Continuing my blog challenge, @CarlLegge asked me “How about top tips and resources for aspiring bloggers?”, a topic request that was rapidly seconded by @Saralimback

Word Cloud

I have been blogging for over ten years. I was there for the big surge when blogging became a household world (although it isn’t yet understood in my parent’s house), carried on through the bit where blogging was allegedly being killed off by microblogging (Twitter) and am still here now that (apparently) blogging is once again undergoing a resurgence. My initial blog posts (some of which are preserved in the archives here, for posterity) were an odd mix of stuff, some of it frankly awful.

I can honestly say that I have never given any thought to giving up blogging, although there have been periods when I had nothing to say, and times when I just didn’t have the words to say anything.

It’s extraordinarily easy to start a blog. You can head over to Blogger or WordPress (Tumblr is a popular new tool) and get yourself a blog for free. The software allows you to easily customize your blog’s look, add a few links, maybe a picture and a bit about yourself. You can then start blogging – adding ‘content’ that other people might want to read. You need very little technical ability, and you can learn a bit of HTML over time.

When I started blogging, the internet was a new frontier – uncharted territory in which you could be anonymous. Blogs were always set up under pseudonyms, even if nothing controversial was being said. After a series of ‘outings’, bloggers these days are generally happy to publicly claim their blogs. That may be because their motives have changed. It has become possible to become a famous blogger; perhaps most newbies these days see fame and fortune on the horizon. If they do, they are likely to be disappointed, which is one reason why 95% off all blogs are abandoned, according to 2009 figures from Technorati.

So, my first tip for aspiring bloggers is to stop and think about why they’re starting a blog. Instead of thinking of it as an easy way to ditch the day job, or to get the recognition your writing has always deserved, think of it as a pet that needs regular care and attention to thrive. Dead blogs are dismal and a page full of “been to busy to post” posts is embarrassing.

Once you’re up and running there are plenty of sites that explain how to “drive traffic to your site” and how to “monetize your blog”. Unless you really, honestly, want to become a problogger then don’t read them. If you want a successful blog then you need good content. Concentrate on that and the rest will come to you. Plan your posts, polish them, and if you can’t spell use a spellchecker.

One of my niggles is people using the wrong words in their blog posts. They trot out a word, confident that they know what it means, and they’re hopelessly wrong. I suspect it’s because there are billions of people on the planet who learn their language only from the spoken word. That’s fine, it’s not a problem – unless you’re a writer. If you’re not a reader, don’t write. Please.

My next point is a similar one – no blog is an island. If you don’t read blogs and enjoy them, then think twice about starting one. Originally every blog would have had a blogroll, a list of links to other blogs and websites that the writer enjoys. The latest generation of bloggers seem to have left that idea by the wayside. I see blogs with no outward links at all, and others that embrace the hateful SEO concept of ‘linkbacks’ and will exchange links with sites just for the boost it gives them in the search rankings or (the horror!) for money.

Instead, be a good neighbour. Link to sites you like, and people you love. Consider joining communities – Folia is a social network for gardeners that allows you to make notes about your garden, swap seeds and chat on forums. Blotanical allows you to mingle your blog feed with others from all over the world, and there are social aspects to it as well that (I have to admit) I don’t fully understand. UK Veg Gardeners and Fennel & Fern are two gardening communities that allow you to have a blog as part of their site.

Comments are lovely things, they show you that people are reading your blog. If someone leaves a comment for you, reply, or they may decide not to bother again. And leave comments on the blogs that you read, to let your favourite bloggers know you care. Mind you, comments can be the bane of a blogger’s life; unless you’re superfamous you’re unlikely to be inundated with comments to respond to, but you will be constantly fighting off spam comments. Use the tools provided by your blogging platform to get rid of them; there’s nothing worse than finding a blog on which comment spam has been left to run riot. Spam comments are like weeds – deal with them as soon as you see them, or you will live to regret it.

Think twice about advertising. Google Adsense is a wonderful thing, but unless you get a lot of traffic to your blog you’re not going to make more than pennies and advertising is intrusive. If you accept products for review, or sponsored posts, then be upfront about it. There are laws about that in America, but really it’s just polite to let people know if you are being paid for your words. And if you want to review stuff but no one is sending you any, start by reviewing stuff you already have or things that you buy. Demonstrate you’re a good reviewer and people will find you in time, and if they don’t you’ll have something to show them if you go knocking on their door.

And, finally, fill your blog with original content. Don’t rip off someone else’s, that’s plagiarism. If you don’t have time to blog, then don’t have a blog. And don’t accept guest posts that have been featured elsewhere – posting duplicate content is a rapid way to lose all the search engine momentum you’ve carefully nurtured. If someone offers you a guest post, and it’s good enough for you to post it on your blog, then ask them if it’s unique. And then check for yourself, because people sometimes lie. Pick a memorable phase or two, and Google them.

Oh, and learn how to deal with copyright infringements, as it’s bound to happen to you at some point.