How to blog like a pro

Less than a year after I started Bad Language, it’s still a surprise to me that a) it’s been as successful as it has been and b) people now ask me for advice about starting a blog. Equally, nobody told me the whole thing would be so much fun.

Anyhow, I was asked again for some tips by someone starting a blog and I thought the most appropriate response was a blog post.

So this is a list of what has worked for me. Your mileage may differ.

  1. Write often. I try (*try*) to write every week day. It doesn’t always happen because of work pressure but it is easier to maintain the discipline if it is regular. I like using Joe’s Goals to track this. Traffic seems to drop off dramatically at weekends so I don’t post then, although I sometimes run a ‘links list’ style post on Saturdays but it’s mainly things I’ve collected during the week.
  2. Keep a scratchpad. I use the notes field in an Outlook task item for each of the blogs I write to capture links, ideas, to-do items and so on. When I actually sit down to write, I’ve usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore. It’s useful to have a few stub posts ready to expand or edit in case you don’t have time to write a long piece.
  3. Have a time to write. I tend to blog first thing in the morning, usually around 6am. That’s just me. (See my post on how to get up early.) I know other people who write after work or in their lunchbreak.
  4. Variety is the spice of life. I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles. The ‘how to’ list is popular but I like to run longer, more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations. One of the pleasures of the blog is that I don’t have an editor who tells me what to write or how to write it. To this extent it is a playground for me.
  5. Contribute to the conversation. There are an awful lot of sheep on the Internet. With nearly 60 million blogs in existence,you really want to try and be a sheepdog. In my opinion, it’s important to say something new and something interesting to contribute that the conversation.
  6. Be yourself. Voltaire once said, “if we don’t find anything good a least will find something new.” Ideally you want to say something interesting, Just be yourself. Some of the best blogs are the ones that are unique, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. The extraordinary thing about the blogosphere is that whatever you write about, there is an audience for it.
  7. Show your face. I think it’s good to put a picture of yourself,your e-mail address, and a little bit of biographical information about yourself on your blog. Sometimes a nom-de-plume is necessary but turn your blogging alter ego into a ‘real’ person too. One of the interesting things about the lonelygirl15 story was how accepting fans were when they realised that Bree was, in fact, an actress.
  8. Get the technology right. If you’re serious about blogging, you need to have a proper website address and not one from a free blogging company. I use WordPress software. A Google search will list all kinds of companies that specialise in blog hosting. Once you get your site setup, you need things like spam filtering (I have had 15,000 comment spams since starting this site) and other add-ons. A good site design will help but there are lots of open source designs to get you started. Finally, I recommend using dedicated software to write posts rather than the blogging software’s built-in editor. In my case, I use Microsoft Live Writer.
  9. Plug into the blogosphere. The easiest way to build traffic is to comment appropriately on other people’s sites. The blogosphere is a reciprocal sort of place. Link their blogs and they might read and link to yours. Critical to all this is a good newsreader and a good selection of sites. I use NewsGator because I can access my feed list on any web browser, on my PDA and on my main work computer and they are always synchonised. Make sure your site is registered with Technorati.
  10. Linking and loving. I’ve always been impressed by people who email me nicely when I comment on their blogs. I wish I could find the time to do it – I try. Surprisingly, the blogs that I am ‘closest’ to in terms of mutual sympathy and mutual linking are also the ones who are, on the face of it, my ‘competitors.’ They write about the same stuff I write about. Actually, though there’s no real competition and finding your online community is a good way to start building a reader base.
