Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What I Learned About Blogging & Tips To Share


I started this blog one year and a hundred and eleven days ago.  I didn’t know much about how to go about it except that I would have to do a lot of writing, put up photos and come up with a blog design that is aesthetically beautiful.  I learned the ins and outs of blogging as I went along.  When I made the decision to start blogging I also decided to be serious about it.  I wanted to consciously make time for it and apply myself.  I even purchased a Kindle book about blogging titled Creative Blogging: Your First Steps to a Success Blog, by Heather Wright-Porto.  It is an excellent book that covers just about everything that a beginner needs to know.  Some of it is common sense, but you cannot assume that everyone has common sense.  Here are the things that I consider extremely important if you become a blogger.

Blogging is a commitment:   Blogging first begins with the decision to become a blogger.  Ask yourself why you want to become one.  Some people blog as a way to keep family and friends up to date on what is going on in their lives.  It is an excellent way for families to stay connected.  You can actually keep your blog private where only invited people can access it.  Or like thousands of others you may want to share your blog with the world.  If you decide that you want a public blog and would like to build an audience, you had better be prepared to work your blog almost as if it is a full time job.  If you are the type of person who usually starts a project with enthusiasm, but after a time you lose interest, then I would say to really think over whether or not you should start a blog.  The internet is already loaded with blogs that were started and after a few months the blogger rarely makes an appearance.  In some cases the blogger seems to have abandoned their blog altogether.  I know that sometimes things come up in life that can take you away from blogging.  If you have been blogging for a while and built up an audience, it is better to let them know that you are taking a much needed break, and then remember to return at some point that isn’t in the way far off future (like years).  If you have simply lost interest for whatever reason, consider closing down your blog.  Closing it down is much better than having it out there on the internet in limbo for years.  I have come across many blogs that have not been update as far back as 2005.  

Blog Design:  Blogging has been around for a long time and over the years it has evolved a great deal.  I remember when blogging just entailed writing your thoughts down and sharing your opinions on various subjects.  Those things still hold true, but now blogging is almost like an art form.  When the audience clicks on your blog for the first time, what they see in the first few seconds is going to determine whether they remain on your blog to browse around or leave right away.  Your banner has got to catch their attention.  Once your banner catches their eyes the reader will be compelled to scroll down to see what else is interesting.  If being creative in this way is not your strong point be honest with yourself about it and have someone else create a blog banner for you.  There are many design companies out there that can create a custom banner for you or even a template for your entire blog.  The costs are not what they used to be either. The prices have come down tremendously.  You can even purchase custom blog templates on Etsy at very reasonable prices.  Click HERE to see a thumbnail list of pre-made and custom blog templates.   Or you can just go to Etsy and type in the words blog templates in the search box.  You can also purchase separate blog design elements on Etsy.  For instance, here on my blog, the buttons that you see on the right hand sidebar to go to my Pinterest, faceback, twitter and bloglovin, I purchased from a designer on Etsy.  Once I made the purchase the designer emailed me the buttons and I installed them myself with the links.  If you don’t know how to install them yourself the designer can do it for you, but they would need temporary access to your blog.  

For my blog design I created the banner myself and then uploaded it to one of Blogger’s templates.  You can choose from a number of different layouts and other settings within the template to create the look that you want.  I also uploaded my own blog background.  What you want to appear on the sidebar is totally up to you, but choose wisely so that the aesthetics of your blog remains of high quality and of interest.  Whatever you do, please do not skimp on your blog design if you want to build an audience and become a successful blogger.  I don’t have a huge regular following yet, but I do get a lot of hits per day and people compliment me all the time on my blog design either through commenting on a post or by sending me private emails.  

Choosing a Host Platform:  As you clearly can see the platform I chose is Blogger, however two other popular platforms are WordPress and Typepad. 


