Great blogs are based on great content–good design, creative network capability, and, especially, great writing. When bloggers get it right, it can be a beautiful thing. At the moment when an audience connects with great online writers and content curators, a blog becomes a space for transformational experiences. This is a dynamic place, living and moving and changing as the limits on the imagination disappear in the grand depths of internet space. A quarter of the web is blog content, a massive intercontinental viral library where amateurs and experts alike are drawn into the ever-expansive possibilities of the digital age.
This is a space that you can–and should–be a part of. Whether you are building a digital platform, testing material for new markets, or using the blog as a sandbox for writing or design, this space is ideal for finding an audience. Even when bloggers have the key elements for success–regular posting, relevance, strong writing, readable design, and a meaningful connection to readers–there can be a gap between the blogger and his or her audience. Many bloggers are creating great content but finding that their blog is getting little traction. When no one is reading, the blogosphere can be a lonely place.
Time and time again I see good writers making the same critical errors that keep the blog from experiencing long-term growth. These errors–often simple ones–keep their content from being as sticky as it could be and gets in the way of the blogger’s ability to capitalize on the viral nature of online writing. If you are creating great content, you want to make meaningful connections to a readership.
So I thought I would share the top 5 mistakes that bloggers make that limit their reach. These are the lessons I’ve learned on my way to becoming a specialized blog that still gets 100,000 hits a year.
Blogger Mistake #1: They Don’t Use WordPress
I know, I know: there are a lot of loyal Blogspot/Blogger writers out there. There are critical disadvantages to WordPress, including the fact that it takes a bit of digital know-how to take your first steps as a baby blogger. A little patience with WordPress, however, goes a long way. Besides data–which is essential for the blogger interested in impact–there are three critical reasons that bloggers interested in digital impact should consider WordPress.
First, WordPress is pretty. Or at least it can be. There are thousands of design templates that allows each WordPress site to stand out. We are a visual generation, and WordPress facilitates the use of pictures and design features that enhance our content.
Second, WordPress has a greater potential for connecting with other bloggers. This is not just a matter of sheer mass. Statistics vary, but there are more than 60 million WordPress users, making it the most powerful content management system (CMS) on the web. The potential for connectivity actually has more to do with ease than mass. I can follow WordPress blogs by email or in a reader, allowing me to make a far bigger digital net than I can anywhere else. Part of this connectivity is the ease with which WordPress has integrated some of the more powerful social media platforms, extending my reach even further.
Third, WordPress has the greatest potential for growth. The CMS platform is accessible enough for the baby blogger and powerful enough for the likes of The New Yorker, MTV, and BBC America. Whatever your future holds, WordPress is the most powerful and nimble platform available today.
No doubt some readers of this post are already crying foul. “If,” you might be saying, “If WordPress has such great features, why does your blog look so dated.” Well spotted. I am overdue for a redesign. However, it only takes 20 seconds with my blog and readers will know what I’m about. The name, the header, the first few lines of text, the “About” page–these things or a quick scan down the recent posts and the reader will know what I’m doing with A Pilgrim in Narnia. A kindred reader may stay and connect, while a reader looking for something else will move on.
So I’m not ignorant of design features. I am phone- and tablet-friendly, but am aiming for computer screen readers. I use a slalom approach for text and pictures (notice how the eye slides down the page between pics) because I am a literary blogger: the pictures highlight, illustrate, and draw the eye to the next paragraph. For it is the paragraphs that matter to me, the words, the ideas. Although I don’t usually write academic posts, generally my readers are literate and well educated (they either have higher degrees or are self-teachers). Almost all of them are voracious readers and many of them are writers, teachers, researchers, or artists. I have defined who I am and love the readers that I have connected with.
While I am still due for a visual upgrade, and I push at the edges of my blog’s defined space, I know who I am and what A Pilgrim in Narnia is about. What about your blog? If I check out your main page will I get it? After looking at the last 20 blogs that have followed A Pilgrim in Narnia, I am reminded that it is a rarer skill than you might think. It doesn’t matter if your subject matter is super narrow or grand and expansive, you only get about 20 seconds with readers to communicate who you are. Define well, visually, in the descriptions, and in your writing.
Blogger Mistake #3: They Don’t Translate
This one is highly controversial. Specialists will roll their eyes when I complain about in-group language. There is a value to working in a specialized community, testing out ideas with one another and inspiring creativity. I work in research teams and know the value of technical language–whether those in the “in group” are economists, comic book collectors, Tolkienists, linguists, astronomers, beat poets, animal rights activists, numismatists in love, Buffy fans, woodworkers, philosophers of technology, angry education reformers, placid Whovians, or international monitors of health standards in aboriginal communities. There is something alluring about the secret handshake.
