So. The urge to write is burning in you. You’re thinking of telling your stories. You want to open yourself to the world via a blog.
Right now, your mind is swirling with questions: Plug-ins and themes, SEO and followers. You wonder what platform to use. Simultaneously, you’re “confronting the nameless fears that accompany launching your work into the big, wide world,” as Blogger To Be Kate Lyons so eloquently puts it.
What if you put yourself out there and it sucks? What if people hate you? Or, worse, ignore you? What if it’s not any good and your friends think bad things about you? What if you’re really not cut out for this? What if you get started and then you stop and you’re one of those millions of blogs with like three entries and they’re all two years old?
The first thing I want to tell you is: Don’t be afraid.
Every blogger in the history of blogging started from zero. So will you. You may even suck at first (I did). I’ve been blogging, off and on, for more than seven years, and I can tell you that your fears are nothing compared to what you will gain from the endeavor. Do it.
You don’t even need help. You don’t need this blog entry, you don’t need your friends egging you on, you can do this alone. But since nobody wants to do it alone, I give you permission to procrastinate just a little longer, while you check out my list of 23 things I think you will want to know:
- Fear is your biggest obstacle to accomplishment. Whatever you are afraid of, don’t be. It’s going to be okay.
- Blogging will make you a better writer. It’s a fact of life that if you want to be good at something, you gotta practice. Blogging provides not only an opportunity for practice, but also a unique way of receiving feedback. Powerful combination.
- Blogging will help you find your tribe. People will find you, and you will find them, and you will make friends who share your values and your interests, and some of these people–most of whom you will never meet–will become some of your best friends.
- You’re going to screw up. And that’s okay. Screwing up is how we learn. Be bold, make mistakes, and say, “Oh, hey, I learned something new. Awesome.”
- Take the slow road. Patience here is a virtue. Sure, you could be a prodigy, but what is the fun in that? A child who hits her peak of performance at the age of nine, what does that profit her? Consider instead climbing steadily and with enjoyment toward your peak, rather than burning it out all at once. Be patient. You are building a body of work, not a single flash-in-the-pan one-hit wonder here. Give it time.
- You will change your theme about a hundred times before you find the one you like. Then you will change it again in six months. Don’t stress.
- It does get easier. All the bells and whistles will start to feel intuitive, and someday you won’t remember why WordPress (or Blogger or whatever) ever seemed hard. For now, just play. Don’t stress. It’ll come.
- Choosing your blog platform is not a life or death decision. WordPress is a more powerful platform, giving you all the functionality of a full website, and full control over the look and functionality of your site. It’s also more complicated and, if you’re using the free version, will post ads to your site. You have to pay a fee to get the financial benefit and/or control over those ads. Blogspot/Blogger is simpler to use and allows you to place ads on your site that pay you when people click on them (or to not have ads at all), but it’s more limited in terms of functionality and appearance. Ultimately, however, the choice is a minor one. If you change your mind, you can always switch. You’re probably going to start about fifteen different blogs over the course of your career anyway, we all do. Don’t stress.
- You won’t have a following at first. That’s okay. Just start. Even Jesus didn’t have followers when he started.
- You can build a following if you want one. Some people just want to write, and if someone finds them, great. Other people are driven to share their stories with as large an audience as possible. Wherever you fall on the spectrum is fine. If you do want to build a following, you can. I’ve included some beginner’s tips at bottom.
- But most of your friends won’t follow you. Sure, lots will come check out your blog when you first post about it on Facebook (but some will click “like” without actually reading your blog, and you will know this, because you will go check your blog stats and it won’t show any views yet even though two people clicked “like” and you will feel indignant and want to rant about it. Don’t. It’s okay. They’re just excited for you, but don’t have time to read right now. It’s okay). Everyone will click through when you post that awful one about that thing that happened to you that you later wish you had kept to yourself, so no worries. But for the most part, most of your friends are not *that* interested in reading your blog. Let it go. You will find a tribe that does want to read your blog, and you will build your relationships with your other friends in other ways.
