Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 3

Welcome to the third in The Crafty Writer’s short introduction to blogging for writers. Hopefully by now you have some idea of what you want to write about, and have successfully set up your blog. Today we’re going to look at:

Ready? Let’s get started.

Blogging nuts and bolts

Blogging is like any other human activity, in that there are a few core processes that define it.

Your “About Me” page

This is the page on your blog where you introduce yourself to your audience. It is important to answer the following questions:

  • who are you?
  • what expertise do you have in your chosen area?
  • how can people contact you?

This page sets the tone for your entire site, so play around with the text until it conveys the right feel, for example cheerful, carefree, concerned, conservative (OK, I didn’t intend for the alliteration, but you get the idea). Try to engage your reader, and above all, keep it honest. It’s tempting to exaggerate your credentials, but this can backfire horribly if you’re unable to back up your claims in terms of content. On the other hand, don’t undersell yourself either; if you have a relevent skill, qualification or skill, say so.

Your first post

Do you ever find it hard to start something, even when you know the direction you want to head in? I know I do. You could just jump right in with a meaty article on some aspect of your topic. Or you could ease your way in a bit more by writing an introductory post that explains a little about why you’re starting the blog and what readers can expect in the future. It’s completely up to you. Chances are few people will ever read your first post anyway, as you are unlikely to get any significant traffic in the beginning, and by the time you do, your first post will be quite far down the list. Still, it’s an important milestone, and a post you’re likely to look back on in a year or two’s time, so make sure that at least it’s something you would like to read!

Fiona took her first post and after a while, when the traffic picked up, she moved it into her ‘about’ page. She did this because the first post defined for her and her readers what they could expect from the blog in the future. You might want to do the same.

Length of posts

It’s often said that blog posts should be no more than 300 – 500 words because that is a cyber-reader’s attention span. I don’t always agree with that. On this site for example, there is a mixture of long and short posts. The short posts are the announcements, referrals and round-ups, the long posts are the informative ‘how to’ articles that The Crafty Writer is defined by. Short posts are of course quicker to do, but now and then give your readers a full meal rather than just a snack.

Commenting

The activity of blogging has often been summarised as “post, comment, repeat”. Notice how commenting is given equal importance with generating your own posts? That’s because unless you participate in the wider “blogosphere”, no-one will know you exist – kind of like going to a cocktail party and standing in the corner by yourself all evening.

The practice of leaving comments on other blogs and fora is widely recognised as the single most important thing you can do to attract traffic to your site. All the positive benefits we mentioned in session one (exposure, feedback, credibility and networking) are predicated on the idea that people are reading what you’ve written.

The easiest way to identify other blogs that are related to your own is to use technorati – simply enter the keyword(s) you’re interested in to generate a list of recent articles on the topic. Or you can search specifically for blogs that are focussed on the area you’re interested in.

Once you’ve read an interesting or thought-provoking article, leave a comment if you feel you can add something to the discussion. But please not just one of those “nice article – thanks” comments that we’ve all seen a thousand times, but something a little more insightful if possible! If you don’t already know, I’m sure you’ll soon find out that no-one likes spammers, and comment-spam is a big problem in the world of blogging. So make sure you’re not mistaken for one!

The other way of engaging with other bloggers is to refer to their blog in a link from one of your posts. Most blog software will send an automatic notification to the target blog (a trackback or pingback), and chances are the other blogger will visit your site to see what you have to say about him/her. With any luck they may link back to one of your articles, although of course there’s no obligation on their part.

A word of caution here: some bloggers are deliberately confrontational and set out to evoke a response in order to get links back to their site – one of many forms of linkbait. This can easily get nasty, and unless you have a thick skin, you should handle with care. A good rule of thumb is not to write anything you wouldn’t be able to say if you met the other person face to face.

Posting frequency

How often should you post to your blog? The short answer is: whenever you like. Be aware though that in blogging there is an expectation of frequent new content, and you should heed this if you want to be taken seriously. That’s not to say you have to publish new content three times a day – this is frankly unrealistic for someone starting out. Rather aim to post once or twice a week, and concentrate on delivering quality to your readers.

Traffic

Traffic is the currency of the web, and the lifeblood of any blog. We’ve already touched on this, but it’s pointless writing great content if no-one knows it’s there. I’ve already mentioned commenting as a strategy, but what else can you do? Here are some ideas which you could follow up:

  • Encourage visitors to sign up to receive your site’s feed (here’s an explanation of what this is all about)
  • Submit your articles to one or more Social Networking sites (del.icio.us, Digg, etc), and encourage your readers to do the same
  • Participate in programs like Blogrush
  • Let search engines know about your site, eg Google (most will find you eventually anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to help them along).
  • There are many more strategies. If you know of one I haven’t mentioned, please share in the comments section.

Blog monetisation

So we get to the burning question: is it possible to make money blogging? Well yes, but if you’re looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, this probably isn’t it. There are plenty of people who blog full time and make a (good) living out of it. But equally there are loads more people who cannot afford to give up the day job just yet.

It’s important to be realistic about one’s expectations. Many bloggers have started out with the simple intention of making enough to cover their blog expenses (hosting etc), and I think this is sensible. It’s achievable in a fairly short time-frame, and the process of doing this will be great experience which will stand you in good stead in the future. It’s all about traffic, traffic, traffic; once you have this, converting it into hard cash isn’t particularly difficult.

