Ten useful things I’ve learned about blogging

I started this blog in February 2012, but it wasn’t until the end of May that I started to write regularly. Before that, I posted erratically and rarely.

Criminal Minds Season 7 Promo

In September, I tossed off a very short post about Criminal Minds (the TV show, not politicians) that somehow wound up the first result in a Google search. It has stayed in the top 5 search results (out of 4,100,000 possible results) for more than a month. I have no idea how that happened. That single post has gotten more than 3,500 hits and keeps going. It took me 5 minutes to write and was a response to something that bothered me about the show. Who knew that so many people cared about a television series about profilers and serial killers?

The ups and downs of popularity remain a mystery. Immediately after that post, my numbers went way up, then as I expected, began to drop, then level out. Even so, I tripled the hits I get each day. Folks came for that post and stayed for others. I also have an unknown number of  followers on Bloggers, Twitter, ScoopIt, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.

I am, as my blog title suggests, eclectic. By profession, I’m a writer. By inclination an historian. My hobby is photography. I have distinct audiences for writing and photography. I haven’t figured out how much these groups overlap. Even within my writing, subject matter varies quite a lot. Amongst philosophical ramblings, discussions of whatever current events are on my mind, and so on, I write a lot of stuff about movies and TV. There is a specific audience for the media posts.

Posts I labor over may be barely noticed; others that I just drop on the page get lots of hits. I have learned, through trial and error, a few things worth mentioning. I’m sure I’ll learn more. I need and want to learn more. Meanwhile, here are 10 things I’ve learned that seem to be true:

  1. Less really is more. More than 1000 words is too long. 500 words is plenty, especially if you include pictures. Sometimes, just a caption is enough.
  2. Use more pictures, fewer words. Everyone likes pictures especially nature, pretty girls, children, dogs, and for some peculiar reason, Arizona.
  3. Funny gets more hits than depressing. Being serious is appropriate for serious subjects, but you can use a light touch even with heavy material.
  4. Popularity is nice, but it’s your blog. Do your own thing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  5. Digress but remember to come back. When I tell stories, I ramble. It’s my style. I wander before I get to my destination, but there’s a limit to how far and how often you can roam without losing your reader.
  6. Be economical in how much material you use per day and per post. If you set yourself an unsustainable pace, you’ll burn out.
  7. Have fun. Have a lot of fun. Enjoyment is contagious.
  8.  Do what you love. Blog about the things you find beautiful, important, amusing, or interesting.
  9. If you aren’t having fun, give it up.
  10. On the graphics side, leave white space. At least 50% of the screen should be empty. This percentage includes the space between pictures and text, between paragraphs, margins at the top and both sides, space between columns. Clutter is hard on the eyes and gives your site a “rummage sale” look. Do you really need every widget?

18 comments

  1. I posted comments earlier but I see they are not here. One more try. . .thanks for the tips! You are absolutely right on the nose, especially with #1. Sometimes when I access a blogpost and have to scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll (*yawn*) to ever reach the Like button I mumble, blah, blah, blah and click out! Mean, huh?

    BTW One question comes to mind that I have been thinking about for quite some time that you did not address. What about blog awards? It is always nice to be recognized by fellow bloggers as being an inspiration but some of the responses require a huge amount of time and most requirements seem to be very repetitious. Thought about just setting up a separate page to get rid of some clutter. What are your thoughts on blog award widgets – show or no show? I know your site always appear clean and crisp. Where do you “store” your awards? There has to be many:>)

    1. These awards need to be rethought. I love awards but I feel awkward searching for an automatic distribution — like a chain letter. It cheapens the award. Like a chain letter, eventually everyone will have every possible award. I love your “just because I like your blog” award More like that!

      Beyond that, yes, I thing a separate page. I put all mine on the “about” page which doesn’t see a lot of action anyhow and there’s an endless amount of room. I’m also self-concscious about advertising myself, probalby what makes me a poor business person. What do you think?

      1. Putting them on a separate page has been my line of thinking. I have some in draft now that I just haven’t had the time to ‘follow the rules’ and I don’t want it to appear as though I am a braggart. I hate that! I am just appreciative:>) Had not thought about the about me but I think the awards are more about the writing. My about me is more of a short, short bio. I am with you on the ““just because I like your blog” and wish there were all more on that order. I have run out of things to say to describe “me!”

        BTW I something to your About page:>)

        In reference to the storm, stay safe, my friend!

        1. My “about” page is also a biography, but it’s short and there’s a lot of room, so I have divided the page, put a new heading, and put the awards there. It was the easiest solution and frankly, I have had some problems creating extra pages on my blog. They are fine until you try to update or change them. Maybe because the “About” page is part of the basic structure of the site (it exists before you’ve written anything), it doesn’t get as weird as the pages you create. Suffice to say that pages I’ve created have resulted in some strange and unpleasant problems that were not fixable by two different WordPress customer service groups in two different countries. When they say these are static pages, they aren’t kidding. You can’t update the contents (you should be able to, but it doesn’t necessarily work) without problems. I had a bunch of pages that I wanted to use as menus for navigating, but by the second time I tried to update them, material from one page started showing up on other supposedly unrelated pages, and eventually, everything, all the links, stopped working. I deleted the added pages and things more or less went back to normal, but I eventually was forced to change templates because some problems lingered and were never resolved. Whatever went wrong, went wrong big. Just a warning.

    2. About 75% if the time, I find your posts in spam. You and one other blogger. It’s annoying, but I have to check and make sure I’m not throwing my friends out. Sometimes they never show up because for some reason, the spam filter decides you are a danger. Something to take up with WordPress?

      1. I have also been having issues with spam but not quite that bad. On my blogspot site, I am getting a LOT of bogus comments from various persons who call themselves anonymous. I just delete them but they keep coming back.

