Even blogs can need a good spring cleaning from time to time and here are my top suggestions for some dusting off and spit-polishing. If you have any thoughts of your own leave them in comments, I always love a good tip.
1. Get on a schedule. If you publish the same kinds of posts each day then this is a straightforward issue but if you, as I do, like to write different kinds of post to keep life interesting and to reduce the strain of writing the same thing every day then think about organizing your topics. I publish a photograph and a household tip on Wednesdays, a random topic list on Thursdays, a product review and giveaway on Saturdays and a recipe on Sundays.
That means Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays I publish on other topics, for a total of 12-14 a month. Three of those posts relate to my monthly Write-Away Contest, two are serious commentaries on some aspect of motherhood, one is a revisited journal entry from when the kids were young, one is on blogging, one is about traveling or activities in Alaska, and the remaining four to six posts are about miscellaneous family activities or personal stories, either short or long.
This can of course be adjusted, and always is, but it gives me a rough idea of what I have to come up with for the month and an idea of where I can stick in posts relative to a holiday or special event.
2. Publish daily. If you’re serious about building readers you’ve got to post every day. It establishes your credibility and dependability with your audience which is critical.
3. Have a line up. When people ask me what a blog is I never say it’s an online journal because for me that’s not what my blog is about. It’s not a place where I write my most personal happenings and feelings, though sometimes I will get a little introspective. Instead I think of it more as an online magazine and as such I have to think of myself as writer, publisher, art designer, editor and photographer for a tiny publication.
There are benefits and drawbacks to this arrangement but for it to work I have to think the way a magazine staff thinks. That means having a plan of attack and a line up of material. I usually have one to two weeks worth of posts lined up and ready to go because I don’t always feel like writing. Even if I did my schedule couldn’t always accommodate my desire, there are emergencies, vacations, sickenesses and dry spells that come along and if I’ve got posts to cover those times I always have something to publish.
So I tend to write in bursts. Some days I’m busy with kids and life and can do nothing but make notes in my Moleskine but then I’ll get streaks of creativity where I’ll write two or three posts at a sitting. I find my writing is better when I’m in the mood anyway.
4. Have a goal. I’ve written about how I see my blog but how do you see yours? It may not be a magazine, maybe it is an online journal or thinking ground. Maybe it’s a family blog where long-distance relatives can catch up on your life. But have a goal in mind. Do you want to create a certain readership? Do you want to use your blog as an entrance to print media? Do you want to just enjoy what you write and have something to show for your labors? Do you want to have a beautiful place where family can feel welcome?
Think about your goals and try to define them, maybe write them down and try to quantify how you’ll know when you’ve achieved them. This is easier said than done because if you’re like me your blog is “organic” (no, not carbon-based, but a growing entity that develops gradually). You may not know what you’re shooting for but the sooner you discover this the more organized you and your blog will be.
5. Have a time period in mind. I think my husband got this from Seth Godin but he constantly tells me, “Three years Michelle.” What he means is that I need to post seriously for three years before making any decisions about continuing or abandoning my blog. Why three years? Well because things fluctuate. Traffic can increase slightly before a holiday then plummet when the holiday hits. Readers can disappear in the summer while they’re out biking and hiking and enjoying their vacations. Sometimes you have better ideas and sometimes you don’t so stick with it and don’t give up when you’re in a slump and keep “three years” as your mantra to help you push through those low times. Then, after your pre-determined time period, you can reevaluate and decide if you’re up for another stretch.
6. Have your readers in mind. If you’re only blogging for yourself then this won’t matter but if you want an audience the audience has to be a consideration. You may feel inclined to tear into a nasty commenter but think about how your readers will feel if you stick someone’s head on a pike. You may want to post about your love for chocolate covered cabbage but your readers may not be as interested. People will cut you some slack on an occasional rogue post—for example, I try not to post too much about blogging because most of my readers aren’t bloggers—but irritate them too much and they’ll walk.
7. Declutter your sidebar. Not only do blogrolls and buttons clutter things up they slow your blog’s loading time. Treat your sidebar the way you treat rooms in your house—if there are things there you're not using regularly that serve no purpose they need to be tossed. I got rid of many of my reciprocal blogrolls because they didn’t do anything for traffic, they didn't do much for my blog's visibility, Technorati no longer counted them as links and they just slowed things down. If you absolutely do need something go to Flooble for the code to organize the information into a drop-down menu for neatness and order.
Watch the advertisements and try to keep them organized and neat. Too many ads and I get frustrated with a site—and for goodness sake don’t use animated or garish ads that would distract from your posts. Once you annoy readers they’ll leave and your ads will be less effective anyway. So keep them tasteful and orderly.
8. Think community. It’s easy for women to be cliquish and competitive but the wonderful thing about blogging is its symbiotic nature. Helping out other bloggers doesn’t diminish your blog but in fact helps you as well. If I can promote another blog not only does it build feelings of loyalty and friendship in both of us but if I can build their traffic and they link to me it will increase my own ranking because Google measures the authority of each blog's links. The more popular a blog is that links to me the more the power of that link increases. So think not in terms of your blog competing against everyone else in your niche but think about ways to build the niche as a whole.
9. But while you’re building community make a list of ways to set yourself apart from the crowd. I believe Seth Godin calls it the Purple Cow. No one notices the regular kind of bovine but if you’re a purple cow now that's interesting and gets noticed. Be from an interesting place (Alaska has been good to me), have an interesting (though not garish) layout, come up with interesting contest, get an interesting name—be careful of words used by the crowd such as mom, ramblings, random, thoughts or other rather forgettable phrases or cliches. Take an interesting angle on an idea or teach yourself a new skill to be able to blog about. Be appealing to the group but different enough to remember.
10. Back up your posts regularly. Keep an offline copy of your posts, the date published and any other information you might need about them. It may not be seem important when you first start out but once you get 500 posts it’s much harder to keep track of everything. This is not only practical as an emergency measure should something break down but it’s helpful to see your productivity and growth and keeps you going towards those goals you set back at number four on this list.
Congratulations to Lisa from Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania (just take a guess how that's pronounced, I dare you) who won last Saturday's Giveaway from The Wurst Gallery. Check back this Saturday for another chance to win more Fabulous Prizes.
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