Lessons Learned From Six Months in Blogging
Rather than tell you how I succeeded, I’m walking you through the process of how I am putting my success together. Six months into this blogging gig, there are a few things I have learned that could help you in your own blogging journey.
You may also want to read the post I wrote at the first month mark.
Do You Need a Blog?
If you’re asking, something is making you hesitate. Perhaps you’re looking for permission not to blog?
No, I don’t think you need a blog in 2021. If it’s the writing that gives you pause, you could engage in a little micro blogging on platforms like Instagram that rely more on images and video to convey your message. This is just as true for businesses as it is for individuals. Focus your efforts on the medium that feels most comfortable.
I would, however, consider learning how to use WordPress or similar content management system to maintain those images and videos on your own site. There is something gratifying about owning your own content. I don’t trust social media to preserve my best efforts.
What about podcasting? Yes, it’s still on an upswing, especially with major companies turning podcasts into commercial productions. I’m looking into it myself, but if I jump in, I will do so with no intention of making direct money from the medium. Like the blog, it would be a means to an end.
If you’re sitting on the fence because you think there are already too many people blogging and podcasting out there, then you would be right. People have millions of options, but no one is going to hear a message exactly the way you say it.
Finding Your Target Audience
When I relaunched the blog last summer, I set out to write for young adults. When I think of my ideal reader, they are in their late teens, early twenties. My pool of subscribers, however, falls overwhelmingly into the pool of what my newsletter currently labels “experienced adults”.
For the moment, I have chosen not to go chasing the ideal demographic. I have enjoyed writing what I like. If it happens to appeal to a more seasoned audience, so much the better.
At this stage, it is enough that I am putting my writing out there. I had to start somewhere. In a lot of ways I am still building the backbone. Once I feel I have established a good foundation, I will actively seek out the young adult audience I planned.
Writing Good Content
I publish what feels right. The general theme is information that would help a young adult learn about the things they don’t teach us in school. This is why you may have read about unfulfilled life goals in one post and developing good purchase habits in the next. I love personal finances, but managing money is not the only key to leading a successful life.
With few exceptions, I aim for evergreen content. I have all kinds of opinions on current events, but if I can’t find a solid way of tying those opinions to something that can help you, I don’t publish it.
I feel bad for the people who subscribe to the blog after catching one of my articles on Tech Tidbits, Tech-VI, or one of the other tech-oriented newsletters. There tends to be an assumption that the blog is exclusively about technology. I love hardware and software, but writing exclusively about gadgets would bore me. My enjoyment is central to keeping this thing moving.
It is very likely I will circle back to older posts and revamp the writing. People generally felt the biggest challenge post came off as incomplete. There is value in returning to a post to revamp my thoughts and insert strategic keywords, which brings me to an important point.
SEO is Irrelevant
Well, it’s irrelevant at this stage in my blogging evolution. SEO makes me feel restricted. It makes writing feel like a chore. I used to have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, but I got rid of it when it seemed as though I spent just as much time tweaking the post for search engine optimization as I was writing the post itself. I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.
Hear me clear: I am not saying SEO is irrelevant. Sadly, we have to do our part to get leading search engines to rank our content. I’ve done my homework. I know it helps to have other sites point to my material. I know about subheading keywords, strong introductory leads, diverse formatting, and ideal article length to make Google happy, but right now the only entity I want to keep happy is my inner writer. My inner writer is only interested in helping you.
I confess finding the right post length troubles me. If you write less than 500 words, it is likely the search engines will view your content as too thin to be taken seriously. Most of my posts fall north of a thousand words, but writing posts that long can easily take a few hours. Multiply this times two posts a week, and what began as a fun project could easily turn into a chore.
This past year, Mondays and Thursdays felt like the right balance for me to schedule publications. I figured this would give each post ample room to foster a healthy discussion before moving on to the next subject. At two times a week, this could generate up to 104 posts a year, more than ample material for visitors to decide if I am worth reading.
Conventional advice says we should publish on a set schedule. I think these words of wisdom makes sense, but not for the sake of predictability for my subscribers. I’ve intentionally skipped a Monday here and there, and only two subscribers took notice.
