I should, of course, have called this Ten Top Tips for Blogging, or Ten Golden Blogging Rules.
Except there aren’t any. One person’s view of the correct way to blog isn’t another’s.
But as I have read a plethora of blogging tips recently, plus the latest new whizzy WordPress simplistic idea – Zero to Hero – ie how to write a great blog in 30 days, I thought it was time for my two penn’orth.
I’ll start with Z to H. It’s left me somewhat open-mouthed. Kindergarten doesn’t begin to describe it. I know I spend a disproportionate amount of time slagging off WordPress (not that I’m on my own), but if you can’t work out how to publish a blog without being wrapped in cotton wool all the way through it, you shouldn’t even be considering it. How difficult is it to write text and hit publish?
Apart from anything else, today’s young people, who seem to be amongst the newer bloggers who say, ‘Gee thanks what an awesome post, that helps me so much,’ have grown up with computers.
I didn’t have computers at school, university or my first newspaper job. In the civil service the only privileged person with a computer was the secretary in our press office. Although we did have one at home as my technologically-challenged partner likes to be ahead of the game, even if I do have to sort out all the gadgets he buys.
People in their 70s and 60s write very good blogs, and even us younger ones in our 50s can manage to set one up without all this molly-coddling and hand-holding. I was hoping for some seriously advanced tips about something I had missed, and so far I am deeply disappointed with being told to write an about page and try out a few different themes. How would I have managed to do that all on my own I wonder? No, far too difficult.
Enough of the sark and onto the minestrone.
1) Theme, appearance, whatever
Content is king or every picture paints a thousand words? The age-old argument about whether text or imagery is more important. I speak from personal experience here as it was quite a battleground in journalism between photographers and reporters about whose work was more important.
And that’s before you even get into graphic design for other publications, eg leaflets, posters, reports.
First things first. Having said the above, and given my bias for text, – layout, appearance, design are critical. If it is unattractive it won’t draw people in. Simple as that.
Now, it is a basic rule in graphic design and publishing that you actually do need to KISS (keep it simple stupid). Busy, busy, busy pages of anything whether in print or on screen do not draw people in.
We had a director once who decided to play at desk top publishing in the days when people were just starting to fiddle with fonts. Every line (more or less) was in a different font. If he printed off a report or newsletter, everything was in five colours, lots of capitals and underlining. If I got migraines, his work would have induced one.
I haven’t changed my blog style on roughseas for years, the one on wordpress is virtually the same as the one I had on blogger (more flexibility to fiddle on blogger at the time so I customised it nicely). At the end of the day, although a personal blog, roughseas is also a news blog, news about Spain, about Gib, and anything else that strikes me, so I want the text to look clean and clear.
For that reason, the only thing on the sidebar is archives, and that’s purely a selfish convenience for me for when I want to look something up, as I can usually remember roughly when it was. Otherwise, everything else is consigned to pages. So, no widgets, no awards, no images, no links, no nada. Plus, I did read elsewhere that the more you have on the sidebar, the slower the loading time. Slow loading time irritates the hell out of me, and I can’t be the only one.
A good contrast with roughseas though is my dogblog, where I have gone for a customised background with endless images of the dog’s face. Reason? it’s much more a photo-orientated blog (the nearest I’ll get to a photoblog!) and Pippa is a very photogenic dog with his kohl-rimmed eyes and gentle expression.
So appearances, in blogging as in life, do matter. They draw in the reader – but they won’t keep them.
Same question. Content is king or every picture paints a thousand words? Well, if you have a photographic blog, you will be more interested in photos. And while I do follow a few photo blogs, endless photos of flowers/trees/birds/bridges/buildings/raindrops/cute brats etc without any text just do nothing for me.
I appreciate others may enjoy working out which camera took which shot with which lens on what exposure and focal length and any filters and …. zzz I’m falling asleep already. The ones I do follow include text of some sort, sometimes a story, sometimes an explanation, sometimes just amusing and witty text. Otherwise I would be looking at yet another flea/seagull/mountain/building. Branding and niche-marketing are somewhat too managerial terms to use for blogging, but why does your photo look any better than anyone else’s? A little text helps to explain it, or make the post stand out.
