How To Build A Better Blog
I just celebrated my third year of book blogging. Who knew that in June of 2009 when I put together a few random thoughts on books that three years later I would still be doing this… and loving it.
Throughout the years I have made many blogging blunders… shoot, I still do. I do for the most part really like what I am doing now and how I am doing it. I thought, if I may, I would share with you some of the trials and errors I have learned from through the years for anyone who would like to know how I pulled together Book Journey. Take from this what you can, leave what you don’t want or need.
Please note – above all else, I am no expert. I am sharing my thoughts on how I built up my own blog and that may not be the way you would do it, want to do it, or even agree that I know what I am talking about. I am sure in some cases, this has been said before, in other ways, on other blogs. What I am talking about here may not even apply to the way you host your blog, and I respect that. I encourage you to add your own thoughts on this topic in the comments, things that you can add that I did not, and yes, even things you may now agree with.
1. The Blog Name
For those of you who have followed me since the early years you may remember this blog was originally called One Persons Journey Through A World Of Books. Mmmmm hmmmm… say that baby three times fast. It remained that from June 2009 – April 2010. It wasn’t until I was considering making business cards for my first book expo that I really took into consideration what a mouthful that was. My blog address already was bookjourney, my twitter name was bookjourney, it seamed logical to trim up that title, and after a little chat survey on Twitter, found that it was not only acceptable, many agreed with me.
The point? Long blog names are hard to remember, a mouthful, and if you are planning to partake in bookish events where you are meeting authors, publishers, etc…its a lot easier to have a shorter blog name.
2. Side Bar Loving!
My original blog had two sidebars… if I could put it in the sidebar, I did. Meme’s, pictures of authors I had chatted with, links and pictures to challenges I was participating in, links to other bloggers, contests, pictures, An about me that ran down the right side a good 10-12 inches…..
You can see that some of that remains to this day. I do think sidebars can serve a wonderful purpose. Have a post that drove lots of traffic to the blog that you hate to see get buried? This is a great place to link it. Blogs you frequent, I actually like this on blogs as if I enjoy reading someones blog and they link blogs they enjoy on their sidebar, I know chances are I will enjoy those blogs too. However – you will also notice I now have one sidebar instead of two and I love it. Why? Many reasons…. it is a cleaner looking blog for one, I think my blog today looks more professional than my blog of past years. For another reason, it makes the main space, your posting space – BIGGER. I like that to, after all, that is what draws in your readers, not what you have on your side bars.. but what YOU are writing about. The post should be what captures the eye.
Oh and one more thing on sidebars, try to keep them current. This is one I still have to watch… take down links to old contests and to blogs that are no longer active.
3. I wrote this incredible post… and no one is reading it…
Ugh. I remember those early days. I felt (IMO) that I had written something very read worthy. I wanted people to read it and comment. I didn’t know how to make that happen so here is what I did…. we have to remember as much as we want people to comment on our posts, other bloggers want that too. We all write and want to talk books, I have not ever heard a blogger say… “I really don’t want people to comment”. I will tell you right now… I do. I want to know if you loved the same book I did or hated it, I want to chat with you about like reading tastes, or books that are suggested to me. I smile when I open my email and see I have comments to read on my posts. I do!
So – here (now that I get back on subject) is how I grew readers. I commented. A LOT. I would go and read blogs and comment on what they were talking about. I would click on the blogs on their sidebar that they read and comment there as well (See? That does work on sidebars, I still do that occasionally!) I would set a goal of trying to comment on twenty blogs a day – don’t be scared, I find I do not have time to do that consistently anymore…LOL. My point is, that many of those whose blogs I commented on would come and visit me as well. It’s true… I grew a readership, by being a good commenter. My hope was if they would visit me, they would read something they enjoyed enough to want to come back again….
and that what I just said is important, and leads me to my next point.
4. What ever do I post about…
Ok…. its go time. You are working on your readership, but when they arrive, you want to have something good front and center for them to ponder. It’s like… you are inviting company over. Most of us do a few things to our home before we do that. I, for instance, usually do a few extras before I invite people over to my home. I might dust the furniture. I for sure straighten up my piles of books and notes that are usually all over the place. I most likely will put out some refreshments. I want my guests to feel at home. Welcome.
Now think of that in blog terms. Before I would go out commenting and seeking readership, I made sure that whatever was the current post on my blog was one I wanted people to read and partake in discussing. I would have up a discussion post I was particularly proud of, or a review that I felt was timely and could create a buzz. I wanted people who came, perhaps for the first time to my blog, to make a note to come again. It’s not an exact science, but that is how I did it.
