I’ve been blogging now for seven years, during which time I’ve managed to get as many things wrong as I have right. But I’m still here. I now run three blogs and write ten posts a month for a national newspaper website, which helps to subsidise my penchant for pricey coffee, Hula Hoops and paracetamol.
Being the sharing kind of guy I am, I thought I’d start a series sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned both from my own blogs and as a reader of about 100 others.
I’m going to kick off with five practical pieces of advice for new and aspiring bloggers.
1. DON’T agonise over which platform or theme you use
There are many different blogging platforms out there, but fundamentally they’re all similar. They make it easy to input text and images, then publish the end result ready for the world to read.
So take your pick. WordPress and Blogger are the most popular platforms. Both offer a variety of free, easy to use themes that mean you can get started within minutes. It’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of options available to you, but the best thing to do is to pick one and get going. You can always swap themes later with a minimum of hassle.
Don’t bother investing in ‘premium’ (paid for) themes to start with. That’s a decision best left until you have a clearer idea of exactly what you want.
2. DO think about your blog name
There are two basic choices here. You can take the Ronseal approach and come up with a name that does exactly what it says on the tin, or you can go with an intriguingly abstract name of your choice that may have absolutely nothing to do with your subject matter.
Both options have their pros and cons. If you take the first route, readers will immediately know what your blog is about but you may end up with a name that is similar to others focussing on similar topics – and someone else may already be using it.
Taking a looser approach means you have a better chance of finding a distinctive name, but it may not be obvious what your subject is.
There’s no right or wrong. And if you decide you hate your blog name, you can always change it.
3. DO consider having a common ‘brand’ across social media
If you’re intending to set up social media accounts to accompany your blog, it’s worth checking more than just the availability of the URL you want (which your platform will do automatically when you’re setting it up).
Check whether the corresponding user names you’d like on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media of your choice are also available so that you can create one brand to make it easy for people to find you across different channels.
Consider having a common avatar (picture) and/or header image that makes it even easier for people to visually associate your blog with your Twitter account, Facebook page et cetera.
4. DO a few things well, DON’T do a lot of things badly
A lot of ‘top tips’ lists will tell you that it’s a crowded blogosphere and it’s essential to get out there and solicit readers. That means you need to establish a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, Reddit and every social network possible.
In an ideal world that’s great, but odds are it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to do everything. If, like many of us, you only have a few hours a week to spare, you’re better off picking one or two and doing them really well rather than spreading yourself too thin.
Twitter and Facebook are the two biggest social networks, which makes them a good starting point. You’re better off posting to your Twitter or Facebook accounts – or, better still, having dedicated pages for them – on a regular basis rather than doing so sporadically across a wide variety of channels. Why would anyone want to follow a Twitter account that only tweets once a week, or like a Facebook page that lies dormant for weeks on end?
5. DO interact with the world around you
It’s tempting to sit at your keyboard and bash out one post after another, expecting the world to come and worship at the altar of your inspiring prose. That does happen to a lucky few, but for most of us the secret to getting the world (or even an infinitesimal portion of it) to come to us is to go out and say hi to people occasionally.
Interaction takes many forms. If someone takes the time to comment on one of your posts, reply to them and repay the compliment if they have their own blog. (Don’t just spam people’s blogs with lots of “Great post!” comments, though – you’ll be quickly sussed out.)
Engage in conversation on Twitter rather than just broadcasting links to your latest posts. Better still, retweet.
Tweet regularly but don’t tweet for the sake of it – no one’s going to follow you if most of your tweets are drivel. Be interesting, be funny, don’t be afraid to voice an opinion (but be polite) and get yourself into the mindset that every tweet is an opportunity for someone new to follow you.
Finally, get out there and read other blogs. They’re a great source of inspiration, and if you comment on and follow blogs you like then some of them will be inclined to comment and follow you back.
There’s no magic formula, but I spend 30%-40% of my blogging time reading or interacting rather than writing. It’s not time wasted – it’s an investment.
I hope these tips are helpful to new and aspiring bloggers. If you have any other top tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.