I use photos/vids as props to break up the text and also to illustrate it when relevant. And while there are a lot of Spanish blogs, there aren’t a lot of Gib ones, so a few photos of Gib don’t go amiss. Living here means I can also post more photos than monkeys (OK so I post a few of those because I like them), the cable car, the top of the Rock, and Ye Typical Olde English Pubbe.
Content is up to you. Some people prefer to write single-themed blogs. I don’t, because I find them insufferably boring to read, so I certainly can’t write them. I like blogs that diversify. But the down side to that is you won’t build up a specific following in one field, eg cookery, photography, travel, books, are the ones that come to mind immediately.
Many tipsters recommending sticking to one topic in the main, or having separate blogs if you want to diversify. I’ll write about that more under ‘Style’. Although it may not seem like it, I actually do have a set of parameters for roughseas. It’s basically what goes on locally, nationally, internationally, that has/can have some effect on me, and my perception of that.
Then there is the whole length debate. Just ignore it. A good long interesting post is far better than a short boring one that goes along the lines of:
“Meh, I got up. I made coffee. My hair needed washing. I texted my BBF.”
FFS Keep that sort of post to Twitter. Or better still, to yourself.
But the main thing is, write what you want on your blog because you don’t need rules set by someone else. Of course all the people who read my blogs do that anyway 😀
This is equally as important as the above two. If you have a good writing style, you can make pretty much anything interesting. There are no difficult rules here, write because you want to, about something you are interested in. Use active verbs more than passive ones, and DO keep your paragraphs short. Because this last one ties in with appearance too. A slab of grey text is the most off-putting way of presenting writing in the world.
If you need a long par for something, follow it with a shorter one. Like this.
Putting something of yourself in a post helps. You don’t need to give out your vital statistics, life history, loves and hates, but a little personal feeling livens up a post.
Should be short and interesting. One of our journalism rules was 12 words was a minimum and 24/30 a max for the first sentence.
And if you are telling a story of any sort, the five Ws, is always worth remembering. Who, What, Where, When and Why. You can add H on for How if it is relevant. There is far more flexibility in personal blogs because you don’t need to worry about accuracy, but from the reader’s perspective, try not to leave too many gaps.
5) Photos within posts
Do try and caption them if possible. It’s a pain because it takes longer, but it can actually add something to the post. Especially if it’s a witty one. I shall break from the norm here of my endless WP criticism and say I am pleased with the way one can add a partial gallery or even two or more to a blog post. It’s a neat way of putting a few photos together rather than making a post top heavy on photos.
Which leads me onto, don’t post too many photos. Ploughing through 20 or 30 is hard work, and so is a gallery with so many in too. If you have a lot of photos, the same rule applies as for text. Break up your photos with text, and think about either using a couple of galleries for one post, or making an individual collage. pix&kardz is the expert on collages.
6) When and how often to publish
I am sure there is an optimum time to get max viewings but I really can’t be bothered with that. I write in the morning because that suits me. Mostly the other people up at that time of day are Australians, Kiwis, and early Brit birds. Or a few late North Americans.
There is much advice given about publish every Sunday and every Wednesday. Or every day. Or once a month. Or whatever you do, keep it regular, as your readers like to know when to expect you to publish. I doubt it makes the slightest bit of difference. I am not so egotistical to think that people who read my blog will wake up on Tuesday morning and think, ‘Oh roughseas is posting on Clouds today, must dash to the computer to read it at exactly 12 noon.’
The only thing I will do, (which I have also read is not a good idea, but I don’t give a shit), is explain to people if I will not be around for a couple of weeks or more. When you have regular readers, I think it is courteous to explain that you won’t be posting for a while.
Which brings me onto ….
7) Comments, follows, likes or hits?
It’s pretty obvious that I go for comments and regular readers. I enjoy receiving comments and the discussions that follow, which often go well off the original subject.
I don’t want a blog that receives 100 comments, saying great post, thanks for that. Or similar nothing. I would prefer far less comments but that come from people who have read my posts, and consider they have something to add to the discussion.
