How do you make your blog stand out from the rest?
You could be a lazy bum and do nothing. Or you could take my advice and use the tips below to improve your blog.
The ball’s in your court.
(Disclaimer: this post is in no way definitive. It may not, in fact, even help you improve your blog. There’s also a chance that, as you read this, gremlins will jump out of your microwave and eat your face.
These are the risks we are confronted with in this vast and awesome universe. Consider yourself disclaimer’d.)
Back to basics
1. Know your goal. Okay, so you’ve created a blog. All your friends said it would be awesome, and hey: there’s a chance you might eventually make a buck. Or perhaps you’re simply interested in sharing your ideals, or creating an online portfolio of your writing. Know what you’re trying to accomplish. Understand where you’d ultimately like to end up and the journey will be that much easier.
2. Stick to your topic. Every great blog fits into its own niche. Whether you’re blogging about cooking, photography, politics, or, well, blogging (lots of those around here), pick something and make it your primary focus. Don’t stray from that topic unless you have a particularly good reason to.
3. Let your personality shine. If people wanted to read mindless, technical drivel, they’d read a high school textbook. Of course, depending on your topic and target audience, you may want to be as formal as possible. But for the majority of blogs out there, there’s no reason to be mechanical and uninteresting. You’re a human being, you have a personality. Use it.
4. Keep backups of everything. “Oh, God. I just lost everything I’ve worked on for the past three years. Well, guess I’ll just start over.” That could be you.
5. Create a copyright notice. When you create something, you automatically own the copyright to it. That’s just how it works. However, there are those among us who believe that, if it’s posted on the Internet, it’s owned by the world. Or perhaps they just don’t know any better. In the interest of covering all your bases, include a copyright notice on your blog. Besides, all the cool blogs have one.
6. Use correct spelling and punctuation. Alot of blogs dont use coorect speling and pucntion and sum bloggers r just lazy. Know 1 wants to reed that. Revise and edit your posts to ensure proper use of your language. Watch out for typos. Practice proper punctuation. Be careful of the spellchecker, as it can’t catch everything. Your readers will appreciate it.
7. Avoid advertising early on. This is subjective, I suppose, but when you’re first starting out you’re not going to have a ton of visitors, and so advertising is pointless and may, in fact, drive away potential readers. When you hit the one thousand visitors a day mark, that would be a good time to implement ads.
9. Provide contact information. Provide a way for your readers to contact you and tell you how great you are. Or to let you know how much you suck. Open lines of communication are always a good idea, either way, just on the off chance you need to be contacted for whatever reason.
10. Grab your own domain name. Your domain name is your brand. Regardless of what may happen to your host, your content, or anything else, having a domain name ensures that you’ll always have a named presence on the web. It makes transferring servers and hosts much easier, as well (although, to be fair, it’s also not impossible to transfer domains without total nuclear fallout). Bonus tip: try not to register your domain name at the same place you get your hosting.
11. A nice, clean design goes a long way. Yellow text on a blue background hurts. I’m talking physical, retinal damage. Black text on white is the most common and least agitating to the eyes. Also, try to avoid clutter and the usual bells-and-whistles (automatically playing media, animated GIFs, and other such nonsense. We’re not in the 90s, anymore). Keep it simple.
12. Don’t plaster your blog with ads. Okay, all right, I get it. You want some money. Here: Clickety click click. But is it really necessary to have so many ads from so many services covering your blog? And what’s with that video commercial playing in the background? And I can’t even subscribe because an ad’s glitching out over your links. That’s it, I’m leaving.
13. Format your posts for easy readability. The standard format for most successful blog posts is this: identifiable headings, paragraphs separated by line breaks, links differentiated from standard text. Use common sense, and check out some popular blogs to see how they go about formatting their content and improving readability.
14. Use relevant images to enhance your posts. A lot of text can look daunting, even if you do format it well. So find some relevant images and sprinkle them within your articles.
15. Don’t go widget crazy. Whoa, hey, guy: I get that you like polls and rss feeds and image galleries and Blogcatalog users and Youtube videos and archives and calendars and Amazon deals and Flickr photostreams. But that’s a lot to shove into a single sidebar. Give me some room to breathe, here (plus, it sometimes makes your blog load slower).
16. Make your feed link prominent. You want feed subscribers, but I can’t find the freakin’ subscription link. Is it a treasure hunt? Are there clues? Do I need to hire a psychic detective?
