(Some musings on blogging – this is a long post but I’m tired of editing it, so I’m just going to throw it out there, sink or swim).
WordPress recently congratulated me on my two-year blogging anniversary, but it’s only been a year – more or less. While I created the blog in August of 2016 I only posted once that summer, a short entry about one of my mother’s paintings and a photo of the sailboat which had inspired it, plus a song link to Sailing by Rod Stewart. One of my initial reasons for blogging was to get some local PR for her folk-art, and one of my plans was to fit a song, photo, painting and/or book into each weekly theme. The person who helped me create the account had gone back to school and no one I knew blogged, so I quickly abandoned it – it all seemed too complicated, (now it just seems routine). In August of 2017 I edited that first post with a comment “I wonder how many abandoned blogs are out there floating in the WordPress sea” and mine would have remained one of them were it not for a summer student at the library who blogged herself on WordPress and who was an enormous help with the setup. And so I launched my ship, on my way to a new adventure, tacking into the wind or whatever you do on a sailboat. (I know nothing about sailing other than the sails are so pretty).
I made a personal commitment to blog once a week and wrote out a list of ideas in a pretty journal, with one page dedicated to each month and so had 50 or 60 topics lined up.…more or less.
For the first three months I kept my blog private. My writing skills were rusty and I wanted to achieve a certain level of comfort before taking it public. As a high school student, I had been good in both English and chemistry but chemistry seemed more practical and so I trained for something medical. (Back then you were either artsy or a science nerd, never both, techies didn’t even exist). I had a wonderful career for 35 years and don’t regret my decision, there was always a part of me that wondered what if? While I was and always had been an avid reader, my only writing for decades had consisted of medical shorthand, which may have been a forerunner for those texting abbreviations like OMG and LOL. Only in this case SOB means shortness of breath, and F/U means follow up in 1 week, (not quite what you were expecting eh)? Brevity was valued. My grammar and punctuation skills had also deteriorated accordingly. I am still unsure where to place commas and brackets but am too lazy to try and find my high school Mastering Effective English textbook in the basement (I had two copies at one point), and too cheap to sign up for Grammarly.
Like many Canadians, I am a reserved person by nature, so it was a big step for me to take my blog public, which I did in October of last year but only because I needed help in the WordPress forums (I had the free plan then). My very first follower had a blog about all things paranormal and she went back and read all my weekly postings which was very encouraging. My second follower had a blog about Indian food. She said she liked all my pretty pictures, but I didn’t have the heart to admit I couldn’t eat spicy food. She unfollowed me shortly after I declined one of those chain letter type awards, (when you only have a few followers you can tell who unfollows you), but I honestly didn’t have any blogs I could pass it on to because for the first three months I didn’t even know that READER section tab was there – that’s how naïve I was. (or maybe it wasn’t there because my blog was private?)
My goal for the year was quite modest, to post once a week and to get 100 followers. My intention was to write about interesting uplifting things and to share a little bit of loveliness in what is often a depressing world. (In Real Life there are always plenty of things to be discouraged about – just turn on the evening news). There would be no angst in my blog, but plenty of books.
Have I achieved what I sent out to do? More or less.
I don’t quite have 100 followers….only 85 but I have until my Oct. public anniversary date. I seem to have plateaued this summer, but I find WP quiet lately, views and likes down. Is this just a normal summertime dip or a general trend?
I have blogged once a week …..more or less….56 posts so far since Aug 8 of last year. (I never quite got the other features on my main menu off the ground, Favorite Books, The Vintage Corner or product reviews under The Scoop). November was a difficult month, I only got three up (I like to plan ahead for Christmas, then don’t go near the stores in December). May and June were difficult too, but we had such a cold miserable spring that I was able to get 6 or 7 blogs ahead, mostly gardening stuff and just filled them in with photos and edited when the time came to post. Once the hot humid part of the summer started, it was not a chore to stay inside and write. For me writing the initial draft is always the hardest part. I don’t mind editing, although I can be obsessive and waste too much time on finding just the right word.
What surprised me most about blogging?
Meeting people from all over the world, and how nice and kind, and similar we all are. Somehow, I had expected that only readers from your continent saw your blog, so the international aspect was one of the pleasant surprises about the WordPress world. I have had readers from the UK, France, Italy, and recently Cambodia, and some from tiny little countries I have to look up to see where they are.