  11. Traffic is important but regular readers rule. Occasionally, you’ll produce a post that goes ballistic. I’ve had 20,000 visitors a day on occasion. Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Del.icio.us and all the others pick it up and you’re away. Only a fraction of those people stay and subscribe. It’s very exciting when it happens but what matters is the number of people who keep coming back, who comment, who link to your site and who enjoy what you write. Write for yourself first, then write for them. The harder I try to get a traffic monster, the more elusive it becomes so I sort of forget about trying and they keep happening.
  12. Don’t forget search. Google is my number one source of incoming visitors. Remember to register your site with all the usual search engines. I use Google Analytics and Google Sitemaps to monitor what they are searching for and tweak headlines and content a little to make sure I’m delivering content that searchers want. Advice on interviews is very popular.
  13. Use pictures. Pictures, cartoons and illustrations are essential. Just imagine reading your favourite magazine if there were no pictures. Yuck! A good picture illustrates the point you are making and draws in readers. I like iStockPhoto which is a cheap source of good quality images but they can be a bit corporate.
  14. Write for the screen. Be conscious of how people read on computer screens. Check out Useit.com and in particular, how users read on the web. Also check out my posts about how to write for a blog and how to Write strong headlines. Headlines are important because most people read blogs using RSS readers and use headlines to decide whether to read the whole post. (My favourite: man bites robotic dog and Darren Strange’s Bill Gates runs like a girl).
  15. Give people different ways to read: Make the online visit easy to read – don’t go for crazy colours or unreadable fonts. Many bloggers overlook email but FeedBlitz makes it easy for non-RSS subscribers to get Bad Language in their inbox [Update 21 March 2010: I now use Google’s Feedburner]. Make sure you have a visible, easy to spot RSS subscription button. However, I would avoid the icon clutter that some blogs display when they try to accommodate every single blog reader and every single news aggregator. It’s your site, not a billboard for other people’s.
  16. Schedule blog upgrade days. Maintaining a blog is not just about writing content. I try to dedicate a day every two to three months to upgrading the site itself. This means recategorising posts, checking for broken links, implementing new features and other engineering stuff. I know just about enough HTML and coding to tinker with a site’s template but not enough to build a new template. However, there are plenty of people who can help with this stuff and one way to stand out from the crowd is to have a unique site design as well as unique content.
  17. Monitor your stats. Anyone who is a true blogger will be addicted to their stats. But what is interesting is how I have changed the way I use them over time. Initially, I was obsessed by the raw visitor numbers. While these are still important, I am much more interested now in what brings people to the site, what posts they liked, whether they revisit and how often, what they search for and so on. I’m trying to use the stats to help me build a better site for my readers, not to gratify my own ego (well a little bit of that too.)
  18. Market your blog. Occasionally people ask me to contribute to their sites, perhaps with by-lined articles or interviews. For example, I write a free monthly column on Visual Thesaurus. This brings in a nice stream of new visitors who are interested in writing. I also make an effort to comment on sites and posts that are relevant to my readers and my areas of interest. This is probably the main form of blog marketing. It takes time but it pays long-term dividends. I still get new visitors from comments I wrote six months ago. However, the comments have to be appropriate, useful and link to a relevant page on my site. Comment spamming is naughty. Then there is the old fashioned kind of marketing. I like to my blog from my personal site, from my email sig, from presentation decks, in fact I mention it pretty much any time I can.

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88 Responses to How to blog like a pro

  1. ianmack November 28, 2006 at 5:50 pm #

    thanks for the post. agreed, it’s easy to be obsessed with the raw visitors stats. after awhile, you start to realize it’s more important to learn what the people are doing on your site, where they’re clicking, why they’re clicking, why they’re not subscribing to your newsletter, etc.

  2. Todd And November 29, 2006 at 3:52 am #

    Well put. This one could be one of your occasional “goes ballistic” posts.

  3. Heather Yaxley December 3, 2006 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for some interesting tips – but for me, the highlight is the dog cartoon. Most days when I’m blogging, my mad mongrel is barking away at whatever takes his interest outside the window. Now, I will be a bit more understanding and see him as a master blogger to all the other canines in the village!!

  4. Jennie December 5, 2006 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks for a great post for a beginning blogger! I will be sure to check back often to make sure I am mastering (or at least attempting to use) all your points.

    Pam from Escape From Cubicle Nation forwarded me this link because I asked her for advice. I will continue reading Bad Language. Thank you!

  5. Ciaran O'Donnell December 13, 2006 at 12:49 pm #

    Good article. I have definetly bookmarked your blog.

  6. Britgirl January 4, 2007 at 12:26 am #

    Really nicely written and really useful tips.

  7. traceykwhite January 29, 2007 at 4:07 am #

    A plethoria of great advice. My daughter just won best Canadian Blog and Best Canadian diarist. I’m her mother and just created my first blog, tkwhite.blogspot.com
    Please come visit and give me some much needed advice. My hits are coming in. Hope you stop by.

    tkwhite.blogspot.com

  8. Polly April 22, 2007 at 5:24 am #

    Great advice, good blueprint for moving forward. I definitely came in through the back door of blogging, and nnow need to set up house properl. Finding tech help in France isn’t easy, but We Shall Persevere.

  9. Easton Ellsworth May 22, 2007 at 9:04 pm #

    Nice tips, Matthew! #7 and #13 have been especially weighing on my mind lately.

  10. dude alert! July 30, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    i got like 10 out of 18. hooray! 8 more and i’m pro.

    really man, very inspiring.

    =)

  11. Tia March 21, 2008 at 4:37 am #

    Thanks! This is great stuff. I know I am way behind the 8-ball on this post but someone linked to it in Elance and I thought I’d check it out. Much appreciated!

    Tia
    http://www.wordpress-junkie.com

  12. Gulsah Olmez May 25, 2008 at 3:10 pm #

    Matt, great content, love your ideas. I am new to the blog world but I am learning everyday how to promote my own page. I hope to generate some trafic and mainly create some loyal readership. Since I’ve started it has been only 4 days and I have already 7 uniq visitors who come in and read everyday as they say and asking for me to update my blog everyday. Key is to keep short and sweet and write as much as possible.

    Gulsah

  13. ernest June 8, 2008 at 11:04 pm #

    Uh….thank you. Very great working for you give me post and comments. Absolutely, this is very usefull to me. Thank you very much.

  14. VDO July 10, 2008 at 9:43 am #

    I just started my blog on the 4th of July. I googled blog advice and came across this article. It was extremely helpful and insightful. I learned. Very much appreciated. Thank you.
    VDO

  15. benita August 15, 2008 at 4:05 pm #

    great advice! i recently started my blog “Saying the Right Thing” which provides advice and opinion on what to say in situations when you can’t find the words. I am a new blogger so everything that I can learn about content, generating traffic and keeping them coming back is valuable. 20,000 visitors a day – WOW – I can only dream!

  16. watch October 31, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. this is great stuff. by.

  17. mozilla firefox 4 October 31, 2008 at 1:03 pm #

    very nice. thanks.

  18. watch online movies January 15, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    thanks…

  19. andrea January 17, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    So useful

  20. David D'Arcy March 25, 2009 at 12:48 am #

    On this site is just about everything you need to know to blog. The advice is written in a concise way that is understandable to the novice blogger, and if you follow the recommendations on domain names will save you £100’s.
    If you’re serious about being a blogger look no further.
    Thanks for the tips, I have read them over and over again.

  21. William Ortel April 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    thanks very much – this will be really helpful in my own nascent blog.

  22. Rowan July 1, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    Hi Matthew – Just wanted to say thanks for your advice, and that it inspired a couple of points in my own list here http://rowank.tumblr.com/post/133496393/getting-a-blog-out-there-advice-for-bloggers

  23. Shane August 24, 2009 at 5:32 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I have a question about #8: You suggest using dedicated software for writing the posts. What is the advantage of such software? I’ve only just started playing around with wordpress and so far, the built-in editor seems to offer everything I need.

    Cheers,
    Shane

    • Matthew Stibbe August 25, 2009 at 6:38 am #

      Offline blogwriting software such as Microsoft Live Writer lets you compose posts even if you are not online. Because it is closer to Word, which I use every day, I also find it a more familiar, natural environment for writing. And it is easier to manage pictures in a post using it. However, WordPress’s built-in editor is very good too.

  24. Shane August 25, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks for elaborating. :)
    I’ll definitely look into blogwriting software.

  25. glenda childers February 6, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    I am a new blogger. Thanks for such practical ideas!

  26. Christian Ray Flores May 1, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    Thanks Matthew,

    This is really good stuff. As a blogger who is definitely hooked on this medium I appreciate the joy and lightheartedness you have about your blogging.

