Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blogging Advice and Tips from the Rock and Roll Chemist (PART 1)



When I started the Rock and Roll Chemist back in 2011, I intended it to be a place where I could write about everything that interested me. At that time, I'd been running my blog dedicated to Blur and my books on them and so I figured "I need a personal blog, too!" I promptly set this blog up and wrote a few things for it, thinking that because I had a huge following for my Blur blog, people would naturally flock to the Rock and Roll Chemist and it would be more of the same. So I waited...

...and waited...

...and waited...

...and waited some more. I had very few visitors, no comments (apart from those by my brother or close personal friends), and very little interest in the site. I continued to dabble with this blog for a couple of years, but my posts were few and far between and came in short spurts. In 2011, I posted a total of thirty-six times for the year; 2012 saw me only write 11 posts. Even though some of them were quite long, detailed, and well-received (mainly my posts on my running and weight-loss journey and an article on the Beatles), I saw this blog as little more than a place to just dump something I'd written when I actually decided to write something. However, by the summer of 2013, I had a blogging epiphany. It came about when I had gotten tickets to see Peter Frampton and Paul McCartney in concert about two weeks apart. I wanted to share my excitement with like-minded fans and so I wrote blog posts about my experiences. They both proved to be quite popular and made me stop and think. Around the same time, I was able, through a bit of risk-taking and courage, to get a copy of the newly released (at the time) Blur biography sent to me so that I could review it for my Blur blog. I posted the review on both my Blur blog and here at the Rock and Roll Chemist, and again it proved to be very popular. In addition to setting me on the path to becoming a freelance book reviewer, which has taken on a life of its own with over fifty reviews and counting, it sparked the desire to continue to write. I've always loved writing and have done a lot of it over the years, but what opened my eyes was seeing that when I actually put work into my blog, I got feedback and results; this was the thing that set me on the path I've been on over the past year. I've gone from a smattering of hits each month to thousands and thousands, and interest in my site and my writing continues to grow at a huge rate with every passing week.

Since the summer of 2013, I've been writing on my blog on a regular basis, averaging a few new posts per week...in actuality, I write a lot more than that, but I space the posts out so as not to bombard my readers and to allow each post its own room to breathe and be absorbed (more on this later).  I've gone from having never reviewed a book to doing it as a side career. I've built up a reputation sufficiently such that publishers, with whom I've built up relationships, readily send me their books for review while many authors now approach me asking for reviews.  I've had other websites and companies ask if they could sponsors posts of mine, I've been asked to write articles for various large websites and retailers based on my blog, and I continue to receive new unsolicited opportunities to expand my blog readership and writing opportunities. While I still struggle to monetize my blogging, that's a distant concern on my priority list as it's not why I write (although I certainly won't complain if/when the day I earn more than pocket change from blogging finally arrives). 

The impetus for this article and what follows stems from A) the humble sense of awe I feel at the opportunities that hard work has brought and will (hopefully) continue to bring with blogging, and B) a desire to pay it forward and give back to the blogging community. I get approached by a lot of new bloggers, as well as long-time bloggers who haven't been too successful, asking me for advice and help. I thought instead of continuing to respond to each individually with detailed replies, I would share what I've found to work (and not work) in this series of articles. I hesitate to call what I'm going to share "wisdom" only because I feel uncomfortable claiming to be anyone special in the world of writing or blogging; instead, I thought it would be helpful (and if I'm being honest, a little fun) to share what I've learned, experiences both good and bad that I've had, and whatever pointers I can offer to the best of my abilities.  This will be the first part in a series in which I hope to open up a discussion for fellow bloggers and writers to share their own insights so we can all help each other out. So without further ado, here we go...


PART 1: Content IS King

This trope is as old as time, at least in the blogging world, but as tired as you may be at hearing it, it is undeniably true. I'll even go so far as to say that not only is the QUALITY of your content of vital importance, but so is the QUANTITY. I know I'm not saying anything new that hasn't already been said by countless other expert bloggers in the past, but I want to offer my own take on it here. 

