Blogging

Blogging 201: The Not So Basics

Hi and welcome! If you are just hitting this post, have you seen Blogging 101: The Basics? If not, go there first. You can follow just what’s in basics for at least a couple months. During this time, you are going to figure out your writing style, which is honestly what will hold your audience.

It took me probably six months to find my voice. Was I funny? Was I informal? How long should my posts generally be? Writing online is different than writing a newspaper article, an essay… anything really. And the best way to get good is to practice.

Let’s say you’ve done that. You get what your blog is and isn’t, contentwise. You have a voice. You have three blog posts in your head (or drafted in your blog software itself) ready to go. Now it’ time to get into the more technical issues you’ve probably noticed, especially reading other blogs.



What ways do you want to make money?

There are some different ways to make money blogging and what you want to figure out at this point is what does and doesn’t feel sleazy to you.

I was confronted with this month 4 of blogging. I got an email from a potential advertiser. How much would I charge? What kinds of ads did I have available?

It was an excellent question, one I hadn’t even asked myself yet. After looking around at blogs, I realized I would feel comfortable with ads in the sidebar of my blog only. I didn’t like written ads in content (made it hard to read) and I wanted to have control over what ads appeared there. (Once this blog became a business itself, I yanked ads entirely.)

Now that was my answer. Yours may be different and that’s ok. You want to balance the making money part with the not being a sleaze part. Looking at what other bloggers are doing, you’ll see some things you like and some things you don’t.

Other things people will approach you with:

1) Sponsored posts. (Here’s a pretty comprehensive look at the concept.)
2) Getting sent products to ‘review’. (IE the sponsored post’s friendlier seeming cousin.)
3) Can someone write a blog post that gets published on your blog about X? (Sometimes people want this free, sometimes they seem willing to pay.)
4) Affiliate programs (where you get link(s) to share to a product online and, if someone buys, you get a cut. More here.)
5) Other things I can’t anticipate.

By deciding what you will and won’t do for money, you’re setting a precedence for your blog. And remember, saying no to something you don’t want means that when something you do want comes along, you can be ready.

(We’ve written in depth about some of these: Affiliate programs, Display Advertising, PPC Advertising, Ad Networks. Since I’ve never done sponsored posts, I linked above to someone who had looked into them more deeply. )



How big do you want to get?

Contrary to popular belief, seeing comments is not the only way to know your blog community is getting bigger. For example, on ours, we get maybe 1 comment for every thousand or so people who look at something something. Really! Below a screenshot of views from Google Analytics versus comments:

views-versus-comments

I will also say in our case, interaction is taking place more on social media for us so having comments on the blog itself is less important to me. To make this an anaology, I’ve built the internet equivalent of a small coffee shop in a small town.

But some people want to build the internet equivalent of a shopping center:  a website with contributing members, product upsells, advertising revenue, etc. To become the go-to resource and community about X or Y.  If you want to build the online headquarters for all base jumpers or the next HuffPost, you are looking at building an online community. (Yes, I like to feel Breaking Even has a small specific online community but we are intentionally small.)

If you want to create the large shopping center of a website, you’re going to need a few things.

1) Actively write in such a way that encourages people to leave the comments on your posts. This may include writing posts whose topics may be a bit controversial or even just opinionated. (Sometimes the term ‘click bait’ is used to describe sensational headlines that drive clicks.)
2) You need a robust commenting system. (My only opinion on this? Don’t make someone create an account on your site to leave a comment. Everyone hates one more password to manage. Let your commenters log in with Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. to leave their comment. I use Disqus because it lets people use whatever login or create one just for my site, among other features.)
3) You need to respond to comments. If you want people in your community interacting, you have to lead by example. If you have any commenting standards, make sure they are enforced.
4) You need some way for these people to contribute in addition to leaving comments. (IE they need to be able to not wait for you to start a discussion.) It could be as simple as a hashtag people use to contribute photos to a curated page or as complicated as members having their own subsites on your site.

Will your community evolve? Absolutely. But will a bit of planning and intentionality on your part of the ‘mall developer’ make the evolution and growth go much smoother? Yes.



How do you want people to get your information? 