Likes would be ok if you couldn’t just click on them from Reader without even reading the post, so it makes it pretty meaningless apart from people who take the time to comment and like as well. But then, where’s the value? I did turn off likes on roughseas to see how many people clicked on like without reading. I rarely look at hits. Olive pate remains my most popular post in terms of hits and has a total of eight comments.
I have no idea how many followers I have, again, it’s not really a valid statistic for your blog, more about someone else’s self-promotion unless it is someone who genuinely reads your blog.
If you want a discussion-type blog however, you need to invest the time and effort in replying to your readers in the same way they have responded to your post. A trite thank you if someone has written a long comment is rude, IMO.
One of the blogging tips posts I read this week, said, don’t bother replying to all comments unless you need to, ie only reply if you have something to say or to answer a question.
I totally disagree with that. I think it is plain courtesy to reply. I do get annoyed if I comment on blogs and people don’t reply. I think it’s about acknowledging that someone has taken the time to read and comment, and I can’t think of a few words of thanks? I think I can, and will continue to do so. Ironically the reference above was taken from a section called ‘engage your audience.’ One easy way to disengage your audience is by ignoring them. I should also add that he had more than 300 comments on his post though 😀
8) Comment baits
I’ve only come across this phrase recently, but it might as well be called begging for comments. It drives me up the wall. It’s the ‘do ask a question at the end of your post because people will be more likely to comment’ syndrome. Will they? It makes me more likely NOT to comment. If I want to I will, otherwise I won’t. A question makes zilch difference to me.
It’s a bit like writing a post about Paris. I then write at the bottom:
Have you been to Paris?
What did you like about it?
Did you visit the Eiffel Tower?
Did you go up it?
Did you get vertigo?
Did you enjoy the food?
Do you think French women dress well?
Do you speak French?
Do you prefer Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame?
Did you take a bateau mouche?
Honestly. I can work out what to reply about Paris on my own without some idiotic set of dumb prompts.
With which ….
9) Prompts and challenges
Just aaaaagh. Please, people, if you revolve your blog around these you should not, I repeat NOT, be blogging.
Spend as much time visiting other blogs as you do on writing your own. One of the reasons I don’t publish every day, is so that I can make time to visit other blogs. The other reason is because I don’t want to inundate readers with too many posts.
Blogging is a fine balance. The trick is to find the balancing act that works for you. Not what someone tells you to do. Although I would appreciate you all keeping your paragraphs short.
There endeth the ten top tips/golden rules/whatever. I may manage another five another day. But ten is more than enough for now.
Do what you want with the ingredients and hit publish.
Conclusion – the proof of the minestrone is in the eating?
And what WP should really be doing is teaching people how to write. Zero to Hero is
“Created by a team of top blogging experts (i.e., us) based on years of scientific research (i.e., writing blogs), “
I am sure that is tongue in cheek, but while the team may be great at coding and programming, they do not have the best blogs out there. At all. By any stretch of the imagination.
Why the title for this post of that terrible song by 10cc? Which I misremembered as Life is a Macaroni, so had to look it up to discover it was minestrone.
Obviously because blogging is a mix, of whatever you want, a bit like minestrone.
But more to the point because I wanted to get in a rant about Parmesan cheese. I am sick to death of seeing restaurants, particularly Italian ones obviously, describing meals with Parmesan as suitable for vegetarians. Parmesan is NOT vegetarian:
There are some cheeses which are always made using animal rennet, for example, Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano). In order to be called ‘Parmesan’ this has to be produced according to traditional methods which use calf rennet. The regulations for its production state the following ingredients; cows milk, salt and calf rennet. The milk comes from cows reared in the defined geographical area and the use of the term parmesan as a product description is limited by European Union labelling law to being region specific. Other cheeses which are always made using animal rennet include Grana Padano and Gorgonzola. You can get ‘parmesan style hard cheese’, and variations of others which are suitable for vegetarians.
Meals including cheese are not suitable for vegetarians unless the cheese concerned has not been made with animal rennet.
Please, if you are catering for vegetarians, and want to offer cheese, do make sure it is vegetarian. A label on the pack, or a quick search on the internet should help. Don’t rely on shop staff who may not have a clue what vegetarian cheese is – believe me, I didn’t when I sold cheese for years.