Let's discuss quality first...this should be a no-brainer. If you have lousy content, no one will be interested in your blog. It's important to find your niche in the blogging world and try to be the best you can be in that area, but it's also important to produce the best content you're capable of. I've visited loads of blogs over the years that discussed various interestin topics but were filled with lousy posts that were so bad that I never went back. What made them bad?  Poor writing style, grammatical and spelling mistakes, uninteresting opinions or ideas, posts that were too short or too long...there is a whole host of reasons why blog content can be terrible.  If you're simply regurgitating (or worse still, blatantly ripping off) other people's work and offering nothing new, and doing it with poor writing at that, I guarantee no one is going to read your blog. I've even read many blogs that do discuss interesting topics but are so poorly written that it's a real chore for me to keep going back because while the information provided is worthwhile, they're just not enjoyable to read because of the writing. Remember, just because you can physically write doesn't make you a writer, let alone a GOOD one. You're not a writer until you really ARE good at it, and not until you have enough people interested in reading what you have to offer on a REPEAT basis.

My advice is to really tighten up the content you offer on your blog, and really put in the time and effort to make sure it's as good as possible. Now, let's discuss the quantity piece I mentioned above. I've seen numerous blogs that post multiple times a day, while on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are many that might only post once or twice in an entire month (or even longer). Neither is ideal in my opinion. If you are posting multiple times a day, you are going to overwhelm your readers and they're most likely either going to stop coming back or they're going to rapidly scan through all of your posts to pick out the one that they might find interesting (the latter is what I do when visiting these types of blogs). On the flipside, if you're only posting once in a while, people will eventually stop coming back to check if there's anything new you get lucky and they randomly remember to come back weeks later. There is a happy medium in between these two extremes which is where I like to reside as far as my own blogging goes, and it is here where I and many others more expert in blogging will also advise you to be.  For my own blogging habits, I tend to write whenever inspiration strikes me and also just whenever I feel like it. As such, I almost always have a backlog of articles written that are ready to publish; however, unless it's something that is time sensitive and/or topical (for example, relating to something currently in the news, a sporting event that just occurred, etc), I hold them back and stagger my posts. There are a few reasons for doing this, which I've touched on above but I think they're worth listing again and discussing in more detail:

a) I don't flood my site with too much at once and overwhelm my readers. Like anything else in life, and as the Who sang in 1971, "too much of anything is too much for me."


If you bombard readers with too much to take in, they're more likely to rapidly scan through it all, cherry-pick the tidbits here and there that they might be interested in, and quickly move on. I frequent many sites that post far too much every day or multiple times a week, and it's a real chore sifting through everything in order to find something I want to read. As in all of life, more isn't always better and it's my strong opinion that in the world of blogging, apart from rare exceptions this is the case.

b) I give each of my posts time to breathe and be absorbed before posting something new...this way, each post gets it's moment in the spotlight for people to read it, think about it, comment on it, and engage.  Obviously some posts will be more popular than others and will have lifetimes far beyond the initial days after posting. For example, my posts on Mark Lewisohn's epic Beatles biography, The Who live at Leeds, the death of rock music, how to write a book, and my ongoing fitness journey, to name just a few among the many long-lived posts I've written, remain hugely popular months after I originally posted them and continue to rack up pageviews, comments, and shares as people discover them. Still, I try to give every post I write a chance to be the focal point of my blog since at one point, each post was once brand new and at the very top of the homepage. I figure that since I only publish articles that I've put a lot of time, effort, and thought into, they each deserve to be digested and absorbed by my readers before I present them with a new one.

