Saturday, March 8, 2014

Blogging tips...

Check out my suh-weet home office.
Lately a few friends have asked me for blogging tips. I am no rock star but I have managed to go from just me and my close friends looking at my blog to almost 80K hits a month in just over three years. I by no means know all the secrets and I am most certainly not the most successful  blogger out there, but I am happy to tell you all what I have learned and my own experience. I started my blog because friends had been telling me for years that I should write one. All the things that I was doing, they thought I should be telling others how to do them. At the time I believed I did not have anything to offer, that other people already knew everything that I could tell them. I was wrong and they were right. (Maria K., you were and are and probably always will be right about pretty much everything.) Some of the most important things that I should have done, I did accidentally, and there are other things I needed to learn from the awesome school of hard knocks.

Here are somethings to keep in mind before you start your blog...

Keep your URL simple and avoid cool spelling and hyphens. I know I did not do this and it makes it difficult when I tell people what my URL is and I wish I had thought about it more. The more difficult it is to remember or to communicate to others, the more difficult it is to remember and this translates into lower hits. If you need to send a link to help other people get to your posts, your URL is too long, too complicated and too much for people to remember and pass along.

Keep your blog's name the same as the URL. One of my favorite blogs is well read and popular but early on I had to always go back to bookmarks in order to find it because her blog name (the one on the banner) and the URL and vastly different. If your writing is really good, people will stick around but maybe not as often as you like and will not quickly become hooked onto reading you. Make it easy for them.

Avoid artistic backgrounds. This is hard for people. So often I see smaller or newer blogs with constantly changing backgrounds and very artistic themes and while they and and their friends really appreciate the effort and attractiveness of the theme, it makes it harder to read. If your blog changes so often that people cannot recognize it immediately as yours from one week to the next, you will lose people. They are coming back to hear your unique voice and a part of that voice is the physical map of the blog. Also, if you have colored backgrounds and colored text, it can strain the eyes to read and if it is too hard, your readers won't stay on your page long enough to get hooked.

Settle on a theme, and stick to it. What is it that really drives you? What is it that you are always talking about? What is it that people are also seeking your advice on? Are you undergoing an experience that others might want to share with you, either as a voyeur or to commiserate? One you have your theme, stay within that theme 80% of the time in order to develop and maintain a platform of readers. Along with this goes the honing of your voice. You have a particular way of speaking and writing and being really honest about that helps people get to know you through your writing.

After starting a blog, there are some important things to do...

My kids inspire laugh all day long.
Update your blog at least four times a week, if not more. The more posts you have, the more information that you provide people, the more opportunities you are providing for interaction. It is just not enough to update three or four times a month if your goal is to develop a reader base. People check their lists of blogs daily and if they see no new posts occasionally, they might just read your older posts, but if there is very seldom anything new, they'll drop you from their feed.

Keep a list of post ideas. If you keep a notepad or a memo list in your phone of ideas for future posts, you will have things to pull from when you don't have ideas. Coming up with new, fresh content all the time is hard, believe me, I know. Having some ideas to fall back on is always a good idea.

Pay attention to your photos. You will need to learn to take better photos. Look at the photos on the most beautiful blogs and without being inauthentic to your voice, improve the photos. Get advice from hobby photographers and take it. My friend, Sarah, from 44 Socks on the Line, tends to save her best photos for her personal Facebook page and they are awesome. Her photos of her kids are stunning, I love them. Go through your Facebook feed and look at the people whose photos are the best, ask them for tips. Pay them a consulting fee in cookies or whatever. But sometimes glamorous photos are not what you need, maybe you just need ordinary photos with personality. My friend, Terry, is actually an amazing photographer but my favorite shots are the ones of the kids being crazy and ordinary. These shots are fantastic because they never looked stage but always tell a story.When I see those pictures, they are so great that I have to come back again and again. Pay attention to what draws you in and work hard to achieve this in your photos.

Be sensitive to the needs of your family, friends, and readers. Do not call them out or pick fights or post unflattering photos. I always ask permission to show anyone on my blog and I try very hard to make sure that it is not something that will haunt them in ten years. The internet is never down and never dies and you might not always have control of the photos. Do not take this lightly. I once complained about a recipe I found on another blog and never named the blog. I received an email from a blogger I had never read who felt I was picking on her and she was very hurt. When I went back to her blog, it was pretty great, but she did have a bad recipe on there in the middle of all its awesomeness (canned liquid cheese as an ingredient). I really did like the blog, and I told her so, but by then I had hurt her very badly.

Another time I wrote about someone who had spoken to me about quitting her soda habit and someone from my church thought I meant someone else from my church. She was livid with me and called me out at church about the whole affair which never involved any of them. It was painful for all of us. I realized that my tone probably had a whole lot to do with the way it all played out and I am far more careful now.

Answer your comments and emails, the best that you can. People who read blogs want to interact with you, so interact. Follow them back to their blogs and leave comments. It will take a while, but it will pay off in the end. Slow and steady wins the race.

