As a food and travel writer, I rely on my blog as my lifeline. It helps me connect with my readers and is a wonderful platform to make my voice heard. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of work to learn how to keep my online presence interesting, fresh and inviting.
As the Internet is flooded with more and more blogs each day, it’s more important than ever for writers to understand strategies that both attract and retain followers. “The most successful bloggers are the ones who are both useful and entertaining,” says Jaden Hair, steamykitchen.com power blogger.
Still, knowing what you need to do in theory and actually putting it into practice are two different things—and on my path of trial and error, my mistakes were just as valuable as my successes. They taught me what not to do.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most important don’ts I’ve learned along the way.
1. Post too infrequently.
I used to have a gorgeous blog that I never got around to updating. This was the kiss of death: No new information equals no new—or repeat—visitors. Plus, updating your blog regularly with relevant, current information can lead to major opportunities. Just ask Diana Burrell, the American blogger behind Hail Britannia (hailbritannia.com), a site devoted to all things British culture. When Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson was caught in a newspaper sting, Burrell knew it would be a big story in the U.S. because of Ferguson’s affiliation with Weight Watchers. So she posted a note about it on her blog and within hours got a call from the BBC World Service asking to interview her.
Burrell’s story is proof that online as in print, simply being timely can generate reader interest. This strategy has also worked for Dr. Irene Levine, who blogs as The Friendship Doctor for The Huffington Post (huffington
post.com) and Psychology Today (psychologytoday.com). When a certain starlet was incarcerated, Levine wrote a post titled “An Open Letter to Lindsay Lohan: You need the right kind of friends.” It drew hundreds of interested visitors to the blog.
2. Post too often.
Unless your topic demands frequent updating, needless posts will only overwhelm readers. And Steven Shaw,
director of New Media Studies at The International Culinary Center and founder of egullet.org, adds that if you update too much or too little or on anything other than a regular schedule, people stop paying attention. Period.
3. Turn off comments.
“Blogs are about community and interaction. If you turn off comments, you’re basically putting in earplugs and asking people to listen to you ramble,” says food blogger Michael Ruhlman (ruhlman.com), whose posts can earn comments well into the hundreds. Levine agrees—and adds that as a bonus to remaining open, comments from readers can become fodder for subsequent posts.
4. Be overly snarky.
While a sarcastic or wry post once in a while can be funny, if you do it too often, you might come off as bitter or even lacking class—especially if your comments are directed at your readers. Better to create a place where visitors will feel comfortable commenting.
5. Choose poor photos.
Illustrating your posts with quality imagery is particularly important for writers in the lifestyle genre. I often pay an amateur photographer to do food shoots for me, and it has increased my traffic tremendously. But what if your subject matter is more serious, like Lisa Bonchek Adams’ blog about surviving breast cancer (lisabonchekadams.com)?
Adams never used to post photos, but changed her strategy once she saw that her readers respond to visuals as well as words. “I started to realize that the pictures really seemed to round out my heartfelt blog posts,” she says. “Now, I almost always post them at the end of the piece, as if to say, ‘Here’s what I am talking about.’ ” For example, she used personal photos as teaching tools about reconstruction after a double mastectomy.
If your posts don’t lend themselves to imagery, you’re probably better off with no photos at all than with low-
quality or unrelated ones. “I think the ultimate goal of a blog is to communicate, so if your writing is really powerful and engaging, the graphics are much less important,” says Susan Orlean, New Yorker staff blogger (newyorker.com/online/blogs/susanorlean). “I think a blog needs to be attractive and navigable, but it can be simple, even plain, if the idea of what it is and the thoughts being conveyed are powerful.”
6. Wax poetic about just anything.
I used to fall into this trap—I’d talk about whatever came to mind. After all, it was my blog, right? But readers were confused by this. If they don’t know what to expect when they visit, they might not visit at all. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be creative with your posts, but you should concentrate your creativity around your focus area. So if you write about automobiles, then a post about your doctor’s advice to eat more fiber does not have a place on your blog.
7. Neglect to read other blogs.
I used to tell myself I didn’t have the time to peruse the rest of the blogosphere. But then I learned that if I don’t care about others, they won’t care about me. Blogging is about give and take. Now I regularly visit a lot of different blogs, in different genres. All of them give me great ideas on how to make mine better, and are a gold mine for sources and experts.
8. Refrain from comment.
If you don’t feel as if you have anything really critical to say, why comment on other people’s blog posts? “Blogging is all about community,” emphasizes Shauna James Ahern, whose dietary lifestyle blog (glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com) commands a devoted readership. “It’s not about getting a book deal or a television show, although those might come out of this experience for a lucky few. It’s about sharing and discovery, communion and hilarious stories.” Successful writers know a great way to begin doing this is to interact with other bloggers by leaving thoughtful comments (along with a link to your own URL, of course!) on their sites.
9. Get carried away.
Blog readers are drawn not to 3,000-word essays, but to posts of bite-sized info. “As a blogger, you must be your own editor,” award-winning food blogger Cheryl Sternman Rule (5secondrule.typepad.com) says. “Make your point, and make it well, but also know when to stop writing.”
Still, don’t force any given post into a format that’s not right for what you want to say. In blogging, as with any other type of writing, the message itself is more important than the word count. Michelle V. Rafter, who blogs about freelancing and online media (michellerafter.com), points out that popular blogs are all over the place in terms of post lengths. Hers tend to range from 250–1,000 words.
10. Be self-centered.
“The most successful long-term bloggers are good at pointing to great content (including [content] by other folks) in their specific areas,” says Sree Sreenivasan, a professor who teaches digital media, including blogging and social media, at Columbia Journalism School. “So if you want to fail, only talk about yourself, your ideas and your projects.”
One final point: Blogs don’t stand on their own; readers need to be able to find them. This means you need to promote your blog so that it will be linked to on other blog rolls, and talked about on social media like Facebook and Twitter. This is what really helps build and drive traffic. I posted on Twitter for a while about what I was making for dinner and linked it back to my blog. As a result, I got assignments from companies asking me to develop recipes—which is proof that there are millions of readers out there just waiting for you to reach them.
This article was written by Monica Bhide.
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