However, there is nothing more intimidating than to break into than a circle of like-minded folk. At least that’s the case for me when I’m at a party where I don’t know a lot of people. It takes a lot of courage to squeeze in and pick up the thread of a conversation. So every blogger must decide whether his or her blog will be a closed circle–always limited to the very few who know your secret handshake–or will try to keep a place open for the next reader.
I have designed it so that A Pilgrim in Narnia is going to be immediately ignored by 90% of visitors. But for those who love books–especially books of fantasy the Inklings wrote and inspired in others–I want these great readers to stick around. That’s why, for example, I don’t call C.S. Lewis, “Jack,” and I describe his more obscure work so the reader knows where it fits in his overall project. I still remember the joy of discovering that Lewis, Tolkien, and the best Fantasy/SF writers have a largely untapped reservoir of other materials–letters, essays, editorials, failed projects, secretly written poems and diary entries and things they wrote before they were famous. I loved discovering those things, so I share those little treasures with readers.
And, yet, my choice to leave behind groupspeak and specialist language has done nothing to chase away the leading C.S. Lewis and Tolkien scholars. My choice to “translate” my work has opened me up to a much wider readership and has still given space for leaders in my field to offer advice, criticism, or words of encouragement. You can choose to have a tight inner circle of those in the know, or you can share your great knowledge with the world by thinking about the language you use.
I find social media age language of followership really creepy. Perhaps I watched too many cult kidnapping films growing up, but I don’t really want to be a follower of digital being.
Yet, that’s the language that has emerged. I have chosen to embrace it, and as soon as it has gone stale I’ll set it aside. But that good instinct to reject “follower” culture has meant that some people have missed some network opportunities. I will give some quick examples:
- Some bloggers reject the “like” button because, frankly, it seems narcissistic to ask everyone to like what I wrote. However, as a frequent blog reader, when I don’t have time to comment on a blog, and when sharing it doesn’t fit my online profile, a quick click of the “like” button allows me to leave a note of encouragement to the content creator.
- Not everyone is attracted to Twitter, and the Trumpification of Twitter–along with troll culture–means that it is in danger of disappearing. However, you should use the share button features. This allows readers who have loved what you have made for them to share with their friends (and followers) on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. These social media tools are critical to enhanced network connectivity.
- So many bloggers miss an opportunity to enhance sharing by not including their Twitter handle in the share feature. Simply go to Sharing Settings and put your Twitter name in the space that says, “Twitter username to include in tweets when people share using the Twitter button.” Even if you only use this to track blog connections, it can allow you to follow up with readers who are otherwise invisible online.
- Turn on the Reblog feature. There are some bloggers who scoop up and share material as if it is Instagram. Just roll with it and make more online connections.
- Some don’t open up the comments section, missing critical opportunities to invite readers into a deeper commitment to your blog. I know that there are trolls and spammers, but WordPress has great tools to filter out spam. As for trolls, I approve their crazy comments, leaving them for future readers to enjoy their insipid, mind-numbing commitment to inanity.
- WordPress has a “follow” feature that links you to the Wordpress Reader. Tags do this too, but how many people are using the WordPress Reader? So many great bloggers miss out on deeply connected readers because they don’t include the email widget. Beyond posts that have gone viral, the email button is the most critical connectivity tool that has led to my success, such as it is.
These are all missed “conversion” opportunities–to use another unfortunate term. You want to convert casual visitors into lifelong readers. These simple tools enhance your connectivity and deepen commitment among your readers. They also give you tools to track blog activity outside of your own site.
Blogger Mistake #5: They Listen to Posts Like This
In the end, your blog must be a sincere representative of who you are in the digital community you live in. The blog “Adventures of a Renegade Stamp Collector” is going to have a different feel than “Numismastatistics: Tools for 21st Century Collectors,” despite the overlap of content and community. You need to create content and visual design features that allow for the most authentic connection between you and your reader. Nothing is worse than the blogger who is trying too hard or who has cluttered the screen with gadgetry, clickbait, or connection points.
Yet a lot of bloggers get caught in these “how to” lists. Sometimes they end up feeling forced into little boxes that make the blogging experience less enjoyable. And doesn’t that go against the whole business that is the play of blogging? This should be fun. Your blog should make you a better writer, hone your technological or design skills, and create a platform for product development or launch. But it should be fun.
Bloggers who forget the joy of the genre do so to their peril.
Good luck, and feel free to add your tips and anti-tips in the comment section below and share on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest!