A couple months ago, I wrote a newbie’s guide to blogging to help you get started with blogging. If you’ve been blogging for a little while now, you might be looking at how you can take the next step. To that end, this post offers 10 ways to “pimp” your blog, both in the sense of “tricking out” your blog to make it more attractive and more useful, and in the sense of pushing your blog to earn more readers, subscribers, and (hopefully) fans.
Getting over the hump (or is it a Dip?)
Launching a blog can be a heady experience, especially if it’s your first blog. Suddenly, what you have to say is “out there”, potentially available to millions of readers. You feel something like the pamphleteers of the French and American Revolution must have felt, sending your ideas forth into the Great Wide World.
Pretty soon, you might see a few readers, even get a comment of two, and that feels pretty good. After a couple of weeks of watching your statistics slowly inch into the double digits and waiting anxiously for the next comment, though, the initial enthusiasm fades a bit, and the realization sets in that blogging is long-term work. The Internet is littered with thousands, maybe millions of blogs that were abandoned after a few weeks or months.
If you’re writing good content and actively marketing your blog, though, there’s no reason why you should get discouraged as you slide into your first dip. Although it can be frustrating to commit your brilliant thoughts to the ether knowing only a handful of people are reading it, you’re doing important work for the long-term success of your site. You’re building up an archive of content that search engines will eventually be directing traffic to (Google, for instance, likes to see several months to a year of content on a blog before it starts bumping it up in search results), you’re building up a reputation, and you’re building a core readership — people who will link to your blog, bringing it to a slightly larger audience, who will also link, increasing the audience a little bit more, and so on.
If you’re serious about blogging, the only thing to do at this point is to power through the dip. Spend some time buttressing your site’s functionality to make it more useful to your future readers (and avoid having to do much renovation later when the number of people it will confuse is vastly greater). And commit about the same amount of time you spend writing your blog to promoting it to keep that growth process moving forward.
Gussy it up a bit!
The first group of tips are ways to add functionality or improve the way your blog looks. The idea is to turn your factory-stock ’04 Taurus into a lean, mean, street-racing machine. Let’s get started:
- First things first: UNPIMP YOUR BLOG! That’s right. Like a pimply-faced teen with no money who puts plastic wheel covers and fuzzy dice in his grandmother’s Civic hoping to impress the hot rod babes, beginning bloggers tend to put a lot of cra… er, “stuff” on their blogs. Counters. Chat rooms. Off-site forums. Badges for every web service and social network imaginable. LOL-Cats. Glitter art.
Most of this stuff isn’t making your blog any quicker, easier to use, or (let’s be honest) more attractive. It’s just cluttering it up and making it harder to find the good content your readers came to read. Be vicious in decluttering your blog — if a particular element adds no useful function for your readers, either a) lose it, b) move it to your “About” page (if it says something meaningful about you), or c) move it to a private page that only you have access to.
- Install a new theme: While you don’t want to get into the habit of changing your site’s layout all the time, now that you’ve been driving it for a couple of months it’s a good time to ask whether your theme is everything it could be. Most popular blogging platforms offer hundreds, if not thousands of free themes — Google the name of your blogging platform and the phrase “free themes” and check out the first few search results. Put some thought into the mood you want your site to convey — is it serious and professional, fun and whimsical, tech-savvy, homey, country, urban? There’s bound to be several themes for any mood you can dream up.
- Revise your “About” page: New bloggers tend to give short shrift to their “About” page. If your writing is at all good, people will want to know about the person behind the voice. Flesh out your bio with information about your background, experience, and reasons for blogging. This is also the place to put all those links to your profile on various social networks that you stripped from the front page while un-pimping.
- Create an “Archive” page: Most blogging software will automatically post links to monthly (or even weekly) archive pages into the sidebar of your blog. While this can look pretty neat when you’re just getting started, after a while that list starts getting pretty long — and it’s debatable whether it’s useful to let your readers browse by date, anyway. Before the list gets too unruly, move it to its own page (put a link to “Archives” in its place on the front page). Better yet, create a page with links to your archives by category or tag as well as by date.
- Add or update your logo: Most blogging programs create a nicely formatted header with your blog’s title and maybe a tagline, which is good, but if you’re in it for the long haul, you’re going to want a stronger brand image than just a title. Create — or have a graphics-savvy friend or even a professional create for you — a cool logo that says something interesting about you and your blog. This can be as simple as the title or its initials in a cool font that expresses the tone of your site, or an actual graphic (think: Nike’s “Swoosh”) that sums up the way you want your readers to feel.
Work the streets
Making your blog friendlier to readers won’t do much good if you don’t bring more readers to the site for a look. To build up traffic, you’re going to need to reach beyond your site and put links in places where your potential readers are likely to see them. Here are a few ideas:
- Add links to all your profiles: It seems obvious, but so many people don’t even fill out a profile on social networking sites — leaving a great resource untapped. If you participate to any significant degree on networks like Twitter, Pownce, Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, people will check out your profile to find out more. Those are exactly the people you want reading your site! Make sure you give them a link that’s clearly marked as your site (so many people put their favorite sites in their profiles; make sure yours stands out as yours).
- Recognize active commenters: Respond to as many comments on your site as possible. Then, click through to your commenter’s sites and leave comments there. Build up a community of like-minded readers — ideally with your site as the “hub”. Some people post weekly or monthly “thank you” posts with links to the top 10 or 20 commenter’s sites — this not only helps build up a sense of warmth and goodwill, it makes it more likely that your readers with websites will link back to you.
- Write at least one valuable comment a day on someone else’s site. This is basically the above tip, inside-out. Leave good, insightful comments on other people’s sites — a sort of “mini-version” of your own site’s content — to get people interested in you. Remember, some people recognize quality commenters, by linking to their site and even by creating new posts around the points made in their best comments.
- Invite someone to guest post: In my newbie guide to blogging I suggested approaching well-established bloggers about writing a post for their sites. Once you get a little traction in your niche, you can also ask other bloggers if they’d like to do a post on your own blog — maybe as an exchange. You post on their site, they post on yours — you’ll both enjoy the opportunity to write for a slightly different audience, and of course you’ll both link to the other blogger’s site where your new post can be found.
- Create a massive resource post: Put your knowledge of your niche to work creating a massive resource — the 50 best sites in your niche, 100 great posts on your topic, 25 great web tools, etc. Make sure that you keep the filler to a minimum (there’s nothing wrong with posting the best 47 sites, instead of adding 3 more so-so sites to make it an even 50). This kind of post is often referred to as “linkbait”, because if it’s useful, a lot of people will link to it and/or bookmark it to return to later.
Of course, you can always pay for traffic — you can buy StumbleUpon hits and Google ads and place banners on other people’s sites. It’s uncertain how powerful this kind of promotion is — some experts believe that on-line advertising doesn’t help anyone, and blogs are a special case even among online brands. While you can build a short-term spike in traffic through paid placements, it’s much harder to build long-term return traffic — that is, “fans” — in any way other than providing quality, meaningful stuff for them to read, both at your site and around the Web.
In my experience, the people who go for the quick burst of traffic rarely offer any reason to stick around. The ones who write well, show they’re serious, and have some staying power — the ones who manage to get over that first bout of doldrums a month or so into their blog’s life — those are the ones worth following. Follow some or all of the tips above, and you’ll be part of that select group.
If you’ve been blogging for a while, let us know: how did you manage that first plateau — and all the slow periods since? What are your tips for bloggers whose feet are wet but they want to make sure they’ve built a strong enough foundation to make it for the long haul? Tell us your tips in the comments!