You probably have die hard fans now that want to get ALL your posts. You may want to add the ability for people to subscribe, via RSS or email, to your blog.

Your blogging system will have a way to do this but I just wanted to put it on your radar. Now that you have a following, make sure those people can see posts easily. Here’s a lovely example:

hubspot-subscription-page

 

Do you like your software?

Do you like the way at the bottom of all our posts we have five related posts? Do you wish you too could have an online store to sell your t-shirts? You are going to start having ideas (now that you’ve gotten used to the writing part) about how your blog should work technically.

You’re going to want more than you ever thought you would. Make a list of what you want, put it in order of importance even. Maybe the software you’ve been using is not up to snuff. Or maybe it is and you just need to learn how to do what you need to do.

Now I’m sure some bloggers will argue with me that it’s best to start where you’re going to end up. But who still lives in the first house they’ve ever lived in or has the first job they ever had? Very few of us. We grow, we change, and as we know more of what we want, we can move towards it.

Once you have the writing part down for your blog and you start thinking of the technical stuff, that’s the good time to make the software decision. And you don’t need to worry about moving your posts. A simple Google search of ‘moving from X software to Y software’ will tell you exactly how to do it. And if you hate the idea, you can pay some nerd to do it for you in a few hours of their time. In other words, no endless copying and pasting, I promise.

So to me, those are the big second level questions of having a blog. I have my answers to them, and you’ll have yours. But just a reminder, just start writing and think of this other stuff once your blog’s content has a clear voice. Also, please comment with your blog URL so we can see it.



Blogging 101: The Basics

I’m just going to say it: I think people get way too caught up on perfection and don’t just start things.

How many people do you know who are waiting on redoing their logo, designing a website, reprinting their business cards, whatever before they start blogging? I know a few.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Blogging is just writing with a few more technical things built in.

I got into blogging precisely for this reason. I wanted to be a writer. There seemed to be a lot of gatekeepers to me becoming that. Rather than jump the fence or wait around at gates, I built my own place. Over time, I fixed it up. I still feel like it needs fixing up! But nothing worth it is ever static.

I wanted to write this blog post about what you need to start blogging. No it’s not a domain name or branding guides or ‘SEO’. It’s easier than that.

1) You need a topic. 

Of course your Mom will read your blog… but unless you’re Oprah, no one is going to care about you just living your life. You need to weave your life into a topic. Ex: maybe you’re really into cooking paleo. Maybe you really like Italy. Maybe you want to make yourself learn more about running. Give yourself a general topic with enough room to move around that the topic can weave throughout your blog while being interesting and personal.

This blog’s original topic? Personal finance. Sure, I tried to tell fun stories and include photos in but I also tried to have some knowledge to impart (I use that term loosely) so I wasn’t limiting my audience.

Let’s test some topics:

Water- Ok this could work. How to drink more, how to test it, how to conserve it, bottled water taste testing. Yup, I could write 50 blog posts on this and just be getting started. “Water Girl” or “Hydration Situation” maybe?

Art Supply Review- If I am keen on buying new stuff all the time, this could work. But review only? I may be pigeon holing myself. (The reason I never became a fashion blogger? Too much clothes to buy to have writing topics!)

Books- Who is my audience? If I’m going to be reviewing ‘Fault in Our Stars’ one week and ‘War and Peace’ the next week, that may be too much jumping around. This may be too broad to appeal to a specific audience.

You get what I’m saying. Don’t give yourself something so specific (four leaf clovers) that you’ll run out of material in a year and don’t give yourself too broad a topic that your audience won’t know whether they like it or not… though I will argue so long as you yourself are clear about what your blog is and isn’t, the ‘too broad’ will be less of a problem than too narrow. For example, I had a hard time coming up with another ‘too broad’ example besides books.

2) You need a name.

This is like your topic but you are going to be referring to this name all the time so don’t pick something you hate. In your chosen topic, a quick Google search will reveal what other blogs in your niche are called. How can yours be different? What ideas do you like from some of them?

