At least once a month, I receive an e-mail from someone, requesting advice on how to start a blog, so I wanted to offer some tips:
1) Content is key. Write about what you know well and are passionate about, because quality content is what keeps readers coming back.
2) Be yourself. It’s important to have a unique voice, because if you try to be someone you’re not, readers will see through that very quickly. Don’t try to be a clone of another blogger. Just be who you are, and you’ll find your audience.
3) Don’t steal content. This can land you in hot water, and it’s not worth it. Remember that written material and photographs published online are protected by copyright law, and most creative types (including me) get a serious bee in their bonnets when their work is stolen. That said…
4) Know your rights. If you do find yourself the unfortunate victim of copyright infringement (and it’s likely that you will, especially if your blog is popular), you’ll find this article very informative. It helped me during my first year of blogging, when another blogger published my entire Inside the Guide series on her blog, almost word for word, without my permission, and without crediting me as the author. That series represents a lot of work, and naturally I was quite upset that someone would just steal it and try to pass it off as her own. I sent her a cease and desist letter, and it wasn’t fun for either of us, but she did take the stolen material down (and then promptly trashed me all over the internet).
For more on this topic, please see:
An Explanation of Copyright and Fair Use. Here’s an excerpt:
“The Internet IS NOT the public domain. There are both uncopyrighted and copyrighted materials available. Assume a work is copyrighted.
Tips for the Internet
• Always credit the source of your information
• Find out if the author of a work (e.g., video, audio, graphic, icon) provides information on how to use his or her work. If explicit guidelines exist, follow them.
• Whenever feasible, ask the owner of the copyright for permission. Keep a copy of your request for permission and the permission received.”
5) Pay attention to spelling and grammar. People like to read blogs that are easy to read, and nothing makes reading more tedious and unpleasant than stumbling over constant misspellings, unnecessary or incorrect punctuation, or glaring grammar faux pas. A good writer has a good grasp of language. Imagine picking up a magazine and finding 25 errors in the first article you read. Would you subscribe to that magazine? Probably not.
6) Design matters. Again, readers are more likely to read a blog if the color scheme doesn’t cause eye strain, and the text is in a clear, easily readable color and font. I like to keep my blog fairly simple and clean, while still allowing my personality to shine through. However, I’m a html/css novice, so I still can’t figure out why the horizontal navigation bar doesn’t appear correctly in Internet Explorer 8. It looks perfect in IE 9. So, if anyone out there is an expert at this stuff, and can tell me what I’m doing wrong, I would be eternally grateful. *Ahem. Hint hint, cough cough*
7) Take time with titles What catches your eye when you browse for books at a library or bookstore? Usually it’s the title, right? Well, the same is true with blog posts, so give your titles some thought. Try to make them catchy and interesting.
8) Include links to your other work. You may have noticed that I do this frequently, and with good reason. I want you to spend more time here, so I try to introduce you to material that might interest you, in the hope that you’ll continue to visit me.
9) Post regularly. The most successful bloggers don’t necessarily post every day, but they do post at least 2-3 times per week. If you aren’t publishing regularly, what incentive do your readers have to come back? They can just find what they’re looking for somewhere else.
10) Include pictures. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This is because 65 percent of the population consists of visual learners, so if you’re trying to teach a concept, most people will grasp it better if they can see how it’s done. Photographs make posts more engaging.
11) Don’t sell out. It’s perfectly fine to have ads on your blog as a way to earn a little extra money. Lots of people do, including me. But… be selective. Unless your sole purpose in blogging is to get free stuff (and I’m guessing it’s not) don’t turn your blog into one product review after the next. Most people aren’t interested in reading a blog that is just one big, long commercial. I know I’m not.
12) Be patient. Don’t expect huge traffic and tons of comments overnight. In 2009, there were 126 million blogs on the internet, so it’s easy for a fledgling blogger to feel like the needle in the proverbial haystack. When I first started blogging, I had only 10 page loads per day, and I frequently got discouraged. But, I decided to focus on just being myself, and writing quality content, and I saw my readership slowly begin to grow. Now this blog gets between 2000 and 3000 page loads per day, and more than 4000 on a really good day. It’s astonishing to me.
I’m glad that I didn’t give up.
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