Photo by *beat*.
While I don’t claim to be a blogging expert, I have picked up a few tips and tricks over the past 9 months that have helped me break into the Technorati Top 10,000, push past 2,000 RSS subscribers, and find myself a job as editor on PickTheBrain. In this article I will share everything I know about blogging, including how to get started, find the perfect image for your article, and increase your subscriber count. Enjoy :)
Why blog? Well amongst other things, blogging is a great way to meet people, it can potentially be a healthy source of income, and it is much cheaper than therapy. See my article Why You Should Blog for a few more reasons.
Blogger. I created my first blog using Blogger. While I would never go back to it, I do believe it is a good way for a beginner to start blogging because it is free and incredibly easy. Also check out WordPress.com.
WordPress. If you are even a little bit serious about blogging, I suggest taking the plunge and going for a self-hosted WordPress blog (note: I am referring to the WordPress software from WordPress.org, not the hosted version available at WordPress.com).
Web hosting. For my web hosting I use and recommend Dreamhost (use the promo code “CHANGE” to receive $50 off). I also hear good things about Media Temple. If you are going to go for self-hosted WordPress blog, look out for a host that offers a “one-click WordPress installation” as it makes things incredibly easy.
WordPress for Dummies. I won this book thanks to a ProBlogger competition, and I must say it is an excellent guide to WordPress and blogging in general. I only wish I had read it earlier, as it would have saved me a lot of time and hassle. You can read the Amazon review of it here.
Tell a story. Don’t always tell people the information/ message/ idea you want to convey. Instead, try showing them by telling a story. Apart from being more interesting to read, stories stick (read Made to Stickfor more on this).
Who cares? Whenever I write an article, I ask myself “who cares?” Firstly, do I care? That is, am I writing about something I am passionate about and that has meaning to me. Secondly, will my readers care about what I have to say? I have found that asking myself this simple question keeps me focused and helps avoid a common blogging sin: being boring.
Capture ideas anytime and anywhere. My best ideas for articles normally come when I am anywhere but sitting in front of the computer. So I have made it a habit to carry a notebook and pen with me wherever I go, allowing me to easily capture ideas as they pop into my head.
Write with purpose. As a father and a full-time employee I have limited time to write articles. I have found the key is to ensure I have a clear understanding of what I want to say before I sit down at the computer and start writing.
Take time to craft a catchy headline. A headline can make or a break a story, so make sure this important decision is not simply an afterthought.
This is not university. So don’t write your blog articles in the style of an essay.
Read sites devoted to writing/ copywriting. I highly recommend CopyBlogger to any blogger wishing to write in a more strategic, persuasive, and compelling manner. Also be sure to check out Leo Babauta’s recently launched WriteToDone.
Why care about subscribers? Someone subscribing to your blog is perhaps the best compliment they can give you. Traffic comes and goes, but someone subscribing to your blog says that they want to read more of your articles.
Make it easy to subscribe. Make it easy for readers to subscribe by prominently displaying a subscription icon and giving them the option to subscribe immediately after your article. You may even include a link in your article giving them the opportunity to subscribe (click here to subscribe to my feed).
Offer a full feed. It may decrease traffic to your site, but not offering a full feed is a big reason why people unsubscribe.
Don’t forget email subscriptions. Not everyone wants to use a feed reader. I have approximately 150 email subscribers at the moment, so it is certainly worth your while to make it easy for people to subscribe via email.
Subscribe to your own feed. It is not vain to subscribe to your own feed. Rather, it is essential to regularly check your RSS feed to make sure everything is ok.
Flaunt it. If you have over 100 subscribers, I say flaunt it by selecting a feedburner chicklet that shows your number. If you have under 100, don’t display your subscriber number just yet.
Photo by SmilingSunflower.
Ignore daily fluctuations. Ignore day to day fluctuations of your Feedburner Subscriber Count. A drop in the number of subscribers shown does not necessarily mean people have unsubscribed (see this ProBlogger article for more on this). Instead, aim to increase subscriptions over a week or even a month.
Don’t become obsessed. Yes, it is nice to see subscribers increasing, but if you start judging the success of your site based solely on a number you are giving in to your ego (this is a self improvement site remember :) ).
Free themes. There are some amazing free WordPress themes out there. To get an idea of what is available, check out the following articles from Smashing Magazine:
Custom made themes. If you want to take your blog to the next level, a custom made theme may just be the answer. John Chow recently said that a custom made theme was the most important thing he did to improve his blog in 2007. And if you are wondering why I am still using a free theme, I am currently in the process of getting a custom made theme.
Why bother? An interesting and relevant image can add a lot to an article. It is of particular importance if you hope your article will become popular in the social media. For example, you only have a few seconds to catch the attention of people using StumbleUpon.
