5 more things I’ve learned about blogging

Earlier this year, I posted 5 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging So Far. There’s always more to that particular discussion, so today, I’m back with 5 more things I’ve learned. In no particular order…

 

Find blogging buddies and start networking

And here’s why: blogging buddies act as sounding boards, sanity savers, motivators and cheerleaders, challengers, and inspiration sources. They can help you promote yourself, help out with guest posts, and get where you’re coming from with blog problems.

There’s more that they can do, but suffice to say, they’re probably a blogger’s secret weapon (or, at least, this blogger’s secret weapon). I could not do what I do, and have done for almost three years here, without some kind of support system, and I love being a cheerleader for friends, too.

 

Ask your readers what works for them

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for blogging issues, because everyone’s audience is different. You can try and experiment with different techniques or style choices, and since you’re the blogger, it’s ultimately up to you. But if you’re looking for advice or direction that has to do with your blog’s functionality, the best people to ask would be your readers, since they are the ones who visit you and read what you have to say.

For example, I did this just last week – I wasn’t sure if the related posts widget I had on my posts was effective for my blog visitors (it only showed up on my blog, not in my RSS feeds). I removed it because I thought it made things look messy, but when I asked my readers, I found out that they liked it. I liked that the older posts I wrote were getting a second chance at exposure, so that, coupled with my readers’ responses, encouraged me to put it back.

 

Spend time on your blog’s navigation

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve got content you want to share, right? So, the burning question becomes, how are you going to organize your information so people can find it? Whether it’s linking to your main pages on your sidebar or having a navigation bar up at the top, your blog’s navigation needs to make sense for visitors.

Start by asking yourself a few questions. What are the important pages? Where is the most important info located? Where do you want to link to? How many off-site links do you have? Can you start grouping things together, like a series of posts, and putting them on a splash page (I did that here)?

Here are a few things you might want to remember to include:

    • Your email address or some way to contact you
    • An about page – you can write this in the first person
    • What your blog is about
    • Links to your most popular posts or series of posts
    • A link to your shop, if you have one
    • A search box
    • An archive list
    • A category list
    • A newsletter sign up, if you have one
    • A way for people to subscribe to your RSS feed
    • Your social media links

Next, think of how you want to physically show it on your blog. The two common places would be on your sidebar or on a horizontal navigation bar up by your header. I don’t think one is better than the other; it’s more a personal preference or a blog template restriction. As a reader, I don’t care so much where the info is located so much as being able to find it when I need it.

Once you’ve got your information grouped, rank them according to importance. Put the most important items on the left of a nav bar, and on the top of a sidebar. Since the Western world reads left to right and top to bottom, make the way our eyes naturally move work for you. Western readers going to see what’s on the left and on the top first, so those are prime real estate areas for your blog. As our eyes travel right and down, attention starts to fade, so keep that in mind.

As for footers, I think it’s a great place to add info, but it shouldn’t be the only spot you employ. Why not? Because not everyone scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the page. If you’ve got a template with a header, no nav bar, and no sidebar but a footer, then it’s obvious to people that they need to keep looking for your info. But if you do have a nav bar and a sidebar, people are going to look there first rather than at the bottom. Instead, consider adding a second set of your most important links in your footer so people who do make it down there don’t have to scroll up.

Finally, when organizing your info, aim for one or two clicks of the mouse. With one or two clicks, can your visitors find the most important info you’re sharing? If it takes longer than that, your navigation may be too complicated or visitors may lose focus, so keep that in mind, too.

 

Post excerpts aren’t reader-friendly

You know what I’m talking about here, right? This is where only part of a post is shown on the blog’s home page; in order to finish out the post, you have to click a link to continue reading. So maybe this point is more of a personal preference than a lesson, but I stand by it. “Continue reading” links and post excerpts on a blog’s home page aren’t very reader-friendly.

As a blogger, I get that it’s a matter of aesthetics, and presenting a cohesive look to your blog. Who doesn’t want that? But from a reader’s point of view, having excerpts on a blog is cumbersome. It’s even more so when there’s an excerpt in a RSS feed. This forces people who subscribe in a feed reader to click over to that blog to get the full post, which defeats the entire purpose of using a feed reader.

Some readers will deal with it, some won’t, but I see “continue reading” links as another obstacle between your content and your readers, so I vote no. It’s may seem like a clever way to ensure blog traffic, getting people to click around your blog, but it could be alienating readers.

It’s hard enough getting readers to visit your blog in the first place, and then stick with you for the long haul. The very best thing you can do for them (and yourself) is to not stand in the way of your content being read. Instead of limiting your content or putting up obstacles, make it as easy as possible for people to read and talk to you. Put the full posts on view of your blog’s home page, set your RSS feed to full, and, if you’re willing to go the extra mile, set up an RSS-to-email list for those who want to get your posts in their inbox.