c) It establishes a somewhat regular posting schedule so that readers know roughly when to come back to see what's new.  The good thing, though, is that since it's not a rigid schedule, it keeps readers guessing as to when the next post will be up, so that if they come back and there's nothing new, they'll check the next day to see if that's when I've posted something new...get the idea? If you post too often, multiple times a day or even every day, your readers will expect it, but it will also get to be too much for them to keep up with. Beyond that, it will be too much for YOU to keep up with. It's hard enough coming up with quality content for two or three posts a week...unless you're independently wealthy and able to spend every waking moment writing for your blog, there is no way you'll be able to keep up with a pace like that and continue to churn out meaningful content. Conversely, if you post on a random schedule and compound that with keeping the length of time between posts too long, eventually visitors will get tired of checking back to see if there's anything new and they'll promptly forget about your blog and stop coming back. The key is to find a middle ground that works for you and your readers.  For some bloggers, this is every other day. For others, it's posting on certain days every week without fail (ie posting on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or something like that). Personally, I take an approach that lies in between. I try to post anywhere from two to four times per week, and that depends on how much material I have stored in reserve and how much free time I've had to write. If I've been particularly busy with work, business travel, family life, etc it might only be one or two posts in a week, while if I've had a particularly prolific spate of writing or if I'm writing about something topical and time sensitive, I'll push those pieces out to keep them relevant and fresh. However, as these things usually do, it all evens out in the end and typically I'm good for two, three, or four posts in any given week. One of the best and most helpful things I use in order to make this easier is the scheduling tool that's built into the Blogger platform (I'm sure this exists for other platforms as well). Using the scheduler, I'm able to save up a backlog of material and schedule my posts to go live on specific days and at specific times in the future. In this way, I can map out and plan my posting schedule for the coming week, weeks, or sometimes even the entire month ahead!  Along with this, I like to mix it up a bit as far as which days I post. For example, instead of posting on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, I might post on Monday, Thursday, Saturday one week and then on Tuesday, Friday, Sunday the next week. I do this for three reasons: first, I honestly don't know too far ahead of time how much I'll have ready, second, as stated above I try to give each new post at least two days, if not longer, to be digested by my readers before presenting something new; and third, I like to keep my readers guessing! Because they know I'm regularly good for a few posts each week, if I post something on Monday they might come back on Wednesday to see what's new. If there's nothing new, they still know there's most likely something new coming soon, so they'll check back Thursday. Maybe it's there now, or maybe not, but they'll be back Friday to check again and THEN there it is, something new.  Even though my posting schedule is honestly more to do with convenience than anything else, the fact that it's rigid enough for readers to rely on but flexible enough that I can push things forward or back a day or two in either direction makes it a win-win for both writer and reader.

To wrap up Part 1, I'll explain the idea that Content is King in layman's terms: a blog is only as good as its content. Forget about fancy templates, widgets, flashy graphics, or appealing visuals. If you're blog has lousy material in terms of both topic and writing, no amount of eye-catching presentation will mask it for long. Think of your blog's content as the engine that drives your site, the same way an engine drives a car: even the fanciest looking sports car won't run for long if the engine under the hood is poorly made and keeps falling apart. Your blog is the same way. It takes a lot of hard work to build a quality engine, and the same is true of great blog content. One of the biggest misconceptions about blogging is the whole Field of Dreams "if you build it, they will come" mentality. This is unequivocally false...it is not a given at all that any blog will deserve and get meaningful traffic and readership simply for existing. I found this out firsthand when I started the Rock and Roll Chemist, as I described at the very beginning of this post. Concentrate more on the engine under the hood of your blog and worry about the paint job, sound system, and heated seats later. If your blog doesn't go anywhere and do anything, what good are all of the bells and whistles?

(Whether you're new to blogging or a seasoned pro, let's discuss this in the comments section below! Do you agree or disagree with what I've laid out here in Part 1? What are some advice and tips you'd offer from your own experiences?)

4 comments:

  1. This is good advice. One piece of advice I sometimes give people about starting a blog is, before you hit publish, as an exercise see if you can write or create 10 or 15 articles for it in advance.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That is a good bit of advice! Especially in the early days, you need to generate a lot of content at a pretty rapid clip to attract people and especially to get them to come back. Although as I'm sure you'll agree, the pressure to keep generating good stuff never really lets up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Although the pressure doesn't let up, you get better at ignoring the pressure and working at your own, more comfortable pace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! That's where I'm finally at now. I was killing myself to produce good stuff at a rapid clip and I was burning myself out. Now I'm at a slower pace that is working better for me and my readers. How about you?

      Delete