My name is Ali and I’ve been blogging for ten years.
Not always about writing books – I started at 16 with a page consisting of madlibs and quizzes about which cast member from The Fellowship of the Ring I most closely resembled. (These may not have been accurate, as I tended to skew my answers in favour of Gandalf or Saruman.)
As time has gone on and I have abandoned quizzes in favour of spoof news and novel writing, the blogosphere too has exploded in different directions. Everyone and their mum has a blog these days (I have three) and there is all sorts of advice about the best way to do it.
A lot of hints and tips are particularly obsessed with driving traffic to your blog, as the more hits you receive, the more loved and validated you will feel. Ways of doing this include:
- Using SEO, or Search Engine Optimization language. This means including billions of keywords people are likely to type into search engines, the idea being your site will then pop up. Some readers may remember I wrote a story last October where I mentioned the top trending topics on Twitter to see whether this would increase traffic on 12 books in 12 months. It didn’t.
- Promoting your posts elsewhere, eg Twitter and Facebook. This does work to an extent, but I have always found it really hard to know where the line is between over-promoting myself and not promoting posts enough. I knew with 12 books I didn’t want to be the spam in anyone’s stalker feed, because after a while people hide your updates or zone them out – but I think there were times I erred on the side of caution.
- Include lots of links. People who own the sites you are linking to can tell you’re sending traffic their way and might return the favour, meanwhile if you give readers interesting links to look at they’re more likely to come back.
- Offer useful advice – again, this makes them more likely to return for more.
- Update regularly – about three times a week is optimum, I’m told. And posts should be around 500 words (this one has 956). And they should always include pictures.
- Read and comment on other people’s blogs, as they will then visit yours due to the bloggers code. (The bloggers code isn’t really a thing – some people are more courteous than others, just like in real life)
All of this seems reasonable, but I have two niggles.
One: doing all this is very time consuming – especially reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. I regularly read DorkyMum, Banana Me Beautiful, No Not The Mind Probe, Snow in A Teapot, Disorientated Graduate, Clear Minded Creative, Mslexia, Subtle Melodrama, The Rogue Verbumancer, Help! I Need A Publisher and about twenty others besides. I often read without comment, but maybe press the ‘like’ button or mention the link on Twitter.
This is because I don’t always have something to add – especially if everyone is doing their optimum three posts a week. However, I read some advice the other week saying that was irrelevant, and people are perfectly happy for you to put some banal chat like ‘yeah, right on dude’ and go on your way. Initially I thought that would look just as cynical as trying to include lots of SEO – you’re not much better than the spammers who leave nonsensical comments such as “It is practically impossible to uncover knowledgeable males and girls during this subject, even so you sound like do you know what you are discussing! Thanks 655071.”
But then I remembered I actually love it when human people leave comments on my blog, because it proves they’re reading – so maybe the author of that advice had a point.
Niggle number two: these tips are geared towards raising profile and marketing – none of them concedes blogging can be done for fun. It is selfish, apparently, to talk about your own experiences on a blog – that’s not what people want to read about because there’s nothing in it for them, and you must write for an audience or what’s the point.
Speaking for myself, I kind of love reading people’s diaries and getting a little bit of insight into their lives. I don’t care if they aren’t spending two hours a day looking up useful links to help me with my problems, and that certainly won’t deter me from going back if the writing is good. I think a lot of people blog for themselves, for a lot of reasons – maybe to keep them writing, like I did between 2005 and 2009; or give them an outlet for stuff that bugs them, or a way to keep relatives updated with what’s going on. They are probably quite happy with 20 hits a day – statistics and monetization and whatever is not the reason why they started doing it – but equally if they get 200 or 2000 hits a day and people nominate them for blogging awards they aren’t going to say no.
The 12 Books Blog has taken on a bit of a patchwork feel in recent months, because I’ve lost the pattern of write one book in one genre and move on. It may also have dropped readers as a result – after all, the initial challenge is over, there’s nothing more to see here.
But if the only way to rectify this is to learn marketing jargon, or to narrow my target audience from ‘anyone interested in books’ to ‘just writers’ or ‘just readers’, I guess I shall just have to keep dropping them. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.*
March 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm
Updating once a week is enough of challenge for me. I don’t think I could even come up with 3 things a week to write about. I usually struggle with just the one.
My friend’s wife is a vet, she has informed me in the past that there is, quite literally, more than one way to skin a cat.
March 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm
This is the only blog where I’ve ever been anywhere near as consistent as that, and it’s a bit of a struggle now I don’t have the daily “arg I haven’t written enough” to fall back on… Maybe I should start interviewing vets about the origins of popular animal related sayings?
March 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm
Ten years is impressive. That would be a tin anniversary (if it was a wedding). Maybe it is time to start a new tradition for blogging anniversary gifts… a rhyming couplet for two years, a five line limerick for five years, a finely-crafted haiku for 17 years. If I had more time I’d write a decasyllabic quatrain to celebrate your achievement 🙂
March 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm
I quite like that idea… does it matter that I’ve switched platforms several times?! Livejournal to Deadjournal to Blogger to WordPress… what a whirlwind it hasn’t exactly been. Maybe they could each have their own acrostic.
March 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm
So do I or don’t I leave a comment? 😉
I suppose it’s all about what you want from your blog and why you’re blogging… Great post!
March 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm
Thank you! My general aim is to come up with accessible content for all sorts of people and hang the consequences.. Unless people comment negatively I suppose, then I might be forced into action. But so far, so good!
March 13, 2012 at 10:38 am
Thanks for the link (see it does work!). No, I’m kidding, I clIcked through to read this before I saw that you’d linked to me.
For what it’s worth, I love the patchwork nature of your blog. I think a lot of blog loyalty comes not just from enjoying the content itself, but from readers feeling like they have some kind of connection to the writer, and a patchwork style is probably best for that. If you only ever wrote about one topic it would be hard to get a sense of who you are, but because there’s some diversity in your interests, and in what you write about, it keeps the blog interesting and reveals enough of who you are to make it engaging. I’ve never actually sat down and had a drink with you, but from reading your blog the impression I get is that if we did do that it’d be fun and interesting. For me, the least interesting kind of blogs are where it’s all reviews or descriptions of days out that don’t let you know anything about the person writing them.
The commenting issue is interesting. Like you, I don’t very often comment on other blogs. Occasionally I’ll tie myself up in knots about that and worry that people think I’m being haughty or stuck up or I’m not bothering to read anyone else’s blog. But it’s just that my online personality is an extension of my offline personality – I’m a listener/reader/observer more than a participator, and I’ll only speak up if I feel like I’ve got something worth saying.
But on the flipside, I LOVE receiving blog comments. So perhaps I should return the favour and write more short ‘great post’ comments rather than just nodding along in agreement as I read something at home.
March 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm
Cue fortnight of rampant commenting before we fall back into our old habits.. 😉 Thank you for saying that, it’s nice to know some people approve! The downside of wilfully not joining in with marketing tactics is that sometimes it does feel like writing into the void, and it’s hard to tell whether the posts resonate with anyone… But you can’t please all of the people all of the time I suppose. *schedules series of star trek / Harry potter crossover fanfic*