Building A Better Blog: An Addendum

Recently, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of enjoying two exceptional resources for building a successful blog.

Pro Blogger’s 31 Days to Building a Better Blog is an absolutely stellar collection of articles on the topic of building a successful blog of any kind. If you’re really serious about making a blog work, every article here is worth your time.

Free Money Finance‘s series on How to Get Your Blog to 100,000 Visitors and Beyond is similarly essential; although the advice is not quite as in-depth as the Pro Blogger information, it is much more structured and ordered, providing a clearer path to follow.

These two resources are essential reading for anyone who is trying to build a successful blog on any topic. If you read through those resources and take their ideas to heart, you will find much greater success that you would have possibly believed with your blog.

But there’s still more.

As I was reading through these resources, I reflected on my experiences as a blogger for several years prior to starting The Simple Dollar. In that time, I learned many, many painful lessons about what it really takes to be a successful blogger, and I was looking for particular items that would be of use to new bloggers. While these articles contained almost everything I could think of, there were still a few more points that weren’t strongly covered in those resources.

In short, here are eleven little ideas that I’ve found to be highly useful in making the first few weeks of The Simple Dollar a great success. Consider them to merely be addendums to the stellar advice given above.

Decide before you even start if you’re seriously committed to making the site a widely-read success or if you’re just doing it for fun. If you’re just doing it for the joy of occasionally posting something, most of this advice simply won’t apply to you. Blogging for the pure joy of blogging is great – it is a release of writing anxiety that’s there whenever you need an outlet. However, if you want to reach a wide audience, you’re going to need a bit of discipline.

Clearly define what your topic and target audience are going to be. This is a common item that many guides to blogging mention, but they miss one key caveat: even if you define your topic, who are you going to be talking to? For The Simple Dollar, the primary audience is people between the ages of 21 and 39 who have generally experienced a significant debt load at some point. Using this description, I can add a lot of potential attributes to my audience: they’re usually college educated, they’re usually aware of the cultural touchstones of Generation X and Y, and so forth. Defining my audience in this way helps me to write things that my readers will enjoy.

Define your posting schedule, but make it something you can realistically maintain. The best way to do this is to try it out. Start yourself off with a rather anonymous blog and see how much you naturally post. Your posting schedule should be about 60% of this. For example, on an average writing session for this site, I can write about ten posts worth of content (I’m kind of a writing freak – not many people can write ten posts the length of those that appear on here every day and stay sane, but it is cathartic for me). This means that I stick to a rough schedule of six posts a day. What about those other four posts? We’ll get to that.

The reason you want to define your posting schedule is because your readers will come to expect writing from you, and they’ll regularly come back for it if you’re posting with regularity. A schedule merely ensures that you’ll maintain that regularity.

Never launch a site unless you have two weeks’ worth of posts already written. I’ve given this suggestion to many others, but few have followed it. Here’s why you should do this: let’s say you launch your site on a Monday and you begin posting one post a day. You do fine with this for a week, then suddenly you are called away on a short emergency trip and you can’t post for two days. Suddenly, your blog hasn’t been updated for three days and it appears semi-abandoned to the casual visitor. That’s not what you want to ever show.

So cover yourself by getting two weeks’ worth of posts in the bag before you even start. Set them up so they will automatically publish according to your posting schedule (you are using WordPress or Movable Type and not Blogger, aren’t you?). That way, if you launch and then suddenly an emergency happens, your site can roll along without you.

Never allow yourself to not have a weeks’ worth of posts already written and set to publish. Continuing the above thought, you should always maintain a week’s worth of buffer in case bad things happen to you. Have you ever read a post at a blog that said “Wow, I’ve been sooooo busy and I haven’t been able to write for the last week.” Did that inspire you to continue to read that blog? Whenever you find yourself not posting, or posting an excuse like that, you’re losing whatever audience you’ve built up. Don’t let an emergency or a sudden priority shift derail your blog and your steady audience growth.

Don’t worry if your site statistics don’t rise dramatically, especially at first. It will take a very, very long time to reach some of the six or seven digit numbers that some bloggers talk about in terms of visitors. Rather than feeling bad because you’re only getting twenty visitors a day, compare that number to the same day two weeks ago. If you were getting fifteen then, then you have built a 33% traffic increase in the last two weeks. Rather than making it your goal to have 5,000 visitors in the third week of your blog (a goal you’re almost guaranteed to fail at), make it your goal to increase your traffic by an average of 10% a week. See what your first week’s worth of traffic is, then set your goals for the next, say, twelve months. Each week, take a look at your user numbers and see if they beat your goal. This is very easy to track in Excel and it gives you a healthy metric to see repeated success in your blog, rather than repeated disappointment that you didn’t make some abstract number of visitors that you invented in your head.

Traffic builds on itself. Traffic builds in a slow exponential fashion over time if you maintain a constant posting schedule for your blog. Here’s why: each time you post, you add another page to your site, thus steadily increasing the number of pages that a search engine visitor might find. If that post is good, that search engine visitor might stick around for a while, bookmark the site, and visit again in the future. Every visitor that sticks around for a while has at least a slight chance of spreading the word to other potential readers. So, over time as you add more pages, you will get more “random” visitors. If those random visitors stick because of your content… you get the picture.

If you want to really see this at work, let’s say that you have 10 visitors a day for your first week and 2 a day on that weekend. If you make it your goal right off the bat to simply increase your visitors by 10% each week, something you can easily accomplish by actively commenting on posts and linking to other writers, you’ll be receiving more than a thousand visitors a day by the end of the year.

Don’t worry about search engine optimization or proper ad placement; readers are there for content and content alone. People come to a site to find good, unique content. When they find good things, they are happy and are much more likely to keep reading your site. They’ll link to your site on your own and thus take care of the search engine optimization for you. As for ad placement, a happy reader is more open to suggestion, so a subtly placed ad near good content will always be more effective than “hit you over the head with a sledgehammer” ads. You might get more clicks, but your traffi growth will be much slower and you’ll lose in the long run.

If slow traffic growth gets you down, just look at where you were when your blog was half as old as it is now. This always cheers me up. If I look at the traffic of The Simple Dollar even just two weeks ago, I feel much more confident about how my site is doing, even if my growth in the very recent past hasn’t been all that great.

If you’re struggling for new content for the beast, look for opportunities to write series of posts, as they give you ready-made topics. One good way is to find a list on a particular topic of interest, then criticize that list point by point. Another way is to generate a lengthy list of your own creation, then devote a post to each point. You can also make a “meta” post that includes all of the writings. This is a good way to generate a long list of potential topics for yourself.

When you write, make sure to put a key point in bold every paragraph or two. Particularly in long posts such as this, people aren’t actually going to read every word of it. So help them glean the content by bolding major points so that casual readers can get the meat out of your writing.

These eleven pointers are all essential in building a long-term healthy blog.

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