The Cynic’s Guide To Blogging

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Tomorrow is my 1st bloggerversary bloggaversary Blogiversary! (Pause. Wait for silence).

It is, though. On 9 July 2013 I started blogging about book sales, writing for money in an environment where there is no pay for writing, and other things generally in the book and writing worlds I felt like poking fun at.

Anyway, I thought I’d celebrate the last day of this blogging year with an episodic “I learned something today”.

There are many blog posts out there telling people about blogging. It might sound like an awful waste of time, but I have found these posts extremely helpful in the past, even invaluable in many “what the hell just happened??” moments. I had no idea what to expect, last July, when I started out, but in the offchance that some of the things I’ve learned might be useful to others, here is:

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I started This Lark

1.  Know why you’re here, or go away.

Before you start blogging, figure out what your purpose is. Do you want to engage with people with similar interests in stone walls, cow whispering and old calendars? Fine. Do you want to promote your business, your art, or your appreciation of overpriced food and drink? Grand.

But if you feel like you should blog just because you’ve got some cool opinions, that’s a tough battle. If you don’t give readers a consistent, thematic reason to come back, you’ll never see them again. And if you’re not interested enough in your main theme, you won’t be back either.

2.  Blog statistics are pointless. They will wreck your head, and ruin your creativity.

Some bloggers apparently manage to ramp up 20,000 followers and 100,000 hits within 6 months of starting. They will release multiple blog posts telling you of this fact. You will be tempted to use them as a benchmark. Don’t. Looking at these blogs will only make you doubt yourself, so don’t do it. A few of these bloggers are truly popular. More of them are not, in that only a very tiny percentage of so-called followers will ever actually read anything they write, particularly if they’re posting more than 1 captioned photograph per day.

I’m not for 1 minute suggesting that all such blogs are faking statistics; but there are ways of artificially increasing your follower count. For instance, you could purchase 10,000 fake followers on Twitter and link the count to your blog instantly. You could also spend 17 hours a day throwing around likes and follows on other people’s blogs in a scatter-gun approach, even without reading them (er, especially without reading them), in the hopes they will do the same for yours. But really, I can think of 20 better ways to waste my time, than creating meaningless statistics.

3.  The only respectable way to increase traffic is to blog more often.

I don’t always practice this because sometimes it’s just bloody impossible. But if you’re going to blog, do it at least twice a week. And those who blog more often than this will get even more hits. It’s just logical.

4.  Notice what generates the most interest, then write more of it.

I had the most fun doing jokey stuff, like Book Title Generators and How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel, but what most regular visitors to this blog appear to want is stuff about writing and book sales – i.e. the stuff I promise at the top of the page.

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

5.   Link back to related previous posts in your new posts.

Make it easy for your readers to get more of your stuff – if they want. It’s the best non-pushy way to push.

6.  For the love of Blog, use other social media wisely.

Facebook frames posts in a very attractive way, but generates little in the way of traffic. Most people on Facebook aren’t interested in your blog: they’re interested in what you looked like last night and how wonderful you’re saying you are. Only about 10 of your Facebook friends will use your appearance in their news feed to look at your blog. You fell out of everyone else’s news feed a year ago.

Use Google+ to share posts, and use hashtags while you’re at it, but not because anyone’s going to click through from there either – rather, it will improve your rankings in search results, which can mean hits to your blog from such vague queries as “how to stop a family member from writing a misery memoir” (ooh-er) and “service to find Amazon reviews unhelpful” (I kid you not. These search terms actually brought people here).

Use Twitter – or to be specific, get other, more popular users, to share your stuff on Twitter. I’ve had sporadically good traffic from Twitter, but never from my own tweets, only other people’s. I can’t explain Twitter to you any more than I can explain why I end up thinking about Shrödinger’s cat at least once a week. But a tweet’s strike rate is tiny, so don’t rely on it. And also, I do NOT mean tweet 60 times a day, or even 20, because that’ll exclude you from any of the Twitter lists people actually look at. Permanently.

Join Linkedin groups related to your particular field, and start discussions in them by asking questions around the topic you’re blogging about, using your post as a springboard for debate. It will deliver you directly to a huge audience who would never otherwise have known you existed. Linkedin is where I’ve met some of the wisest, funniest and most helpful readers and writers around, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the fact that we were introduced there. Linkedin is also where I’ve encountered many people with about as much of a sense of humour as an ingrown toenail, but they never went near this blog before tearing into any discussions I started, so I can say what I want about them here.