How much time it takes to do just one blog per week. I tend to be perfectionistic, (is that a word), and edit a lot, right up until before I post. I use all my own photos and it takes time to take, edit and upload all the pictures, plus my photo files are such a disorganized mess I can waste hours looking for the one I want. (Sometimes I think I might just like to have a photography blog). Most of my posts are personal topics, not requiring a ton of research, but even at once a week, it was more of a time commitment than I had expected. I don’t know how bloggers who post more often do it? Maybe their words flow more easily…
How much I have enjoyed the whole creative process, especially the layout design, putting the pictures, music and books together for each topic. (I think I might have enjoyed working for a magazine). I had great fun doing the Jane Austen interview and the historical posts. I love history and anything vintage so I found researching my Irish Roots and Uncle Charlie’s WWI post time-consuming but fascinating.
What would I do differently?
Begin as you want to go on, as the saying goes.
I wish I had spent more time researching the title and theme. I chose the Sela theme initially (well my helper chose it for me), but I don’t like the thin font so I have to bold it, but if I edit the font then it changes all the previous posts. I grew up on a farm so I knew I wanted the homeplace for my name but it was taken so I had to add web on the end which just sounds awkward, plus somewhat misleading as people might think my blog is about homesteading or farming, when really my aim was to find a simpler more peaceful existence. Although many of my initial posts referenced growing up on a farm (see Out in The Country), my blog evolved in different directions. I still want people to drop in and stay awhile though! So think twice when you chose that title.
I wish I had signed up for the paid plan initially, instead of the free one. I switched in February and some of the layout of my earlier posts got messed up. I upgraded to get rid of those annoying ads. (I know that’s how you make money but if a blog has too many ads or pages in it, I don’t hit next, I hit exit – I don’t care how suspenseful the title).
I wish I had kept my blog TOTALLY anonymous. In the initial excitement of blogging, I shared it with a few people (less than ten), some close, some not so close who I felt might give me honest feedback. With a little encouragement six signed up as email followers, but when my screen froze back in February and I lost my email list, none of them noticed or have inquired about it since. I told the only person who eventually asked that I had stopped blogging, it was too much work. Lesson learned, no one cares about your blog as much as you do! You may want to share to get feedback but be prepared for a lack of interest. People are busy with their own lives.
Also, try to develop a thick skin, especially important if you are sensitive soul. Of those initial shares the reaction was muted and the constructive criticism basically non-existent. I may cringe when I read my earlier posts, but were they so bad as to deserve total silence? You can be prepared for anything but silence is especially unnerving. What new bloggers need is support and encouragement not apathy. (I’m a big fan of the if you can’t admire someone’s creation then at least applaud the effort school of thought). There was the person who had suggested I blog in the first place, but then never read it. The person I emailed it to and never heard from. When I inquired as to what she thought, she said she was still reading, and then I never heard anything further. The person I mentioned it to over lunch who said that’s nice and changed the subject to something more interesting. Or the person whose sole comment was that it had spelling mistakes (I use British English), but couldn’t name any. (I am sure it did, and still does, and will in the future, typos creep in, and there are many many days I think I could benefit from a good editor). Or the person who was very encouraging at the beginning but who stopped reading once she realized her comments were public…at least she had warned me she wasn’t a reader. And the one who said with surprise, oh it’s a personal blog. What were they expecting, a treatise on the serotonin theory of rat rewarding behavior in lab mice? (Sorry, but I’ve left all that behind). Some of them were puzzled as to why I would even want to blog in the first place. Besides, isn’t everyone a writer these days with social media – what’s the big deal, it’s nothing special. It’s hard not to take it personally when people you know don’t share your enthusiasm or even pretend to share it enough to read for ten minutes once a week. (I can write this freely as I am quite confident none of them are reading). So now I wish I had just kept it totally anonymous from the beginning. Plus I think then you are freer to write what you want without worrying if someone will take offense to it, especially family members who might worry that they are in it. My mother knows about the blog of course because of the artwork, (she calls it my blob), but then she is ninety and doesn’t have a computer. (Some of her artwork is listed under The Artist on the main menu).