Here’s a brief overview of the easiest way to get started; for more in-depth study of this vast topic, check out the excellent Problogger, or Steve Pavlina’s overview. Or simply Google “make money from blogging” and you’ll have more information than you can read in a lifetime.

A good reference book (I know how you writers like clogging up your bookshelves!) is Writing for the Web.

Well, I hope this series has given you a taste of the possibilities and opportunities that blogging offers. Please drop us a line and let us know how it’s going, particularly if you make it big (you can share how you did it!). Any questions or comments, as usual please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Related posts:

  1. Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 1
  2. Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 2
  3. Beginner Blogging course
  4. What a publisher does – part 2: design
  5. What do writers earn?

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16 comments on “Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 3

  1. writinggb on said:

    I am finding myself more and more interested in the blogging I’m doing. Funny, really, because I started merely as a way to seek some human contact while I’m on sabbatical leave this year. Oh, and I figured it was a way to keep up with the technology that my students would already know!

    But I find myself checking my blog dashboard a lot and tracking number of views and how people found me, etc. Ever since I posted on How to Write a Christmas Letter, my views have shot through the roof, and I’m showing up on search engines, etc. Very interesting. Makes me think you must be getting all kinds of hits since you offer so much How To info that many, I’m sure, are seeking.

    Anyway, just thought I’d stop in and say hello. I appreciate the tips on blogging. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for stopping by. You’re right, the ‘how to’ articles get a lot of hits. But you’ve highlighted another key factor – anniversaries! I’ve been otherwise occupied so haven’t been able to capitalise on the Christmas rush. But coming up is New Year, Valentines, Easter … How to write a valentine’s card? Ha!

  3. writinggb on said:

    HA!! Yeh, I’ll have to try writing that post :-)

    I’m off to Peru in a few days and will only be posting sporadically, and not really checking in on other blogs. Internet cafes are few and far between where I’m headed.

    Shall see you when I return.

  4. Hi there,
    i’m thinking about setting up a blog to gain exposure and experience for myself, as a hopeful writer. However, i’ve read horror stories about free hosting sites using your material for themselves… How can you protect your content on a free or self-hosted blog?
    Thanks for all the great info and advice!
    Gwyn

  5. Rod Smith on said:

    Hi Gwyn,
    It’s not the free hosting sites themselves who rip off people’s content – it’s just easy for spammers and scraper sites to utilise those platforms for their own nefarious purposes. It happens to everyone at some stage, unfortunately – I wouldn’t get too hung up about it. I tend to make sure my posts link back to other parts of my site – that way at least you can turn the tables on the scrapers by having them link back to your site (generally they will use your content as-is, without any modifications whatsoever).

    Of course, you can always report these sites to their providers and get them removed, but it’s easy to get distracted doing this, and you may find 3 others have sprung up while you were dealing with the first.

    My advice is to go ahead and set up your blog – you’ll find the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Good luck!

  6. Jeremy Day on said:

    Hi Fiona,

    This is a great series for new bloggers. I like your final points about making money. Your first goal should be to get enough traffic just to cover costs. If you treat it like a business that becomes your break even point. Then you can continue building from there.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  7. Hi Jeremy, I actually commissioned someone else to write this series! Rod Smith from www.hippowebsolutions.com I asked him to tailor it specifically to writers and he did so very well. I’ll pass on your compliment. Rod is a guest speaker on my non-fiction writing course that I run in Newcastle upon Tyne.

    Fiona

  8. Jeremy Day on said:

    Oh yes, I see that now. Guess I got to start reading the fine print. Thanks for the heads up. ;-)

  9. Pingback: Association of Christian Writers » Do you blog?

  10. HP van Duuren on said:

    Thanks for your post Fiona,

    Although I have been blogging for a while already I still did see some possible new ideas that could improve my blog(s).

    For people that are interested in Monitizing their blog they
    might like to have a look at my - Writer’s Lifestyle Blog -
    where you can find info not only about Blogging and The Writers Lifestyle with info about for example Short Story Writing but also for example about things like making money
    with doing Affiliate Marketing

    In other words a possibility to basically make money by bringing people to the webshop(s) from already established well known brand name products and make money that way.

  11. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    You’re welcome HP. And we’re all learning all the time. With the internet being such an ever-changing environment there will always be new challenges for us.

    Fiona

  12. Mel Menzies on said:

    Hi Rod,

    Your comment on spammers and scrapers (Oct, 2008) caught my eye. I had this happen to me quite soon after I started blogging some years ago, and found it infuriating. So – without having seen your advice – I did exactly what you’ve suggested. I started posting some (not all) of my articles with permission to reproduce, subject to a copyright line which links back to my blog. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether people adhere to that. But I’m no worse off. And I like to think that some do. In fact, occasionally, I google some of my posts’ titles to see where they may have been reproduced. Can be quite interesting.

  13. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Never tried that myself, Mel (googling my posts) – will give it a go.

  14. Mel Menzies on said:

    I can’t say that I’ve done it often, Fiona. Sounds a bit narcissistic doesn’t it.

  15. Fiona Veitch Smith on said:

    Well I didn’t want to say … ;)

  16. @Mel: if you’ve employed the ‘embedded links’ trick, you could also try searching for who’s linking back to your site, which can be an eye-opener. Simply enter “linkdomain:thecraftywriter.com” into Google (inserting your own domain name as appropriate), or there’s a similar command in Yahoo which is supposedly even more accurate, but the exact syntax escapes me at the moment.

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