18 Tips for the Beginning Blogger
Artificial Intelligence expert (and all around cool guy) Robert Wilensky, who recently passed away, was once quoted as having said “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.”
When you take a stroll down the world wide web and check out the almost infinite number of blogs that seem to fill every nook and cranny of cyberspace, you begin to realize that there are a lot of monkeys out there with a lot of free time on their hands.
Here are 18 tips on how to successfully become one of those monkeys:
- Start with a private blog. A private blog is much like a public blog, except it’s private. A private blog is a great way to figure out your preferred writing style without having to worry about you neophytic attempts being picked apart by the unfeeling mass of misdirected hatred that is the internet. Just think of it as an electronic journal that will help you get a feel for blogging in general.
- Choose a topic you know. Half of what will draw people to your blog will be your knowledge of our topic. The other half comes later, and is a bit more difficult to master, but this particular step is as simple as it gets. What are you good at? Write about that. Trust me, no matter how unique your interests, there are probably about a million people out there looking for information on those interests at this very second. The internet is kind of a strange place.
- Make sure it’s a broad topic. No, this does not contradict the last point. Yes, you need to write about what you know, even if it’s super specialized. But once you find your niche, expand outward a little bit. Address how your topic interacts with other aspects of life. If, for example, you decide to blog about the mating habits of the land snail, then you’re going to run out of interesting angles pretty quickly if you can’t connect it to other topics.
- Give your blog a memorable name. Whatever you do, don’t name your blog “_______’s Blog.” Unless your name is Vigo the Carpathian or something equally awesome, no web-surfer is going to bother remembering it. Also, you want the name of the blog to at least hint at its contents. Be vague and cryptic and clever all you want, just don’t be boring.
- Find your voice. Here’s the other half of what will draw people to your blog. An author’s voice is like a fingerprint, except that it’s way more interesting and won’t smudge the back of DVDs (I’m not great with metaphors, alright?). What I’m trying to get at is that your voice—your writing style—is the only thing that will always set you apart from the mountains of text that clutter the web like legos if Legoland were to get hit by a tornado (I’m not great with similes either). The only way to discover your own writing style is through experimentation, so get to it.
- Use interesting images. Words are good. Once upon a time, words were so good that they didn’t require any pictures. But like Gaston, the modern internet audience looks at words and asks “How can you read this? There are no pictures!” Yes, pretty much everyone who finds your blog will have a crippling case of web-ADD; if your page doesn’t have some interesting images, then they’ll most likely click the “back” icon and continue their frantic search for whatever minutia prompted them to go a-googlin’ in the first place. Pictures should be bright, clear, and eye-catching. They should probably have something to do with your topic as well, but hey, a little randomness never hurt anyone.
- Write when you feel it. Inspiration is not something that can be scheduled, and if you’re anything like me, your brain does its best creative work when it’s supposed to be concentrating on something else—such as when you’re trying to follow a complex cooking recipe or attempting to get your taxes done in time for your annual audit. Ideally, you should have a laptop (or tablet or whatever goofy-looking devices the kids are using these days) nearby at all times, so that when golden inspiration descends to light upon your brow, you can snatch it screaming from the air and cram it into a post. If there’s no internet-friendly machinery around, then something like a pocket notepad or simple voice recorder will do nicely.
- Write when you don’t feel it. Writer’s block has a tendency to build on itself, until all of the blocks have become a writer’s wall and you never want to type another coherent sentence again. When this happens, ask yourself: What would the Incredible Hulk do? That’s right, you need to just gather your passion and smash that wall down (figuratively). Even if what you end up writing turns out to be the stupidest collection of words since “you mad, bro,” you’ll have overcome the most difficult part. Sometimes you just need a running start.
- Use social media. Look, you and I both know that Facebook runs on witchcraft, and that anything that involves “tweeting” is for the birds, but the rest of the world seems pretty keen on this social media thing, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. So, make the best of a bad situation and use it for your advantage. Share your content on any and every social media site you can get your virtual hands on. With a little luck, readers will take it from there and spread around your post like a virus. Hmm. I just got that whole “go viral” thing. Reddit can be a blogger’s best friend, do use it!
