Lessons From A Blogging Blockhead

There have been more than a few posts I've read on different blogs asking about increasing readership, improving blog quality, blog content, etc. Not sure if this has something to do with the lunar phases and the rising tides, but it seems like the same discussions have been going on all over. I've even received a few emails asking advice. Flattering as this is, I'm quick to point out what an utter block-head I am at times. I'm just living out the curse my mother placed on me when I was young. "You're always going to learn by doing everything the hard way," she repeated through my time at home.

The curse, like in many areas of my life, has held true for my blogging. The good thing at least is that I've learned a few things from my block-headed ways, and I thought I'd share them here in a post. Let me preface this by saying I'm always cautious in dolling out advice, basically because I don't want to sound like some sort of know it all. On the blog posts I mentioned above, I shied away from leaving lengthy comments containing these basic lessons for the same reason, and (in my humble opinion) comments shouldn't overshadow the actual post itself by stealing the writer's thunder. I'm not going to show up at someone's birthday party and draw attention to me. 

That said, the intent is to share five things I learned the hard way that dramatically increased my blog traffic, and to spur on some discussion or posts from readers on what they've done with their sites. What others have to share can be of great help to the rest of us, this block-head included.

1. Getting Social: When I started out, I had no clue what social media. It seemed as confusing as technical manual on farm machinery, and I had the perception only young whipper snappers used it to coordinate their next beer-drenched outing or to gossip and complain about work. Educating myself, I realized its potential, and then went nuts registering for every social network/bookmarking site possible so I could promote every post I ever wrote. Bad move. What I figured out is how social media works best depends on what type of blog you write, and like most things in life, requires balance. Facebook, Twitter, and Stumble Upon were all I really needed (MySpace is optional). Facebook allowed me to reach a vast network of people I knew from various periods in my life. For Stumble, I figured out to live by the proverb, let another person praise you and not your own lips and had a few big campaigns initiated by readers (see what it did for Dave Fowler). Twitter turned out to be the biggest boost when I started to use it to promote my blogs "branding" so to speak. I'm known for my humor, so rather than announce to the world I was lancing a boil, or rolling a fattie, I just posted parodies & dumb sayings that people, for some reason thought were enough to check out my blog. I'll push a post here and there, but mainly I stick to what worked. There are nuances to each of these social media sites, but I've already gotten too wordy on this point.

2. It Takes A Village: There's another proverb out there that if you want friends, you have to be friendly yourself. Sure you can be friendly to the casual readers stopping by, but another one of those light bulb moments was that there are all manner of blog communities out there with bloggers interests similar to my own. In finding these "villages" I found people like Life 2.0 who I may never have otherwise been involved with or enjoyed. Joining communities also gave my site new exposure as well without having overtly promote myself. I know convention says you must promote, promote, promote yourself to gain serious readership. Frankly I just can't force myself to do this, so being in communities turned out to be an indirect way to put my blog out there without going, "Hey, Look at me! Over here! Click on my site!" Most of the communities that have worked out well have been the ones listed in the sidebar. One notable one, that could has the potential for the greatest reach is Facebook community (at the bottom) because it has a greater universal popularity than the others listed.

3. What Did You Say? Commenting on other blogs yielded a big traffic spike too. I knew this from the get go, but went about it all wrong trying to do it only on the A list Blogs. "Hey Dooce, you are...uh, really neat...and stuff," or "Dad Gone Mad, wow! we have so much in common like you're a dad and so am I. You get mad, and Holy Crap! so do I!" What was going through my head was the same thing going through most new bloggers. "They'll read my site and I'll get discovered, I'll be famous and then [sigh] movie rights!" I was like a 13 year old trying to buy beer with a poorly made fake ID, and if they even read my comment they saw right through it like the 275 others that day. The only exception to these PTP'ers (prime time players) being Rude Cactus, because he's actually me written back a few times. When I joined blog communities, I held back on comments because I was self conscious (go figure). Finally, it dawned on me to just be myself and post comments as if I were having dinner with friends - upbeat, but sincere. Bloggers can smell fakeness (reference above). I also figured out it's just good manners in responding to comments other readers make on my post either in comments or by email. Most already do this like Tara and Blogger Dad.

4. First Impressions: I've changed the layout on the Lunchbox more times than I did majors in college. My wife would tease me about it, "You mess with the page more than writing." I just couldn't come up with anything I like and I was too cheap to have it done professionally. Eventually, I figured out you only get one chance to make a lasting impression, and when readers find your site for the time it had better look snappy without making them scroll around. The essential elements for a first look other than the blog title were, a link to an about page, RSS/Subscription widgets, social media widgets for readers to promote for me, a head shot so people could see I was a real person, a list of current comments to show new comers people actually read my drivel, and something that showed this site has some street cred. by being featured elsewhere. Another element, was trying to have a picture in the header of posts to visually draw people into the whatever was written for the day. Along with that was showing only an excerpt from that post so the previous day's post could be seen in the screen shot to peak curiosity a little more. You may feel that other elements are more important than others, there's no real wrong answer here. A layout I really like is Writer Dad's with it's vibrant photos and big social media promo buttons.

5. Just The Stats Ma'am: I both love and hate having a stat counter. I loath it because it's a big distraction for me as I look at the damn thing about every 20 minutes. "5, 17, 23. Oooo, 51!" I need the fix for my ego or something. It's pitiful. But the stat counter I have allows me to see specifically which sources of the above items are drawing in traffic, Social media sources? My comments on other blogs? RSS Readers? Search function? Links from other blog rolls? This is what I based some of the stuff mention in #4 on. This is how I found Heinous which lead to the discovery of a bunch of new blogs out there. The stat counter also tells me which posts are the most popular and what days have higher traffic than others which has aided in shaping my content and general appeal.

Okay, I've droned on enough. This is what's worked, feel free to use or refute whatever you like. As mentioned somewhere in this post, I'm a block-head, making no claims to any form of genius. Feel free to add to the discussion or share a post of your own. Need to check the stat counter now.

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