How do you make a go of blogging? We’ve been covering different ways to improve blogging through our blogging 101 series, and through general blogging related articles, but not everyone reads everything, and over and over again you see the same issues repeat themselves.
In the last fortnight I’ve rattled off three free blog reviews for people, two as a result of my recent post on Problogger, and one following a post here. I’m not about to open the door to offer free blog reviews on demand: they are time consuming and my desire to help people does have its limits, but likewise doing them on occasion does have some rewards, because they force me to think and focus on the best ways to improve blogs, and outside verticals I’m familiar with is better again, because you go back to base principles.
Here’s some of the points I made in some recent blog reviews without naming the blogs, or discussing each vertical in the summary. They’re points you might be familiar with, but there may be something you can use to improve your blog.
You need your own URL
I don’t care what some blogging gurus and ebook salesman say: you will rarely, if ever have a truly successful (successful may be revenue, traffic or both) blog on a blogspot.com or wordpress.com domain. It costs $8-$10 to register a .com domain, and it’s a cheap investment.
Hosting is a bonus
I recognize that some people can’t afford hosting and you can map URL’s to a Blogger account and other free services, but ideally you should if you can afford it look at a shared hosting account with a self hosted blogging platform such as WordPress, MovableType or similar. Most good hosts offer WordPress installation so you don’t need to know FTP or how to do it the old fashioned way.
Hosting isn’t that expensive either, you can get reasonable shared hosting packages from $5-$10 per month. Although I don’t recommend them once you start to do higher levels of traffic, Dreamhost is a reasonable low end provider (although I know they aren’t perfect, so please don’t flame in the comments). Click here for a $97 discount on yearly hosting (so hosting works out at around $25 for the first full year) or enter the discount code “inquisitr” when signing up.
Don’t use fancy URLs
You need a URL, but it shouldn’t be overly fancy. I couldn’t get the dots right in Delicious for a long time, and eventually even Yahoo dumped the fancy URL for simply Delicious.com. Your URL should simply be yourname.com and not you.rna.me or something like that, unless the combination is very easy to remember.
Looks can kill
Not everyone has design skills, but an ugly site can be a turn off, even with the best content in the world. If you’re using WordPress, there are thousands of free templates available, and some great Premium WordPress themes as well. This site started with a Premium WordPress Theme, so I speak from experience :-)
Balancing looks and practicality
One site I reviewed had these amazing images, pictures that should have been the strong point for the site, but the images were displayed in Flash galleries, and the stats for the site were showing little or no Google Images traffic, or related search. I know Google is suppose to be indexing Flash now, but I still recommend avoiding Flash for images, or any other part of your site you want to get indexed.
Avoid Generic Terms
Another site I reviewed was using generic terms in their tags to describe the posts, sort of a quasi categories use case. Categories are there for a reason: use them, and you can easily posts to multiple categories if you like. Tags on the other hand need to reflect specifically what’s in the post. So although you may use a generic term for a persons name, the other tags should at least include descriptions of the content, for example Angelina Jolie, Angelina Jolie Pregnant.
Good headlines hook readers
A well written headline is a must if you’re going to hook readers. The trick is to balance between describing the story, and making it interesting as well. I’ve seen both at play in the reviews: headlines that were so practical they were boring and had no hook, through to vague headlines that gave zero indication of what the post was about. There’s no hard rule on what is right or wrong, and it can vary post to post, but you need to think what might appeal to regular readers and casual visitors.
Play to your strengths, but don’t ignore related material
One site I reviewed focused on perceived strengths, while ignoring related material. Niche is all very good, but if you’re not getting a lot of traffic in your niche sometimes you need to go wider to support that content. You have to balance a narrow niche with broader appeal sometimes to be able to have the luxury of writing about the things you really want to write.