How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read, Part 3

Welcome to the third installment in my series on writing a blog, written for writers by an inveterate blog reader. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here. The opinions herein are mine. There are endless guides for bloggers out there. Read a few and decide what works best for you.

Use bullet points. Sometimes. Every how-to will tell you that people LOVE to read blogs with bullet points. And that’s true sometimes. Bold print helps to break up giant walls of text. Be aware, though, that very often, people will ONLY read the bold print. The shorter the explanation of the bullet point is, the more likely people are to read it. Also, not all blog posts lend themselves to a  bullet format. Don’t limit yourself.

Don’t hit “publish immediately.”  This is a tough thing to do, but I recommend it. WordPress allows us to save posts as drafts and revisit them. Do that. Give yourself a little space from the post, anywhere from a few hours to a few days, whatever you need to see your work with fresh eyes. Then re-read. Not only are typos and sentence fragments more likely to jump out at you, having some distance allows you to read for clarity as well. If you aren’t sure you’ve hit the nail you were aiming for, use the feedback feature. WordPress lets us send a feedback link to anyone via email, even if they don’t use WordPress. The post will open for them and will look just like a live post so all formatting, photos, etc, appear in context. Linda A is one of my go-to editors. I trust her red pen. Find yourself a Linda.

Edit.  Put your best foot forward, every single time. The way most blogs are laid out, the most recent post is right there on the homepage for everyone to see. Make sure everything is all cleaned up. Root out any mixed up homophones and sentence fragments where you’ve cut and pasted and rearranged. And please, for the love of muffins, use paragraphs. I know. It’s not school, and we should feel free to format as we wish, but God created paragraphs for a reason.

Find your best time to post. This bit of advice is more from the standpoint of a blogger. You want to schedule your posts at a time where you have the most readers online because individual posts get buried in readers and in email.  Here’s the sad part. Every blogger’s sweet spot will be different. If I posted after 9pm, I heard nothing but crickets, but my friend sj’s rants posted at midnight would immediately receive 100 page views within minutes. Every demographic is different. You will need to experiment. Try a time slot for a week or two, then try a different one, maybe a little earlier or a little later. Check your stats. What time slots do you see those peaks? Here’s what I can tell you as a reader:

I rarely read blogs on weekends, holidays or particularly solemn occasions. I am usually too busy doing other things on weekends and holidays. As a blogger, I found this to be true as well. Hits were low over the weekend. If you’re a seven-day-a-week blogger, your weekend posts may get buried without many people seeing them. When there is an event of great magnitude, I turn off the computer completely. During mourning periods following a school shooting, racial injustice, etc, most of the stuff that is dumped onto the internet becomes senseless noise. I don’t read, and I definitely don’t contribute.

Your readership will have natural peaks and valleys. Write anyway. This tidbit isn’t a tip, just a heads-up. In the summer, for example,  page views may go way down. People are outside, on vacation, away from computers and devices. Write anyway. Write to improve your skills and, more importantly, to stay in the blogging habit. You can always reuse any gems later when people ARE reading.

 

What other tips do you have?

Next week I’ll start talking about social media for bloggers. Anyone out there use Pinterest or Instagram to promote their blog? Want to guest post, or at least give me some insight? Let me know in the comments, or contact me via email.

 

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read, Part 2

This is the second bit of a mini-series on blog writing. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.

There are endless how-to posts about blogging out there. A quick online search for “How to write a blog” turns up 723 million results, and I do not pretend to have the be-all, end-all guide. I encourage you to read other posts on the topic to find what works for you. In this space, I’ll share what has worked for me, both as a reader and a blogger.

1) Watch the length of your posts. This is a brilliant bit of advice from Angelique at Sappho’s Torque. I agree. I prefer to read posts that are 1200 words or fewer under normal circumstances. 700 words is even better. It’s not because I have a short attention-span and am easily distracted (Here, kitty! Can I braid your hair?). It’s because shorter posts are frequently better-written. Not always. Not always. Not always. I follow some blogs that routinely pass the 2K mark, and I stick around because they are stellar. But more often, shorter posts tend to get to the point quicker and more clearly. In the words of good old Polonius, brevity is the soul of wit.

2) Understand that not everyone is going to like you. And that’s… okay. (I feel like I’m channeling my inner Stuart Smalley here.)

