominance of mobile devices many more people now access blogs through their phone or tablet. While there’s still good reason to make a site functional and beautiful on a desktop computer, it’s crucial to make sure the experience is equal or superior on a 5-inch phone. Also, email newsletters are coming back into vogue and many people would prefer to receive your content in their inbox, which means you should either create a newsletter or adopt an RSS-to-email service such as FeedBlitz that will send it automatically.
Ignore most of the “rules” for blogging. There are lots of sites (and even books) about how to start a successful blog and how to gain a large audience. But what you need to keep in mind is that most of these resources will teach you how to create a blog that primarily benefits you. They will teach you the rules that will gain an audience but not necessarily benefit that audience. They’ll teach you to create material that is viral but not necessarily edifying. As Christians, our main concern should always be loving others and doing what is beneficial to them. You may find the best way to do this is to toss many of the “rules.” Again, let me commend Blogging for God’s Glory in a Clickbait World for putting first things first.
Mix up your content. Many of the most successful blogs provide a mix of content. Some articles are life updates and some are book reviews, some are links to other sites and some are theological reflections, some are humorous and some are sober. A steady diet of the same thing day after day may cause people to grow weary and to lose interest.
Those are the tips for today! If you’d like to browse through some older tips, you can do so here.