This past weekend I marked my three year "blogiversary." Blogging had been a dream of mine since our 2004 move away from family and friends to Long Island for a two-year stint. I wanted it to be a way to keep in touch with everyone until we moved back to the Midwest.
At the time, I read no blogs and had absolutely no clue how to go about starting one. When my son, Joey, was sick with cancer, I started an online journal to keep in touch with our friends, families and community about his illness. It was during that time that I really found my voice and my passion for writing. But still, I did nothing.
Then one day I was sitting on my couch with my three sons, who were home on a snow day from school. It was then I had a moment of clarity: it was now or never. I was 40 years old, unexpectedly pregnant with baby #5 and still grieving the loss of child #1. I needed something for me.
And then kissing the frog was born. In a matter of about 45 minutes, I had it up and running. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time, and I told only a few close friends.
Three years later, and I have learned sooo much. I'd like to share some of it with you, for what it's worth.
1. Read blogs, lots of blogs. With an estimated 200 million blogs in existence, there has got to be something that interests you. Read a variety of types on a variety of platforms to get an idea of how you want to structure yours. Look at layout and see what you like and don't like.
2. Choose your blog name carefully. Make it something that reflects what you will write and be memorable at the same time. Google, Google, and Google again to see if there are any other blogs with your same or similar name. Some people have been asked to stop using a certain name because someone else had trademarked something similar - The Honest Toddler is one who famously comes to mind.
You may want to check URLs, Twitter handles, and Facebook pages to see if ones are available that match your name. Kissing the Frog (dot) com is unfortunately taken by a financial book, and the Twitter handle was taken as well. So sometimes I'm 'kissing the frog' and sometimes I'm 'life with the frog.' It sucks, and I've thought about changing the name of my blog to 'Life with the Frog,' but I love 'kissing the frog.' As my tagline says, it's about what life is really like after all your dreams come true. You can change your name - it's been done by other bloggers. My friend Steph of I'm Still Learning started out as Healthy Mom. The change hasn't hurt her blog.
3. Research your chosen blog platform. While Wordpress, Blogger, and Tumblr seem to be the most popular, there are more out there than you know. As I said above, look at other blogs and notice their ease of use. I'm fine with Blogger, and it's expensive and time-consuming to switch over to another platform. I'd love to be on Wordpress because it seems to have more plug-ins available and I like the commenting better than Blogger, but I have no desire to spend the money or take the time to move. Many sites will let you squat for free, or you can pay any number of hosting sites a small fee per year to have your own URL (I pay Go Daddy $10/year to not have @BlogSpot.com in my name). Research your hosting sites, too.
4. Decide what you're going to write about and how often you will post. . . What kind of a theme is your blog going to have? Parenting? Special needs? Grief? Humor? Political? Photography? Reviews? Weekly? Daily? Every MWF?
5. . . .but be flexible. Just know that your blog will be fluid and change will be inevitable. It takes a while to get into your groove. I recently went through and deleted some of my earlier posts that were bombs (basically, that I read and wondered what I was thinking when I wrote them). Sometimes you have enough material to schedule in advance; sometimes life or writer's block gets in your way.
6. Spellcheck, proofread, and preview every post before you hit publish. While no one expects a blogger to be a Nobel Prize winning novelist, it does help if your posts are relatively error free and easy to read. This means no typos, no "texting"-type language, and a grasp of common grammar mistakes like your/you're and there/their/they're. It also helps to break up paragraphs into a few sentences each, and please, for the love of all that's holy, don't center your text, WRITE IN ALL CAPS, or write in color. Those aren't hard and fast rules, but they do make your blog look better and read easier.
7. Don't clutter your blog with so many ads, buttons, and badges that it's hard to see where your post begins. I should talk, right? Have a clear space for your blog post and a clear space for your ads and buttons. I'd suggest either a center placement, like mine, or a left placement, which makes sense to American readers. Frequently clean up your sidebars and eliminate anything that's out-of-date or no longer relevant.
8. Give some thought to SEO. What is SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimization. It has to do with putting key words into your title and throughout your post so that your post is higher up on a search engine's list when people look for a particular topic. My highest viewed post is titled "How to Sleep Train a Toddler in 30 Easy Steps." It is actually a humorous look at how frustrating it is to put a toddler to sleep for the night, but I'm sure people are coming across it for very legitimate reasons. Note: People also like lists that are numbered or bulleted and easy to skim.
9. Find your voice and be true to yourself, while still considering your readers. As I said above in 4 & 5, know what you're going to write about, but realize that it takes time to develop your craft. Once you have found something that works, go with it; but don't be afraid to try something new. If you want to start featuring ads or writing sponsored posts, consider your audience. Do it in a way that they won't even notice that you're trying to sell them something. Anna of My Life and Kids is a pro at this. You're fully engrossed in one of her hilarious stories before you even realize that she is writing a sponsored post. It takes true talent!
10. Understand that not everyone reading your latest post is a long-time reader, so you may need to explain things, link back to a past post that explains your story, or have a top or side tab that explains what your blog is about. When I come across a new blog, the first thing I do is check out the tabs to find out more about the blogger. Make sure you have a tab titled "About" or "Me" or something under which your reader can find out more about you quickly. If they can't figure out who you are and what your story is, they are going to click away. I have a tab titled "Joey's Story" that explains what happened and directs them to a few key posts in his battle.
11. Decide how much you will divulge about yourself and your family. I have an About tab, which I update every now and then with pictures and information about my family. I don't give their real names, but I do write under my real name. Some bloggers, like JD of Honest Mom and Allison of Motherhood WTF, have done a great job of keeping their identities anonymous. It's work, and you have to consider all the angles - commenting on Facebook and the e-mail address through which your posts get mailed out to subscribers. It can be done.
12. If you're taking a "no holds barred" approach, get thick(er) skin. If you are going to post anything slightly controversial at all, the trolls will find you. And trust me, there are a lot of trolls on the WWW! Even if you are not posting anything controversial, people will still make crappy comments. Something about the anonymity of the Internet or something. Decide how you're going to handle it or even if you will handle it at all. I moderate my comments, so I don't have to publish the ones that are just plain mean. I also don't say everything I am thinking either because I hate controversy. A pro on handling Internet trolls is Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She is a master of dealing with haters.
13. Get to know other bloggers. The best way to do this is find blogs you like that are similar to yours and comment consistently (check out this tutorial for easy-peasy advice on commenting from a mobile device). Join link-ups and share other bloggers' posts. Follow them on social media and interact with them. Don't see other bloggers as competition, but as allies. Build your tribe.
There are literally hundreds of other tips I could give, but in the interest of time, I won't. Blogger conferences are great sources of information, too, especially small, intimate ones like BlogU (there's still room and time to register!). And a lot of it you figure out as you go along.
I hope I've given you something to think about. Good luck on your blogging journey!!
Hey, veteran bloggers, what other advice would you give new bloggers?