5. To meme or not to meme… that really is a good question.
Meme’s. Some people love them. Others do not. Are they a great way to drive traffic? You bet. Are they all you should blog about? Absolutely not.
Meme’s serve a great purpose and can be a lot of fun. I host the Monday, What Are You Reading? meme and love the people I have met through it who, as I had hoped, many have become regular readers. That meme has brought many people to Book Journey through the years and for that I am grateful. In fact in the early months I participated in many memes, which is fine – I would just encourage you to make sure you are not more memes that content.
What do I mean? If you are only doing memes or the majority meme’s, what draws in readers beyond the meme? As I mentioned above, memes are wonderful for bringing in new readers, and yes, some of those readers will only connect to you through that meme… but some, SOME will like your blog and want to come back to see what else you offer. My suggestion is a sprinkle of meme’s is a wonderful additive to your blog, but also be sure to have posts on what your blog is about …. is it book reviews? Then have book reviews, is it cooking? Then be posting those great recipes!
I like to mix meme’s with posts I am writing anyway. Alyce from At Home With Books hosts Saturday Snapshot which is posting pictures you have taken, and I tie that in with my Morning Meandering post which was going up anyway. On Fridays, Jen at Devourer of Books hosts Sound Bytes where you can link your audio reviews. I listen to so much audio I usually have an audio post going up anyway, and linking to her meme only helps drive more traffic to my review. Candice at Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking which is a great way to link up and reviews on cook books, or books that have inspired you to try to make something. Again, for me this is not an additional post, but a post of a review and food that was going to go up anyway.
6. Pages. A blogger’s best friend
Remember above I talked about cleaning up those sidebars? A lot of that sidebar stuff is good stuff.. things you do want to keep to the forefront without it looking sloppy. I mentioned I used to have a picture of each author I had interviewed on my sidebar. I still want my readers to have easy access to those posts, so I created a page for them. You will see under my header a bar that has titles like Home, About Me…. this is where I neatly can store information my readers may want access to. Want to know more about me? Click About me. Curious about my review policy (and seriously, if you do not have one… get one! Truly a lifesaver!), you can find my review policy easy enough. And those Author interviews? There they all are under author chats. I also have a page to keep track of my challenges in a neat space that does not add clutter to the blog.
I work with wordpress and do not know a lot about blogger but I believe Blogger must have pages that work similar to wordpress. Pages are wonderful for storing information you don’t necessarily need right on the post space unless someone clicks to get to it. I use pages for spoilers too.
7. I want to start my own read a longs, memes, weekly discussions….
Here is where I discuss my biggest epic fail when I was a new blogger. I loved that people were doing on their blogs… I loved the memes the regular scheduled discussions and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be original yet find ways to draw interest to the blog. (Seriously as you are reading this you are probably thinking, “dang Sheila, take a chill pill… RELAX!”) As in many of the projects I undertake, I wanted to really make my blog stand out…. and the things that came out of all that were things such as: I featured a book club of the week which involved people in books clubs getting a hold of me and answering a series of questions I would send them. Actually as I write this, I really loved that idea and still do, but what happened was I ran out of interested book clubs within about 5 weeks and so that died away. I created Wordshakers On-line book club which I also loved the idea of, but with my work life, active life, my own book club as well… I struggled to keep up with it and eventually it too fell to the way side and now I just try to do bi-monthly read a longs. Another, and a few of you will remember this one (Ryan, Laurel, Hannah, Alison…) I had a weekly meme called Word Balderdash where we would take the word verification from our comments and make up new meanings for them (ok that one was fun, it just never caught on…)
For giggles… here are a few of those from when this was active in 2009:
Revent: When one becomes so upset about something they have to just get it out so they vent about it. Then…. hours later, something triggers this anger again and causes one to revent.
Gaspr: Casper the Ghost’s annoying cousin. Due to Gaspr’s asma…. he is always trying to get in more air and creating breathy noises that really can ruin a good night of haunting. Since Casper is the friendly ghost, he often is the one chosen to hang out with Gaspr.
Cercula: Dracula’s half brother who has an inner ear infection which causes him to run in circles…. thus taking the fear factor away from potential victims as they can just…. well…… walk away.
AND my point is in talking about all of this is when you choose to start a meme or weekly discussion topic, whatever, try to be sure you are in it for the long haul. I don’t think it is bad to try new things and then they fall away, I just think I did it A LOT.