Before you choose your platform it is a good idea to look into the pros and cons of each one.  The book that I mentioned in the beginning of this post lists all the differences between these three platforms.Typepad is great, but you do have to pay a monthly fee for it.  Three monthly price packages are offered at $8.95, $14.95 and $24.95.  WordPress has come a long way in just the past couple of years.  They offer more templates than Blogger does.  WordPress also sells templates on their website from all price points starting from $4.00 to $150.00.  Blogger is completely free, but they do not offer a huge amount of templates for your to choose from.  This is where turning to Etsy can come in handy if you don’t see a template that you like.  Do your research on each platform before choosing one.  You can always switch platforms, but it can turn out to be a big to do.  I love Typepad, but I chose not to go with them because I am not willing to pay a monthly fee for something I could get for free.  Especially since I did not know if I could ever make my blog into something that could sustain me monetarily.  Additionally, not all apps for blogs are compatible with Typepad.  WordPress is also very good but I liked how on Blogger you can add a widget to showcase your followers.  I thought that was really cool, so I went with Blogger.  I do have a WordPress account, but I found putting together my blog much more simple and straight forward on Blogger as well.

Good Quality Writing Skills:   This seems obvious, but I will say it anyway.  Using good grammar is very important.   Do not skip spell check!  I noticed that the auto spellchecker on Blogger doesn’t always work.  When you are finished writing your post read it over again to make sure you haven’t messed up anything.  Sometimes I don’t re-read what I wrote and end up wanting to gasp when I catch a writing or spelling error after I published the post.  I think that all bloggers make writing errors from time to time.  I see it when reading other blogs, but that doesn’t make me feel better when I discover writing blunders on my own blog.  The internet has dictionaries and other writing tools for you to use if you need assistance.  My challenge is knowing when to use commas and semi colons.  I do the best that I can.  

I love to laugh and have fun so I do pepper some of posts with humor.  I think that it  is also important to write from the heart and about what you are passionate about.  Do not try to copy someone else just because they have a huge following. 

 Another piece of advice that I would give is to keep profanity completely out of your writing.  It seems like profanity is used a lot in regular speech these days, but it is still offensive to many people.  Don’t include it in your writing.  Some people do it for shock value, but instead it is just plain offensive.  

Windows Live Writer is a great tool to use to compose your blog posts.  I did not know about Windows Live Writer until very recently (like yesterday).  You can download Windows Live Writer for free by clicking HERE.  You can write all of your blog posts from there, including adding pictures, links and videos and then send it to your blog for publishing.

Single Subject Blog?:  Many articles online that talk about becoming a blogger advises that you pick a subject to blog about and stick to that if you want to be successful as a blogger.  Personally, I don’t believe that is true.  It seems that the majority of blogs has a focus such as food, DIY projects, style/Fashion.  There are makeup blogs, book blogs, travel blogs, etc.  I have seen successful blogs that write about a variety of things so I am not worried about it.  

I find that I cannot write just about one or two things all year long because my list of things that I love and enjoy runs deep.  If you are going to choose one subject to focus on you have to be able to keep it interesting and fresh all throughout the year.  My blog started out focusing on my Victorian brownstone, but I quickly realized that I did not feel like writing about my home all the time, so I gave my blog the sub heading of Home, Love, Life.  That covers a wide range of topics.  Many of the blogs that I love visiting regularly do focus on one subject and they do it very well.  I have a lot of respect for bloggers who can do it and keep it fresh.

Turn OFF The Music:  Readers and bloggers alike both agree that one of the most annoying things is clicking on a blog and having music auto playing in the background.  Music auto playing on blogs is extremely distracting.  It can also prove frustrating when you cannot easily find the device playing the music so that you can turn it off.  When you click on anything on the blog and the page refreshes the music starts all over again.   It is best to keep music out of your blog design.  If you really want to include music, at least do not set it to auto play.  Give the audience the option to play it if they want to.  Chances are very high that no one will turn it on.

Turn Word Verification OFF:  When I first started blogging I enabled word verification for the commenting section.  I figured it would be in the best interest of my blog even though I did find it very annoying when I commented on other peoples blogs.  A few months into blogging, Jacqueline from Cabin & Cottage gave me some tips, and one of them was to turn word verification off.  She said that no one likes it and that it was not really needed.  The really successful blogs did not use it.  Since I couldn’t stand the word verification thingy either, I understood what Jacqueline was saying to me about it.  I turned it off and found that, indeed, I did not need it.  

