By Caitlin Kelly
The first time I posted here — July 1, 2009 — I was shaking.
I’ve been writing for a living since university, and had grown very accustomed to attention and feedback for my ideas, photos and writing. Unlike many bloggers, this wasn’t my first attempt to gain eyeballs, just the latest iteration.
Would anyone ever show up?
Today, this blog has more than 5,400 readers worldwide, in Ghana, Malaysia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Middle East, India. Crazy, but gratifying.
I’ve also been fortunate to have had my posts chosen six times for Freshly Pressed, which showcases a selection of WordPress bloggers every day. If you haven’t ever made time to read any of them, I urge you to. I always find something lovely or thought-provoking.
Every day, five to 15 new people find Broadside and decide to follow.
I’m honored, and really enjoy the diversity of readers, and comments.
For those of you hoping to grow your audience, some things to think about:
What’s your goal?
If all you want is to create an on-line record of your thoughts and work, I’m not persuaded that’s a blog that will ever gain much traction or many readers, while LinkedIn is professionally useful for this purpose.
Some people say they want their blog to be a place to process their feelings. Which is fine — it’s your blog. But if your real desire is to attract lots and lots of eyeballs, you’ve got to be a little more focused. No one, I assure you, has time or energy to read rambling navel-gazing better suited to a long private conversation with a friend, or a journal entry.
Every time you post, consider the question — what’s in it of potential value to your readers?
How often are you posting?
The metric I’ve read is to post three times a week, which I’ve consistently maintained. Some people post every day, which is too much for me to absorb as a reader and too much to produce as someone — like you! — with a busy life and many other interests and commitments.
If you’re pooped trying to make it all up without help — use links and timely, much-discussed news stories as inspiration.
Two women knitters with blogs, holding up their knitting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Are you showing other bloggers a little love?
I don’t follow a ton of blogs, but I look at the site of every single person who signs up to follow Broadside. I make it a point to visit the sites of people who “like” a post so I can “like” or comment on theirs.
Are you making your blog visually inviting?
I’m dismayed by how few bloggers seem to understand a basic principle — we’re visual creatures! We want something pretty or interesting or memorable to look at and think about, not just a big fat pile ‘o words. Zzzzzzzz!
Include photos, drawings, sketches, video to illustrate your posts. Since few bloggers bother to do this, yours will immediately stand out from the crowd.
How’s your punctuation, design sense, theme choice and layout?
I won’t read any blogger who simply throws down a huge chunk of copy, (especially white on black), without one single paragraph to break it up visually and intellectually.
It’s like yammering on without taking a breath. NO one anywhere in the real world gets away with that shit.
English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the Progressive Bloggers on Parliament Hill, East Block, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Are you living an interesting life?
If your life is pretty quiet and routine, are you still offering readers some fun, quirky or moving insights into it? What value are you adding to my day in return for my attention?
Elizabeth Harper, an ex-pat American from Georgia now living in Cornwall, posts some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen on the web. I keep her posts in my email forever just to go back and look at them. They’re like 17th century paintings.
Do you reply, quickly and authentically, to comments?
I try to reply to every single comment. If someone has made time to read long enough to care, to care enough to comment, that’s a hell of a compliment. Replying is polite.
Are you funny?
We all could use a good laugh — and I don’t mean simply plugging in a pile of gif’s. I mean seeing your world, and sharing it, in a way that makes us laugh along with you.
Are you too angry?
I get it.
Believe me, there are many, many things to rant about. But it’s got to be balanced out by something lighter. If all your blog is about is yelling and screaming and bitching and moaning — even if your target(s) are 100% deserving, you’re not likely to grow your readership into the thousands, even hundreds. It’s just too tedious after a while.
Your blog can be whatever you choose, of course. But which voice? Meditative, poetic, sassy, smart-ass, challenging, wise?
One blog with a very consistent tone, is Truth and Cake, written by Rian, a 30-something American woman who married a Canadian man and moved to Vancouver. She’s wise but not dull, encouraging but not sappy, firm but not bossy. I love her choice of header photo — snappy pink heels and all.
Another is Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, by Australian writer Nigel Featherstone. I enjoy his meditative voice and gentle questioning of almost everything. Every time I read one of his posts, my blood pressure drops.
Are you obsessed with being Freshly Pressed?
Easy for me to say, right?
Yes, being FPed will boost your visibility, big-time, probably adding hundreds of new followers within hours. But it’s not the only measure of your blog’s value. If your readers are reading, commenting, talking to you and to one another, it’s working.
Some blogs are just never going to make the FP cut: they’re too specific, too sexy, too curse-laden, too shout-y. Be yourself, but be realistic about the mass appeal of what is more likely to get picked by the WP editors.
Aim for the intersection of personal and universal
This isn’t easy, but it’s what works best.
I’m not a widow, but I’m eager to read what Niva, a TV writer in Los Angeles, is writing at Riding Bitch; her header photo speaks volumes about her spirit.
I’m not an educator, but I enjoy reading Mindful Stew, written by Paul Barnwell, a thoughtful high school teacher in Kentucky. Terrific bloggers manage to find a way to make their concerns matter to the rest of us, even if we don’t share, and never will, their specific experiences.
Are you passionate about your posts?
One of the worst habits I see in many other blogs is the written shrug. If you’re really that bored, tired or distracted, why inflict it on your readers? Bloggers like this annoy me. They want attention, but haven’t done anything special to warrant it, sort of like the five-year-old at the playground yelling “Mommy, watch me! Watch me! Watch me!”
OK. I’m watching, already. Whatcha got for me?
Are you open to differing points of view?
I’m happy that we’ve had some pretty heated (civil) discussions here. A perky, chirpy echo chamber is boring.
How much are you willing to reveal about yourself and your thoughts?
Possibly the most essential element, and one that’s damn hard to do well! Too much emotion and it becomes grossly confessional. Too little, and we never really get to know who you are, just some coy cipher. Yes, discretion is important, certainly for professional reasons. But a tidy/polite/buttoned-up blog becomes a big snooze.
Have you given your posts time to cool down?
It’s rare I write a post and hit publish. Many are refined for days, sometimes weeks.
I’d skip sex, religion and politics. But that’s just me
I rarely post on religion or politics, and almost never about sex, (sexual politics, yes.) Most of the time, it’s not worth it to invite/wrangle trolls and craziness.
What do you think?
What’s working for you?
What do you enjoy here at Broadside?
Here’s my last post about how to blog better, with tips…it got 96 likes, so it might be worth a look if you’re new here.