Know who the big players are in your field and read them. Even if you just glance over the blogs, pay attention so you know what is happening. The big fish control the flow and you need to know what is happening. When you feel like you have something to add to the conversion, do it careful and do not brag. Sometimes you can read through all those comments and see all the know-it-alls trying to get attention, be careful. After a while, people will recognize you and your name and make sure that all the associations they have are positive.

Develop a thick skin. Someone out there will hate you and it will be like a knife in your gut. I have a post that was picked up by the biggest blogger in my field (a quarter of a million subscribers) and she gave me a shout out. It really helped me out a great deal but it also caused some really painful moments for me. People took issue with my get your children eat method to the degree that someone on Pintrest said she thought I was abusive, yeah, for making my kids eat dinner. It was insane. The number of people who loved it outnumbered the haters two-to-one but a single comment (out of hundreds) bothered me for months and that was the one where the writer pitied my poor, abused children and suggested that someone intervene. Really. I am not perfect at this one, but I am working on it, and I warn you to start getting ready for that moment.

There are also some important things to never do...

Do not air your dirty laundry, it will come back to haunt you. This is difficult to remember when writing is so personal and you are doing it so often, but be very careful. I am not going to name names, but there was a very, very well known mom-blogger with a lot of contracts at big-name sites who bared some pretty personal information that was very unflattering. It garnered a lot of hits as well as a visit from child protection services. Yeah. Not good. Then there is that other journalist who wrote about a threesome for her husband's fortieth birthday and then wrote a book about French children and their eating habits. Google if you want, you will find her, but I have to tell you, her kids will be able to read that Marie-Claire article just like I was. That was a horrible idea to write about it.

The inhospitable winter also keep me inside.
Do not take on every single paid post, it will cheapen your image. If you only have paid content posts, after a while people won't read you because they know that there is only advertising. You need to make sure that you provide new and original content in order to keep readers coming back. They are barraged with ads everywhere they go and reading them in their favorite blogs is not what they want. Besides, they pay pennies and it just is not worth the $40 to have a post about breakfast cereal.

Be very careful about placed ads over which you have no control. These are often developed to provide content based on user searches and they can be tricky. The ads you see when you look at your blog will not be the same as the ads that others see. If you do not know what they are seeing, you can't fix problems until somebody is already angry. I have been burned twice by this and will not do it again. I would much rather monetize posts and take on writing assignments rather than have ads. It is just not worth the hassle.

About making money...

You can make hundreds of dollars writing. Think about that word for a minute folks, hundreds. It is not as much as you think. This is the first thing that people ask is about how much money I make. I sit at home in my bathrobe blogging in between other tasks and checks come in and they see that I get boxes of food samples, books, toys, movie tickets. I use my writing money to buy my college son his laptop or a kitchen appliance and it gets people thinking. Here is the thing people: my money is the extras. It is not as much as you think. I make only a few thousand dollars a year. It is nice, but it is not a living. I do get some free product and that is always nice but the phone company is not interested in being paid in samples of biodegradable diapers or natural foods. I am not providing for my family, I am just doing the extras. Just so you know.

The blog is not where the checks come from, that comes from contracts. The blog is a home base where online and print clients can read my writing and sample my recipes for free. They can make decisions then on whether or not I am a good fit for them. A blog is a good start but the checks don't come rolling in as soon as you buy your URL. Work the blog. If you write well, it will get noticed. In the meantime, brush up on your composition and technical writing. I have some eBooks and some monetized posts but if you want to know, it is the outside clients who foot the bill for my fridge. The blog is why the reach out.

Writing makes me happy.
Money is nice, but I'd write for free. I was pretty lucky that only ten months after I started blogging, I got my first contract. Still, even though I was not getting paid, I wrote almost everyday. I woke up and I wrote. I like writing, I like interacting. I really enjoy it. I have visions of other things I would like to write about (that book about my crazy but awesome maternal grandfather, for one) and I wish that I more time. In the end, it is the love of writing and communicating that shows through and if this was just about money, no one would read it. I really do not know why people decide to read what I write everyday but I am pretty sure it has something with the fact that I care about who they are. I am glad that when Joey's laptop died I had the extra cash at Christmas to both replace it and still buy his ticket home, but the reason I write everyday is not that. It really is about me and you and the opportunity to connect with others.

Questions? I would love to answer them the best that I can!


  1. I like the icon corner hear your home office...especially the icon of St. Veronica, we have one on our wall & in our family, too. :)

    1. Good eye, Pilgrim! My eighth child is named after Saint Veronica. She is my total ham bone.

  2. Thank you for a practical, real life description what goes into blogging. I've tossed around the idea of writing a blog (for more than family) for a while now, but have yet to really find my piece to say. I do enjoy reading what you have to say and have taken away a lot that I have been able to use in my own home.

    1. Cris, if you think you might have something to say, write it down! I never really could have imagined I would find this much to say. I am glad that you enjoy what I write and I cannot wait to read what you write!


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