[Editor’s note: It’s another theme day for the WordCount Blogathon, when everyone is writing on the same topic: If I started a blog today, what would I do differently? Here’s my answer. — MVR]
When I started blogging, I didn’t have a clue. I’d been doing the stay at home mom thing when blogging first got popular, and jumped into it as part of my re-entry into the workforce.
I put zero thought into why I was blogging or what I was going to write about. I created a blog on Blogger on a lark and wrote my first post the same day.
That was mistake No. 1. The initial result was all over the place – like a kid finger painting.
Instead of diving in, I should have considered how blogging fit into my freelance business, researched good blog practices and compiled a backlog of posts before going live.
That’s just the start of the newbie mistakes I made as a beginning blogger.
Here are 5 other blogging missteps I made, and what I’d do differently if I started over again today:
Mistake #1. Hosting a blog on a free service.
I started out on Blogger but quickly switched to WordPress.com. I keep WordCount on WordPress.com for close to two years, until it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do all the things with my blog that I wanted using the templates available on the free site. I also was starting to think about using the blog to generate revenue, which isn’t allowed on blogs hosted by WordPress.com.
In fall 2009, I hired a website designer to port the site to a self-hosted blog using WordPress.org software and give it a new look and feel – and never looked back.
Mistake #2. Writing about whatever I wanted.
Picking a subject and sticking to it is good for everyone: readers like to know what to expect. Sticking to a topic can make you an expert at it, which is a good way to interest companies or organizations in becoming advertisers or sponsors.
After casting around for a couple months, I settled on writing about the freelance business, a great topic for the time because of the changes taking place in the business. It gave me the chance to write about writing basics, books, and other subjects related to being a freelance journalist that I enjoyed dissecting. And it helped introduce me to an online community of other writers, a nice substitute for the real-life workplace camaraderie I always enjoyed when I worked as a staff writer.
Mistake #3. Running posts without pictures.
When it came to including images with my posts I was extremely inconsistent until this year. That’s bad, because SEO like blog posts with pictures, and readers do too.
Then I discovered Pinterest, the social network that lets people share images they find online. Pinterest has become a popular way for writers and bloggers to promote their work - but you can only do that if your story or blog post has an image that you can share.
Since I started using Pinterest a few months ago, I now include an image with every post I write. It’s not that hard to find sources of free images: sometimes I run logos or other corporate materials that are free for the taking (as long as you give due credit to the source). Other times I create screen captures to run as images. Occasionally I run my own photos.
Most of the time I use images I’ve found doing a Creative Commons search on Flickr or Google that the authors have granted permission to re-use (again, with the proper permissions). For more information, read a post I wrote on where to find images for blog posts.
Mistake #4. Blogging for free.
It took me years to wake up to the fact that I could be making money from my blogging efforts. It’s true that within months of teaching myself to blog I was pitching and getting assignments to write about blogging software companies – but I’d been a tech reporter for years so that wasn’t all that surprising. It took me a lot longer to start looking for ways to earn an income directly from my blog – and I’m still not doing a very good job of it.
I discovered BlogHer, applied to join BlogHer’s advertising network and got accepted within a month or two. But it took me about three or four months to actually fill out all the paperwork to start running ads on my site. I also joined Amazon’s affiliate program, but so far it’s been a bust: I don’t run enough posts about books, and when I do, I sometimes forget to use the special Amazon affiliate code when I include links and images of books.
I’ve talked about using the blog to sell ebooks on writing basics and other subjects, but whenever I’ve been ready to start on that in earnest I’ve landed a great assignment and put it on the back burner. Will this be the year I actually pull the trigger? Stay tuned.
Mistake #5. Being disorganized.
The first couple years I ran this blog, I jotted down ideas for posts whenever and wherever they came to me, including on the yellow legal pad I use as a daily to-do list, and in a journal that I kept in my bedside nightstand – very low tech. Then I started creating posts in Draft mode and writing ideas down there – which explains why I have more than 100 unfinished posts in Draft mode.
Around the time of last year’s blogathon, some other bloggers turned me onto an editorial calendar plugin for WordPress blogs. It’s an application that creates a calendar inside the main WordPress dashboard that you can use to schedule and start writing posts. You can configure it to show three or more weeks at a time. It’s got a drag and drop feature so if you’ve got a post scheduled for a Tuesday and you decide you need to run it on Thursday, you can drag and drop the post from one date to the other. Brilliant. Maybe because I’m a visual person and love calendars, but using it has made it easier to schedule posts days or weeks in advance, to program standing features (like the “Dear WordCount” advice column that runs here on Thursdays) and figure out how to cover myself by re-running older posts when I know I’ll be especially busy with other work.
Here’s another post I wrote about common mistakes that beginning bloggers make: Bad beginnings: 10 newbie blogging mistakes and how to fix them
If you were starting a blog today, what would you do differently? Share your experience by leaving a comment.