Saturday, May 5, 2007

Your First Month as a Blogger

Whatever your reasons for starting a blog, there will be some obstacles. What issues will you have to face during your first month? How can you overcome them?

My blog, 'Popular Fiction' is one month old. I will share what I've learned in the past thirty days to help answer those questions.

Part 1: Approach

The first thing you need to do is relax. Excitement about your new blog is natural but it won't help you as much as calm determination and focus will. I spammed my friends and family the moment my blog was up and running. "Look, I'm on the Internet!" People will tolerate shameless self-promotion ONCE, if they are your friends. After that they will just ignore you.

As a blogger, the last thing you want is to be ignored. You want traffic. Traffic is Queen. Traffic is important if your blog is commercial, but also important even if your blog is for fun. This brings us to your first headache.

Tip: Check out Content May Be King But Traffic is Queen by Mitchell Harper.

You will hear advice on submitting your blog to major search engines and to blog directories and getting the word out. You have to do these things if you want traffic. What no one tells you is that for the first month, the major search engines will ignore you, blog directories will bury you and the many of people you announce your blog to will forget about you.

Stay calm and focused. If you lay a solid foundation your blog will attract traffic, but it takes time. Eventually all the work you do in promoting your blog will pay off, you just have to be patient.

But how do you build a solid foundation?

Part 2: Content

Content is King. Without good content, your blog is just a web page with fancy headings, bad colours and irrelevant AdSense ads. Content is the lifeblood of your blog.

The first thing to decide is not 'What should your content be?' That's secondary. Your first concern should be, 'How often will you post?' If you don't post often enough, the search engines will crawl your blog less often and people will stop checking to see if you've posted something. If you post too often, you will burn out and lose your joy as a blogger.

Whatever you decide, set up a schedule that will enable you to meet your posting goals. I post every day. I post one humour article each day, one author review each week and one feature article a month.

Tip: Check out How Often Should a Blogger Post? by Darren Rowse.

How do I keep up? I have a schedule and I stick to it. I also do something important. I prepare a few posts in advance. When I have some spare time I write three or four extra posts and save them as drafts for those days when I need to post something but the furnace repairmen are here, along with the city inspector and the guys from the gas company, my dog just attacked the water heater guy, the police are on their way and my lawyer isn't returning my calls.

So you're relaxed, determined and focused. You've mercilessly promoted your blog and you're patiently waiting for traffic. You have a good schedule and you've got some extra material stashed away for emergency days. Your blog is brimming with content. What now?

Part 3: Navigation

You caught Bigfoot in your backyard eating raspberries and you've got pictures to prove it. Millions of visitors flock to your blog to see the pictures. They spend about ten seconds reading your content looking for a link to the pictures. They don't find a link, so they leave. Didn't they see the previous posts link you painstakingly set up in your sidebar? Didn't they read every word in the post you gave your heart to? No, they didn't. They didn't finish reading your post and they didn't even notice you had a sidebar.

If your readers can't find what they want immediately they will leave. When this happened to me I was disappointed. My reports showed people reading half a story then moving on, or just flipping through a few pages quickly and then leaving. I asked people about certain posts I was proud of and even my DAILY readers weren't aware of them.

In Jakob Nielsen's article The Top Ten Design Mistakes, one of the things he talks about is weak navigation. People need to be able to find your important posts. The calendar or posts archive isn't good enough. You need to put links right in your main content. If people can find it, they'll read it. If they can't, they'll leave.

If you approach your first month as a blogger with calm determination, focus and patience, you will enjoy the learning process a lot more. If you provide good content on a regular basis, traffic will flow to your blog in time. If you make the extra effort to develop fast navigation, with links to other posts right inside your content, people will find what they're looking for and stay a while.

It will be be fun and interesting. You'll want to stick with it. Your first month as a blogger will be a good experience, and you'll remember it fondly.

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