Do you think you have a good idea for a blog? Here are the golden rules about how to get up and running online
When I started my food blog, Recipe Rifle, in 2009 I had no idea what I was doing. I was desperate and unemployed, having walked out of a newspaper job straight into a recession (bravo!), and I missed writing.
At the beginning no one read it and no one cared. One gloomy day about six months after I started it, I deleted it out of frustration. But then a reader contacted me to ask where it had gone. I reinstated it and have never looked back.
Four years later (almost to the day) I have an average of 10,000 visitors a week and 5,600 followers on Twitter.
Along the way, both from writing my own blog and reading others, I have learnt that if you want to have a successful blog, (and is there any point in having anything other?), you have to follow some golden rules:
1 Don’t be lazy
No matter how brilliant you are, if you don’t update regularly — every Monday morning for example — you won’t get the readers. (Similarly, you can be an illiterate bore but if you post every day you will draw an audience.) At the beginning, blogging can feel mad, like you are talking to yourself on a street corner, but blithely keep at it.
Once you have a loyal following, you can get away with erratic postings, but in the first year you need to commit. Your posts don’t have to be long: just something you saw that day, or a short observation will do. Even now, when I take time off — because of pregnancy or general insanity — my weekly visits plummet. When I blog regularly the statistics shoot up.
2 Use pictures
Pictures are almost as essential to a blog as words; pictures will just make your blog a nicer place to hang out and readers will want to return. You don’t need to be David Bailey. I have zero visual creativity so at first I posted pictures only rarely. But then a fellow blogger asked: “How can you expect to have readers on a food blog if you don’t have photographs?” I went straight out to buy a Nikon SLR and now have a photo with every post.
3 Keep it short
Even if you are a professional writer, limit yourself to 400 words per post. Reading a lot of text on a screen isn’t practical, and any piece of writing is more interesting when it is short. It is so easy, with the unlimited space of the internet, to ramble on — but that is a turn-off for readers. I occasionally lapse into a 1,000-word rant, but I consider this to be an indulgence and they are never the most popular posts.
4 Consider your readers
You don’t have to be a good writer to run a good blog, but you do have to be wholehearted about it. In the back of every new blogger’s mind is the fear that they are doing something vain and strange, but try to put this aside. Don’t fall into the trap of presenting only a dainty “best self”, which is always obvious and unappealing. Blog readers are looking for honesty, truth and a degree of vulnerability — or at least transparency.
Don’t tell your readers how busy you are. Don’t bore them with your hectic schedule or use “manic times” as an excuse for lack of posting. “Sorry I haven’t posted here much, I’ve just been so busy”. Bye! Click. Blog readers are looking for some sort of relationship with you. If you choose to write about your life they will feel close to you, which is a good thing — don’t be afraid of it. (Very few readers are mad stalkers.) If you just go on about how busy you are, you’ll find your readers blogging off. Even if I am too busy to post I will lie about it or breezily ignore my own absence. I never want my readers to feel like they come second, even though at times they must.
5 Drive traffic
You can increase the number of visitors to your blog in several ways. Leaving comments on similar blogs with a link to your own site at the end of the comment is a classic tactic, as is adding a famous or newsworthy name in your headline or text, which will make sure it comes up on popular Google searches. My most-read Recipe Rifle post, with 471 page views, is one about Jamie Oliver’s Jerk Chicken, simply because a lot of people Google for that recipe. If you don’t want to keep wedging “Kelly Brook naked” into your post, or talk to other bloggers, get on Twitter and send occasional tweets with a link to your blog. Most of my page traffic comes via Twitter, and keeping up with your tweets is a darn sight easier than blogging.
Esther Walker’s first e-book, The Bad Cook, goes on sale in February next year, published by the Friday Project.