Two things prompted me to write this article: a couple of blogs that I follow, and the fact that I have never addressed the personal blogging scene very often in my considerable years of blogging.
Firstly, I will not detail the incidents themselves, but you might gather they broke or gravely bent these rules; and, secondly, I believe strongly in sharing what I have learnt with people who can put aside their ego and listen.
What can I expect from following all this, and when?
Now that that is done, here are a bunch of things most personal bloggers will never bother to practice because they are not blogging on a professional capacity. But these are things that you, as a personal blogger, should adopt.
Following what I detail below will help you create a more targeted community. It will help robotic evaluations better grade your blog and hence what you write will reach people you meant it to. It will, in general, make you blog more active and keep you on the safe side of the data gathering line i.e. those rules which are used to determine, across the internet, whether your writing is worth others’ time and is to be shared, or whether it is to be blocked.
How long will it take for results to show? Well, that depends on you and how strictly and closely you follow this.
Does it really work? It worked for me. I have several thousand people reading what I write, among my daily unique visitors, visitors who stay to read multiple articles, subscribers and other contacts, minus 40% of the total of them. So, if it worked for me, I do not see how it will not work for you.
You can continue reading, or stop right away for one of two reasons: you doubt me, or you hate me. I doubt you’ll doubt me given that you are on my website. But if you stop reading before the first point here because you posses a heated feeling of dislike towards me, you are the loser. (Look at what I did there.)
1. Site indexes and sitemaps
Amidst the enthusiasm of creating a blog or website, many first-timers (including me several years ago) think the work is done when the site is live and people are visiting it every now and then. What gets you more public attention, however, are robotic elements that cannot read your wonderful, flowery English.
Sitemaps literally tell these robots something like, “Here, this is my site and these are all the places you can go from all these places. These are interesting bits, so make sure you keep them on your list.” Well, not quite, but you get the point.
How do you make one of these sitemaps/indexes? If you are on WordPress, a sitemap is already made for you at /sitemap.xml and it conforms to the Google protocol.
In spite of this, it is always a good idea to create a human-readable site index if your blog has a complicated set up. To create a site index for a blog that is laid out, say, with a static home page and a blog page with five categories and three pages and some custom organisation, create a formatted list like I have done below and save it at /siteindex.
- Category 1
- Category 2
- Category 3
- Category 4
- Category 5
- Custom organisation
- Page 2
- Page 3
- Page 1
Photo courtesy: INPIVIC
2. Revisions after publication
Depending on your blog (its size, popularity and so on) different robots index it at different frequencies. For instance, larger group blogs are indexed almost continuously, personal blogs with larger readerships, such as this one, are indexed anywhere from once to several times a day; smaller personal blogs may often only be indexed weekly or if you blog at a snail’s pace (nothing wrong with that) your site will be indexed just as fast — or slowly, perhaps.
This means, first of all, that smaller blogs have greater latitude in terms of how often they can keep correcting and rewriting their posts. Larger blogs almost always cannot. So far, I have never done it myself.
This is also an ethical question. Spend enough time in the blogosphere and you will learn a very important practice: once a structural or contextual change has been pointed out, mark it down at the head or tail of the article; making revisions or corrections after the fact is frowned upon, and rightly so. It is often equated to denying a statement made publicly.
If you have made a mistake that has been spotted, once you acknowledge that mistake; and if it is something all your other readers should know as well, simply add to the article a small note or update. Adding will not hurt site indexing as much as overwriting or completely re-writing.
3. Never lose target
You may be a personal blogger, but a targeted website gives authentic reason to follow you. If you write about your day with your stationery very often, do not give it up in favour of metaphysical posts.
Sometimes you just have to hit within the dartboard.
Photo courtesy: Raghul Selvam
This is something I myself had to do very recently. Ever since I shifted my focus to increasingly personal-style articles, I have been confusing readers, robots and aliens alike. For instance, several prestigious and lesser-known educational institutions alike have linked to my articles on how I use various software and hardware for college, especially this Evernote for college article. Why link to me and not just as often to, say, Engadget or Mashable? Authenticity and consistency.