- You don’t have to have a niche. It’s popular among “how to build a following” experts to cite the importance of focusing on a single topic or area of interest. And indeed, if you do this, you will find it easier to build an initial audience. But what if you don’t know what you want to focus on? What if you don’t want to focus at all–you just want to write? Forcing yourself into a niche early on is only going to stifle your creativity. Don’t worry about it just yet. Blog in order to find out what you want to write about. Don’t let the desire to “build a following” become a strait jacket.
- Plug-ins are great. You will find some you love and others that mess you up. Don’t worry too much–just get started. But when you’re ready, here are a few of my favorites: Yoast makes SEO easy, Jetpack site stats are a blast, and Akismet will reduce the amount of spam you have to delete.
- It’s okay if you get started and then stop. Most bloggers go through periods–sometimes years–where they don’t update their blogs. Even famous bloggers. If you never pick it up again, you will still keep the skills and the lessons you’ve learned. And if you do pick it up again, or change tacks, or start a whole new blog and abandon the old one, that’s all okay too. Blogging is a game, so play it. If you want to settle in and become dedicated to it, you will eventually. Don’t ever beat yourself up.
Okay, I promised some tips on building a blog following. I believe in the slow road to growth, but if you’re eager to start getting readers, here are some ways to speed the process a bit. You don’t have to do all of these things to see benefits–any of them will build followers. The more of them you implement, the faster the growth. Just be careful and don’t burn yourself out.
Growing Your Following
- Produce great content. Look, this is the bottom line. You can play all the games in the world but ultimately, if the content sucks, the only “people” who will come back for more are spam bots and link farms. Focus first on exercising your writer muscles, and getting good at this thing.
- Develop an interesting voice. People don’t read blogs in order to get dry news or information. They can get that from Wikipedia and news outlets. They want to see a unique take, an interesting angle, or a fun voice to listen to. It’s like going out to coffee: Would you rather discuss the news with George of the Monotone Voice and All the Info, or with Shelley of the vivacious wit and pealing laughter? Be Shelley. No, no. Don’t be Shelley. Be you: You in the full glory of your most true and open self. That is what you can do better than anyone else in the world, so do it.
- Engage with other bloggers. Bloggers tend to be blog readers (and followers). Check out blogs you’re interested in, and post in their comments section. They’ll love you for it and they’ll come check yours out. Don’t by any means limit yourself only to uber popular blogs. The less well traveled bloggers will be grateful for your interest and more likely to engage with you in return. Of course, a great comment on a popular blog can also drive readers over to check you out, so balance your approach.
- Push every entry out on social media. Not all your friends will follow you, but the more you are in front of them, the more they will become interested in what you have to say. This is also a great way to strengthen your muscles at headline writing–you’ll learn over time which headlines attract the most attention. You’ll also develop social media followers this way, and it allows your friends to share your content with others in their network. Don’t worry about annoying people: They can ignore you if they want to.
- And engage with others on their social media. The more you engage with others, the more they want to engage with you. Sometimes, posting an apt comment on someone else’s update will send potential followers over to your profile to check you out.
- Engage in relevant forums. Participants in forums tend to be avid blog readers. The more you engage in a community with quality comments, the more they’re going to want to see what you’re up to on your blog. Most forums allow you to post a link to your blog in your sig line: Do it.
- Post on timely topics. People love to read about the news of the day, whether it’s a holiday, or breaking news, or a “National Donut Day.” Post about what everyone’s talking about, and you’ll see must faster engagement and more shares.
- Post frequently. This 30-day challenge has been an interesting exercise in watching how the frequency of my posting increases views, even in proportion to the number of posts. This works. It’s also one way to fast-track your skills along with your following.
- Check out advanced techniques. A quick Google will give you lots of resource lists of advice. There are many advanced techniques for building a blog that can give you a fast start. Just be careful. Slow growth has one huge advantage over fast growth: It allows you to build your voice and your skills as you build your following.
One final, very important note: Don’t let anything in this entry intimidate you. Blogging is actually very simple: Start a blog. Write in it. That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Everything else will come. Just get started.
Okay. What are you still reading for? Go forth and blog!
P.S. After you get yours set up and going, come back and leave me a comment. I’ll come check yours out and leave a comment too. Your first step toward building engagement. Go, you!