A Timely Topic
What time of day/week to post? I have not noticed any difference whatsoever in terms of response, but I tend to prefer posting in the morning as if I work on it too late at night I will sometimes edit in my sleep and wake up thinking I must change that word! Lately I have been posting on Mon/Tues but I have posted other days too. Although I know it is important to have a regularly scheduled day, I don’t seem to have one. Sometimes two weeks would go by before I could get something up, but I mostly stuck to my four per month quota. (This post is 3 weeks late as I couldn’t find the time to edit it).
A Timely Subject
Some topics (gardening, books) get more attention than other more obscure subjects – The Simply White Dinner, The Insta-Pot review etc. My topics are all over the map because I post about what interests me, but it’s very easy to get discouraged when you spend hours on something with little feedback. Books are always popular because all writers are readers. My last post on Beach Books got the most views all summer.
Your Target Audience:
If I had known how many excellent blogs there were out there in the WordPress sea I doubt I would ever have proceeded – sometimes ignorance is bliss. Before I signed up with WordPress I had only ever looked at two blogs – Susan Branch and Victoria magazine. In fact, readers who enjoy these blogs plus baby boomers might be my intended audience. My blog is a lifestyle blog so it’s general to begin with, but if I label my blog for baby-boomers, am I then eliminating a potential portion of my audience, even though they might not get my music links? You know when some people first follow your blog and you check theirs out they are not going to stick around and vice versa, (like me with the Indian food). While you can’t really predict who might be interested in your blog, there must be some better way to reach your target audience than random tags and hit and miss following. When I started a year ago there were 33 million followers on WP, now there are 45 million bloggers. It’s a big sea out there, with a lot of boats going in different directions who might not have any interest in joining your regatta. Would it have been better to have self-hosted and steered my own course instead of bobbing around in the water hoping someone will notice? Does anyone have any experience with self-hosting they would care to share? Should I hire a consultant to make my blog more seaworthy? (or should I stop with the ship metaphors at risk of being made to walk the plank)?
The Golden Rule
Thou shalt not compare…..followers….easy to say, hard to do, and don’t we all count our stats?
The whole followers/readers/views/likes/comments situation remains a puzzle to me. I don’t know how people get so many followers – when I click on their blogs and see they have 500, 1000, or 5000 followers – what did they do to get that many? How many years have they been blogging? I follow and read and like about 30 other blogs, although I don’t comment as often as I should. Some of these are people I have followed right from the start, and they seem to have a steady uptick in their followers, but others seemed to have dropped off the radar completely. Their posts never show up in my Reader, or they will for awhile and then they drop off. Notices about some posts will show up in my email, but others do not. If it is an algorithm like Facebook, where you only see the posts of people you like and comment on, if their posts don’t show up, how are you suppose to read them.
I appreciate all my readers and am happy if a few comment that they loved my post or said that was a great read, but we always want more don’t we? And now that I am aware of the like-pirates who scroll down and plunder your posts with false likes, I wonder if it’s comments I should be counting, but who has time to comment on everything they read? (Conversely, when you want to comment but the comments are turned off, that can be annoying too as that is part of the fun).
Statistical analysis: (or Followers do not equal Readers)
Being an analytical kind of person, I tried to do the math. If you have 5000 followers, it is physically impossible for all those people to have your blog show up in their reader, (and vice versa), unless they have signed up with a personal email, and even then, they may not click on it. Statistically if someone has 5000 followers and they get 50 likes that is only batting one percent (like baseball). If you have 100 followers and ten people like your blog that’s 10 percent, so you are actually ahead stats wise. So having more followers, gets you more likes but certainly not proportionally. It’s the law of diminishing returns. And what if you get a lot of views but not many likes (maybe you kissed the blarney stone and your posts are too long and meandering like mine and people give up). Maybe that is why WP recently deleted the views from the published post section? Do you shorten your posts to the length of the average attention span – 500 words…..or write on?
Incidentally, one of the best bloggers I follow has very few followers and her blog isn’t about anything I really care about, but her writing style is so fine and entertaining that I enjoy reading it anyway. Many of the bloggers I follow are small in number and sporadic in posting. Two of the bloggers I really liked appear to have quit. I saw a blog the other day about the adventures of a dog that had 1700 followers. Who can figure it out?
