Friday, March 7, 2014

How to Start a Blog

So you've been thinking about starting a blog, huh. Here's my...

5 Tips for Starting a Blog

1. Before you start blogging, ask yourself why. Can you sum up your reasons in one sentence? "I want to share my crafts and DIY projects with step-by-step instructions for others to follow." Or maybe, "I want to make people laugh through funny human-interest stories about life." You must have a purpose, even if that purpose is simply "to chronicle my journey of psychological healing," or your blog will be lost and floundering.

You may think that time figures into these calculations. To an extent, yes. You need to decide how much time you're willing to devote, and when; then stick to it. When I found I was spending too much time on my blog, I cut back: shorter posts less frequently. (It hasn't affected my readership, incidentally.)

2. What blog host do you use? The top ones are Blogger (Google's), Wordpress, and Tumblr. Tumblr is, in my opinion, more like a blog/social media mash-up. It's all about reblogging cool things you see on the web and it is difficult for your readers to navigate to old posts. If you're writing a blog, I wouldn't recommend it. But I have tried Blogger, Wordpress, and the personal site builder Weebly. I have only used the free versions, but that's often all you need.

I'd heard Wordpress has more personalization than Blogger: better statistics analytics and more control over building widgets (the gadgets in my sidebar). That's what I heardI couldn't find anything in Wordpress that I couldn't do in Blogger. Some were easier in Wordpress, some in Blogger. They are, as far as I can tell, equivalent.

Wordpress feels like a Mac, Blogger like a PC. Wordpress' organization was scattered and you can do the same thing three different ways--which for some people works. Blogger is much more straightforward and there is one way to do everything (which my logical brain loves). Wordpress does constantly hound you to upgrade to a paid version. It also seems to load slower.

I chose Blogger. If all else fails, I can edit the HTML code of almost everything on my blog myself. Plus Blogger is connected to Gmail and Google+, making it easy to share and connect.

The site builder Weebly is widget-based and very visual: you create each page's layout like cut-and-pasting pictures into a collage. I liked it, though the visual element, while making simple things intuitive, made complicated tasks harder to figure. Still, if you're going for personal website and blog rolled into one, you might check it out.

Make an account with each one and play around for a day or two to get the feel of them so you can pick the best one for your way of thinking/working/blogging.

3. Whatever engine you choose, give your blog a clean look. Light colors. Blank spaces. My blog is the anti-example when it comes to this. My background is a blurred picture of bookshelves (my own, in fact), and it can be a bit busy. But I wanted the feeling that we are in my sitting room together, so I defied the rules. Everything else tries to be clean and simple.

Don't clutter your menu/sidebar. I have 5 things: profile thumbnail, trending posts, email subscription, topics, and archives. The last two are the most important: you need to help your audience find their way around. I would argue that a brief profile, subscription option, tags, and archives are the 4 essentials; without them, readers feel a bit lost. (Who is writing this again? How can I subscribe for more? Where can I read older posts/like this one?)

Notice I don't have a list of my latest Tweets. No blogroll. No list of followers. If you want any of these features, choose ONE and keep it short (only 3 Tweets, not 20). My "one thing" was the Trending Posts, and I only show 3.

4. Share your blog shamelessly. Tell everyone. Email your friends when you start it. Mention it in conversation. It's a part of you; share it.

If you want to get a following on your blog, posting to social media is the #1 thing to do. Whenever a new post comes out, I post it on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. (There are applications like Friends+Me that will repost from one social network onto your others for you.)

The #2 is comment on other people's blogs. Don't just say, "Look at my blog!" But when you comment on a blog, your name links back to your blog. You won't get many readers through back-links, but you'll get notice from the author who might check out your blog and boost you in future.

5. Don't stress. Don't worry about readership or stats. It's not about numbers; it's about quality. It takes years to get a good readership. My readership has gone up and down. It went down significantly after I left Facebook; a consequence I was okay with. What's more important to me: blog readers, or having an uncluttered Facebook where I can connect with the people I care about?

Just keep writing. Remember why you started the blog. Follow other blogs: actually find ones you like and subscribe to them; unsubscribe to the others you don't like. Enjoy the process for what it is. You'll come through better for it; in the end, I think that matters more than numbers.

Good luck, blogger. You can do this.

Word count: 916.