It’s time to learn from my ignorance! Are you thinking of launching a blog? Want to reach more readers and build a community of writer-minded individuals through the magic of the Internet? Allow me to share with you the 6 dumbest mistakes, pitfalls, missteps and erroneous assumptions I made as a new blogger.
I launched The Procrastiwriter in May 2013. The title was a classic in-the-shower idea, and before the end of the day, I’d picked up 2 books on blogging with WordPress. (I have yet to read either of those books past the first chapter, which invariably dealt with the technical aspects of getting a self-hosted site up and running.)
I’d blogged in college. I figured I was enough of a blogger to hack it properly. Instead, I learned the hard way from my mistakes. They include:
Out of a combination of ignorance and fear, I bypassed all the shiny widgets and options for finding out how many people were actually reading what I was inflicting upon the Internet. I sort of assumed that, because it existed, my blog content was being consumed. (And if it wasn’t, I didn’t want to know about it, and feel like a failure).
Avoid this mistake: Personally, I now use a combination of JetPack, WordPress analytics and Google Analytics to track this blog’s movement through time and space. Not up to installing a plugin just yet? As I mentioned, WordPress has great built-in analytics that are wonderful and easy to understand. (You learned to read bar and line graphs in the second grade. I failed both algebra and calculus for dummies. You’ve got this.)
When you want to fall deeper down the analytics rabbit hole, hook up Google Analytics to your site to learn nifty things like what demographic and age range your readers fall into, your traffic patterns by time of day, and much, much more.
5. Assuming Google would do the work for me
When you put content in a public digital space, you assume it’s going to be findable by anyone that searches for it, pretty much instantly. Right? Wrong.
Avoid this mistake: If you do it right, Google will eventually help drive content to your website, but it takes time and diligence, as well as a basic understanding of Search Engine Optimization (Copyblogger has a great SEO startup guide here). Also, as a warning: Copying and pasting too much from other websites won’t help you. Google doesn’t like content repeaters, so even if you’re properly attributing these huge blocks of prose, you can still get penalized in the search rankings (plus, it’s just bad blogging practice to do it all the time).
Getting indexed takes time. Stay committed to quality content and you will be found eventually.
If you’re at all interested in social media, you’ve likely run across articles various and sundry that extoll the virtues of Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest for drawing readers to your site. Most of them leave out Google+, and for a while I ignored this social network, too. I thought it was empty, niche and not worth my time.
Avoid this mistake: There are nuances to every social networking platform, and G+ is no exception. However, the clusters and groups that tend to form in G+ writing circles are those united by a passion for writing, commitment to furthering the writing conversation, and openness to connections with others who share the same interests (unlike Facebook, where messaging someone about something out of the blue is frowned upon).
Almost a year later, G+ remains my single largest traffic draw. When I post and converse in writing communities there, my blog traffic ticks upward, and I make new writing friends.. Win-win.
3. Promoting new posts with this line: “Read my newest blog post!”
The Golden Rule of blogging is this: Readers always have something better to do than read your blog. This means that to attract readers to your work, you have to give them a hook. “Check out my newest post!” isn’t a hook. It’s a sign that you don’t really know, or choose not to divulge, your post’s value to the reader.
“But I do get readers when I say that!” protesteth you, my hypothetical contrarian.
Congratulations! Give hook-writing a try, and see how many more hits your site gets. What have you got to lose?
Avoid this mistake: WIIFM. (What’s In It For Me?) Lead your post with something interesting. Tell your reader you’re teaching them a new skill, sharing an interesting or instructive story, or providing some other nugget beneficial to your reader.
2. Using obtuse or “branded” headlines
When I first began blogging, I had curated content posts every Tuesday. Branded “Pen Food,” I would link to other posts I found helpful, with a sentence or two introducing them and linking off. Problem: “Pen Food” meant absolutely nothing to a reader looking for new blogs to follow, or one who was urgently seeking advice. And those were exacty the types of readers I wanted.
Avoid this mistake: If you’re tempted to brand, say, your every-Wednesday post, or all your posts about a particular topic, call it something immediately recognizable to readers who are just skimming headlines. The Write Practice has “SUBJECT [prompt]” (example here), Makealivingwriting.com has Link Party and this blog has Phrases on Fridays. These are all good examples of branding that’s meaningful out of context.
Make up your own, but remember: Creativity is good; cleverness isn’t usually so good.
1. Writing long paragraphs without subheads, bolding, breaks or other internal eyeball logic.
Internet readers don’t read like your grandpa, sitting down with his bifocals to scrutinize the box scores in the local paper. They skim, looking for hooks, benefits that speak to them and their situations, pictures (especially pictures) and other helpful things. People all go to the Internet for something, whether it’s to learn more about a topic or simply to relieve boredom.
Avoid bouncing out readers: With this in mind, make it easy for skimmers to find your nuggets of greatness by bolding important phrases, making sentences short, and including lots of subheadings (rule of thumb: use enough so one is always visible in your content field at any given time) and short paragraphs.
What are the dumbest mistakes you made (if you’re a blogger)? What do you wish other bloggers wouldn’t do (publish listicles)? (Overuse parentheses?) Share in the comments.