Flickr. I find most of my images on Flickr. If you decide to do this, take a moment to read up on the Creative Commons License. Then, go to “Advanced Search” and tick the box for photos licensed under the Creative Commons License. To make it easier to find a good pic, I suggest selecting the option for “most interesting” pics and then “thumbnails” so that you can scan them quickly.
Other sources of pics: Sometimes it is worth spending a few pesos to get the perfect image. Check out iStockphoto for a huge collection of images that can be purchased quickly and easily.
Maintaining a Blog
Often less is more. If you struggle to find the time to blog, just remember that when it comes to posting frequency often less is more.
Photo by Hypergurl.
Hitting the publish button. If you have any doubts about as to whether or not an article is ready, don’t hit the publish button. It is better to not publish (even if you normally do post something that particular day) then to post something that is not up to your usual standard.
Microsoft Livewriter is great. Yes, it’s true! “Microsoft” and “great” can exist in the same sentence. Livewriter makes blogging incredibly easy. Check it out here (it’s free).
Plugins. There are a number of WordPress plugins (eg Threaded Comments, Subscribe to Comments, Top Commentators, and Recent Comments) that help encourage people to leave a comment. You can read more about these below.
Reply to comments. This may sound obvious, but if someone leaves a comment on your blog that is directed to you make sure you reply to them.
Take time to comment on other blogs. Often if you take the time to comment on someone else’s blog, they will visit your blog and return the favor. Don’t comment just for the sake of commenting though – make sure you have something thoughtful and relevant to say or don’t say anything at all.
Building Your Online Profile
Sell yourself. To build a good online profile you need to sell yourself as a person. If the idea of “selling yourself” makes you cringe, read my article How to Sell Yourself for a better idea of what I mean.
Guest post. Guest posts are one of the most powerful ways to build your online profile. Most blogs are open to guest posts, so take the plunge and get in contact with a blogger you admire. It is best to attach your post to your email. Even better, attach a few articles and tell them they can use their favorite. David Bohl from Slow Down Fast often does this when he sends articles to me – he also regularly writes for Dumb Little Man (60,000+ subscribers) so he must be doing something right!
Blog Carnivals. Blog carnivals may not be suitable for every blog, but I have seen a number of bloggers in the self improvement niche build their online profile this way. I have found that my Personal Stories of Change Blog Carnival has helped me break the ice with a number of my fellow bloggers, and we have since gone on to have become good friends.
Photo by El Fotopakismo.
The path to making money online is not always obvious. As I wrote about in this guest post for ProBlogger, when you start blogging it is not always obvious how you will make money online. Focus on adding value to your readers and building traffic and I’m sure goods things will come your way.
Read sites devoted to making money online. John Chow and Shoemoney know a lot more about making money online than me, so if you are interested in learning more these two sites are a good place to start.
Digg, Reddit, Del.icio.us, etc. If you want to see your articles do well on these social media sites, I strongly suggest becoming an active member of their communities. Oh, and do my next 2 tips….
Ask. It is becoming more and more common to see articles end with a simple request such as: “If you liked this article, please share it on del.icio.us or on Digg. I’d appreciate it. :)” And why not? It is a simple and effective way to help promote your articles with the social media.
Email requests to your friends. If you have written an article you are particularly proud of, I suggest bringing it to the attention of your friends by sending them an email. Of course, just remember my earlier point about giving.
Akismet. A essential plugin for fighting spam. It normally comes automatically with WordPress so just make sure you have it activated. Download Akismet here.
Adsense Deluxe. This plugin is the easiest way for WordPress bloggers to incorporate Adsense into their blog. Download Adsense Deluxe here.
Automatic Update. If you hate the thought of having to update WordPress, this plugin makes the process extremely easy. Down Automatic Update here.
Comment Relish. If you received a “thank you” email after leaving your first comment on this site, that message came courtesy of this nifty little plugin. Download Comment Relish here.
Feedburner Feedsmith. An essential plugin for anyone offering a feed on their blog. Basically it detects all ways to access your original WordPress feeds and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. No prizes for guessing where this link takes you.
Full Text Feed. If, like me, you only have an excerpt of you article on your main page you should have this plugin which prevents WordPress 2.1+ from adding a more link to your website’s feed. Download Full Text Feed here.
Google XML Sitemaps. . Download Google XML Sitemaps here.
Subscribe to Comments. This is a simple little plugin that has the potential to stimulate discussion in your comments. Basically it allows readers to receive notifications of new comments that are posted to an entry. Download Subscribe to Comments here.
There’s more! There are many, many more plugins available for WordPress. 50 Best WordPress Plugins for Power Blogging is a good list of them I came across recently.