7.  Don’t be afraid of a little rabble rousing…

My most popular posts to date have been the ones that got some people awfully upset: sometimes from the mere title of a blog post. But awfully upset people are outweighed 100-1 by people who will completely get what you’re doing. There are other blogs out there deliberately making contentious statements to stir trouble, but this isn’t one of them. The readers you actually want will get the point.

8.  …but blogging is a slow burn. Give it time, and make friends slowly.

Unless you’re famous, of course. Then just do whatever the hell you want, because 97% of people are just going to tell you what you want to hear anyway.

But – and I don’t have exact stats on this but I may compile them in future for emphasis – 95% of people who visit your blog for the big explosions won’t be back, no matter what you do. Concentrate on the 5% who will, because they are the audience you wanted all along.

congatastic!

Are you having fake fun? Yes, I’m having fake fun too! Hoo-yay!

9.  Have fun.

If you’re having fun, people can tell. If blogging is a chore, people can also tell.

It’s supposed to be fun, remember! The kindest name for this activity is ‘unpaid content generation’ – and whilst that might give you some kudos in a coffee shop if you’re 22 years old, most of us are here for other reasons. Per # 1: figure out what your reason is, and smile.

**************************

So, that’s what I’ve learned in the past year. Except for all the things I’ve forgotten. Which is the other 92% of pretty much Everything. Now you out there – what tips do you have for me?

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  33 comments for “The Cynic’s Guide To Blogging

  1. July 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Tara,

    Re tip number #1 (“a consistent, thematic reason to come back”) and number #4, it’s well to keep an eye on the main focus. If you’re ever tempted to straddle two very separate areas that you’re interested in (e.g. travel photography and ancient illuminated manuscripts), it’s probably best to split them off into two separate and distinct blogs.

    Congrats on the blogiversary and keep rockin’…

    – Mel

    Like

    • July 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks Mel! Yep, I agree completely, it’s hard not to deviate off into your own brain sometimes, but as long as the theme is loosely applied, we might get away with it. I won’t be able to stop myself swinging the lead when it comes to anything to do with books even if it doesn’t specifically deal with book sales, but delivering a 6000-word treatise on the state of the world’s forests and the impact on the paper industry might be stretching it a bit far 🙂

      Like

  2. July 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Waxing cynical is always a rewarding way to vent negative thoughts and purge the soul by not holding back on your urge to be brutally frank (if not truthful… *whistles innocently*). I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in being unable to fathom Twitter, or being ashamed of being a bit snooty about FB – and I’m very glad we found each other on LinkedIn just as I was beginning to despair of finding anyone on there with a funny bone! 😛

    Like

    • July 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      I do love the unrelenting reward of cynicism – you are (as always) perfectly right! And people like you saved me from leaving Linkedin forever and losing out on the positives. I keep imagining some of the folks on Linkedin subsisting on a diet of bile and string beans, whilst poking themselves in the middle with pointy sticks and snarling at anything pink or fluffy 😉

      Like

      • July 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm

        But pink and fluffy is so adorable! Especially if you poke it with a pointy stick and make it ‘pinker’ and slightly squidgy…whistles innocently again and goes off to sharpen the b*stard sword

        Like

        • July 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm

          Pinkier should so definitely be a word. I am petitioning the government IMMEDIATELY.

          Like

      • July 8, 2014 at 9:41 pm

        Bile and string beans?! Bile and string beans?! You slay me! (And I LIKE string beans!) Oh, sheesh … bile and…. Ahem. Right. Moving on….

        Like

        • July 8, 2014 at 10:58 pm

          I can cook better stuff, I swear. Like raw bitterness. I can cook that good 😛

          Like

  3. johanna buchanan
    July 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Very glad of this post as I begin to write on my blog again. LIke Mel said above, I tried to straddle two different interests and ended up more confused than my reader I’m sure.
    Blog phase 2 will be on all things writing and books…

    Like

    • July 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Or alternatively like Mel said, you could run 2 separate blogs and have double the fun! Go on, Johanna… I’d enjoy commenting on both of them 😛

      Like

  4. July 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Keep it up 🙂 I find pinterest is the best provider of social traffic for my Write on Track blog (but that’s cos I write lots of posts about pinterest too!) and facebook is my strongest referral for my farming blog. Twitter is third on both of them. I do like using groups on Linked In but I know I need to spend more time on there and use them more effectively.
    If you don’t enjoy blogging, it’s hard to keep going but it’s also important, if you’re doing it for business, to remember that it is part of your marketing so that you do stay focused. Hope you keep blogging for another decade at least 🙂

