If you’re thinking about blogging, let me say this up front: DO IT. I’ve been writing online since 2003, but mid-way through 2006 a friend sent me a link to this website she called a ‘blog’. It was Dooce.com, where Heather Armstrong documented her post-partum mental health struggles. As I was also going through a traumatic time following my second pregnancy and birth, my friend thought reading someone else’s experiences would help me process my own. Indeed, it did. I was also inspired, and in August 2006 signed up to the blogging platform Blogger. Honestly, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
In the decade since I started blogging, I have seen a whole lot of blogs (and bloggers) come and go. So when I’m asked about blogging and what makes a successful blog, how one survives in cyberspace – and I am asked these questions a lot – I think about the qualities long-term bloggers have in common. Some of these I like to think I also share.
Before I outline these commonalities, I’d like to note that they will not apply to everyone. If you are blogging purely for pleasure, unconcerned about numbers or audience, and if that is working for you then please continue! However, if you would like to see growth in your blog followers or capture a bit more attention, here are two of my top pieces of advice.
1.Regularity is key
When I teach blogging, I tell students one of the more important habits they should learn is to keep to a posting schedule. By this I don’t mean writing every single day (if you don’t want to), or even every few days. There are successful bloggers who post once a week, or once a month. Whatever you choose, it needs to be sustainable. But consistent posting creates an anticipation in your reader. It also builds trust, showing you are reliable.
In my days as Program Manager at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I would often scout for new talent via writers’ blogs. In fact, we encouraged people to submit links and URLs while we were in the programming stage. Not only are blogs immediate showcases of talent, but you can learn a lot about the writer as well; for example, if they are really engaged with their subject, have a writing regimen in place or any upcoming book releases.
To determine your ideal regularity involves learning about what you can realistically manage and to find out what your audience’s reading habits are. For this you need to experiment with various posting times. I myself have fluctuated over the years as to how often I post. These days, my ideal rate is one to two times a week. This is enough to keep traffic numbers ticking over and soothe my writing compulsion without tipping into unsustainable territory.
A quick tip: if you decide to lessen your posting rate, explain this decision to your readers. Whenever I’ve done so they’ve appreciated the heads-up and their loyalty keeps them engaged.
2. Patience is fine, but persistence pays off
When blogging first began to truly take off in Australia, in the final years of the 00’s, blogrolls were popular. These were lists, often in sidebars, of other blogs the blog author recommended. This was an organic way of ‘sharing the love’. Readers would use these blogrolls to discover more blogs, often on a similar topic. Thus I remember it being easier in those days to get people to land on your site, read your work and potentially get them to subscribe for future updates.
If I were to start a blog now, I admit it would be a more intimidating prospect. There are so many voices competing in the space, vying for attention in the age when there are so many extra demands coming in via the internet; our feeds are full of video snippets and live streams, pop ups and the latest must-read listicles. Cyberspace is less of a place for leisure than it used to be; it’s much more integrated into our everyday life.
If you’ve written an epic post, one which you believe deserves substantial attention, I understand the temptation (and desire, if you’re shy) to publish it in the hope that the work will speak for itself, and perhaps go viral. But seeing that kind of success coming while you’re waiting patiently (or passively, some might say) is getting rarer.
This is why bloggers often turn to social media to market their latest posts and have plugins and buttons available on their sites to make their content more shareable. They have had to become much more strategic and persistent. When successful, the results show: traffic goes up, shared and shared again… and again… that’s going viral. If you follow this pathway, make sure your content hits the right channels – like a Facebook page update or a blog post being posted at the right times. In the case of the latter I’ve done a lot of testing. My audience is predominately working parents, so I share my posts on social media at commuting time on weekday mornings when my audience is likely to sit on trains or buses, reading their electronic devices. I hear sharing after school in the period between 3.30pm-5pm works well if you have a teenage audience.
You might wonder how you can find out this kind of information. Ask! I’ve surveyed my readers several times over the years via a free Survey Monkey account. This can seem like a bit of a burden, especially if all you want to do is write (believe me, I understand that feeling!), but it is valuable. And don’t worry – when it comes to social media, you can choose to focus on one or two platforms. There’s no need to be across each and every one.
With the above in mind, here are some more questions I ask myself when it comes to tracking direction. I ask: Is my blog true to my voice? Helping a reader? Telling a story? Growing my profile? Blog posts don’t have to tick every box each time, but being mindful has helped me keep perspective over the years. Hopefully these tips will help you do the same thing as well.
Karen Andrews is an award-winning writer, author, editor, poet and publisher. Her work has appeared in journals and publications throughout Australia. Her latest book is Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood. She has blogged at www.karenandrews.com.au since 2006 and is one of the most established and popular parenting/personal bloggers in the country. She can be found on Twitter at @KarenAndrewsAU