Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rock the Blog-- My Top 13 Tips for Bloggers

Rock the Blog is a "How To" for bloggers!

From graphics to html and all kinds of bloggery goodness!

Since I'm based on Blogger most posts will revolve around the Blogger platform though some ideas may apply to Wordpress as well.

Rock the Blog is a little different today. I've seen a handful of posts and comments lately that got me thinking about the bits and pieces I feel are important in blogging. Things that make it easier, help give a blog presence, make it stand out and that keep it going year after year. 

So I picked out my top 13 tips or things I do that have kept me going the past 3 1/2 years. That have kept me loving blogging with a passion. So, today, I thought I'd share some of my <tries to keep a straight face and not snort> blogging wisdom. lol So here goes...

My biggest tip to bloggers is to find your own personal voice and just...embrace the hell out of it. 

Some blogs are formal. Some prim and proper. Some naughty or cheeky or laid back. Don't try to fit into a certain mold of what you think the ideal blogger should be. Let your personality come through. If you're more prim and proper go for it. If you have a dirty mouth. Make that work. A bit silly or goofy. For me I'm laid back, have a dirty mouth and sometimes I can be cheeky, I think. It works for me. Play up whatever your personal strengths and flavors happen to be.

The blogs I've stuck with over the years were the ones that let a bit of their sparkle shine through and didn't look or sound like a dozen others that crossed my path. They stood out. They made an impression. And they kept me coming back because of it.

Be unique. Be consistent. Be memorable. You want people to see your logo or name out and about and instantly connect that with your blog, your voice, your reliability as a blogger. 

Keeping things fairly similar over time is pretty important. Doing major design changes every week or month can be seriously confusing especially in our world where many blogs have similar names.

It's not that you can't make big changes but make sure you give it a lot of thought before you jump. You want people to remember you and visual recognition is one of the key ways you'll stick in someone's mind. So a complete redesign/image is going to have you starting from scratch in some ways.

Be consistent with it too. On nearly every social media you'll see a variation of my blog cat graphic and a user name that reflects the blog name. I'm never just Anna. Instead It's Anna's herding cats. Or for handles @herdingcats2012. There's always a connection to herding cats in there. I want people to instantly know it's me when I'm out in the virtual world.

One of the best ways to get your name out there is to be a part of the community. It's good for your blogging soul too :D

It can be time consuming but it can also do amazing things for you as a blogger. For people to know you're out there they have to actually see your name. Authors and publishers check out blogs as well now and again and it might just be how you hit their radar. Same with followers. I've had some go 'oh I saw you over on so in so's blog and wanted to check you out'. I've done the same when I'm out visiting. It's also a great way to pick up motivation, tips and get help when you need it because you'll have those relationships and connections already.

So...join in on blogging events, visit other blogs, leave comments, socialize on social media. Reply to comments on your own blog. Get to know your followers when you can. Start up friendships with other bloggers and have a good time. While not all bloggers are going to be receptive and can be clique-ish there are tons out there that are friendly, welcoming and like to socialize. So find your people! And jump in feet first.

A couple years ago I made a big change. I decided I wasn't going to be a last minute blogger anymore. I was going to Blog Ahead.

I wasn't going to hit publish on a post 2 minutes before that post needed to be live. I just...couldn't keep going like that. It was too stressful and making things less fun and more work. So I buckled down. While friends were busting ass writing during NaNoWriMo I busted ass in the blogging world. I wanted to end the month with 60 posts scheduled. It was HARD. I was damn near tears multiple times. But at the end of the month my blogging world was completely changed and I've not looked back.

Now twice a year I host an event called Blog Ahead to help others do the same to a smaller degree. The next will be in October. If you'd like to be notified about that just submit your email HERE.

It gave me breathing space. If I'm having an off day... I don't have to fret over finishing a post I might not be feeling because I have posts ready to go at any given moment. Reviews or memes or discussions that I was able to get done but that didn't need to go live right that second. I can hit publish on one of those and go about whatever else I want or need to focus on in my physical life.