    Like

    • July 8, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      Good God, could you imagine me blogging for another 10 years? I’d be arrested 😉

      I’m very intrigued by Pinterest, but haven’t managed to make it useful at all. I think I’ll have to go back again over some of your posts on it, and get the engine running on that one. On Facebook I just don’t have the numbers, but the numbers I have also don’t work for me – in that the writers I’m connected to don’t connect with my writing posts and the majority of non-writing friends aren’t interested in posts about writing. I think the new News Feed streaming problems everyone’s talking about have made a hames of Facebook in general for anything other than a) photos you’ve been tagged in where you look horrible, and b) the 19,403 selfies of people you used to like!

      Like

  5. July 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Reblogged this on The Joy of Writing and commented:
    This article has great advice for beginning bloggers.

    Like

  6. July 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Cracking post. You have clearly learned much in that year grasshopper! (Phnark). I know I am at variance with the entire world here but I really enjoy reading blogs, but I only have a certain amount of time, so I am easily swamped. For me, a blogger who posts once a week is a lovely lovely blogger because it means I can read all their posts, rather than being forced, by trime constraints, to pick some. So my theory is to write one or two tip top quality posts a week.

    I’m probably wrong.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Like

    • July 8, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Gosh, I hate it when people are completely right. I know what you mean. But how can I harness the fickle once-in-a-blue-moon blog readers, all the while hanging on to the loyal readers who actually read what I write? It’s a toughie. Thanks be that I don’t get the chance to blog as often as I like 😉

      Like

  7. July 9, 2014 at 2:29 am

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    Like

  8. loro
    July 9, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Tara, I like your blogs. I’ve not one myself, but love your witty anecdotes. Keep it up.

    Like

    • July 9, 2014 at 9:48 am

      Thank you Loro! You know, the odd comment like that will keep me going indefinitely – I’m a sucker for unsolicited nicety 😉

      Like

  9. July 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Happy Blogiversary, Tara! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all the posts over the past year, so keep up the good work. I’ll use your tips to take a fresh look at my own blog which has taken a sabbatical recently. Plans are afoot to resuscitate it shortly. If I can just get them off my foot…. 🙂

    Like

    • July 9, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Thank you Book Nanny! I am celebrating today with a cake which someone else brought into the office for a going-away do. I’m going to pretend that it’s for me, even though I can’t tell anyone why I’m celebrating. It’s a perilous situation here, this double life, I tell you…

      Looking forward to seeing you back on form with your excellent blog and advice. Don’t leave us waiting too long!

      Like

  10. July 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for that, Tara. I really enjoyed it. I often ask myself why I blog, and the only reason I’ve got is that I like writing and I always wanted to be a newpaper columnist (without anyone telling me what to write, which is a contradiction in terms). Apart from that, dunno why I do it. I just do it. The only observation I’d make to people starting to blog, is that whatever you think blogging is now, once you start, you’ll realise its something else. Inscrutable, or what? Happy bloggiversary!

    Like

    • July 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you, Elaine! Yep, in some ways blogging is like ordering a rather lovely dress over the internet, only to find when it arrives it’s been made for someone else, only has one armhole and the seams are on the outside. But once you get to grips with that, the material is pretty smashing 😉

      Like

      • July 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

        Yes, and you were going to get rid of your left arm, anyway.

        Like

        • July 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

          Naturally. It just never looked good in chintz, I have to admit.

          Like

          • July 12, 2014 at 11:02 am

            I’ve just realised a long-held ambition and reblogged your ‘How to know if you’re a chick lit heroine’

            Like

            • July 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

              Sweeeeet! Ambite away. I love easily realisable ambitions. And I’m a hoor for the reblog 😉

              Like

  11. July 15, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Hi Tara!
    I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your post so much that I wanted to reblog it but for some reason when I tried to, it wouldn’t work. So I’ve borrowed your content and attributed it to you to try and make up for the borrowing. I hope you don’t mind.
    MJ

    Like

    • July 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Hi MJ… you’re the 2nd person to say this to me – I don’t know what’s wrong, I’ll have to take it up with WordPress, because the reblog button seems to be functioning fine on this end. I appreciate the trouble you’ve gone to to post it despite the problems. Thank you.

      Like

  12. July 16, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    This is definitely one of my favorite blogs about blogging so far 🙂 Very helpful

    Like

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