OK so some in the personal finance niche at the time I started were:

Sense to Save
Budgets are Sexy
Almost Frugal
Get Rich Slowly
Counting Pennies
Wisebread
Daily Worth (ok that wasn’t a blog but a newsletter at the time)

Looking at these names, I knew what wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be frugal necessarily. I also didn’t want money in the title, in case I wanted to change topic later (which I did). Daily Worth was a sort of direction I liked best for myself. When Breaking Even got put on the list, it just felt right to me. But seeing other ideas made me realize what could work… and not work.

Make a whole list of names and sleep on it. Pick your favorite and go with it. Don’t worry if the .com domain is available. Just pick something you like and you can always make it work.

3) You need a place to blog.

Don’t stress out about software choice. You can always move it later. Really, I’ve moved this blog three times. (It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to hire someone to do this for you as more and more people blog.)

I like Wordpress.com as a free option. But if you like Blogger.com, Typepad, whatever better, I am not here to tell you there is only one answer. There isn’t. Just find something you like to use. Because you’ll be playing around a lot the first couple of months. (How do I add pictures? How do I make the font bigger?)

Just grab a template (all software comes with some choices) and start blogging. And if you don’t believe me when I say people don’t care what your site looks like, think of 2 or 3 of your favorite bloggers and try to sketch out what their website looks like. Can’t remember? Yeah, thought so.

Someday, if this goes well and you like it, you’ll want a custom design and you’ll start caring about things you NEVER thought you’d care about (How can I get more comments? What if I want to ad advertising?) But for now, just start writing.

4) Have a day/deadline for when you will blog (at least once a week).

Start out with once a week. Maybe Wednesdays are a good day because you get a long lunch break. Wednesdays is your deadline. Now every week, you have to write a post that goes online on Wednesday.

Your entries don’t have to be long or super deep, just get in the habit of it. Every Wednesday, write something.

Now you’ll see your blog traffic spike every Wednesday. This will either be rewarding to you or you won’t care. If it’s rewarding that someone is reading your work, you’re a blogger. 🙂

That’s it, you are blogging now! Next post I’ll get into more specifics but it this is the only post you read about blogging for the next six months, that’s ok. Just start. And leave the link here so I can start reading it.

Once you’ve been writing several months, you can move onto Blogging 201. 🙂

Why Doesn’t Anyone Read My Blog?

So, you’ve set up a blog. You post consistently, your topics are relevant and helpful to your readers, and hey- you aren’t too bad at this whole writing thing. So why does it still feel like the only person reading is your mom?

It may be a matter of accessibility. People won’t look at your blog if they don’t know how to find it (or worse, if they don’t know it exists). You’ve already done the grunt-work, now it’s time to add a little hustle to the mix. Here are four places you can apply said hustle:

1) Can people find your blog within your website? If you’re blogging as part of a business or a larger website, is there clear navigation to the blog portion of the website? Many businesses will link their blog right from the main menu, but there’s more than one way to get from A to B (with websites, anyway). Take a look at your sidebar, it’s another important piece of navigation real estate. Could you put a Recent Posts section in there, like Stonyfield does below? Or, maybe it’s a matter of creating a button or image that directs people to your blog home page when they click on it.

Problogger has their blog as menu item 2, pretty hard to miss.

Problogger has their blog as menu item 2, pretty hard to miss.

Take a look at other pages on your website- are there ways you can link to your blog on these pages? I got to this article about Organic Farming on Stonyfield Farm’s website  by clicking a link in their About page.

Stonyfield_Blog

If you look closely, they’re using the sidebar for additional blog posts AND linking in the menu. Way to hit the trifecta, Stonyfield.

If you’re having a hard time critiquing your website, have a friend take a look. Adding an unbiased brain to the mix  can only help, after all! Giving people alternate routes and clear signage is a great starting point. Now, let’s forge beyond your own territory.



2) Are you sharing on Social Media? Sharing a link to a blog post, old or new, lets people know that your blog is active and ready for readers. It also guarantees more eyeballs are going to see it- Facebook has over 1 billion users, after all. This could be a status update on Facebook or a quick tweet on Twitter. If it’s industry-related content, share it on LinkedIn. Think about where your people hang out online- those should be your target places. Facebook may have a bigger audience, but if your particular audience is hanging out on Google+, don’t turn your back on them!