Quick, somebody call Lavender Gooms!
Content, content, content
17. Make sure your posts provide some value to your readers. Remember way, way back in tip #2 when I said you should stick to your topic? This is similar. One way or the other, your posts should be valuable and relevant. That means they can be informative, entertaining, or simply interesting. Or something else entirely. They should definitely, however, reflect your chosen topic. Consider your readers’ interests, and provide them with something they can use.
18. Write some pillar content. Pillar posts are very popular among those bloggers looking for an influx of traffic. They tend to be timeless, lengthy, and very link-worthy. What you’re reading right this very second is a pillar post. Keep in mind that not every post you write will be a pillar, but they’re called pillars for a reason: they are the foundations from which your blog is built upon. They are particularly relevant to your topic and valuable to your readers, and will be a constant source of traffic into the future.
19. Give each post enough time to develop. How long you spend writing your posts is up to you, but you should always give yourself enough time to revise and edit and organize your content. Don’t rush if it means posting unfinished or low quality content.
20. Give your best posts time to breath. If you’ve published a particularly great post, give it time to establish a presence on your blog. Don’t post anything else right away. Wait a few days. This way, visitors will have a better chance to see it and perhaps post a comment. It may be hard to judge exactly when it’s time to move on, but sooner or later you’ll get the hang of it.
21. Post consistently. Consistency is far more important than frequency. Heck, some readers are put off by too many posts in a single week. So, instead of worrying about sheer number of posts, consider following a posting pattern and concentrating on unique, valuable content. Earlier in the week (Monday through Wednesday) seems to be an ideal time for posting your best content, and two to three posts a week would, in my opinion, be the sweet spot.
22. Link to other blogs and resources. When you link to other blogs, those blogs’ authors get a notification and a trackback. This is not only a great way to provide value to your readers, but also a great way to increase traffic to your blog.
23. Link to relevant posts within your own blog. This will make your other posts more relevant in search engine results, and potentially increase your readers’ stay at your blog.
24. Practice proper SEO by adding titles to your links and images. Again, this will make your posts more relevant to search engines. Check out blogs like SEOmoz.org to learn more about search engine optimization.
25. Avoid unnecessarily short posts. Shorter posts are good now and then, but one-liners can grow tiring. Again, it’s all about adding value. While at times one-paragraph articles may be called for (sharing a bit of news or a photograph), for the most part you should be concentrating on providing substantial content to your readers, whatever the length. Very short posts don’t tend to accomplish that.
26. Cite your sources. Plagiarism is bad. If you’re providing information from another source, cite that source. State its name. Link to it. And, if you need to, only use short quotes, as Fair Use only covers brief excerpts.
27. Check for splogs. Splogs are evil. Splogs are bad. It sucks to have your hard work stolen. Use services like Copyscape to check for instances of your content on the web, or copy and paste unique sentences from your posts into search engines (in quotes) to locate duplicate content. If you find any, contact the owner of the potential splog and ask them to remove it.
28. Don’t be a splog. Don’t copy the full content of other blogs or websites. If you feel like you really, really have to, contact the blog’s author first to get permission (and if you don’t get it, too bad). Copying the full content of another person’s work is simply bad form, and no, providing a link back to the original article doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
29. Keep a notebook for post ideas. We all face times when we don’t know what to write about. Even if we’re passionate about the subject matter, it can be hard to stay creative, and sometimes we may begin to repeat ourselves. One of the best ways I’ve found to combat this is to keep a notebook or a word file. Whenever you see something interesting or have a new idea, jot it down and save it for later, even if you’re not hurting for ideas at the time. When you get stuck, thumb through the notebook and, well, there you go.
30. Plan ahead. Keeping your blog updated with new posts on a consistent basis can be a difficult task. To make your work easier, plan ahead. Lay out post titles and ideas for the future.
31. Create a writing schedule. To help with your planning, load up some calendar software and plot your blog content for the next month or so. Set up times when you’ll be free to work on your content. This can be flexible, and the point isn’t to force you into grinding out blog posts at specific times, but to give you a framework to follow so you don’t get lost on the way.
32. Consider your readers’ questions. When you’re typing out your next great blog post, be sure to consider any questions your readers might have and preemptively answer them. Consider how they’ll respond to your message. What’s in it for them?
Community & building an audience
33. Connect with other bloggers. Find other blogs within your niche and get to know their authors. Check out blog directories to make the search easier. Consider guest posting to drive promotion.
