This week marks the eight-year anniversary of my first foray into the blogosphere. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about both the art and science of blogging. Here are eight things I wish I’d known at the outset.
1. Content is king but headlines and images are the crown
Most ‘how to’ blogging guides will tell you that great content is vital – and they’re right. But many bloggers make the mistake of equating ‘great content’ with ‘great writing’.
Elegant prose is just one piece of the puzzle. And I’ve read many fantastic posts which would never be mistaken for great literature but provide an original viewpoint on an interesting topic.
Most important of all is convincing people to click on your post in the first place – and then to actually read it. That means giving it an eye-catching title and a killer opening that compels you to read on. How often do you skip on past an uninteresting title or lose interest after a meandering first line?
Including a striking and relevant image along with your posts is also a great way to make readers pause and look. As the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words.
2. Be confident
Tone of voice influences how readers judge you. Nobody likes someone who constantly boasts about how great they are, but equally if you’re constantly apologising your writing will appear weak.
Speak your mind. There’s no need to say sorry for having an opinion or for the fact you haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. Get to the point and picture yourself talking to a room full of people in a bold, clear voice rather than mumbling timidly. If you don’t believe in what you write, how can you expect anyone else to?
3. Stats aren’t everything
Seeing your page visits and blog ranking go up are great for the ego – and can be important if you’re aiming to maximise your income – but they shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all.
Individual rankings can be gamified. Social media followers can be bought. You can host competitions and giveaways to pull in ‘compers’ and boost your site traffic. That’s fine – but it isn’t for everyone.
What do you want your blog to be? To what extent do you want to play the numbers game? And are you happy to accept the impact it will have on your content?
4. Monetisation isn’t everything
It would be lovely if we could all earn a six-figure salary or attract a book deal from our writing. Who wouldn’t want that?
But the reality for most of us is that monetising a blog involves a combination of adverts, sponsored posts and links, reviews and other forms of paid representation. This involves no small amount of effort and if you’re serious about monetising your blog it will result in its appearance and content changing. It can even affect your readership, as review-heavy blogs are regarded by some readers with suspicion.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pursue this but go into it with eyes open. If you have any concerns about losing the essence of why you blog for the sake of a few hundred pounds a year and a couple of freebies, weigh up the pros and cons before you decide.
5. There is no ‘right’ length for posts
Some ‘experts’ tell you that the optimum post length is 300-700 words, and that people never read long-form posts.
Hogwash. Some of the best posts I’ve ever read are 2,000 words long, while others consist of just a photo and a couple of short paragraphs. If your post is relevant and written well, it doesn’t matter how long it is. When was the last time as a reader you did a word count anyway?
It is more difficult to retain a casual reader’s attention with a long post, but some topics naturally lend themselves to more detailed discussion. However, if you find yourself frequently writing very long posts, it’s worth considering if they might work better split into shorter, more focussed posts.
6. There is no ‘right’ frequency
Many guides will tell you that you should post every day, or at least several times a week.
There is a grain of truth in that in terms of getting your content noticed by readers and search engines. A blog that lies dormant for months at a time is unlikely to build a loyal following but there are many successful bloggers who post great content just once a week.
If you have time to blog every day, that’s great. But it’s easy to sacrifice quality at the altar of quantity. Writing well is essential – writing daily is not.
7. Nobody writes ‘you’ as well as you do
It’s easy to get drawn into ‘blog envy’. There are some very talented writers out there who write with originality, insight and humour.
However, no one can write about your experiences and passions with the same authority as you. Never forget that.
8. You never stop learning – but don’t try to do everything
Eight years on, I’m still improving my skills and learning new techniques. But it’s easy to get caught up in trying to do too many things at the same time.
I try to focus on one thing at a time rather than attempting to do too many at once. So in recent weeks I have been working specifically on creating better titles and opening lines. I’m now moving on to experimenting with different types of images. Next month it will be something else.
No matter how good or an experienced blogger you are, there’s always scope for improvement. Hopefully I’ll learn just as much in the next eight years as I have in the last eight.
What are the biggest lessons that blogging has taught you? Share your top tips in the comments below.