This step can be accomplished in a few different ways, depending on your preference. If you’re more comfortable with the simple write and post, and can’t be bothered to remember to share on Facebook (or wherever else), you can automatically post to social media once the post is published (that link is for Wordpress users- there are other ways to do it if you have a different kind of platform though!). That means less remembering for you, and more readers for your blog! However, if you aren’t keen on automation and/or don’t want to share every blog post, you can always manage it yourself.

You don’t necessarily have to be the only one sharing your content, either. Wouldn’t it be great if people could share your posts once they’re done reading? You may have noticed some places have social sharing icons at the bottom of articles. You can have that, too! After finishing your latest post, all readers have to do is click the little bird icon and presto! your article just got shared via Twitter, my friend.

Not only does The Hungry Runner Girl share updates on her Facebook Page, she has a link to the blog in the handy dandy sidebar.

Not only does The Hungry Runner Girl share updates on her Facebook Page, she has a link to the blog in the handy dandy sidebar.



3) How about email? Do you have a list of e-mails? Maybe you have an e-mail newsletter that goes out once a month. This is yet another opportunity to promote your blog. If your newsletter for the month focuses on car maintenance, and you have an old blog post that ranks different brands of windshield wipers, go ahead and link to it. Readers will ideally click on the link, read the blog, and it’ll be in the back of their mind. Depending on what type of software you’re using, you can also integrate a feed that pulls in links to recent blog posts within your newsletter, or create a separate email altogether. Using an RSS component within your email management system pulls your recent blog posts into an email, and automatically sends to subscribers weekly, monthly, or whatever period of time you choose. Again, depending on what software you use, is customizable, so you can play around with formatting (i.e. title and featured image, title and a blurb, title, blurb and featured image- whatever boats your float).

The benefit of RSS is it brings your blog to the people. Let’s face it, we can all be a bit lazy at times, and may not feel like checking a website X number of times just to see if there’s a new blog post. Other times, we just forget. Having your posts delivered once a week/month/whenever is like having the paperboy deliver to your front step as opposed to going out, starting the car, driving to the store, buying a paper, and coming back home. It’s easy for you to set up, and it’s easier for your audience to read.

4) Can search engines find you? Just to clarify, this is not to say you should bend over backwards for the whims of SEO, but there are a few things you can do to make your work SEO friendly. No matter what game-changing rules come down the pipe (like Google deciding to nix authorship), if you are consistently creating relevant, meaningful content, you’ll be just fine. The rest is just detail.

A few details that might help get your blog some attention: creating compelling headlines (somewhere in between chapter in a 1950s textbook and linkbait for easily distracted people), tagging keywords when applicable and relevant, and renaming your images (i.e. instead of IMG_05948.jpg, use spidermonkey_fights_mastadon.jpg). To reiterate, these changes are not going to move mountains for your blog, they’re simple things that can give you a little boost. For more on headlines, wording, and other content related issues, check out this article from ProBlogger.

Writing a blog shouldn’t feel like shouting into the void. If you have great content, share it with the world (or, at least, the internet) more effectively so that content you spent hours on will get more eyeballs on it!

Stay tuned, we’ll be launching a product for bloggers like in March that involves setting a lot of this up. Get on our email newsletter and you too will be the first to know when it’s launched. (You can also subscribe to our blog via email there. Boom.)



Tech Thursday: What Keywords Should I Use?

Choose your words wisely. It’s a sentiment you’ve (probably) heard before, and it’s true. Although Shakespeare treated language as a malleable, search engines aren’t quite as flexible. But there are several (free) tools that can help you thoughtfully choose your words to get the people you want to your website. First, there’s Google Trends, which allows you to compare various keywords (such as cookies, Christmas cookies, holiday cookies), and determine what words people search for most often. The next two, Alexa.com and SEMrush, allow you to enter ANY URL and view the top 5-10 keywords that drive people to your website (hint: you can check out what words work for your competitors and make an action plan around that).

Make it easier for people to find your website and use their words!



Tech Thursday: How to Get More People to Read Your Blog

This week, we’re going to discuss a topic that is near and dear to us: blogging. We spend a lot of time reading blogs, and writing our own blog posts, and have encountered some interesting material out there.

