15 Blogging Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started

Carol Tice

15 Blogging Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started. Makealivingwriting.comFor 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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!
  14. 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.
  15. 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.


  1. Candace Schuler

    I’m signed up for your webinar on Tuesday, and am really looking forward to it. This blog further whets my appetite!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Candace — look forward to talking about your blog on the Webinar next week! LOTS more detail on what makes a blog successful will be discussed in the call. I just did my practice with Judy yesterday and I can’t WAIT to show all the early registrants exactly how to make their blogs better.

  2. Kristin

    Good list, but I have to take issue with #7. If that’s really true, then how do you account for the gazillions of mommy bloggers out there who do nothing but talk about themselves and their kids and still have huge readerships?

    I don’t really like to be called a mommy blogger, but I guess I am. My blog is personal. I started it as an online journal/virtual mind dump and friends and family began to read it to stay caught up on what was happening in my life with my new baby. I didn’t/don’t offer any advice, personal or professional, or groundbreaking revelations. I simply tell stories from my life. Mostly about navigating the unchartered waters of new parenthood, but sometimes about navigating the unchartered waters of social media. And sometimes I just rant about stink bugs. But people tell me I’m “funny” and “engaging” as a writer and that’s why they keep coming back. I’ve been blogging for about seven months now and certainly don’t have a huge readership, but I’ve definitely seen it grow (especially since I joined Twitter). And in the end, while I try not to be too self-indulgent or narcissistic, the bulk of my blog does focus on personal stories and opinions.

    I guess I’m just wondering, with regards to #7, where do personal blogs fall, in your opinion? They don’t necessarily “give people information they need,” yet there are many, many of them out there and some are extremely popular (i.e. Dooce). So by saying, “Nobody cares about you,” aren’t you sort of discouraging the very thing you’re trying to promote here – blogging? I know when I read that, my first thought was, “Well, what do I write about then?”

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Kristin —

      Well obviously I’m being a little tongue in cheek there. Readers do come to care about the person who’s writing the blog, and readers do come in part because they enjoy the personality and personal stories of the person writing the blog.

      And there are a few mommy bloggers who are such amazing writers that people want to drop by and just hear about their lives. The Nie-Nie Dialogues is certainly one that comes to mind there, where you read simply for inspiration. I don’t think there are gazillions of navel-gazing mommy blogs with huge readerships, though…I think there are gazillions with tiny readerships.

      I think the majority of blogs that are an earning vehicle have a focus of providing information for readers. I think what I wanted to point out in #7 is that a lot of blogs are too self-involved, and not in a way that’s enjoyable to readers. There needs to be a consciousness that you’re writing for an audience, and who they are.

      • Kristin

        Thanks for the clarification. That makes sense. I especially agree with this statement: “…a lot of blogs are too self-involved, and not in a way that’s enjoyable to readers. There needs to be a consciousness that you’re writing for an audience, and who they are.” I try to keep this in mind anytime I write a post. Sometimes I just have to stop and ask myself, “Does anybody really care?”

        • Carol Tice

          Whenever bloggers tell me they have that feeling, I say, “Why don’t you ask them?” Poll posts are really important to do now and again to get feedback. I have one coming up in a week or so myself…so stay tuned for your chance to tell me about what sort of events and products you’d most like me to create in future!

  3. M. Sharon Baker

    Hi Carol,

    Earlier this week on a client call, I heard an interesting stat – wish I could find the source.

    The webinar leader shared that blogs with no photos have an average read of 30 seconds while posts with a photo or two average 2 to 3 minutes – what a huge difference! And he shared a free photo site I didn’t know about, MorgueFile.com.

    I didn’t catch yesterday’s call but am looking forward to your chat with Judy Dunn on Tuesday.

    • Carol Tice

      I think I was on that call too, and learned about MorgueFile — great totally free, no-credit site for photos! I’m generally liking Stock Exchange these days over Flickr Creative Commons, but definitely giving MorgueFile a look now.

