Discovering Your Blog
Eventually you hope to build up a following of subscribers, but how will those subscribers find your blog in the first place?
1. Search engines. The best way to be found by a search engine is to use a specific, informative title for each post. Tagging your post with popular search terms and peppering your text with repeated keywords may help, too. Here’s the catch, though: search engines typically prioritize websites that regularly garner a lot of hits. So in order to pick up more readers through search engines, your blog may have to already be getting regular web traffic. On the other hand, search engines also tend to prioritize recently-updated pages, so people skimming through results from a web search have a good chance of seeing a new post on your blog if your title is specific enough.
2. Aggregators. An aggregator is a website or software program that posts links to blogs ans websites in specific categories. Most hobbies have aggregators dedicated to them. Once an aggregator indexes your blog, it will notify readers each time you publish a new post. That means your post’s title has to catch the eye of readers who are skimming a list of titles. When you find an aggregator dedicated to blogs about your hobby, you may need to ask the owner to index your blog, but remember that you need to have an established blog with a few solid posts under your belt before an aggregator’s owner will take notice.
3. Self-Promotion. Links on social networking sites, in signature lines, or in hobby forums can efficiently direct new readers to your blog. But be careful. A little self-promotion goes a long way. Your presence on a hobby forum, a listserv, or a social networking site should be well-established and friendly before you go pushing people to look at your blog. If people suspect that you are participating only to drive traffic to your blog, they will lose interest quickly.
4. Pingbacks. Once a few people find your blog, they may post links to it on their own blogs or websites. They may pass it on to others via social networks or even old-fashioned e-mail. You have little to no control over when and how other people promote your blog for for you, but it’s nice when another hobbyist thinks your blog is worth sharing. It is appropriate to thank a reader who shares your blog with others.
Blogging about your hobby is a kind of amateur journalism, and journalism succeeds when it is timely. For a newspaper or a news broadcast, that means covering current events as quickly as possible. Timeliness is a little different for a blog, though. It means anticipating the information your potential readers will look for and posting it just before they begin looking for it. For example, write reviews of new tools no more than a month after the tool appears on the market. Write book reviews no more than six months after the book is released. Write a eulogy about a deceased master of your craft no more than a week after the news breaks. Publish an anniversary tribute a day before the anniversary itself.
Nevertheless, break any of these rules rather than remain silent for weeks on end. Did you just get around to reading a classic book about your hobby? Write a book review, but call it “What I Learned from _______.” Have you recently discovered a classic tool that everybody else has been using for years? Write a tool review, but call it a “tribute.” Did you finally succeed in making a time-tested technique work for you? Write as if it’s a new technique, but say you are “Rediscovering ________.” Sometimes the way forward is the way back.
The dark side of timeliness is that internet posts hang around for years after their original context has been forgotten. So a tool review that gets a lot of hits the week you publish it may never be read again, even though it remains available on your blog for years afterward. On the other hand, some of your posts may remain perennially popular for a long time after you publish them. You won’t be able to predict which will be which, either.
There are other kinds of timeliness. Many good topics are seasonal. For example, August is the time to write about education programs related to your craft because everybody is getting into the “back-to-school” mindset. Write about travel destinations related to your hobby in June and July, even if you prefer to visit them in November. And although I’ve never thought of reading as a seasonal activity, a plethora of summer reading programs make mid-June the time to write about your favorite hobby-related books. The week after Christmas is the time for posts about organization, cleaning, and weight loss. Maybe weight loss won’t apply if you’re writing a blog about quilting, but you could write about how you organize your embroidery floss, even if your annual organization spree takes place in September. And if you write about finally culling your scrap basket, perhaps you can work a reference to “weight-loss” into the title after all.
Timeliness sometimes means that you push yourself to write and publish a post quickly. Other times it means writing your post and saving a draft in order to publish it three or four months down the line. March happens to be World Blogging Month, so I really should have written this series in late February. But I didn’t have time to write it in February. I had time to write it in July. Better to write something out of season than to write nothing at all.
The most important part of keeping a blog is posting regularly.
Professional bloggers make new posts at least once a day, but you’re not under that kind of pressure. When I decided to take up blogging in earnest, I set a goal of making one new post each week. I have kept to that schedule for well over a year now. Other blogs I respect get updated twice a week. A few get updated only a couple times a month. One popular blog I know gets a new post only a few times a year, so a new post there becomes something of an event.
When you start blogging, you should set yourself a reasonable goal for regular posts. How often can you reasonably expect to write a new post? Once a week? Once every other week? Once a month? In the beginning, you will have to force yourself to keep to a writing schedule, otherwise you will soon give up and let your blog go dormant, unless you are a compulsive writer (like I am). If you find your initial goal was too ambitious, scale it back. You have no one to please but yourself.
But what, you ask, happens when it’s time to write a new post and you just don’t have anything new to say? Or you have an idea for a post but run into writer’s block when you try to type it up?
You dig into your backup material. Because, if you’re in the habit of reading other blogs, magazines, and books, you have plenty of material to get you thinking. And if you have been thinking ahead, you’ve already been collecting topic ideas over the past few weeks. I have a long list of potential blog topics on a desktop sticky note. When I get an idea for a blog post, even a mediocre one, it goes on my list. When it’s time to write a new post and I’m feeling uninspired, I pick a topic from my list. This blog series sat on my idea list for six months before I jumped on it.
Do Unto Others
The Golden Rule applies in the blogosphere. If you want other people to read your blog, be courteous to other bloggers and read what they write, too. You don’t have to subscribe to every blog that addresses your hobby, but pick a few favorites and follow them. Read their posts regularly and comment on them occasionally, even if it’s just to say “good job.” (If you can, include a link to your own blog along with each comment so the blog’s author and his or her other readers can identify you with your blog.) Not only will you learn new things about your craft and become a familiar presence in online communities associated with your hobby, but you will learn how to blog effectively by observing the successes and failures of other seasoned bloggers.