It cut out most of the stress I was feeling over blogging. Instead of the blog running my life I was running the blog again. It wasn't an easy mindset to get into but you can make it a habit. There's that 21 days to make something a habit idea and it really does work.

I limit my daily posts. My goal is ONE main post for every 24 hour time period. One review or interview or guest post or feature. And that's it. 

Some days it's not possible but it's my goal. This has really been good for both myself--totally saved my sanity and helped me with blogging ahead-- and the authors/etc I'm featuring since they're the main focus for that day instead of competing for the spotlight with three to 10 other posts. Blog followers are likely to visit one post per day. Maybe two. But time restraints usually aren't going to allow for much more than that. 

If I do end up having an extra post or two it's more likely to be a sign up or a book deals post. Or something similar that I need to get out there but doesn't need to have a full 24 hours focus on it or will have limited interest/target audience. 

It may seem odd but if a blog I'm following posts 10 posts per day (and I've seen some post 17+ per day) I'm likely to not visit any of them. It's overwhelming and I end up just marking them read in my feed and quickly moving on. 

There are thousands of bloggers and one of the best ways to make yourself stand out is to consistently post original content. 

When I started out I signed up for a lot of tour companies. Did a lot of spotlight posts that looked like dozens of other blogs. That seemed to be what was expected of bloggers. But I found it just didn't work for me. They didn't bring in traffic--because the same thing was posted on so many other blogs so why would they stop in to see the exact same thing on mine-- and they stressed me out waiting for content, spending hours formatting, etc. So I stopped doing them. And it made a big difference for my blog. 

I'd say at this point 95% of the blog is original content. Either a review, an exclusive guest post or interview (I won't accept ones that are going to be or have been posted to other blogs) or a unique feature. Every now and again I'll do a spotlight post if it's an author I absolutely adore and have worked with but it's extremely rare.

It's okay to tell an author that as well. I get asked to do spotlights often. My general reply is that I'm sorry but I don't host general spotlights but if they're interested I'd love to do a guest post with them or an exclusive feature. Sometimes they take a pass. Other times the author jumps on it and we'll do a fun guest post or interview. And it keeps my blog feeling fresh and unique which is a huge plus.

Link your blog. Link your blog. Link your blog. I can't stress this one enough. 

It may seem like a minor thing but it's HUGE. You want people to know who you are, which blog you belong to and be able to get there quickly. People will only spend so much time trying to figure out who you are and getting to you. So make it easy for them.

Make sure ALL of your profiles are linked properly. For commenting on blogs take a little time and create a profile on each platform. Blogger, Disqus, Wordpress. It takes a few minutes but can make a big difference. If you aren't sure if yours is linked click on your name and see what others will see if they click on you. If a blog uses CommentLuv or something similar...enter your blog address in the appropriate field when commenting. Same goes for your Facebook profile. If you're okay having people know you blog link it in your personal profile. In your Amazon review profile. In your Goodreads description. Twitter description, etc. 

Make it easy for people to find you and your blog no matter where they run into you.

I know, I know. Social media--Facebook in particular--is the bane of pretty much everyone's existence. But they're incredible tools if you can find your niche and work at it. 

One of my biggest focuses as a blogger was Facebook. That's where I spend most of my time and it's paid off for me. I post bookish things but I also post things about the herd, photos from daily life, annoyances and snort-worthy things. Memes and hot guys. While it's not all book related it gets people engaged. Gets them liking posts, commenting, sharing and coming back. In turn they see my bookish posts because I'm more likely to show up in their feeds.

If all a blog does when posting to FB or social media is share buy links, promo, has blog posts auto shared when they go live (ex via Network Blogs) they're likely going to be tuned out and fall out of people's feeds because that's what the vast majority of bloggers do with their social media. It becomes white noise and easily ignoreable. It doesn't show their voice or get people noticing that one out of a crowd of thousands of bloggers. 

So play around. Test things out. See what works for your followers. It's not an overnight thing that'll magically have your post seen by hundreds or thousands but gradually if you can get your followers interacting it'll improve.

