You Can Be a Good Example or a Horrible Warning – How NOT to be a Successful Blogger
I am not a blogging expert (although I play one on the Internet), but I do try to learn as much about blogging as I can. I’ve been blogging for eight months and I have grown to around 3,000-6,000 hits a day and I rank as one of the top 6,000 blogs according to Technorati. I’ve had some blog success, but I am not a successful blogger.
What should I have done differently? This is a list of the mistakes I’ve made along the way.
(photo by striatic)
Names, Credibility, Notability and Image
My blog name sucks.
The awkward “Engineering Technology” became the simpler “engtech”, but it still does not stand out from the great swath of tech blogs. People mispronounce it “enG” instead of “enJ” and there are many different capitalizations (engtech, Engtech, EngTech). I created the blog without creating a brand.
My mascot has nothing to do with my subject matter.
It’s a picture of my cat. It isn’t a funky robot. It isn’t a bug crawling over an integrated circuit. It isn’t some kind of tech-related cartoon. Sure, he’s usually reading over my shoulder as I type (and does most of my proof-reading). But does he deserve to be on every page? (My readers think so.)
I don’t write using my real name.
You immediately gain credibility when posting under your real name (or at least under something that sounds like a real name). I could be a fourteen year old with a pseudonym writing my opinions with no life experience. What’s worse is that I don’t plan to go public with my identity which means that every increase in popularity is met with an equal hope that no one who knows me is reading this.
I don’t post personal information often enough.
One of the greatest strengths of blogging is the bond between reader and author. Over time you can feel like you know someone intimately. This happens through personal anecdotes and sharing information. I don’t do that very often.
(photo by a different perspective)
I’m no one special.
I don’t work for Google, Microsoft, Apple or Intel. I haven’t written an O’Reilly book. I’m not a dotcom millionaire. I don’t live in Silicon Valley. I haven’t made more than $10,000 in a month off of AdSense. It isn’t low self-esteem, it is lack of a notable hook to stand out of the crowd.
I don’t own my own domain name.
Domain names are very cheap. Having your own domain name means you can move hosts without losing any of your backlinks. If I were to move domains I’d see a huge fall in my traffic numbers and would lose all of the time I’ve already invested building connections. If all those links pointed to my domain then I could change hosts with little side effect.
I’m hosted on wordpress.com
I’ve been very happy with WordPress Multi-user software, support and reliability. But wordpress.com restricts customization and restricts my ability to convert this hobby into anything resembling a source of income. It has been a huge boon in attracting an audience, but it does put a limit as to how far you can go (unless you can pay the $250/month VIP service). WordPress.com is great for starting out, but if blogging is a serious passion then you will eventually have to go with self-hosting to have full control.
(photo by chris from vienna)
What you talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?
I don’t have a niche.
I suffer from Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder (N.A.D.D.) in a bad way. I rarely write on the same subject for more than a week at a time. Readers would much rather subscribe to a source of information that updates infrequently on one subject instead of someone posting frequently about things they aren’t interested in. You can’t be all things to all people.
I don’t “do” news.
For some reason the tech blogging community falls into three categories: people who create news, people who comment on news, and people who write how-to guides and lists. They all pull slightly different audiences. Thanks to N.A.D.D., I do all three. When I do comment on news I typically write after the news has broken because I was focused on something else at the time it was breaking.
Blogs aren’t the best way to organize information.
Blogs are very good for topical subjects where older information is always pushed to the back. “Evergreen” posts like how-to guides are better organized by subject. Tagging and categories are one way to do it, but that is more of workaround than a solution.
(image by ario_j)
I’m too technical, or not technical enough.
“Hey, I’m on the front page of Digg and Slashdot today!” doesn’t mean anything to the majority of people. Same thing with traffic numbers, RSS, Technorati rank, and just about any technical jargon. Sometimes I forget this. Other times I try to write at such a simple level that I alienate the rest of my audience.
I don’t spend enough time on the title and introduction.