If you spend any time at all writing blogs (or content for the internet in general), this video is for you!

After you’ve written your blog post, there are a few things to keep in mind that may affect the number of people who are going to read your blog (and ideally, keep reading it!)

As a bonus, we break out into song this time around (it was bound to happen eventually…).



What I’ve Learned Writing 1,000 Blog Posts

1000-blog-postThis, my friends, is the 1,000th blog post on Breaking Even.

Now you may argue that other people have written blogs on this site but I have also guest blogged (that’s to say posted on someone else’s blog with a link back to mine) and ghost blogged (that’s to say written blogs on other people’s blogs as them without credit) so I figure I’ve personally written at least 1,000 blog entries over the course of the last seven (!) years since I began my personal finance blog in 2007.

As you’ve imagined, I’ve learned a few things about blogging, mainly by doing and watching other people doing. In summary:

1) A blog post is any coherent idea, from start to finish, written online.

So I could write a two paragraph blog about treating people with kindness or I could write a detailed analysis about why health care is so expensive that covers over 25 written pages.

A blog post isn’t the length of something or what software it’s written in or how many people read it. It is the start and end of an idea, in online form. Don’t listen to anything else anyone tells you about it. If you are writing regularly online in a place where other people can see it, you’re a blogger.

As a rule, my blogs tend to be longer than people recommend them being, but I kind of don’t care. When you know the rules, it’s kind of fun to break them. Also that brings me to…



2) A blog post is your own voice.

I have no dillusions that I’m saying anything amazing. Other people have likely thought (and said) ideas that I am saying, on this blog and elsewhere I’ve written online.

But what makes a blog a blog is your perspective. If you want celebrity gossip, there are any number of places you can go online but you go to Perez Hilton because of his point of view (and maybe snicker at how he reworks photos in Microsoft Paint.) So I’ve never worried about saying something original or so amazing/ridiculous the paparazzi would stalk me outside my house. I just write what I want and don’t care if they like it. No one can fake my point of view.

3) A blog post should be written in such a way that strangers or friends can read it.

I have very good friends and complete strangers who read my blog entries. When I write, I assume that the person reading is reading this blog post and nothing else I’ve ever written. So I will mention ‘My dog Gidget’, I won’t just say ‘Gidget’, since that would lose the strangers.

By the same token, I don’t just blog about Gidget existing because that’s barely interesting to me. I instead blogged about what it was like to get her from an animal shelter, which took my hassle and made it into a (hopefully) useful article animals shelters or people who are considering adopting dogs from out of state shelters. It’s a post a stranger or a friend could read or get something out of, which is always my aim.

If you are Oprah or Gwyneth Paltrow, please ignore this. You can write about you, you, you. But the rest of us need some kind of topic, however general.



4) A blog only gets better with practice and most people are either afraid to practice or lose interest before they get good.

I kept all my old blog entries on this site for a reason. If you want a good laugh, go back and read how seriously I took myself in 2007 when I first started.

Blogging is about a progression. It takes time to find your voice, your style, your point of view. But you can only get that by producing and often. (More on this idea here about how I’m taking this same ‘It’s gonna suck but get way better’ attitude and applying it to videos.)

 5) A blog won’t make you rich unless you are very very lucky.

Most great bloggers I know (and I think even the now financially or otherwise successful ones) started blogging because they love to write. And most of the time, it took them years to get noticed. Yup, YEARS.

If you come at it with an unpure motive, people can sense it. You won’t be passionate and you won’t stick to it.

The most my blog ever made me was $15/month in ad spaces. Sure I was blogging daily and I could have written ‘sponsored posts’ endorsing products or stuck ads in more ridiculous places but point is, don’t do it for the money… because it’s not going to work out except occasionally make enough cash to buy you lunch. It’s like enrolling your kid in Little League and expecting they’ll make the pros: it’s sad and vaguely mean to put that kind of expectation on a person, even if that person is yourself.

I’m sure I’ll write 1,000 more blog posts (and likely more) in the course of my life… and if I printed them all out, it would be a couple small books! But I do hope I keep getting better and remember to keep loving it. Because that’s the best part.



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