  4. Kyrsten Bean

    I like what you said about meeting other people through blogging. I have a blog that is solely so I can share writing about the creative life. I feel I’ve made myself super niche and I haven’t put much work into promoting the content or making it more successful.

    My only lament is that I want to meet other people living the creative life through writing, music and work, and connect with them. That seems to be the reason I started my blog, along with trying to help others go after what they love creatively and not let people tell them they can’t.

    Aside from finding similar blogs and commenting on them, you’re saying Twitter might help with this? Are there any other ways to build my creative community of people?

    • Carol Tice

      HI Kyrsten —

      I’d try to do some guest posts on similar sites to help your audience find you. Of course, a good way to get your work noticed and get asked to guest is…to promote your content…on Twitter. It all goes round and round. But promoting it is required if you want people to discover it!

      If you come to the webinar Tuesday, we could take a more in-depth look at your blog and I’m sure make many more suggestions.

  5. Lovelyn

    @M. Sharon Baker
    Interesting info. I have to start putting photos on my blog.

    • Carol Tice

      Yes you do! You won’t believe the difference it makes.

  6. Kellie Brooks

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been reading you for a while, and I often learn a lot.
    One thing that I’ve found interesting is in many How To Be A Successful Blogger kind of posts is the advice to keep them short. However, whenever I solicit feedback, people consistently say they want longer ones, and my most popular posts are always the longer ones. So lately I’ve actually been thinking I’m going to start writing even longer ones – change them from 800-1000 words to 2000+ entries.
    I think what I’m learning overall, as I develop my blog, and my craft, is to listen to all the advice, and find my own way, too. Thank you for all you post – because I do gain from reading you!

    • Carol Tice

      Length is tricky. Most blogs are successful with short posts…but Copyblogger’s are all 1,000 words, and they’ve carved out a niche as offering more in-depth info.

      I tend to mix it up. I think mine are mostly around 500 words.

      • Lisa Ullrich

        I started blogging at the end of November. I don’t have very many followers, but my top viewed post of all time was 1,433 words. I also feel like my longer posts are more popular, maybe because I put more of myself into them.

  7. Erin

    These tips are great, Carol – thanks for posting. Regarding the “talking about yourself thing,” for the most part I completely agree. However, I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish with your blog.

    For me, my (newish) site primarily serves as a portfolio of my work. My posts are typically related to what I cover as a journalist/writer/photographer. I’m not out to build a huge readership or become a “blogging sensation.” It is more something I steer colleagues/editors/friends to if they want to see my work or what I have been up to.

    On the other hand, I have a “more commercial” site in the works that will launch later this year that will be geared towards a larger audience and possible monetization down the road. So again, what you are attempting to accomplish with your site will by and large dictate your content, the tone etc.

    Thanks again for the tips/blog. You have some great info here!

    • Carol Tice

      It’s funny you say that, Erin — in my free call last week, I talked about big-picture reasons people don’t succeed in blogging…and one of them is you don’t know why you’re doing it. What’s the goal?

      With the clear goal you have for your current blog — that it’s just a place for prospects and people who already know you — you can focus on just writing about what you’re working on, as it will be of interest to that very small audience.

      Anyone shooting for a larger audience has to be more about serving that audience’s needs, and less about what they’re doing (unless talking about that provides help the audience needs!).

  8. Jennifer Nini

    Glad I stumbled across your website relatively early in my ‘blogging career’ 🙂 I always find your blog posts so informative – keep up the great work and I will keep on reading 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      It’s a deal!

  9. Andy

    “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?”

    So true! If I get to a page that’s only text and no images at all (not even a background image or a header or whatever), I’m getting bored really fast and am not really interested in starting to read the text anymore (even though it might be an amazing text).

  10. John

    You love sales, don’t you! Slipping in some good selling among the information without most people knowing it. However, it is all wholesome selling….

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