The one place where I think an excerpt is helpful is on a website where the blog is only one part of a bigger whole. The rest could be a portfolio, a shop, what have you. This is where you have a variety of people coming to your site – readers, shoppers, potential clients – so your front page is probably not your blog. In that case, yes, use an excerpt widget and bring some of your blog front and center. But on the blog’s home page itself, nix the excerpts and go for a full post.

 

It’s okay to change it up

If something’s not working for you, if something’s feeling stagnant, if you’ve lost interest in presenting material a certain way, I think it’s perfectly healthy to stop doing it. As a reader, I’d rather roll with a change, big or small, than continue to read a blogger who’s dialing it in because they think they should. Passion is highly attractive, and easily seen (or not seen).

That said, some changes are easier to do than others. Cancelling a regular series of posts because you’ve lost interest in that topic or changing up blog designs? Those are relatively easy to do, even if coming to a decision about it may feel monumental. Switching blogging niches or moving your entire blog to a new domain is a bigger change, but not unheard of, though serious thought should be given to things like how to get your entire readership to follow you (the truth is not all will, either because they aren’t paying attention, forget to do it, or don’t know how to unsubscribe or resubscribe).

Still, if it’s a change you feel you need to make, make it. Give your readers an explanation about what’s happening so they aren’t totally lost, and go for it.

 

 

Your turn: what are some lessons you’ve learned while blogging?

Missed part one? You can find it here.

 

 

18 Responses to 5 more things I’ve learned about blogging

  1. Replying to comments I receive is very important to me. I admit that I have been a bit lax on that front lately, but it really is important to me. Unfortunately, I can only access my emailed comments late late at night now and lately I have been so busy that this has fallen by the wayside. But I will get back to it.

    Also, I always leave comments on other blogs. I consider this like having a conversation with a friend. I don’t just listen to a friend and then walk away without responding. I have friends who tell me that they read my blog, yet I never hear from them so I do not know they are there. If you take the time to read, you should have a thoughtful comment to add. Thoughtful is the key word. Not a “that was a nice post” sort of thing. If you met up with a friend on the street and they shared something important to them and at the end you just looked at them and said, “The sky is blue today” and walked away it would have the same effect! Carry on the conversation and you will be surprised at the blogging buddies you will make! ;-)

    Enjoy the day, Miss Brandi! I am fortunate to count you among my blogging buddies!
    Erin xo
    Erin Prais-Hintz recently posted Winner… and a RecipeMy Profile

    • I agree, leaving and responding to comments is a great way to start a discussion or keep one going. I’ve been a little lax myself in recent weeks, so I’ve been trying to get back to it regularly. Oh, life is so busy sometimes!

      Thanks for stopping by, Miss Erin!

  2. One of the lessons I’ve learned while blogging is that you, Brandi, are my ‘go to girl’ for what I’ve learned while blogging! Seriously. Your posts and your techno advice, tips and tutorials are invaluable (if I could just get off my butt and implement half of them, I’d be way ahead of the game by now!). And, I like your writing style, too.

    I realize that I learned more from my days working in publishing than I thought I had but unfortunately I’ve forgotten practically all the really important stuff now though! ;-)

    I’ve also learned that finding your voice takes time and patience (something I’m a little low on at times these days,…at least when it comes to myself anyway!) and it’s not only okay to adjust your sails, but mandatory if you plan to keep course.

    As for the post excerpts – I can’t stand those either when it’s a main blog and not a multi-website/e-commerce site like you mentioned. Another thing is having to search everywhere to find how to follow someone via email, contact them or find information on what they do. I like that info to be front and center (or top left/right portion of their blog) and because of this, it caused me to make sure that that sort of stuff was as close to the top as I could get them. As for the older posts and searching my blog – well, that’s a ways down there on my blog and it bugs me,…so that’s a ‘change’ and ‘fix’ I need to make.

    I don’t always comment the way I should on peoples blogs or follow up as instantly as I would like to either and I know I love comments and people chatting w/me – so this is an area where I’d like to improve as well.

    Great post today Brandi. Thanks for once again making me think and causing me to strive to be better in my business!!

    Have a great week!
    Cheers,
    ~Shel~

    • Aw, Shelly, thank you for the sweet words! They are much appreciated!

      I think finding your voice is definitely something that evolves over time. There are few people who really can come out of the gate with a strong, individual voice. For me, it took me the better part of a year to feel truly comfortable! So, yes, I think patience during that time is definitely needed.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Definitely write what you love. I think faking it is too hard to do for very long – it’s less about writing what you think you should, and writing more about what you feel passionate about.

      And right back at ya!

  3. I hate click throughs to read an entire post, be it a blog post or a newspaper/magazine story.

    I do not always leave comments. I am more prone to leave comments on lightly followed blogs than the blogs with a higher number of followers. I have two reasons for this decision:
    1) I have well over 200 blogs in my RSS feed. If I responded to every blog I would never do anything else.
    2) I choose to support those with fewer followers because they need the encouragement more.

