11 steps for getting the most out of your writing blog in 2011
Blogging — the convention’s been around long enough that most of us are over how funny this quirky, little verb sounds. I’m sure you already know that a blog is; it’s an online journal in which people write and publish posts about their lives and hobbies and sometimes receive feedback from others. Knowing the definition of “blog” is the easy part — do you know what a blog can do for you as a writer? The answer’s simple: anything you want it to.
I’m definitely not guaranteeing that a big book-movie deal will spring from your blog, but it’s always a remote possibility (an important part of being a writer is holding out for greatness against infinitesimal odds — you have to be your own biggest fan). At the very least, having a blog will boost your web presence, lead to valuable intra-craft connections and keep you writing.
I’ve been blogging for AnnArbor.com for about a year and a half now but only recently set up my own private reading-writing blog on Wordpress.com. Through trial and error and a lot of hard work, I’ve been able to get my blog to over 250 hits per day within less than two weeks. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of visibility — especially if you’re an aspiring writer.
Here are 11 steps for getting the most out of your writing blog this year:
- Make your blog user-friendly—If your blog is easy to navigate, users are more likely to stick around and check out its offerings. Tag and categorize your posts with clear and decisive labels. Set up various subpages to further filter information, especially if your blog covers more than one topic. It also helps to add in widgets that offer the viewer the option of jumping to posts by category or date. These organizational steps combined with a bit of artistic flair give your site a more professional, authoritative feeling.
- Post regularly—You don’t want to be a sitting duck. Make your blog interesting, dynamic, and relevant. Post often, but not so often that you overwhelm your subscribers with update spam. The biggest challenge for many would-be writers is getting into the habit of writing. If you make it a point to blog 250 words per day, you’ll soon get into the writing groove. Once you’re reliably posting that amount, you can increase the word count or designate some of your daily writing time to work on a novel or short story.
- Use the advanced spellchecker—This feature is one of the greatest things to ever happen to me as a writer—I’m not exaggerating! The Wordpress.com advanced spelling and grammar checker is a God-sent. Even though Microsoft Word’s standard spellchecker is a good thing to have, aren’t you sometimes frustrated when it doesn’t pick up a usage mistake (like “their,” “they’re” or “there”) just because the word is technically spelled correctly? Wordpress’s spellchecker can pick up on this type of usage error. You can also customize its options to check for biased language, clichÃ©s, complex phrases, diacritical marks, double negatives, hidden verbs, jargon, passive voice and redundant phrases.
- Pay attention to your site stats—Wordpress keeps track of a number of usage statistics, including your page views, top posts and pages, referrers (sites that led viewers to your blog via link), incoming links (other blogs or websites that permalink to your blog), clicks (links that viewers click on within your blog) and search engine terms. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the hit counter, watching it go up and up, and feeling giddy each time that it does. However, the most useful stat is actually the list of top posts and pages. It shows you which pieces of your site viewers are connecting with the most — pay attention and try to write more posts along those same lines.
- Engage your readership—If someone posts a comment on your blog, post one back. Provide your viewers with advice, answers to their questions and a sense of community. Ask them what kind of content they would like to see on the site and listen to their answers.
- Add your site to blog search engines—Blog search engines categorize blogs by topic and keyword, connecting those who have an interest in your blogging topic with your site and maximizing your visibility. Some search engines require you to pay for their surfaces, some ask that you post a badge on your blog, and others ask for nothing in return. If you want to see an example of search engine badges, click here and scroll down.
- Establish a fan page on Facebook—This will further increase your visibility and allow less web-savvy users access to your site. Set up an RSS feed of your blog on your fan page and post regular status updates to intrigue users. You can also guilt your friends and family into following you.
- Tweet, tweet and tweet some more—I started using Twitter about a week ago. At first I didn’t understand its benefits, but after reading an entire book which taught me how to mold Twitter into the platform that would best serve me (AKA “Twitter for Dummies”), I see that Twitter is perhaps my most useful networking tool for my work as a writer. Tweet about writing and topics on your blog. Do a search of keywords and hashtags like #writing, #amwriting, #wip and the like to connect with other writers. Build a following. You can also channel your RSS feed to Twitter.
- Visit related blogs and post comments—It’s all about building a community of like-minded people. Engage others who blog about the same topics that you do. They just might come over and check out your blog. Maybe you’ll find a new friend in the process. One writing-publishing blog that I follow obsessively is www.nathanbrandsford.com. This site has a huge following with well-thought-out posts and an extremely active set of forums.
- Post on trendy or seasonal topics—I’m not asking you to completely change the focus of your blog and be a trend chaser. Instead write posts about how the latest news or the current holiday season relates to your topic of choice. One example would be the piece I wrote about resolving to read more in 2011.
- Create a team of blog contributors—By involving other writers on your blog, you’re doing something that is mutually beneficial for both parties. You’ll gain new content for your blog and maybe get a bit of rest for the day. Now let’s say that your guest writer has no blogging platform of his own—by posting on your site, he’ll reach the audience that frequents your blog, thus gaining some exposure for himself. If your guest writer does have a blog, he’ll reach your readership in addition to his own, plus his followers may hop on over to check out your blog. Win-win.
That’s it! As always I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have about this post or writing in general. Happy blogging!
*Please note: Since I blog with Wordpress.com (not .org — know the difference), some of my tips are Wordpress-centric. You should still be able to take these tips and adapt them for other blogging platforms without too much difficulty.
Melissa LR Handa is the founder and organizer for the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group and the Lead Books Contributor for AnnArbor.com. She is also an aspiring novelist, busily spinning her paranormal YA yarn, Farsighted, while seeking publication for her multicultural work of literary fiction, The Iron Pillar. You can learn more about Melissa by visiting her website: www.emlynchand.com.