        1. I get porn sites. DOZENS of them. And for some reason, you and Mike Smith always get tagged as Spam. But I get dozens a day. It’s weird.

  2. Great tips :)

    I do go well over 1000 words occasionally, but thats mainly for films I love and could talk all day about. Luckily they are my most read posts so the extra effort has been worth it. But I agree, as a rule I dont want to drone on and on in fear of boring people.

    I do love your theme and style, very easy on the eye.

    1. A lot of my posts are long, but they are, like yours, dedicated so a specific subject. Sometimes, you need it to cover a certain amount of territory. If you are writing up a list of 8 movies, one book and something else, you’re probably going to go a bit long. I think if the material is sufficiently interesting and well-written, you can get away with a lot, but there is a limit. For that, there are “click here for more” links. I have a couple of books I’d love to raid for material, but I don’t. I sometimes publish small piece of it, no more. Blogs are the wrong medium.

      There are a too many bloggers who write but shouldn’t. They post photos I wouldn’t put in a private scrapbook. They don’t know the difference between a diary and a blog. Adolescent whining about boyfriends, girlfriends, the perils of high school or college unless written with grace, wit and style, make me click “X” faster than you can say “hey wait a minute!!” For that matter, no amount of interest in a subject will keep me reading if the writing sucks. I can cope with typos (who am I to point fingers?), but illiteracy doesn’t work for me. I believe in the power of words, complete sentences, puncutation, humor, wit, wisdom and oh yes, RESEARCH. I don’t have a problem with a good solid curse word used in context, but dull offends me. I also appreciate facts. And opinions backed by knowledge of the subject. I’m funny that way.

      Some of my favorite posts don’t sell well, but we write for ourselves as much as for anyone else. Also, something I didn’t mention: some posts that didn’t do well initially seem to get “discovered” over a period of weeks, even months. Posts that were ignored initially have gone up to become among my most read posts. It’s an interesting phenoenom and I wonder if other people find this happening too.

      I’m getting a lot more hits than I used to and it doesn’t seem to have any pattern I can detect. Weird.

      Oh my, the wind is picking up. It’s raining leaves and the trees seem to be stripping down. No rain yet, but I’m told that comes after the wind finishes with us. If our trees remain upright, all will be well. (I keep repeating that as a mantra). It’s going to be an interesting few days unless we get a last minute reprieve. Lots of entertaining material to write about. I have to think about it that way. More material for blogging. Otherwise, I just get worried about how much damage my house insurance will cover and how long we can go manage withou the well and sump pumps. I wish my tepee was not dead and buried. You could survive Armegedden in a tepee. They never get blown over. Something about the conical shape.

      1. I hope nothing gets too badly damaged, thoughts with you guys. Love that you’re already taking the positives from it and planning for more material to write with :)

  3. Thanks for the tips. I need to think about white space more. I’d like to change my wordpress theme but haven’t had the time to devote to it yet.

    1. When I change templates, I try to find one similar to what I’ve been using … It makes the transition much easier. The more different the new template is from your previous one, the worse it is. Your site is actually quite elegant. I like the way you’ve used color that is seasonal. Unless you are just itchy for a change, it looks good to me. I’ve seen some blogs that are really blinding … too much of everything. Some of the fancy templates that try to look like a magazines look fine when WordPress puts them together, but it’s a lot harder than it looks if you want it to look good. I’m happiest with a single main column and widgets in a sidebar, usually with either the left or right column reserved for the date, comment count, and white space. Which is what you’ve got. I don’t know that template, so I don’t know if you have a header that lets you display a full size photograph. That’s one of my requirements, so it limits the available templates. But it’s great display space. If photo display in the header isn’t an issue for you, you have a lot more choices available.

      Don’t go white on black. Even though I really knew better, I tried it and it was a disaster. It’s fine for photographs, but awful for text. I love the way it looks. Very classy, but after a few minutes, I’m seeing stripes.

      I’ve tried easiy a dozen templates with varying degrees of success. The answer seems to be “keep it simple.” The fussier it gets the more amateur it looks. Some of the available ‘specialty’ templates are so fussy and cutesy … ugh to that!!

  4. Good stuff … and useful to a rookie like me.
    I’ve often been afraid to go ‘off topic’ on my blog … only to find my ‘off topics’ often get more response. People will allow it if it isn’t a steady thing.
    I do like to write … an I think I have a knack there, but in the “Age of Twitter” I feel it’s a good idea to communicate as instantly and directly as possible. No matter how well you write it takes people’s time and energy to read it.
    That means I will always use images FIRST … and writing as just support. A bit sad, but true.
    Also (unfortunately) I’m terribly sloppy. It’s common for me to find at least 4 mistakes or typos after I post something. I hate that – I need to edit at lot better.

    1. The important thing to remember when you travel into anecdotal material that is off the main track of the post it to (a) warn readers that you are going off track and (b) go back to where you started and it doesn’t hurt to tell them that you are now returning the the show already in progress. When you are telling stories, it’s normal and much more intersting to tell stories. It’s fun for you and your readers. Just don’t get lost!

  5. Thanks for the reference :) And amazing suggestions- my favorite is ‘white space’… as I am one of those people who are easily overwhelmed visually, and quickly leave sites that are too ‘busy’. Great photos too!

    1. I wrote commercially for more than 30 years, so this is an issue near and dear to me. White space is a concept that, unless you have an eye for graphics, is hard to explain. Inevitably I had bosses who wanted to get as much as possible on a screen (online help pages, usually) Trying to explain that you really can’t do that … it makes some people actually dizzy or nauseated is a hard thing to do if the person you are talking to wears plaid sports jackets. Visual clutter gives me a headache.

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