A seemingly perpetual question in the WordPress forums is “How do I attract visitors to my blog?” Often posed by people who have written bugger all beyond “Hey, look, this is my new blog!” Big deal…
To get people to visit your blog you have to write. A lot. More importantly, you have to write well and interestingly and – a personal bugbear this – you have to know where the spell-check button is and use it obsessively! And don’t overuse exclamation marks! I break the rule as much as anyone but they really have no place outside dialogue. They’re very useful, for emphasis, if used with care, and you never, ever use more than one at a time!!!! Seriously.
OK, if you’ve looked at my blog, you’ll see I have no problem getting words on the page, but that’s not enough. True, you have to keep your readers interested, but you need to structure your writing well enough to keep them reading beyond the first few lines, as well as pull in new readers. For example, I just display the beginnings of my posts on the Home page, but I always put the Read more… link at a point where the readers’ natural inclination is to click through. Look at a the Home page, you’ll see what I mean. And then you have to maintain that interest through to the end. So if you lose interest after, say, 500 words, keep your posts short
I write well – I know that, and I don’t do false modesty (hey, if you do anything well, have confidence in it) – so with the knowledge that a lot of people can’t, I’ve written a bunch of posts which I think might help others to raise their game (see below – they’re in chronological order). Always use the spell-check button, which I’ve mentioned, and don’t write out of your pay grade, are the basic rules in my book.
The former is obvious, and by the latter I mean don’t use polysyllabic words gratuitously – and that’s just what I’ve done. So – don’t use long words for no good reason, when short ones will do just as well. See? Means the same thing. Not my idea, I read it many years ago – someone I was reading opined that one should never use a $10 word when a 50 cent word will do just as well. I think I might have been James Thurber, but I just can’t be sure. Still good advice, though. As is “don’t write down to your reader”. And for that reason – and the fact that it’s much shorter – where I not making a point, that’s what I’d go with. Why? Because it’s not my job write down to the readers, and the world is full of dictionaries. In general, though, unless there is a genuine point in doing so, as here, don’t do it.
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered that in at least one of those posts, below, but it’s a point worth making again. As is avoiding over-writing – every blog has it’s natural length, whether that’s less than 100 or over 10,000 words. Personally, I think a 10,000 word blog post is absurd, but I know it happens. I think my longest post is about 3,000 words, broken up into maybe 6 pages.** Pointless verbosity will win you no friends.
**Oops – I lied. Just checked and my longest post is over 10,000 words . It’s this one, and you can see why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
And – please – if you don’t know how to punctuate, learn. Buy “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” by Lynne Truss.
Windows LiveWriter is often touted as the ideal medium for writing WordPress blogs. It’s not – it’s crap and it’s buggy, and that outweighs its minimal advantage over Word. If you have Word, use that, if you don’t have word, download Open Office and use the word processor. Copy into the New Post pane using the Paste from Word button, don’t paste it directly. It works, I’ve tested it. It’s possible the MS Works word processor would work, too, but I don’t have a copy of that.
Quantity is at least as important as quality. You can be the world’s best writer, but if you don’t write, no-one will ever know. By the time I finish writing today, I’ll have published three posts – unless I write anything else this evening – for a total of around 3,600 words.
Sometimes I can do that every day, but some days I’m too ill to write at all, but overall I’m averaging 1.30 posts per day (782 posts in 590 days online), which is fine, because you have not only to engage your readers’ attention, you have to keep it. I was without an Internet connection for 5 weeks in the summer, and it took me quite a while to regain the readers I lost. These days I have a Smartphone, so I need never be offline again.
Then there’s the thorny subject of Google. When I started this blog in April 2008, it took me two months to appear on the first page of a search for Ron’s Rants (at number 3, there’s a lot of us!), and maybe a month longer to top that page. By last December I noticed I was at the top of subject searches too or, if not top, in the first three or so. So, I’ve never had any need to fret about Google, it’s always served me well. Others aren’t so fortunate, and that’s a frequent subject in the WordPress forums.