34. Comment on other blogs. Not only does this increase your exposure on the web, but it’s a great way to connect with other bloggers and express yourself on topics that interest you. But make sure your comments are meaningful and not just shallow attempts at gathering clicks.
35. Encourage your readers to post comments. Ask your readers questions at the end of your posts, or leave them open for further discussion.
36. Respond to those comments. When you do get comments, be sure to respond. Even if it’s just to state, “Thanks for the comments,” let your readers know that you’re listening and willing to converse with them.
37. Join social networks. There are a lot of social networks on the Internet, some better than others. As a blogger, utilize networks such as Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and others to promote and connect.
38. Answer your e-mails and reader questions. If you receive feedback, respond to it. If a reader asks a question, provide an answer.
39. Update old posts if new information becomes available. The great thing about the Internet is that, when you publish something, you can return to it at a later date and easily amend it. Dust off the cobwebs, fix broken or expired links, and add new content if you feel it will increase your post’s value.
40. Add social networking buttons to your posts. While not always necessary (and, if done poorly, it can hurt your design), adding a social networking area to the end of your posts makes sharing your articles on those networks easier, and readers will be far more likely to do so.
41. Ask your readers to subscribe to your feed. This can be done at the end of each post near the rest of your social networking buttons, or in your sidebar. Do what you can to guide your readers toward that subscription button, and let them know you’d appreciate it.
42. Publish full content to your feed. This is sometimes debated, as posting full feeds may also lead to your blog content getting scraped by sploggers (that is, being stolen). But you have to find that happy balance between protecting your content and providing that content to your readers. The majority of successful blogs do publish full feeds, and the benefits ultimately outweigh the potential downsides.
43. Provide feed subscriptions by e-mail. Blog readers like options, and if you’re able, there’s no reason not to provide e-mail feed subscriptions. Feedburner makes this particularly easy. Consider having the e-mail subscription form in your sidebar.
44. Promote your blog, but don’t be annoying about it. There’s nothing worse than a relentless blogger wannabe spamming links on a message board or social network. Be respectable. Promote your blog with some dignity, and don’t resort to dirty tactics.
46. Watch out for spam comments. “You write very well,” they say. Seems innocent enough, until you notice their web address goes to a pharmaceutical corporation or an insurance firm. Spammers are getting pretty devious, and you have to watch out for hollow comments that aren’t really comments at all. Keep your blog clean.
Blogging and mental health
47. Lower your expectations. You’re not going to rise to greatness overnight. Your blog may, in fact, never be popular. That’s the way it goes. Have goals, have aspirations, but don’t expect too much, especially not in the beginning. You’ll only set yourself up for failure when you realize that blogging isn’t as easy as you were lead to believe.
48. Pace yourself. Whoa, whoa! Nice shootin’, tex. Calm down a bit. You don’t need to post fifteen times a day and spend every waking hour working on your blog to be successful. You also don’t have to spend all of your time reading how-to articles on the Internet (but, you know, maybe a little time). Work hard, do your best, but don’t overdo it, you know?
49. Stop playing with your theme and post something. Yeah, presentation is important, but at a certain point you’re going to have to stop trying new themes and tweaking the old ones. A nice design only gets you so far, and if you don’t have good content, it doesn’t matter what your blog looks like.
50. Avoid checking your stats too much. Five minutes ago, someone visited your blog. Five minutes later, someone else may have visited. Does it really matter? Maybe. But there’s literally no reason to obsessively check your stats unless you’re trying to analyze visitor trends. Early on, you won’t get a lot of visitors. Then, you’ll get a trickle. Then, if you’ve done everything right, you might end up with a good number. The point is, it’s a slow process, and checking stats too much can be like watching water boil or paint dry. You’ll drive yourself mad.
51. Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers. There are a lot of bloggers out there who are better than you, and who will probably remain better than you. Some write better, some have better designs on their blogs, some have far more readers, some are far more popular. But they’re not you. You could probably learn a lot from them, but don’t try too hard to become them. Make your own path. Do your best and don’t worry.
52. Have patience. Blogging is a waiting game. It’s a game of persistence and vigilance. But mostly, it’s a game of patience. The most successful bloggers are the ones who kept at it, who didn’t stop. Despite whatever hardships they faced, whatever problems, dips in readerships, database errors, splogs, hurtful criticisms, mental blocks, or waning interest, they trudged forward.
Have patience, don’t give up, and eventually you will succeed.