Updated August 10, 2012
Five years of blogosphere exploration and 18 months working on my two Opuses of Immeasurable Import have taught me a lot about what works well on a blog. Here are 21 points that come up over and over. Some might seem heartless, but the more blogs I read, the less time I have, and the faster I have to judge the credibility of any new one I’m introduced to.
1. Practice posting for three months. Don’t announce your opus to the world until you know you can keep up a regular writing schedule. 99.95% of bloggers don’t make it that far.
2. Expect resounding disinterest. Almost no one you mention your blog to will visit it or ask you about it, no matter how close you are. Nooooooo one.
3. “Don’t talk about your blog to people who don’t blog. They don’t get it, they don’t care, and now they think you are lame.” This quote from a commenter on this Mommy Wants Vodka’s post sums it up nicely. I would add that if you suspect your loved ones are embarrassed for you for blogging, you’re probably right.
4. Beware the self-hating blogger. You approach them eager to talk shop and are rewarded with scorn and sarcasm. Have pity. They too have been scarred by the shattering apathy of the non-blogging world.
Avoid Use the condensed summary display carefully. It will repel even rabid fans of your topic. I would spend hour upon hour at disinformation.com if it weren’t for the fact that you have to hit MORE to read what often turns out to be the last five words of the article. Here’s a site that uses it well.
6. Make a favicon. It takes some doing to create a legible design, but it’s a nice bit of branding.
7. Know how your posts display in RSS readers. In some platforms, images do crazy things and edits made to an already-published post won’t flush through to the RSS.
8. Use an SEO plug-in. It allows you to compose the search engine headline and blurb yourself instead of relying on Google et al to compile it from your headline and the first few lines of copy.
9. If it doesn’t feel too weird, identify yourself prominently. Visitors don’t care if it’s not your real or full name or even if your photo or caricature isn’t all that detailed. You’ll still engage with more people.
10. Avoid free-verse formatting. If you write sentence – blank line – sentence, people will assume you can’t organize your thoughts, and/or will be unwilling to spend twice the normal scrolling time to get the gist of them.
11. Use stock photos sparingly. They are generic, almost meaningless data. If you use a lot of them, or in large sizes, people will assume your copy is the same.
12. Don’t post a post saying you won’t be posting. You’ve just wasted my time. When you amass 200,000 rabid followers who threaten suicide on Twitter in your absence, then you can have your personal assistant do it.
13. Know what fluff is. Fluff is a post with a lone inspirational quote, or one line linking to someone else’s post. That’s what Twitter’s for.
14. Think before you rant. If you do it too much it dilutes your message. A lot of people also find ranting stressful to read. I do not read ranters.
15. Keep yourself in perspective. On their own, your opinions are neither unique nor particularly interesting. It’s the observations, knowledge and experience framing those opinions that people will be drawn to. Establish that context first.
16. Edit carefully. It’s not just a matter of following convention. It’s about sparing your visitors from distraction. If I stumble twice over your punctuation, I’ll stop reading.
17. Define your mandate and stick to it. It takes effort but you’ll build a consistent body of work.
18. Let your schedule dictate your social media. Decide how much time you can allot to it and work from there. Don’t let the choices overwhelm you.
19. Create a template for your images. Uniform sizing and matching borders look more polished. Online photo editing tools make this pretty easy now.
20. Comment intelligently. You’ll read over and over that the key to building traffic to your site is to leave comments on other blogs. A generic remark like “great post!” might get mistaken for spam, so be sure to refer to the post topic in the comment.
21. Keep text ads out of the body copy. Ditto the space below the header. It’s annoying.
Illustration: screenshot from favicon.cc, which I sadly cannot recommend as a good favicon generator. By MRhea.