I never had my comments set to needing approval first and after a year plus of blogging I found that you don’t need it.  In Blogger, as long as you don’t allow everyone including unregistered users to comment on your blog you should be fine.  If you click on “anyone”, you will get spammers.  I tried it out once and within an hour of resetting it to “anyone” I got a spam comment.  I deleted it and reset it back to “registered Users”.  Honestly though, word verification is a turn off and sometimes my comment won’t go through because I can’t make out some of the letters and have to do it 3 or 4 times before I am successful.  Besides the one spammer, in the thirteen months since I have been blogging I only had to delete two other comments.  Granted though I don’t have people commenting on a regular basis.  However, very successful bloggers do not use word verification and have no problems.  

I think that in Blogger the word verification is the default so many bloggers that use that platform had no idea that comments had to go through that. Check your settings to make sure it is off. 

Growing Your Audience:  This is kind of a tricky one.  Besides the obvious I am not really sure what makes your audience grow at this point.  Of course you must let people know that you have a blog and you do so by visiting other blogs and leaving comments there on a regular basis.  This is something that I admit I need to do more of.  There are a small handful of blogs that I leave comments on but I need to do it on much more blogs than I am doing right now. 
In the morning I have the best of intentions to visit all the blogs that I love and interact through commenting.  My issue is that once I get on the first couple of blogs I can get so much into clicking on links I find interesting and before I know it an entire hour has gone by without me going to the other blogs I intended to visit.  
As of this post I have 69 charming followers.  My very first follower was Ivy and Elephants, so they hold a special place in my heart.  Ivy and Elephants encouraged me and also offered up some tips.  From there I started to get a few more followers after Jacqueline from Cabin & Cottage featured me on  her blog.  You can see that by clicking HERE.  Now I am up to 69 people after just over a year.  
I have no idea how many people actually subscribe to my blog feed, but I do get a lot of traffic.  During the Christmas season I was getting 5000 hits per day for about a month.  I can’t wait for next Christmas.   Even though many people are visiting my blog daily most of them do not comment even though I made it very easy for them to do so.  For some reason people love to browse around my blog but never say a word.  I do get private emails from people asking me questions about a post they read.  I have no idea why people don’t just comment on the post but emailing me is fine.

I love it when I can help a reader out.   A few weeks ago a woman in Alabama sent me an email thanking me because her daughter is getting married and found her dream wedding dress on my blog.  They looked everywhere and could not find what her daughter wanted until they came upon my blog.  The woman printed the photo of the wedding dress from my blog and it is now being custom made for her daughter’s wedding in May.  Another reader contacted me by email asking me to help her find something she saw on my blog and really wanted for her wedding reception.  I was able to track it down for her on Etsy.   These things make me feel so good inside.  

Joining linking parties is another way to advertise your blog.  I don’t join linking parties much though because I don’t feel I have much to link about.  I am not really a do it yourselfer and I don’t focus specifically on my home enough to join in on linking parties.  I just purchased a DSLR camera though.  I want to be able to take great photos around my home more often and post updates.  This Sunday I have a class about photography for bloggers from 10am to 4pm.  I am so excited about it!   I have a huge backyard that I have been turning into an English Garden.  My pink knockout rose bushes have matured so much since my Mom planted them for me several years ago.  I want to be able to take fabulous photos of my garden this summer and post them on my blog.   As I learn how to use my camera I am going to start carrying it around with me everyplace.  The city I live in has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world that I want to capture more of on camera. 

Include Images in Posts:    It is very important to include at least one photo image on every post that you publish.  I don’t care how great your writing is, it is very important to include visual interest as well.  Your writing is the cake and the photo images are the needed frosting on top.  When not using your own images be sure to give proper credit and a link back where possible. 

Subjects NOT to Talk About:   Unless you are targeting more a of newsgroup type audience I would stay away from politics.   Usually there is name calling and other insults going back and forth.  There is more than enough of that on Facebook.   In case you are wondering, yes, I did vote for Barack Obama both times and squealed with delight when he won BOTH times

I would also stay away from writing religious posts unless your blog is specifically for that audience.  I do have another blog specifically focusing on my spirituality but I am not going to share the name of it here.  If you happen to find it on your own that is fine but I won’t promote it on Collar City Brownstone.  I do have an image of Jesus and Saint Germain on my sidebar nearer to the bottom but I do not actively promote my spiritual beliefs on Collar City Brownstone as if I were looking for recruits.  I will never do that. 

There are some other points I want to make about blogging, but I will leave them for another time.  This post is already a mile long.   


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