Flogging your blog on other social media sites:
Yes you should do this, but I admit I have not. If you didn’t grow up with social media and aren’t comfortable with self-promotion, all those sites can seem overwhelming. Recently I joined Pinterest in an attempt to increase my readership. I posted a photo of my purple salvia and a link to my gardening blog The Color Purple, and down below there were fifty purple photos much nicer than mine…..the Competition Purple. Plus if you don’t spend a ton of time on those sites following others, then you don’t get followers. It’s reminds me of the rats in those old biology experiments – you are rewarded with a like each time so you continue with the same pattern of behavior, accumulating followers instead of food pellets, but what if you want to eat at a restaurant outside of the rat cage? The first person I followed on Pinterest (recipes) had 10 million followers which is why they showed up at the top of my feed. The rat reward system obviously works but is it worth the time investment if you are just a small mouse? I think Pinterest will have to wait until winter when I need a good recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding.
I find it is harder to get new followers now that the community pool has closed. I will sometimes drop in on blog parties or tea parties and those can be fun. I enjoyed the Quotes contest and that Sunshine Blogger Award brought me the most views – 52. Most likes in a day was 18 for The Potager. We would all like to have more followers, but really what does it matter in the end if you have 100, 1000 or 10,000? It is discouraging to compare, as there is always someone with more. (I am sorry if this is depressing anyone – there is a cheery song at the end). Perhaps the most important thing to remember is you are writing primarily for yourself, if others enjoy it too, that’s a bonus. Plus there is a certain level of satisfaction to be had in having an idea, getting it down on paper and editing it to exactly the way you want – a post can be a thing of beauty on it’s own even if no one reads it.
Show Me The Money:
Stats are important for financial gain. I have heard 35,000 is the magic number to make any serious money at a blog, but there is a vast gulf between even 1000 viewers and that number. Is even a bit of advertising financially worthwhile? I don’t know – I don’t know anyone lucky enough to play in the big league. Having a financially successful blog takes good writing, a major time investment, dedication, commitment, social media PR and sometimes a lucky break (and it helps if you have a dog as everyone likes dogs, except me, I’m more of a cat person). Having your post re-blogged or promoted somewhere can give you a huge jump in followers. But it’s all beyond my scope of practice. I will never be a big league blogger and am not sure I would want to anyway – it’s too much of a commitment for a newly retired person with a long bucket list. Not to be discouraging to anyone who aspires to that. If you can get some financial compensation for all the time invested, so much the better. We all like to write, but I am sure writing for profit would be so much more rewarding!
The race may be off course, but I’m not going to abandon ship just because the skies are stormy and the water is rough at the moment,
but I may cut back to once or twice a month, (I really disliked the schedule), or I may just tread water for awhile. My mother is having an art exhibit the month of September (38 new paintings framed and ready) and I will be busy with that, so I may re-post some of those initial blogs which never saw an audience last fall, if they prove not too cringe-worthy, with more likely a mixture of new and recycled.
Or I may change course and set sail in a different direction. I have enjoyed the creative process too much to quit totally but I may try some other kind of writing….I think a murder mystery might be fun. (I can picture it now….six hundred pages with the clues cleverly scattered amongst all those superfluous details, lengthy descriptions and annoying brackets). So, if this blog has served no other purpose than to jump-start a dormant English major, then it may prove useful yet. I’ll have to give it some thought….a year at the least. (Give me a topic and I can write something on it but give me a plot-line and I may be stuck forever…see the sometimes ignorance is bliss quote). The Woman in Cabin Ten, (a murder mystery about a passenger on a small luxury cruise ship who thinks she saw someone being thrown overboard), made the bestseller list and god knows how much money. Time to get that notebook out…….ahoy maties! Full steam ahead!
PS. If you hear nothing further, I have sailed off into the sunset or been swept into the Bermuda Triangle….(now there’s a mystery that was never solved….) Thanks for reading…those who stuck it out. (4000 words……more or less).
Song Link: Triangle – a sailing song by Gordon Lightfoot (Canada’s national folk-singer)
Quote of the Day: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Discussion: My apologies if I have offended any of my initial readers, on the remote chance they may be still reading. My intention was to highlight one of the frustrations of blogging, lack of encouragement and support. Any bloggers care to share your experiences with any personal good/bad feedback you may have received about your blog from family or friends? Or is your blog anonymous? Do you find it difficult to get followers? Are you satisfied with the progress you have made with your blog so far or did you expect more?