On a better note, there is one I tried that sticks to this day and that is the Morning Meanderings. In the early days, I only talked about books and never strayed from that topic. Then one day, I wanted to talk about crazy life happenings and I wrote a post called Morning Meanderings. I know I told people that this was me “unplugged”. I received email about that post from readers saying how much they liked reading about my life happenings. When I talked about my fitness triumphs and fails in the Meanderings, they liked that too, some saying I inspired them to get out and walk in the mornings. Mainly the meanderings were me picking on me… but readers like it. Many tell me they love to open up their email in the morning and see what I have going on next. The Morning Meanderings, stick to this day.
8. Social Media – yes? no? Maybe?
*sigh* I have a love hate relationship with social media. Mainly because to me, it is ONE MORE THING. And honestly, you don’ have to use social media, although I have to say I know it adds to my blogging relationships with other readers, and it adds to my blog. SO that said, here is what I use that works the best for me and my limited time. Twitter (can I get a “YEAH!”) While Twitter does take effort on my part, I can not deny that it it does build on my blogging experience. I use Twitter to link my posts… the good ones I will tweet about several times throughout the day to capture people on-line at different times. I only use Twitter for bookish friends… I have no other twitter account nor do I need one. Many people have a Facebook page that connects to their blog. I do not. There may be value to that, I just do not see it. One thing I can say I learned is that Pinterest is a great blog asset and thank you to Joy from Joy’s book blog sharing that information during the last Bloggiesta. By linking your reviews on Pinterest back to your blog, Joy shared that she has seen significant traffic coming from that direction. I actually created a Pinterest account off of that advice.
Bottom line for me on social media- if traffic driving, blog relationship building is important to you, Twitter and Pinterest are the two I suggest.
9. It’s Me! Sheila! Remember????
Blog identity. In 2009 Natasha from Maw Books drew my attention to this. Your blog should be identifiable to your readers. Its funny how that works. For me, I will be clicking over to read someones review and know where I am as I read the post due to the layout, the look, the feel of the blog. It is funny how that throws me off when someone changes up their blog look. I will know who’s blog I am going to and I will be reading a post when suddenly… I don’t know where I am. Seriously. I will quickly scroll to the top and identify the blog by the name, but the new layout will throw me off.
Now I like to change up the blog and have a history of doing this once a year, usually around Bloggiesta time when I am doing blog housekeeping and suddenly feel the need for change. Knowing how I feel when other bloggers do that (LOST!) this time I made my header identifiable to me. Yup… my pic is on it. That was more strategic than anything, I don’t mean strategic like sneaky…. but I mean so when someone came to Book Journey and went “WHOA!!! Where did I go?” When they looked at my header, they would know it was me. I am a reviewer who posts my picture frequently due to events I am in, group pics with friends etc, that makes me identifiable (that works for me – I know that is not something everyone wants to do)… Another cool side effect to that is, when I do things like go to BEA, people know me from my blog because they have seen what I look like. I like striking up conversations with readers so that is a plus for me.
Another thing on that blog identity… when I made my new business cards for BEA this year, I used my header on them. My thought behind this is you can pick up a lot of business cards at BEA and other bookish events… I wanted people to be able to identify the card to the blog instantly by them all matching.
10. It looks like people are visiting my blog by the hits, but I am not getting a lot of comments! (*this point was added on 6/18/12)
People are visiting.. your stats show that… but where are the comments? This can be frustrating. Here area few things I can think of that may help with that…
1. Does the way you write your posts encourage comments/discussion? On many of my posts, especially my non review ones, I ask a question at the end. It could be if people have had a similar experience and I encourage them to share. Try to think of ways to write your posts that encourage discussion.
2. Comment on the comments. When I first started blogging an incredible blogger called J Kaye was the first blogger I seen do this. She encouraged conversation, and when I would comment on her blog, she would respond. This honestly, would keep me coming back to see what she had to say. I always get excited now when I see other blogs doing that. It created conversation. It build up readers. I know this isn’t for everyone, this is just something I do and enjoy doing it.
3. Take a good look at how comments work on your blog. Is the comment area easy to see and use? I have been on blogs where I want to comment and actually can not figure out how! Depending on how much time I have, I will try to find the comment area, but sometimes I admit I have just given up in frustration and went away. Bottom line: you want to make sure commenting is easy to do if comments are something you value in your blog experience.
That’s all I have. This post was one I have wanted to write for a while, then thought nah… and then today when I thought I was sitting down to add links to posts I have put up the past few weeks, instead I started writing this. So – use any of it if you can… this may not work for everyone, but if there is any take away from this that you can use, then I am happy to have done that much