And multi-task when it does make sense. While auto posting isn't always great it can have it's place. I have all of my FB posts auto tweet to Twitter, for example. I don't love Twitter but this gives me a presence there and I can jump on if someone replies to me.

Figure out what you can realistically manage each week or month and stick with it. 
Over-commiting can be very easy to do. Especially with review books. I think all of us fall into that now and again. I know I have.

When I started blogging I went a bit crazy with accepting review requests and I'm still making up for that and slowly trying to work in old reviews with current ones. It's hard to fix that once you've gotten yourself in that spot. I'm better about current reviews. I know how many I can fit in each month with reading and review writing/formatting and I try to not accept any I know I'll have to delay past the month they release.

If a review request doesn't totally interest you it's okay to say no. That took me a while to get there but it's definitely something I wish I'd learned earlier.  If you know you can only read 15 books in a month don't take on 30 for review. You'll make yourself miserable. Free books are great. Being asked is awesome and gives a little thrill. But bogging yourself down and making blogging work will lead to burn out so damn quickly. 

It's important to say no now and again.You need to do what's right for your blog, your time and your followers. If it's not something you're interested in don't feel pressured to feature, review or host the author. It's going to be okay if you say you can't do x, y or z.

It was hard when I first started to say no to publishers or authors that wanted reviews or to be featured in some way. It's exciting getting asked, ya know? You do not owe authors or publishers space on YOUR blog. If you're able to help out and it's something you're interested in...sure go for it. But if it's not the thing for you...there are other blogs out there that can feature the author. We offer a free service so there is absolutely no responsibility on your part as a blogger to host an author unless you want to or have agreed to do so.

With thousands of authors desperately wanting face time on blogs it's easy to feel like you have to say yes to everyone that wants anything from you. But there are only so many hours in the day and only so many of those that can be dedicated to blogging. So do what you want but don't let it stress you out or take away the fun in blogging.

Don't be afraid to try out new things on your blog. It keeps things fresh and exciting and can turn out to be a great thing.
I'm always trying out new blog features. Some are a hit and become permanent features. Others...not so much. I've totally bailed on a few after trying them out once or twice and seeing they just didn't get a response or didn't have a spark that made me passionate about the. So I dropped them.

It's okay to test the waters. Try a cooking post if you love to cook. Or blog about your volunteer work. Or...whatever it is you're into. Change up your review format. Host an event.

It helps keep things fresh and interesting even if it doesn't turn out to be a long term feature. Your commitment is one post or one event. Not too scary :D not always easy. But if possible be prompt and timely with everything. From posting reviews to replying to comments to visiting on Facebook. 

This is where I bust ass. Or at least try to. I have notifications set on my phone for both Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads and the blogs commenting system. If someone leaves a comment anywhere I try to reply right away or at least within a few hours of their posting (as long as I see it--sometimes social media doesn't send notices). I'm not always perfect with it. Sometimes it takes me a bit to get to blog comments and I miss notifications now and again or an email but I put a ton of effort into this.

I want my followers to feel like they're an important part of the blog and that I value any time they spend with it. And, for me, this is how I do that. It also forges relationships and keeps people coming back because they know you're going to be there to chat, etc which is a very good thing for a blog.

The blogging community as a whole is incredibly giving and helpful. Don't be afraid to ask for help!

Many bloggers do tutorials on their blogs, there are blogging groups on Facebook, etc. It's okay to ask for help if you need it with something and to check those groups out. I run one called the Social Blogger, for example. Yall are all, of course, welcome to join in on that. Some days we vent in there, sometimes we have a mutual squee and then there's a solid group of ladies who are around to offer advice, help figure things out and just support each other on a daily basis.

I would link this back to being a part of the community and getting to know other bloggers. If you're friendly with a blogger and have that relationship it's easier to find a bit of help or advice when you need it.

So those are my thirteen bits of advice and the things I focus on when I sit down to blog. For me they've worked. They've made the blog what it is, kept me focused and solid in what I do and kept me from burning out. I'm not perfect at any of the above but I keep them in mind every day and try to achieve.

What are YOUR tips and words of wisdom for fellow bloggers? What's kept you rocking and blogging and made your blog a success?

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