- Make sure your theme is interesting, but simple. There’s a fine line between “interesting” and “my computer just crashed.” Don’t pile so many widgets and scripts onto your page that it ends up loading like an old man climbing stairs. Keep things clean, professional, and fun.
- Interact with your followers. If someone reads your blog and wants to talk about it, oblige them! They may have relevant comments, useful suggestions, or even a bit of praise to help you get through your week. Or, they might be bat-guano insane, and that’s OK too. Besides, followers who are able to actually connect with you will feel a personal loyalty to your blog, and will instinctively want to promote it to their friends.
- Interact with other bloggers. Cultivating relationships with other bloggers can net you huge returns. Well, that is to say that you can help each other out, do guest posts, and have link parties. It also means that you can share content and get ideas, without being called a plagiarist.
- Be prepared to deal with comments. Look, half of the people who post comments on the internet are chemically unbalanced maniacs who only take time away from their busy schedule of shouting obscenities on crowded subway trains to make the occasional online comment. Don’t believe me? Just open any YouTube video. Any one. And then read some of the comments. Before the internet came along, the only way to encounter that kind of rage, confusion, and dementia was to spend a week in a turn of the century insane asylum during a hurricane. And I’m going to tell you right now, some of the worst people to ever draw breath are going to find your blog and start commenting on it. They will debase your beliefs, ridicule your dreams, call your children words that would make Quentin Tarantino blush, and they’ll do it all with little to no provocation. The upside is that every once in awhile, you’ll get a commenter who really appreciates your work. Be sure to establish a relationship with these diamonds in the rough. As for the psychos, just ignore them and they’ll go away.
- Get help with SEO. There are a lot of ways to maximize your Search Engine Optimization, and to be honest with you, that could be many more articles in and of itself. Knowing how to please Google is a difficult task, and definitely requires additional reading.
- Be original. What your English teacher told you in high school still applies. No, not that nonsense about Wikipedia being an unreliable source, I’m referring to the simple but eternal commandment “thou shalt not plagiarize.” If you need to borrow something from another site, then give the original owner credit. Provide a link back to their work, and never claim that you had any part in its creation. Better yet, just develop your own content.
One of the best blog posts I have read in recent memory was by a guy named Jon Negroni. He came up with what is known as The Pixar Theory. It is a bit too complicated to go into now, but needless to say it was so original and thought provoking that it went “viral”. It went so far that a digital marketing firm built a whole website around this guy’s blog post. It is easier said than done, but being original can be the best thing for your blog.
Give your readers something to look forward to! There are some corporate blogs like this one from Budget Direct Insurance out of Australia, that have nothing to do with a product or service that they offer. They realize that if they want a following, they can’t blog about insurance. So what do they do? They blog about life hacks, travel tips, and car advice. It is new, interesting, and shareable. If a big company can do it, why can’t you?
- Keep informed. It’s hard to be relevant and topical if you have no idea what’s going on in the world. This doesn’t mean that you need to subscribe to Newsweek or watch C-Span (although I guess it couldn’t hurt); it just means that you need to keep up with the news regarding your particular field. So, if you write about home automation and how the home automation giant Vivint reviews its newest system, you had better know about it.
- Keep improving. Blogging is like trying to swim upstream; if you’re not moving forward, then you are by default moving backwards. Don’t let it stress you out, just make sure that you learn from your mistakes, accept constructive criticism, and never lose your determination.
- Have fun! Why did you get into blogging in the first place? If your answer is anything other than “I enjoy it,” then you need to seriously reevaluate your life. Blogging probably won’t make you rich, and it certainly isn’t going to earn you a lot of points with members of the opposite sex, so if you’re not having fun doing it, then why bother? Keep you chin up and enjoy the adventure that comes from stuffing text into an already saturated medium, and you’ll be the envy of typing monkeys the world over!
David Glenn is a freelance writer and retired business owner with over 30 years of experience in the construction/home improvement industry. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family and traveling to new places. David loves writing about his experiences in life, business, and family, and hopes his writing can benefit his readers in any way.