The title is the “book cover” and how you’ll be judged. The introduction is the hook that will keep people reading after you’ve got them through the door.
I don’t proof read often enough.
Sure, I’ll write an article saying that the easiest way to improve your content is to re-read it, but I won’t follow the advice. Having readers point out your errors is an easy way to get comments, but you don’t want to make a habit of it.
(photo by olivander)
I don’t have a strong enough voice.
I am ok at the technical aspects of writing, but I do not have a strong voice. Some people can take the most ordinary of subjects and turn it into something wonderful. I’m a better editor than I am a writer.
I don’t use humour often enough.
One of the things I love most about my life is having a great sense of humour and surrounding myself with very funny people. This doesn’t come across in my writing.
I don’t take a strong enough opinion.
My strongest pieces have always been the ones where I took a definite stance and pissed some people off. The easiest way to create discussion is to write something they can disagree with. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and if you aim for the lowest common denominator you end up with mediocrity.
(photo by gustavog)
The Network Effect
I don’t link to other bloggers enough.
I am notoriously bad at being part of a blogging community. I link to the same “A lister” articles that everyone else does, but I rarely link to people who are not yet “A listers” — aka the people who would appreciate it. This is one area where being on wordpress.com has helped me because there is a community connection with other bloggers who use the same host.
I pay too much attention to metrics.
It is very easy to attach value to numbers. The number of hits is increasing. The number of comments is increasing. I have more subscribers. The numbers mean nothing, yet I attach a significant meaning to them. It’s like focusing on your salary instead of whether or not you enjoy your job.
I treat blogging as a Massive Online Game (not in a good way).
Anyone who has played a MMPORG knows about level grinding (building links), guilds (blog networks), leveling (front page on a social network) and the inevitable obsession with experience points and stats (traffic). They both have the same addictive reward cycles. I have no doubt that if I ever hit the Top 100 I’d immediately quit because I “won”.
(photo by kenji)
I chase traffic.
I’m not quite an ambulance chaser, but I’ve written posts purely for the traffic they would generate. Notice the ten posts about gift suggestions I finished writing in time for Christmas? Yeah, I’m a hit-whore.
I forget about the reader.
Sometimes I write to stroke my own ego, instead of writing for someone else to read it. People are busy, how do I reward their investment of time?
I spent too much time reading RSS feeds.
When I first started writing I found it much easier to bang out a high quality posts in a short period of time because I didn’t procrastinate nearly as much reading RSS feeds. Now if I have 30 minutes free I’ll usually read some feeds instead of work on a larger post. It’s good because by commenting I make connections, but it’s bad because I’m not writing.
I underestimate the amount of time it takes to blog.
Blogging is a 10 to 50 hour a week commitment when you include reading and commenting on other blogs. Blogging takes away from other aspects of your life. Are you prepared to make that kind of commitment? Is anyone?
(photo by mrtruffle — his award, not mine)
Some Things I Did Do Right
- Always using informative headlines.
- Writing with SEO in mind.
- Using mixed media by incorporating images and video.
- Breaking up text into paragraphs, headings and bullets.
- Honing my skills at writing viral/linkbait content.
- Harnessing social bookmarking.
- Linking back to older posts.
I’ll finish this with this great quote from Kathy Sierra to put things in perspective:
I see lots of comments about things we–the bloggers–should do, but not much talk about the readers. Since they’re the only ones that decide if we have traffic or not, I think respecting their intelligence and time and attention is the most important thing. They have millions of places to put their focus, and it is always a great gift when they give a little to us. I spend a lot of time trying to think of ways I can help my readers kick ass, and as little time as possible trying to think of ways that *I* can kick ass (or worse, trying to convince my READERS that I kick ass).
If people visit my blog, I owe them something in return, and I try not to forget that. That focus keeps me from talking too much about myself and MY life–pretty much the two least interesting things I could discuss. : )
This was written as part of Problogger’s group writing project on looking back or looking forward. This is my second time joining one of his group writing projects.