For me, a publishing schedule has more to do with accountability. If I feel I have to stay on schedule, I will take the writing more seriously. Accountability is also important, because let’s face it. Only two or three of my forty plus posts to date have inspired comments on the site. Trust me, the feedback is not what inspires me to keep blogging. If I was in it for the reader interaction, I would have given up this gig a long time ago.
Over the next couple months I am going to experiment with dropping to one post a week. I’ll save Monday for my definite publishing day, and if I have something shorter, more spontaneous, I’ll save that for Wednesday or Thursday. I think this will let me write longer posts without distracting from the novella and other personal projects.
I have also given thought to including the full post in the email for my subscribers versus including only a teaser. If you have opinions, please let me hear from you.
I try to pre-schedule posts as often as possible. If I know I have a buffer between now and the next empty slot in the calendar, I won’t feel as much pressure to write for the sake of writing. Back in September I cued up a handful of articles and had them go live throughout October. That was good, except I did not take advantage of the autopilot to produce more content. October was drawing to a close, and I found myself rushing to prepare another batch of posts.
There are WordPress plugins for editorial calendars. I didn’t like any of them. Instead I save my blog posts by date to my computer. This way I can easily scan the posts by date and quickly determine what slots remain empty.
I briefly thought about using a spreadsheet to make it easier to visualize posts arranged by date and subject. I quickly dismissed that idea, because I did not want to add another step to my workflow. The more steps involved in scheduling a post, the less likely I’ll look forward to scheduling them.
My Current Blog Workflow
This is what my typical post creation post looks like:
- Brainstorm the idea
- Write a rough draft in MS Word without research
- Research external sources if the post is informative
- Complete the final draft
- Run spellcheck
- Paste the final draft to a plain text editor like EdSharp
- Include hyperlinks and format the post the way I want with HTML
- Grab a relevant image from a service like Unsplash
- Add the post to WordPress and schedule for a future date
- Hope you find the information at least mildly useful
So, as you can see, even my least favorite posts require energy.
There are folks who use the post by email feature on WordPress. I do not use this myself but point it out in case you would find it convenient.
WordPress Verses Drupal
I relaunched my blog using WordPress instead of Drupal. Honestly, there are days when I miss Drupal. On the latter, it feels so much easier to customize one’s theme, and there are tasks on Drupal, like the ability to add static text over the list of blog posts, that are so much more streamlined.
Still, I can’t deny there are automatic workflows on WordPress, like updating the core CMS and plugins, that make WordPress worth the minor irritations. As a blind computer user, the Gutenberg Editor gives me a headache, but I have to admit the ease with which I can use the editor to drop multimedia into a post is phenomenal. WordPress, if you are listening, that is not a reason to stop improving the Gutenberg experience.
My primary focus thus far has been the blog. The blog is the single best means of exercising my voice and giving the reader an idea of the person behind the keyboard. For some bloggers, this would be enough. The blog becomes their product.
I have other aspirations. For me, the blog is a means to an end. If the blog is going to be a part of a marketing strategy, I need to have something to market. In other words, the blog is what will establish trust between us. If you trust me, then hopefully you will consider purchasing the actual products. If you like the products, hopefully you will tell your friends about them.
The product development is a separate strategy. I’m kicking around the idea of eBooks, online courses, and tutorials. I have not fully outlined what these will look like, but they will all be designed in the same vein of helping you be more self-sufficient, independent, and confident.
The most difficult aspect to building my little empire is recognizing the natural and self-imposed limitations. There are only so many hours in a day. I’m building this around a full-time job. I love working on my website, but there are Saturday mornings when I enjoy staying in bed and watching my favorite TV shows. And this has to be okay, because everything must have balance.
Looking back through this post, I see that personal satisfaction is a recurring theme. That was not accidental. It’s immensely important that you take on a project for the right reasons.
A lot has changed between this blog and the first blog I ran for several years. I have a lot more life experience. I am writing according to my gut instincts and not someone else’s recommendations. I follow the rules that make sense for where I am at and set aside those expectations I know I am unable to deliver.
So what about you? What’s on your mind? If you have a blog, where can we read it?