    • Matthew Stibbe May 1, 2010 at 6:04 am #

      Thank you. It’s always nice to read a compliment shortly after waking up. Like doing something impossible before breakfast! :)

  27. Alina May 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Your tips were super helpful. I’m thinking of starting a food blog and you’ve certainly answered a lot of questions for me. Keep those posts about blogging coming!

  28. lee stevenson September 18, 2010 at 3:13 am #

    I have been blogging for a few months now but dont seem to be getting a lot of traffic 34 i think to date, is there any way to get more people interested is it to do with content or the more content you publish. Or is it the same people coming back to read the new articles i write any help would be great thankyou

  29. Tree Consultant November 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Excellent advice and a great post, well written and laid out, easy to follow and thought provoking. It is clearly something which people need to attribute greater thought to rather than starting right away. Thanks again.

  30. yam November 29, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Great post…
    I don’t understand the third point:
    3.”Have a time to write. I tend to blog first thing in the morning, usually around 6am. That’s just me. (See my post on how to get up early.) I know other people who write after work or in their lunchbreak. ”
    I hope you will answer me..
    thanks.

  31. Joelle December 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    Wow, this is a great, informative post. I definitely have a long way to go before I will be “blogging like a pro.” I am still in the initial stages of creating my blog presence. I feel a little tentative and unsure. I want some reassurance before I take the leap to purchase a domain name. Is there anywhere I can get direct, specific feedback on what I’ve done so far?

  32. Miguel December 30, 2010 at 2:05 am #

    I have read this article and i get a clear picture. I have start a blog and i am trying everything i can to get up and going, but by reading your article i will get all your advice to see if i can make it. Now thank to you i will be a pro.

  33. Joann February 1, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Thank you, this is very helpful. As you can see from the title, my blog is about cooking and knitting (mostly), but I often use the space to blog about other loosely informative things. ..my rule – try to give one interesting fact or teach the reader something in each post.

  34. Ms Bon February 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    Just starting and whew what a new trick for an old dog! Stumbled on your site and thanks for your help. I really don’t have a clue to what I’m doing , but I’m having fun. My first hit in the face lesson was how hard it is to find the words………at 56 years old I’ve limited my vocabulary to the people around me………drat I’m a loss for words. But want to blog! I haven’t a clue why……….but thanks for blogging!

  35. Pingupop2 March 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Thanks Matthew

  36. Ambrose Lerma June 10, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    Thank you for the sound advice. A lot of great ideas that will give me my start. I was literally scratching my head after creating my blog thinking “now what?” Thanks again!

  37. Slobodan June 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Really nice post, think that it helped a lot of people. I will probably use your advices for my new blog.
    Thanks again! :)

  38. Ibnalmauser June 21, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Very well written Matthew! Great tips and much appreciated :D

  39. Electrician August 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Hahaha awesome, I love the picture with the dogs and their pointless barking. Perfect.

  40. Kira September 20, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    I’ve read lot’s of advice articles for beginner, but this one was the best: helpful and ecouraging, thanks!

  41. Yash Vardhan December 8, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I am a new blogger at http://techdweller.com I have been blogging for almost 2 months now. And I am a frequent blogger. I would like to know does experience count and do visitors increase If I keep myself up to the task. I keep updating according to my websites theme.

  42. Andy December 28, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    What a fantastic article to stumble across!

    With 2012 on the horizon, I, like countless millions of others no doubt, am looking to create a blog about my journey into and throughout 2012, particularly documenting my pursuit of happiness! A quick google search brought me here and has inspired me to look at things slightly differently!

    Excellent information avainable and i am hoping i can remain as dedicated.

  43. kyrie June 6, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    Great article.

    http://bluntnotblah.blogspot.co.uk/

    any advice?

    Kyrie :)

    • Matthew Stibbe June 6, 2012 at 6:49 am #

      You asked for more advice. Here it is: post more than one article before asking for advice! :)

  44. Tara July 24, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    Great advice! I just started a blog myself, and I am completely addicted to raw stats. I keep a notepad of every idea I can think of and am still trying to twerk articles and posts for my demographic.

  45. Balazs October 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    It’s a great article. I see some comments from 2006 and I’ve just found this in 2013 :)

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