Authenticity in that I am in the same position as my readers and it only makes sense to read a thing or two about college from a college-goer rather than a forty-year-old man who went to college when things were radically different and could not wrap his mind around how things work no matter how tech-savvy he may be.
Consistency because it has helped me establish my blog as a trusted source. It has been verified by Google, the largest indexer around, and several blogging communities; what this means is that people trust what I write (and it is a responsibility to keep that), and people will read what I write.
This helps gain an audience no matter how small you are as a blog or website. I, for one, enjoy hearing more real people’s opinions about gadgets and their experiences than that of a large website with 70 articles a day frequency. Why those large websites then? There are some things smaller bloggers cannot cover, like exclusive WWDC updates or live blogging of some uber-costly events.
So you get the point: write with a scope and stick to it. Because, no matter how differently you may think, a single bloggers views are not only considered more connect-able with than an organisation’s, but also more trustworthy. Think of it as listening to an opinion about company X’s product from a lay user as opposed to an employee of X.
4. Article length is extremely important
Google is getting intelligent by the month. Why do I fixate on Google? Because Google is the largest, and often, what Google creates other search engines try to follow in a bid to keep up. And a key element of Google’s verification of content trustworthiness is article length.
If somebody asked you a question with an answer simple enough, you would hardly try to point them to a 600 page book to read. Similarly, Google not only checks frequency (too often is as bad as too infrequently publishing) but also on word length. For starting blogs with lesser readership, you will need to work on serving readers’ interest as quickly as you can.
As your reader base grows (and by this I refer to your regular reader base) you can increase your article length. This not only is a surefire indication of trustworthiness, it also ranks you higher when indexed. That is why I have come to view writing longer articles as a privilege more than anything else.
My articles are routinely 1000+ words in length. My important articles (those I know will attract more readers) have gone as high as 3000 words, or are at least 2000 words on average. Why bother writing so long if nobody reads it?
So start with a modest length of 500. Try not to go below that. 500 to 600 at first and go as far as 1000 once you have readers. Readership coupled with long articles that are actually read implies credibility.
5. Categories and tags are your both friends and enemies
Now watch me. Michael Schumacher. Because I said Michael Schumaker (and there, I said it a second time) it does not give me the right to tag my article as Michael Schumacher.
This is known as false tagging or (in case of categorisation) false categorisation. You may have a genuine reason for doing this (e.g. it’s April first) but the rest of the world cares little. Misrepresentation of data contained in your article will give you the blogging equivalent of a jail term.
Most services briefly ban you from being listed, so the only way people will find out about your blog over the next month or even year is by your telling them — not very promising.
Looking for a nudge in the right direction? I have tagged this article blog, personal, sitemap, and word count; and I have filed it under blogging.
Your everyday blogger isn’t filthy rich.
Photo courtesy Happy Bushra
6. Squash your expectations
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but whatever high expectations you had about blogging are not going to come to you anytime soon. The only reason I have no problem blogging religiously is because my blog can pay for itself, or at least because I come from a background of blogging for both a larger conglomerate and having run for many years an established popular science website.
But of course, that was not in my nature, so I handed the reigns to somebody else, shut down that website and decided to concentrate on building my personal website here on VHBelvadi.com. It is also why I never state that I was editor of a popular science website before. I wanted to build this one on my own, not by stealing readers.
What I mean to say is that unless you had been blogging for profit or had been a terribly popular blogger within your niche, the chances are slim that you will get more than a few hundred readers even at your peak. My average, at the start, was a puny 500 readers a day. And, ads or no ads, you will not get enough money to do anything right as a personal blogger.
My overall point is that by putting aside these unrealistic aims, you will be able to concentrate on realistic ones and gain a community around your blog. Also, do not go by comments: they do not mean a thing, really.
You can also read my previous collection of tips targeted towards personal bloggers. Or you can disregard my advice completely. But these are simple no-brainers that just work. If you don’t feel like blogging, you will enjoy this article I wrote a long time ago, aptly titled, “I don’t feel like blogging.”
Happy blogging. Send me your blog addresses and I’ll definitely drop by sometime!
Cover image by Lisa Risager from Denmark
(CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons