This article appeared in the November/December 2008 issue of Writers’ Journal. It’s part 1 of a 3 part series. Since its publication I have revised my opinion of the value of blogs, primarily due to the improvements in the WordPress software. My current opinion is that unless you’re in need of a robust shopping cart or something over-the-top glamorous and artistic, you really should set up WordPress’s self-hosted package. It contains the strengths of a website while retaining the strengths of a blog and thanks to a collection of marvelous programmers and an open source code, it can do all sorts of things.
I know I go through the set-up of both Blogger and WordPress in this article, but since then, I’ve stopped including Blogger in my classes. My reasons are:
- The platform is not as adaptable as WordPress.
- The software is flaky and often loses posts.
That being said, I still use it to teach web design and programming my middle school students because it’s free and doesn’t cost anything to change the CSS. If WordPress.com would just make their CSS free to change…
I hope you enjoy the article. It’s an antique, but there are a few evergreen tips in it.
If you’re trying to figure out how to build your marketing platform on the web, you’ve probably heard a great deal about blogging. I’ve mentioned blogging in one of my previous columns. Blog is a contraction of “web” and “log.” It’s an interactive media that is designed to be updated regularly, syndicated on the web, and commented on by readers.
What a blog can do for you is:
- Establish your credibility as an expert on your topic
- Allow you to easily create and syndicate content, which will help in your search engine ranking results
- Create an easy way for you to interact with your potential readership.
Did you happen to notice the word “easy?” Blogging platforms, especially the free hosted ones like Blogger (www.blogger.com) and WordPress, (www.wordpress.com) are simple to set up and post entries to. If you can get onto the internet, you can start and maintain a blog.
If you’re wondering how simple, take a look:
1. Create Free Account.
2. Choose name and url for blog.
3. Choose a Look
4. Start Posting
That wasn’t such a chore, now was it? The real question is, “should you?” A person with good blogging potential:
- Has something to say
- Has a passion for writing
- Wants to be the central voice on their site
- Is a self-starter
- Is willing to commit to doing it
- Likes to read
- Is thick-skinned
If you have so much to say about a subject that you’re bursting at the seams, a blog may be a good thing for you. In order to achieve any of the benefits of blogging you have to do it a lot—daily ideally, weekly at the minimum. If you prefer to speak instead of write, a V-log (video blog) or a Podcast (audio broadcast) may be more your style. Good blogs are about content and the more fresh and juicy the better. If you can’t commit to posting once a week, consider taking on a partner or finding someone else’s blog and offering to contribute.
To be a good blogger, you have to be able to sit yourself down and post. No one is going to do it for you and no one is going to prod you into doing it. You also have to like reading what other people are saying on your topic. The best blog posts include links to other resources. You have to be willing to do the research.
Just as important, you have to be able to take criticism. Everyone out there is a critic and some of the responses you get to your posts may be unpleasant. In fact, there are people out there who pick fights just to be mean. If you’re in the habit of wearing your heart on your sleeve, blogging may not be a good fit for you.
Other things to consider before starting a blog:
- Is my audience on the internet?
- Would my time be better spent writing articles for publication?
Blogging is a huge time investment. Being a writer means that you are able to create this content with relative ease compared to the rest of the population, but you need to weigh heavily if that time wouldn’t be better spent doing some other form of self-promotion.
If you plan to blog in the hopes of being discovered by an editor or publisher and then offered a book deal, then you need to rethink your strategy a bit. Yes, there are people who landed book deals or serious writing jobs after their blogs were discovered. The Julie/Julia project and New York Hack are two examples of this. Both of these examples happened three to five years ago when blogging was relatively new. There is a chance that lightning could strike you as well, but understand that there is an incredible amount of competition now—much more than there was even three years ago—and that competition has probably been at it a lot longer than you. Tenure in bloggerland usually equals content volume and content is the key to generating a following. Your chances of discovery will be better if you have a unique and consistent voice and a focused topic.
If your plan for your blog is to have fun, then go for it. The most successful blogs are run by people just having fun and being themselves while providing content that people want to read. Another fantastic use for a blog is to post the news items that would have gone on your website. News is what blogs do best and they can be integrated with websites to great advantage.
If your plan is to use your blog to build a marketing platform for your writing, then consider a few of these next points. Believe it or not, there are still some people who are not regular visitors on the web. My mother isn’t. She doesn’t even have an email address. My in-laws only use it for very specific things. If your target demographic is Americans ages 55 and older, your time may be better spent writing articles for print magazines and newspapers. Do have a web presence so that you have a url to put in your by-line, but your focus needs to be less on the web and more on print and in-person appearances. What a blog may do for you in this instance is give you a place to retire all of those articles, poems, and short stories that have already appeared in print as many times as possible. If you have a file of these sitting somewhere, you’ll have ready-to-use content for quite some time if you pace your posting.
If your target audience is firmly on the web, find out how they prefer their information. Maybe they download audio recordings to listen to while they commute to work. Join things like Yahoo Groups on your topic and ask. If your audience reads blogs, you’re in luck.
One more note. While you can get away with recycling your blog content into a book, you can’t so easily reuse those posts in magazines. Most magazines consider a blog post as a first printing and will therefore only purchase reprint rights from you. If the magazine in question only ever accepts first rights, you will have eliminated yourself from that market entirely. When deciding what to post to your blog, consider maintaining an order of operations:
- print magazines,
So is blogging right for you? The answer is a definite maybe. Blogging can be a valuable part of your online marketing platform. Just be sure that it’s the platform that you want first.
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on internet marketing. Her internet marketing workbook, Marketing For Writers is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.