    I have to say that I enjoy getting those e-mail replies to my comments. On my blog I reply on line to every comment. I am not sure that the poster always catches the reply. I respond this way to extend the conversation and encourage others to read the comments.

    I use a “next” button on my tool bar from my Google Reader, so I actually read each blog post on the blog site. My visits count.

    Because I use an RSS feed and the next button I am a follower on very few blogs. Recognize that your readers arrive from other places and more than your followers are important.

    I do not use facebook, period, full stop. I think facebook is intrusive and less than honest. If you want me to see something, don’t just post it to facebook.

    I don’t visit blogs to see ads or to see the pretty background wall paper. I like blogs which leave room to focus on the content and post large photos. If I am visiting a jewelry blog I want to see the jewelry- post bigger pictures!

    I recently added a search tool to my blog because I needed it. Tags are wonderful and if you blog for any period of time a search box will be invaluable.

    One final thing, when I provide a link in one of my blog posts, I do my best to let the person that I am linking to know that I posted that link. Links are a great way to acknowledge outstanding work, let the person you are complimenting know.
    KJ recently posted They MultipliedMy Profile

    • Hey KJ! Yep, with 200 blogs to read, I can totally see that it’s sometimes difficult to leave very many comments!

      I downsized the number of blogs I read from 250+ down to less than thirty a while back. Part of this was to not feel so overwhelmed when I did open up my reader, part of it was to be able to focus, and part of it was to lessen the huge flow of info that I put in front of my eyes every day (it was starting to affect my own creativity, you know?). I still pop over every once in a while to check in and see what favorite people are up to, though, even if I’m not following them every day.

      The “next” button you mentioned is intriguing – you say that’s in Google Reader? I’d love to make sure my visits count.

  4. Drat, I really do have a memory.

    Blogger recently changed the default to comment to require that you prove you are human. You have to read some squiggly picture and some out of focus number. It is a painful experience each and every time. It would be impossible for some people with vision problems. If you want comments make it easier for people to comment.
    KJ recently posted They MultipliedMy Profile

    • I’m not a fan of CAPTCHAs, either, though they don’t bother me that much. Funny thing is, I used to have them here when I first started and got some nice feedback saying no one was a fan, so I took it off. And would you believe that when I did, the number of comments I got increased?

      Makes sense now that I think about it, but it surprised me at the time. And you’re right, anyone with vision problems would be in a world of hurt.

      The thing that bothers me more than CAPTCHAs are when blog comments are set for registered or same-platform users only. I have so many logins to remember, sometimes I don’t want to sign up for another one. I don’t like having to register or be on the same platform (like Typepad or WordPress.com) in order to comment. I wish more bloggers would change that setting to allow any user to comment and use a plugin to counteract the spam.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Heather! And yes, I’m a big fan of clean navigation – it’s such a simple, subtle thing that can really improve a reader’s experience.

  5. Hi Brandi, thank you for sharing all those tips, it’s a very useful information. I’ve bookmarked the post to read it again and take notes.
    You gave me a lot to think about and I’m already some changes in mind inspired by your post.
    Alex.
    Alex recently posted Mood Board #3My Profile

  6. Great points! Especially about layout and design: it doesn’t matter if the actual content is really good if the format makes it hard for visitors to read, there’s no photos (images makes it easy for readers to get an idea of the content in an instant when skimming through), it’s hard to find old posts or the layout is messy or confusing.

    So what have I myself learning from blogging? Probably many things that’s become so obvious that I don’t even think about it anymore and then there are some things I do wrong still (often due to my introvert personality). But there are a few things I keep in mind:

    * Asking people what they like and dislike is so important, both when it comes to design and content. Consider a form: while some people hate to fill out forms, it can generate answers you won’t get with a simple, open question where people reply in a comment as you bring up all aspects you want feedback on (you get something more than just “I love your blog” or “it’s very nice, I like it the way it is”) — and those who don’t comment might prefer a structured, anonymous form. Just make the form short and fast. Perks (“fill in and you might win this”) might not be needed, especially not with loyal readers.

    * If I had the money, I’d probably buy the domain name as I can see in my stats that some people try to find my blog on the URL myblogname.com or myblogname.se, forgetting the blogspot part.

    * If I like it, chances are at least some people out there will be interested in it too.

    * Blogging about my creations and creative process, readers appreciate seeing exactly that, glimpses from the process and not just the finished result, including the not so successful attempts and experiments. And they like it when you write a bit about the materials and techniques used.

    * People like a personal and relaxed tone, e. g. addressing the reader directly when writing and keeping it personal (not the same as private).

