Monday, August 1, 2011

10 tips for starting a blog

So you want to start your own blog, eh?  Well, I love gathering information to share with the masses, so I'm going to share my extremely limited knowledge and numerous pet peeves with all of you.

1 - Have a general goal in mind. - Do you want to blog about your family life? work life? pets?  Do you have a special skill? medical issue? really cute pet?  Are you a technical writer? humorous writer? photographer?  Do you want to make money? influence people? post beautiful photos?  Your goal may change once you get started, but having an idea of what "kind" of blog you want to write will help you with the next step.

2 - Think of a name/URL for your blog. - For what it's worth, I recommend coming up with something creative, yet generic enough to not pigeon-hole you into a niche that may limit your options should your blogging goals change over time.  A few of my bloggy friends have commented that it became problematic that their original blog names/URLs contained their children's names when they had their next child.  Some have expressed that they feel locked into the "mommy blogger" niche because their blog names contain some form of "mom," "mommy," "mother," etc.  Some bloggers have different blogs for different aspects of their lives.  This is one of the biggest decisions because once your blog gets better known, it's harder to change your name/URL.

3 - Create an email account that corresponds with your blog name/URL. - It's easy as pie to set up a free gmail account.  If you use Blogger for your blog, Google Friend Connect, or Google+, having a gmail address will make this nearly seamless.  You can then use this email whenever you have blog specific accounts with things like Twitter, StumbleUpon, YouTube, Facebook, etc.  This keeps your personal email account uncluttered and gives you a somewhat "anonymous" way to contact people, especially if you don't use your full identity on your blog.

4 - Experiment with different blog formats. - Blogger, Wordpress, & Tumblr are three blogging formats with free options but there are many others.  All three are popular and easy to use.   All three have pros & cons.

My breakdown:
Blogger - free, easy, fine for a "hobby" blogger (this is what I still happily use), inexpensive option to purchase your domain
Wordpress - free, easy, fine for a "hobby" blogger, is a self-hosted (i.e. paid) version that is good for "professional" bloggers & businesses
Tumblr - free, easy, really seems good for photography blogs, easy to reblog interesting posts, articles, or pictures
If I had to do it over again, I would have opened three blogs with the same name with each host, played around for a few weeks with each one, & then decided which one I liked best.  As it is, I'm still with Blogger and fine with that decision.

5 - Design your blog. - If you have been reading other blogs and have a pretty clear idea of what you do and don't like in blog design, go nuts!  Get out there and hit the blogging world with a bang!  If you are more like me, start with a basic (read: free) blog template that you can easily personalize and change as you learn what you like and don't like about your blog design.  For instance, you may love the color orange but after looking at an orange blog with purple accents, you may decide you want something a little more tame.  There are plenty of free, aesthetically pleasing templates with each blogging host.

6 - Make commenting on your blog easy. - Please, please, please, PLEASE turn off CAPTCHA requirements for people to leave comments.  If you are just starting your blog, I promise you are not going to get hit by so much spam that you need CAPTCHA verification in order to prevent it from clogging up your blog.  I PROMISE!  If you feel like you need some sort of spam prevention or comment editing, require your approval for posting.  However, both CAPTCHA and owner approval for comments will stagnate the amount of comments your receive on your blog.  Additionally, CAPTCHA can be super frustrating when you view a lot of blogs from your phone, like I do.

7 - WRITE! - Introduce yourself.  Make sure you have an About Me page where people can learn about you and your blog when they visit for the first time.

8 - Join Twitter. - I'm not kidding. I used to make fun of people on Twitter and now I love it.  I have found some awesome bloggers, military spouses, and just plain hilarious people to chat with and bounce ideas off of regularly.  In addition to people, I have found organizations connected to Klaw's VLCADD that I didn't know existed. I am able to stay on top of the news, world events, and genetics research thanks to Twitter.  I also promote my blog and have gained a lot of blog followers through Twitter. However, keep in mind that Twitter is a conversation. If you merely want to post links to your blog and not actually converse with Tweeps, you are just a spammer.  Cease & desist, please.

9 - Visit & comment on other blogs you enjoy. - This is one of the best ways to get to know other bloggers and get people to visit your blog.  I often find other blogs I've never heard of by randomly visiting a blog of a commenter from sites I am visiting.  In fact, there is absolutely no down side to visiting other blogs and leaving a comment. Oh, "Visiting your blog, please visit mine back" does not count as a comment.  That's just comment vomit.

10 - Respond to comments on your blog. - If you want to keep your readers and have an active, engaged community on your blog, respond to your readers.  There are different ways to do this and you just have to figure out what works best for you.  Some people prefer to respond directly to comments via email.  I use a comment platform called Disqus, where I can read & reply to comments via email.  My replies are automatically posted to my blog.  IntenseDebate is another widely used comment platform.  Both Disqus and IntenseDebate allow for threaded comments, which makes having a discussion or debate on your blog much easier.  From what I can tell, the basic Wordpress comment system is far superior to Blogger's basic comment system.  In fact, Blogger's comment system sucks.  If you are using Blogger, get Disqus or IntenseDebate (or SOMETHING) immediately.  Please.

***Edited for an update: Blogger upgraded the comment system and is significantly better. Upgrading is no longer necessary, but still an option.

Bonus Tips:
Disable auto-play music or videos. It's not cute probably going to wake the baby.
White font on a black background is ugly can be really tough to read.
Take everything every expert says except for me with a grain of salt. It's your blog.

What advice would you have for a new blogger?  If you are a new blogger, what questions do you still have?
Do you still have music autoplaying on your blog? Why?
Did you even read this post?

Advice for Others, Prompt 2: 
If a real life friend approached you and said, 
“I want to start a blog. Can you give me a list of helpful tips?“,
what 10 (or more) things would you tell your friend?

Mama’s Losin’ It

5.) If you were to go back to the moment you decided to start a blog, what ten blogging tips would you share with yourself?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...