7 things you need to know before you start your first blog
I’m frequently asked for blogging tips for beginners, but the fact is, my best tip isn’t really a “tip” at all, actually. It’s just this:
There IS no secret route to success in blogging
There really isn’t. When people ask me for blogging tips, I always feel like I let them down, because they’re expecting there to be some neatly-packaged, easy answer along the lines of “if you do this, then your blog will be successful.” And, of course, there IS no easy answer, and there’s no big secret about it either. It basically comes down to hard work, trial and error, and in some cases, pure luck. One of the main things I would say to you here is to try not to be misled by the crazy success of the “big” bloggers: the ones with the millions of followers, and the rumored six-million salaries. They are few and far between, and while I’m not for a second saying they don’t “deserve” their success, or that they don’t work for it, I’m also not going to deny that some of them owe at least part of that success to pure luck: to being in the right place at the right time (many of the truly “big” bloggers are still the ones who got into blogging right at the start, before there were millions of people all trying to do the same thing), or to have caught the attention of much bigger websites or publications, and got “big” because of that. My next ‘tip’ is related to this:
Lower your expectations
The type of success those “big” bloggers have managed to achieve is almost impossible to replicate for someone starting a blog today. That’s not to say it can’t or won’t happen (and if it happens for you, I hope you’ll come back and give ME some tips), but my guess is that it probably won’t happen through hard work alone, and that for someone to start a blog today and end up making millions out of it, there would have to be at least SOME element of luck involved. Making a living from blogging isn’t an impossible goal, but if you want to earn the equivalent of a full-time salary from it, you should expect to put in the same amount of time and effort (or more) as you would a full-time job.
Aim to gain readers, not followers
One of the things I’ve noticed is that many new bloggers seem to have an obsession with having X number of “followers”. I think people who obsess over follower numbers, and focus on driving those numbers up, are missing a trick. It’s more important to have READERS than followers. Readers are the people who actually engage with your blog: who visit it every time you have a new post, who leave comments, who share your content … readers are the people who matter, and readers are the people who turn into your most loyal followers.
The problem with this, however, if I can put on my Capt’n Obvious cap for a moment, is that you can’t have readers unless there’s something for them to read. New bloggers who focus on getting people to follow them are missing the point that they’re asking people to follow essentially nothing. Unless the person knows you personally, and is your mum or something, they’re not going to follow a blog which has just a couple of quickly thrown-together posts on it, no matter how awesome you tell them it’s GOING to be. To have followers, you have to have readers. To have readers, you have to have content worth reading. To have content worth reading, you have to sit down and work hard, and only THEN should you start to worry about getting people to follow your blog.
Make it easy for people to engage
A lot of the blogs I visit use commenting systems which make it difficult for me to comment. Either they’ll force me to log in to a specific commenting system which I can never remember my log-in details for, or they’ll only allow comments from specific networks.
As a blogger, I know the main reason people have these restrictions is to stop spam getting through, but as a blog reader (who might not realise why you’ve locked down your comment section) it probably comes across as a little clique-ish to be essentially saying that you only want to hear from people who use certain networks – which basically boils down to “other bloggers”. What about the ones who read your blog religiously, but don’t have a Blogger/Typepad/Livejournal account, and don’t want to sign up for one just to be able to comment? What about people who don’t have a blog? If you prioritise spammers over readers, it can make people feel like you don’t want to hear from them – and I’m pretty sure you DO!
I have no statistics to back this up, but my gut feeling is that many new blogs fail because their authors don’t update them regularly enough. People don’t want to follow a blog which rarely provides them with something new to read: they may check back a few times if they really like your content, but eventually they’ll get bored and forget all about your blog. Again, there’s no magic formula as to how often you should post or when, and different schedules will work for different people and sites. Some bloggers stick to very rigid posting schedules, so their readers know exactly when to expect a new post, while others prefer to take a more casual approach: it’s really a matter of experimenting and finding out what works best for you, but whatever you do, do it consistently, and avoid very long breaks between posts. I seem to stumble across lots of blogs in which almost every single post on the homepage starts with the words, “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while…” I never follow those blogs, because their entire content seems to be posts apologising for not posting, and who wants to sign up for that?
Familiarise yourself with the legalities of online publishing
When you start a blog, you become a publisher. Not many people think of it that way: they think it’s just a hobby, an “online diary” of sorts, so it doesn’t really matter what you write. “I blog for me!” people proudly proclaim, but while that may be true, the fact is that the content you product “for you” is being published in the public domain, and there are laws which govern that. These laws apply to everyone who publishes ANYTHING on the internet (this includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc…), and they apply whether or not you’re blogging professionally or as a hobby, so it’s really important that you take them into account when you blog. I’m talking here about things like libel (i.e. don’t write anything you could be sued over!) and copyright. Most new bloggers are savvy enough not to libel anyone in their blog posts, but very few seem to understand copyright: I CONSTANTLY see bloggers use images illegally, for instance, and ignorance of the law is no excuse in cases like this: bloggers can (and have been) fined for using other people’s work without permission, and linking back to the source does not, as so many people seem to believe, make it OK (especially when the “source” is Pinterest…). You can find information on copyright law in the UK here, and it’s good idea to familiarise yourself with this before writing your first post, so you stay out of trouble.
Be yourself: everyone else is taken
Finally, and most importantly: be yourself. Aside from the legalities I touched on above, there is no right or wrong way to blog: in fact, the beauty of the medium is that it can be anything you want it to be. A lot of new bloggers seem to fall into the trap of thinking they must blog in the same way everyone else does, so you see a ton of similar templates and logos, the same weekly posts appearing on dozens of different blogs, and a general “sameness” to the blogging world. It’s very easy to think that if other bloggers are all doing X thing, then that must be the way to succeed, but it could also be the case that if everyone else is ALREADY doing it, there’s no need to add your voice to the chorus. It’s a good idea to read other blogs, and observe what works for them and what doesn’t, but it’s never a good idea to get hung up on the idea that you must “compete” with them by essentially copying what they’re doing. The internet is a big place: there’s room for all of us, and I personally think you’ll have a better chance of success if you stand out from the crowd, rather than trying to merge into it. As a brand new blogger you have a wonderful opportunity to create something truly and uniquely yours: don’t waste it by striving to become a pale imitation of someone else!
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Phew! Turns out I had a lot more to say about that than I thought I did! These are intended to be some very general blogging tips for beginners: I’m hoping to make this a regular weekend series, so if there’s anything blogging-related that you’d specifically like me to cover, please let me know in the comments! As I said in my introduction, I wrote this post, not because I consider myself to be a blogging expert by any means, but because I get a lot of questions about blogging for a living, and it’s something I’m obviously passionate about. I’d really like to make sure I’m answering the questions you’re most curious about, though, so fire away, and I’ll do my best to answer in a follow-up post!