    * A good blog header will make people curious and keep reading even if the top post on the page is a bit so-so. If they like/love the style and mood of the header, they think they might also like the rest of the content and/or the blogger. It’s like a magazine cover and worth putting thought and time into.

    * People love pretty photos and also something more that just photos of the stuff you make. My personal blog blends jewellery and bead work with photos from my surroundings (garden, forest, fields) and of my cats.

    * To encourage those who don’t get many comments: read stats and realise that many more enjoy reading what you blog about than comment. Some are too shy to comment or don’t know what to say, others to busy, some might not speak the language very well etc. They still like what you do! Reading your blog might even be the first thing they do in the morning!

    As a blog reader I’ve learned two things for my own blogs: 1) don’t make commenting a hassle or pure PITA by forcing those who want to write to register or go through that horrible Captcha routine. Doing that is a great way to discourage people to write and comment! Especially if you have a Blogger blog, Blogger will weed out spam for you and instead it’s better to moderate comments before letting them show up on the blog to avoid advertising, hateful comments etc. and 2) try to learn to make the feed settings right so whole posts and photos show up in a feed reader. I hate to have to click through to a blog just to see if it’s an interesting post or not. As you say, it defeats the purpose of a feed reader — it just makes the subscriber skip to the next blog instead, especially if they follow a lot of blogs that compete for the reader’s attention!

    Personally, I don’t really care that much about getting a reply on my comments via e-mail. I mean, I love it if the person does it because she want to talk to me and start a conversation — I may be asocial, but I still love to interact with others, especially those who share my interests! — but some seem to just do it like a duty, replying with a standardized “thank you for your comment”. That just feels like I got a message because the blogger feels she ought to say something, like it’s a rule she must obey and which have nothing to do with me and my comment. In my socially handicapped mind it just sounds like a hollow phrase (like the difference between asking how are you, not really wanting a personal and honest reply and really asking how someone is feeling because he or she seems a bit tired or upset and you care about it). Myself, I mostly reply on the blog — though I’m good at forgetting that too!

    Oh, this comment is getting so long… I’m going to stop now before writing a whole novel!
    maneki recently posted Meowy Monday — cat photo of the weekMy Profile

    • Maneki, these are awesome, thank you so much for taking the time to share it!! I agree with pretty much everything.

      One thing I wanted to point out is that buying a domain name is relatively inexpensive – about $10 or $15 per year depending on the host. You used to be able to buy one directly through Blogger (I think that’s still true, but I don’t know what changed, if anything, since I moved to WP). The advantages of that is Blogger incorporates it directly into your site, so all of your posts and pages will have your new URL. The downside is that if you ever decide to leave Blogger for WordPress, it’s a complicated process to extract that URL and move it to a full hosting service. It’s possible, but as someone who’s gone through it and messed it up totally, it’s extremely technical. Plus, locating who your domain host is (it’s not Google, even though you bought it through Blogger), then figuring out where to go is frustrating (and Google Help is laughingly not helpful).

      The other option is to buy a domain at any domain name hosting service (I personally use and love Dream Host, after trying multiple hosts) and have it point to your blogspot URL. This doesn’t change anything on your Blogger blog, but helps direct traffic to it. So, people could type MyBlog.com and get redirected to MyBlog.blogspot.com, without altering or changing anything to your actual blog posts and pages.

  7. This is a great round up of observations and advice Miss Brandi. I’m totally in agreement with the blogging buddies. I couldn’t survive without my blogging buddies and I’m so happy that your are one of my biggest sounding boards – if I haven’t said it recently thank you for listening.
    I also really detest excerpts! They bug the hell out of me and for the most part I don’t read more I just keep moving. I just worked on a site for a client and the theme she chose had excerpts on by default and it took an enormous amount of code wrangling to turn it off.
    And thanks for giving me permission to change things! I did that last year and removed a regular post and then brought it back this year. I couldn’t believe how many people commented how happy they were that it was back but never said anything when I announced I wasn’t doing it any more.
    A blog really does take on a life of its own and it grows and changes as we do. I’m always a little amused at new bloggers who set out to do regular weekly posts and that’s it – it kind of misses the point don’t you think?
    Libby recently posted Inspired by :: engravingsMy Profile

    • Oh, I don’t know, I used to do regular weekly posts, too! I used them to get the ideas flowing and find my voice. But I’m not so diehard about doing specific posts on specific days anymore – it was causing me a lot of stress, you know? It was good while I did it, because it kept me motivated, but I like the more relaxed approach I’ve got now.

      And yes, thank you about the excerpts!! They drive me batty, I can’t even tell you. Logically, I know it’s just a click, but I get all huffy when I have to click when I don’t need to. Ah, the psychology of a web user! I was looking at a new blog template that I liked… except it had excerpts as the default and I didn’t know how to turn them off. No thank you!

      And thank YOU for being a blogging buddy – I totally appreciate you!

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