For anyone who missed it, I did a free call yesterday about online writing success, with Angie Atkinson from WM Freelance Writers Connection. It gave me a chance to look at some brand-new blogs and talk to people who either just started blogging, or don’t even have their site up yet.
It kind of gave me flashbacks.
See, less than three years ago, that was me. I really didn’t know a blessed thing about blogging. I just had the idea that I knew a lot about how to earn from freelance writing, and that maybe I could share it with people to help them grow their income. I had a vague thought maybe I’d write a book.
At first, I posted about once a month. My site had no photos. It was dark green.
Slowly, over the course of many months, I learned about what makes a nice-looking, compelling blog. It took a long time to figure it all out. This blog is definitely not one of those “Wow, I started blogging six weeks ago and now I make six figures from it!” type of success stories.
Here’s what I know about blogging now that I wish someone had told me at the beginning:
- Design really, really matters. I thought, “I’m giving out this awesome knowledge. I’ve been writing professionally for a long time, and I’m pretty good at it. People will visit because of my beautiful, beautiful words.” Here’s what I’ve learned: If your site is easy to understand and use, people will read it a lot more.
- Headlines are super-important. This is the single biggest problem I see when I look at startup blogs. Headline writing online is an art form that few seem to be taking the time to learn. At first I didn’t know the difference between writing a newspaper headline and a blog headline, and I’m sure that cost me some readers until I got the hang of it.
- If you don’t have a list, you have nothing. When I first started my blog, there wasn’t a way to subscribe to my blog by email, even if you wanted to! Then I put up a pretty useless box. It took a while for me to understand how to invite people to subscribe in a way that’s compelling. You can see my current theory on that up in the sidebar there.
- Images make posts way more interesting. I didn’t have any photos when I started, and didn’t really understand why I needed them. But a big fat photo does make that writing so much more enticing, doesn’t it?
- Everything on the blog needs to be simple and easy. I had a conversion expert take me to task about my subscription box at one point. He showed me that I had a two-step process — readers clicked on a link, then had to go to another page to fill in the signup form. “That’s too many steps,” Jon Morrow told me. “Make it one step, and more people will subscribe.” And they did.
- A blog is not an article. I got this by osmosis eventually, but blog format is really different from writing a print article. Posts are short, make one basic point, and link to other useful information. Period. You can push that envelope, but that’s what works reliably. Took me a while to learn to love 300 words (though I still love to blow it out with something bigger…like this post).
- Nobody cares about you. People don’t come to your blog because they think you’re fascinating — unless you’re Charlie Sheen or something. They don’t want to hear what your kid said this morning, or what you thought about last night’s Glee eiposde. In general, people visit because they think you can give them information they need. Your stories are great, as long as they lead to useful posts that help readers.
- Your blog design is never done. Someone asked me after the call, “How long did it take until you were satisfied with your blog design?” I’m still not. Did you notice what I changed this week? Because there’s always something.
- Learning the technology can save you a bundle. At first, I just wanted to outsource the whole technical thing. But frustration with waiting for others to fix stuff — and the cost of using help — made me plunge in and learn all I could. Now, I can do about 85 percent of the work around here.
- Once you’ve created the blog, you have to go out and market it. Like many, I thought a blog was a magical device that would draw people on its own. Then I met Twitter and learned how it really works — you get out and promote your content if you want it to get discovered.
- It takes time to build a successful blog. You hear stories about people who start blogging and — poof! — three months later they’re getting a book deal. But for 99.9 percent of us, that’s not what’s going to happen. You will gradually improve your blog, build a subscriber base, and at some point you get some traction.
- You can meet amazing new people blogging. If I’d known how many fun people were waiting out in the blogosphere for me to connect with, I definitely would have started circulating in social media a whole lot sooner.
- Your blog can change lives. With our words, we can help people find work, find hope, find themselves. Self-publishing a blog is an incredibly empowering experience. I love it!
- It’s never too late to start. I figured I was hopelessly behind and could never catch up when I started, and I hear that same song from a lot of wannabe bloggers now. All I can say is, get started! There’s always room for a fresh voice with a new approach to a topic.
- You can accelerate your progress by spending on training. When I joined A-List Blogger Club, I couldn’t believe how many tips I got in a short period, and how much progress I was able to make in just the first couple months. If only I’d figured this one out sooner.
What have you learned about blogging? Leave a comment and share your tips.