And that's...okay. Photo credit

And that’s…okay. Photo credit

It’s also the hardest thing for most of us to accept. We want to write something brilliant, something that will resonate with everyone. But think about it. There are seven billion people on this planet. That’s a lot of resonance for one blog. The better goal to aim for is that each time we hit “Publish,” we make someone (someone, not somebillion) laugh/think/smile/start a conversation.

Negative comments happen sometimes. I have both read and written posts that hit someone’s nerve. The bigger your audience, the more likely you are to make someone mad. Comments can be unkind. It’s up to you to handle them in good grace, and to define what “good grace” means to you. Do you delete those comments? Allow but ignore? Allow and respond? You decide. But my best advice is to grow a thick skin and let it slide.

Sometimes, worse than spawning a giant poop storm,  a post is ignored completely and quietly dies. I bet every blogger out there has a post that didn’t get the attention they thought it deserved. It happens. But if one person got one thing out of it, maybe that can be enough.

3. Make your blog visually appealing. First impressions are everything. A blog appeals to me when it’s easy to find what I’m looking for, but it’s not an information over-load. Some things are a matter of taste, of course. Here are some suggestions for layout.

  • Three must-have widgetssearch, email follow, social media follow. Sometimes a post you wrote sticks in someone’s mind. Make it easy to locate. Also, an email follow button is appreciated. Clicking “Follow” at the top of a blog means that blog shows up in someone’s reader where it can get buried really fast. Give folks the option of appearing in their email inbox where they are more likely to see (and read) it. Social media widgets give readers more options for how to follow you.
  • Choose a theme that is easy to read. No white text on black, please. Or that deadly “Google blue.”  Show old eyes some love. WordPress has so many themes to choose from, and you can give them a tiny test-run before you commit. Many are free.
  • Consider carefully the location of your widgets. Nine times out of ten, widgets that run down the sides of the page are more useful than ones clustered at the bottom. It’s a cleaner look, and the widgets are more obvious. I followed one blog for a year before I realized the widgets were all at the bottom of the page.
  • Limit the number of posts that appear on a page. On WordPress, go to WP Admin>settings>reading, and then choose how many posts should appear. 10 or fewer is best. When a reader has to load every post you’ve written, it takes forever. Slow-load means fewer readers.

One blog I love is Peas and Cougars. If you visit Rae’s site, you’ll see she has an attractive header and image widgets on the sidebars that are pastel and not too distracting. There’s plenty of white space and just enough going on to make it interesting.

4. Lift the seat before you pee. Whoops. Wrong…list… my bad.

5. Blog about what interests you. There is nothing more appealing than someone sharing something they really love. I love a fanatic. One of my favorite Tweeters is passionate about sports.  I don’t know a futbol from soccer (see what I did there?), but she does, and her enthusiasm (and sometimes rage) is entertaining and contagious.

Some blogs have a focus topic tight as a laser-beam. I always know what to expect when I visit. Others are a mixed-bag, always full of surprises. Both can work well. Alexandra began her blog taking photos of her exotic cat. Later, she began adding posts and a shop to raise money for homeless cats in her country of Montenegro, where there are no cat programs or shelters. She handled her focus-change neatly by adding a menu bar at the top of her page to help readers find the posts that most interest them. To learn how to create a menu, go here.


So that’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll post a part 3, and then we’ll talk about blogging and social media. If you use Pinterest or Instagram to promote your blog, please  let me know. I may go out on a limb and offer a guest post position on these two, since I don’t have direct experience myself.

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read

This year, one very popular resolution  has been to either start a blog or to be more involved with an existing one. I think I can help you guys out!

No one asked me for advice, but I’ll pretend they did. I think I’m pretty qualified to make some suggestions, not because I’m a blogger, but because am a reader. I read blogs. A lot of them. Every, single day. A significant portion of my lunch break at work is devoted to catching up on my blog reading. I enjoy reading the work of old friends, and I adore discovering the next great voice.

So how do you make your blog stand out? I’m a WordPress user, so some of my suggestions are specific to this platform. If you use Blogger, you’ll need to check and see if your platform has similar features.

