A question landed in my inbox a couple weeks ago. An acquaintance wanted to start a blog, and wondered if I had any tips. I told him I’d write a blog post about it as it was the second time in a week I’d been asked that question. If you’re thinking about starting a blog – or if you’re subscribed to my blog and will get this in your inbox anyway – grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a quick history lesson.
My first blogging venture began in the abyss called ‘LiveJournal,’ a platform that has since gone the way of the dinosaur and Myspace. As an internet newbie in the tender throes of my thirteenth year, I had no idea what I was doing. I quickly discovered that Good and Evil are very much present on the internet; from the user called ‘thefacelessevil’ (I remember you, buddy) who called me a ‘f*cking, Bible-thumping bitch’ to the kind user who came after and told me not to feed the trolls.
I then realized that the internet was a magical place – I could either get dragged into heated ‘Eowyn the Slut vs. Arwen the Perfect’ arguments (yes, they were real back in the day and yes, they were utterly ridiculous) or I could use my slice of webspace to help and encourage however I could.
I turn twenty-three in three months, which means soon I’ll have a full decade of blogging under my belt. I’ve learned a thing or two in those years – they’ve seen me progress from LiveJournal to Blogger to WordPress, from constant ‘blog parties’ and facepalm-worthy writing to advice-doling and coherence (amazing!). I have roughly 700 subscribers, which is pretty decent for a non-monetized blog (and very, very tiny for a monetized blog. Seriously. Have you SEEN what those babies can do) – in short, I kinda, sorta know what I’m doing now.
- Don’t skimp when it comes to blog design. Tossing up the first theme from the ‘free themes’ section is a surefire way to kill your blog before it starts. You want your website to look inviting, accessible, and attractive, so go the extra mile.
- Let other blogs inspire you, but don’t copy. If you’re brand new to blogging, it can be tempting to fashion your blog after another cool one you love, but don’t do it. Several things can happen – a) the blogger notices (while I’ve never been intentionally guilty of this, I have experienced copiers), b) your blog ‘sticks’ that way by accident (your mom warned you that if you made that blog it’d stick that way, doll), or c) it sets you off on the wrong foot. I know – this is new territory, and that can be scary, but it’s okay! Trial and error, babe. Trial and error.
- Find your niche. This is very important if you’re aiming for professionalism, but less important if you just want a web diary. Still, it’s imperative that you find YOUR blogging style and stick with it. People don’t want ‘the next Hannah Gale’ or, I don’t know, ‘the next Matt Walsh.’ They want NEW. That’s you.
- Be open to change. Your blogging style & preferences will evolve as you figure out what you’re doing. It’ll go through several awkward puberties (RIP internet hormones) and that’s okay.
- Reply to comments. As a fledgling blogger, nothing put stars in my eyes like having a blogger I admired respond to me in person. I still admire bloggers who take the time to show personal interest in their readers. (Granted, there may come a time when this simply isn’t feasible, but don’t worry. That’s a looong way off.)
- DO NOT EVER take a month-long blogging break without announcing a hiatus. This is irresponsible blogging and can make your readers feel unimportant, which means you lose followers + general interest. Bad.
- Let your voice come through. No matter what you have to say, make sure your personality is front and center! Are you bubblier than a glass of champagne? Bubble away! Are you unable to speak without biting sarcasm? Bite away! As long your writing is an accurate representation of you, you won’t lose originality.
- Don’t clutter. I remember the days when I had not one, but TWO sidebars full of buttons, links, and useless little widgets (click the mouse over the tank to feed the fish!). You don’t want your readers to feel like they opened a broom closet and had the contents fall on their heads. Trust me.
- PICTURES. And not just ‘I snapped this blurry photo in the basement last night which is why you can’t really see anything due to the lack of actual light’ pictures. I’m talking crisp, shiny, staged pictures. Flatlays! Still life! Etcetera, etcetera. Aesthetic, people. Aesthetic.
- Don’t post at night. I learned this through trial and error – don’t do it. Did you write a stream of consciousness at 12:14 a.m.? Schedule it. Optimal posting time is morning -I like to schedule my blog posts to go live between 7:30-10:30 in the morning. It’s early enough that most of my readership has time to see the post in their inbox, or read it during their morning catch-up. If you post it at night, chances are people are asleep and your post will go unnoticed. Timing is key.