To go back to what I said at the beginning, your blog needs content, and it needs to be something that people want to read. Your passion might be the Ford Edsel, but you’re not likely to have much company, so by all means write about the Edsel – I might be wrong – but interspersed with other, more general-interest items. Niche interests can do very well just, please, for the sake of my sanity, the world does not need anymore “humorous” cat blogs, no matter how many zillion hits they bring in.
My blog started off as simply my comments on pretty much anything that caught my attention, but it somehow became dominated by four subjects COPD, ME/CFS, disability in general and disability benefits (in the UK), plus a whole bunch of stuff peripheral to the main items. And that’s what sells. I still write stuff for my own entertainment, or to bitch about something, but what people mostly want is the disability stuff. So that’s what they get.
I can’t say that doesn’t depress me at times, because my best writing is often on other subjects, but there is absolutely no point in changing because bloggers, just like newspapers, have to give their readers what they want, not what we think they should have! By the way, the main difference between a good blogger and a journalist is we don’t get paid! And we often write better… Note I said “good” blogger – some bloggers are just so crap their blogs are an insult to their readers – assuming they have any.
I’d recommend having a look at timethief’s excellent blog – there’s quite a bit about maximising your web presence on this page (scroll down to the Promotion section) http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/popular-posts/
In fact, there’s quite a bit about almost everything to do with blogging, so feel free to have a look round. You’ll find timethief in the forum quite a lot, too.
One final thought. I have a problem, associated with my ME/CFS. I confuse homonyms (words that sound the same), and sometimes type I for A, or vice-versa, and other assorted buggerations. For that reason, I read and re-read everything before publishing, because no spell-checker will pick up stuff like that and, even then, occasionally something will get through. Still, at least you know why now. And even if you’re not so afflicted, do the same thing, for the same reason, because everyone occasionally does it, simply by hitting the wrong key accidentally.
Even if you have little natural writing ability, you can learn to write. One way is to study other blogs** – but be warned, there are some real horror-shows out there in terms of illiteracy, or the blogger is very literate, but should really be driving a bus, not blogging (literacy doesn’t guarantee writing talent). Another way, if you’re in no hurry, is to take a creative writing course. That’s where I discovered I had no talent for fiction, but it was valuable in other ways.
** Imitate the style, by all means, but not the content!
One of the best way to learn to write well is to read a lot – the two skills are different sides of the same coin, and neither exists in isolation.
And don’t worry if you don’t have an extensive vocabulary. Most people only use a few hundred words on a regular basis, even with a vocabulary of many thousands of words. I don’t know how far my vocabulary stretches, but I do know it contains words that I have no recollection of learning, yet they happily pop up when needed. Again, reading will extend your vocabulary, especially if you read widely and regularly.
Don’t read to impress people, read what you enjoy, and to hell with what people think. Just don’t read Dan Brown, OK?!
There used to be a blog in the Cumbria Star, written by a young mother. When she started it was embarrassing to read. She couldn’t spell, or punctuate, or even arrange the narrative in the most effective sequence but, despite all that, she was very interesting and she knew, instinctively, how to tell a tale, even if she wasn’t making the best of it, and there was clearly potential there. Writing for a newspaper, there was clearly no shortage of potential mentors, and somebody obviously took her under their wing. Equally obviously, she was willing to learn.
Over the months, the mistakes went away, her style smoothed out, and changed a little as he found her natural rhythm, and she became a real pleasure to read.
The point of all this is that, at first, you may not be very good at the outset, but with a willingness to keep writing, whether it’s published on your blog or not, and to learn to identify your mistakes and work on improving them, you have the potential to become a good blogger.
And writing for your own blog, rather than for money, doesn’t mean you ever give it any less than your best. Not ever – it would be an insult to your readers and a disservice to yourself.