1) Decide your intended audience: Ultimately we should write for ourselves, of course, but most of us hope to have some readers.  Knowing your audience will help determine your approach to a given topic. Blogs intended to be read only by family, for example, will likely have a different focus than one that is meant for a wider readership. A back-to-school post meant only for grandma might consist of a snapshot of little Lulu and her giant backpack with a caption “Lulu on the first day of preschool. What a big girl!” A post with a bigger readership will need a bit more meat to it. Those related  to her actually care about Lulu. The average reader won’t. A back-to-school post may still be appropriate, but it will need to be handled a different way. A tortoise blog directed toward the scientific community is going to be much more technical than one aimed at the general public.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

An aside here: for  parents who are new to blogging, decide from the get-go how and if you are going to present those kids in your blog. Will you use their first names? An initial? A nickname? It’s a personal decision, and it makes no nevermind to me as a reader, but I’ve talked to a number of parents who wished they had given more thought to using their kid’s name. Once that name is out there, it’s really tough to take back.

2) Post regularly. This bit of advice is on every how-to list you’ll find. There’s a reason for that. Posting regularly helps people get to know you. Writing regularly also helps to hone your skills. Posting daily is fine, especially at first, but don’t feel like you have to, and don’t expect all but your most loyal readers to read every day. I only follow a few daily blogs, including this one. I don’t have time to read a ton of dailies. You’ll find that certain days of the week get more traffic than others, anyway. No point in wasting your brilliance on a Saturday if all of your readers are at the beach.

3) Don’t post more than once a day. New bloggers are very excited and have lots to say. Publishing multiple posts in a day can be a hardship for readers, however. Assume that anyone following your blog also follows others. Be respectful of their time. Use WordPress’s  auto-post feature. Schedule posts out over the course of a few days, a few weeks, even a few months.

4) Use SEO to your advantage, but don’t abuse it. Search Engine Optimization simply means tagging your posts effectively. If all of your posts are uncategorized, it’s harder for a search engine to point readers your way. Use relevant tags.The important word here is “relevant.” I’ve seen a few bloggers try to boost their traffic by using tags for hot-topics that aren’t related to their post at all. Tagging a post about taking your cat to the vet with “Ferguson” or “Bill Cosby” may bring some traffic, but it will also land a blogger on WordPress’s naughty list and will turn off conscientious readers.

Don’t forget to tag your images, too. Which brings us to…

5) Throw in an image or two. Pictures help break up walls of text. We humans are visual creatures. Gimme something  to look at. And you don’t have to be a great photographer or even own a camera. There are plenty of good quality images available under Creative Commons. Here’s a great article on where to find free images and how to properly credit the image owner. Pick smart. Don’t steal. Karma is a you-know-what.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It's our Little People nativity illuminated by a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It’s our Little People nativity illuminated by the soft glow of a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

6) Use social media properly. Now that I follow a gazillion blogs, social media is my favorite way to follow new ones. Use the Publicize feature on WordPress to automatically publish links to your post on your favorite social media sites. Be aware that most of your Facebook friends will never see your post in their feed unless you cough up some cash. Twitter, however, directly publishes to all of your followers.  Be careful that your Twitter isn’t cross-posting to Facebook, which then cross-posts to Twitter, which then cross-posts to… This is a common mistake. Check your social media settings. Sometimes I’ll see six identical posts in a row from the same person because their all of their social media is set to cr0ss-post everything.

7) Be yourself. My favorite blogs have one thing in common – they are unique. Amy’s blog is very different from Nicole’s blog, which is nothing like Linda’s blog.  None of them are trying to be anybody else. Be who you are. Unless you’re mean. Then go right ahead and pretend to be something else.

8) Write what interests you. We talked about intended audience and all that, but your first reader is you. If you don’t like what you’re doing, no one else will, either. I write about tortoise belly buttons. Because it makes me happy.

9) If a reader leaves a comment, respond if you can. Answering comments helps to build a sense of community. Never, ever responding to comments completely is kind of rude. Sometimes we’re not available to respond immediately, or we find ourselves with 80 comments in the queue,  or an individual comment gets buried in the notifications. Readers get that. And sometimes a comment is antagonistic, so withholding an answer is actually taking the high road, but most readers are earnest in their comments. Answer when you can.

10) Read other blogs. Don’t just read them, engage with them. Leave a (meaningful) comment where appropriate.  Not in the hopes that they will return the favor, either. Engage with other bloggers. Build your own little blogging family.

What do you love in the blogs that you read? This post may morph into a mini-series, so additional tips are welcome!