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Ten Things (and more) Tuesday: Blogging 101

It’s hard to believe, but little ‘ole VMAC+ Cheese is well over two years old. It seems just like yesterday I was signing up on WordPress.com, inputting some general information, and wham bam, found myself the owner of a blog.

Though we’re still a few months shy of the new year, if I had to sum up 2010 in one word, it would be inspiring. And that’s largely because of the easy access I have to hundreds of unbelievable images, stories and people each day through the Internet. Undoubtedly, one of the best parts about starting a blog has been tapping into a huge community of individuals who have the same interests as me.

Morgan from Attention to Detail and I were talking about blogging earlier last week, which made me think about some notes I’ve kept from BlogHer Food last fall (aside: you might remember the recap I wrote on that awful Bertolli lunch, too). I’m no expert on blogging, and I’m still learning a lot as I go (including figuring out my own answers to many of the issues below), but in the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d put together a post on some blogging tips! I hope they’re useful to you — especially if you want to start a blog (and if you do, I say go for it!).

Okay, so, looking back on the last two years and the insights I gained by attending BlogHer Food, Blogging 101 is a short course that can be summarized with four S’s:

First things first. Anyone can log on to Blogger or WordPress or Typepad and sign up for a blog, which is great, but there are a few questions you should ponder going in:

+ What are your goals in starting a blog? Is it only going to be for fun? Who is your audience? Do you hope to monetize the site? The answers to these types of questions can greatly influence the appearance of your blog, not to mention the content.

+Answering these questions should also help you establish your voice. Do you want to tell funny stories? Be an authority on something? Why do you want people to come to your site?

+Along with these more philosophical questions, really consider your site formatting. Make sure you have a search bar somewhere near the top of your blog, so frequent readers can easily find old posts they want to re-visit. Think about websites you think are aesthetically pleasing — more than likely, they’re well-organized, user friendly and easy to navigate right? I find that a clean and calming design is best. Sometimes, when there’s too much going on on a website, or it’s not neatly laid out, I get kind of turned off by the site and leave more quickly. Try using repetition, similar fonts, and similar post formatting to achieve a clean look. Some bloggers swear by a horizontal page menu near the top of the site (with the About page, Contact page, etc.)

+If you’re serious about your blog, you have to treat it like a business. How many people do you know who have started a blog, post regularly for two weeks, then go for a month with radio silence before anything else appears (and yes, that was me at one point too!)? Blogging is a commitment. Be honest with yourself. If your lifestyle only allows for one post a week, that’s great — but stick with it! If people come to expect multiple posts per week, but then you go for two months and post nothing, it’s a sure way to lose your audience.

+Above all else, I’d say don’t bother blogging if you’re not passionate about your topic, or, at the very least, passionate about writing. While passion is a big part of this first ‘S’, it also plays a huge role in the last one too.

S.E.O. stands for search engine optimization. Once you have your site, and you’re posting content to it, great! But how do you get readers?

Twitter and Facebook are great to spread the word about your blog, but many sites (especially those that run ads) really rely on S.E.O. to bring people to them. As far as I can tell, S.E.O. is an ever-changing thing, and I’m still learning a lot about it. In general, I have been told that you have to adapt to search engines — not the other way around. One blogger at BlogHer recommended that every single one of your posts should start with a generic sentence that describes what you’re posting on (i.e. “Today we’re taking a look at Jonathan Adler,” or “This is a recipe for warm farro salad.”), which will allow Google to more easily find your site. I have my own opinions about this technique, which I’ll get to in a minute, but if you’re solely interested in increasing your page ranking, this is one way to do it.

A few other more subtle ways to help your site show up in search engine results is to edit the alt-tags on photos. For all blogs, you should be able to edit the HTML of each post. You’ll notice that when you’re in HTML mode, the bit of code that contains the inserted photo will contain a little section that reads <alt= “”>. If you edit the part between the quotation marks, it should help Google find your photos. Be sure to use good keywords in the alt text though!

If you use Flickr, you can also put a URL to a specific post on your blog underneath the photo. These little captions are searchable/readble by Google and company; search engines will populate image search results with your Flickr photo, which helps direct people to your site.

A few other recommendations from fellow bloggers:

+Link to your previous blog posts within new ones; this supposedly sends Google more information to boost your blog in search rankings. I would caution against doing this in every single post you publish, though — that screams of self-promotion. You can also install a free service like Linked Within that will automatically suggest posts for your readers to check out. This can help lower your bounce rate.

+Use anchor text in your links, or several keywords on whatever it is you’re talking about (i.e., NOT “I loved <this recipe>,” but “I loved this recipe for <chicken and rice soup with spinach>.” Try not to say “click here.”

One thing I’d point out when it comes to S.E.O. You may notice some posts on your blog get the same keyword search results over and over and over. Think about why that may be. Why are search engines directing people to those posts specifically?

Whew. Okay. So now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, we’ll get to the last two S’s, and subsequently, the parts about blogging that I most love. While I’m a sensible woman and understand that S.E.O. and strategy are important elements, they’re by no means the most fun.

While at at BlogHer, one of the best pieces of advice I got about this crazy blogging world was that “links are the currency of the Internet.” In order to connect with other bloggers — and of course, bring more readers to your site — it’s very important to link to other people as much as possible, or comment on their blogs. Promoting other sites is just good karma, too. I also think about how inspired I am by some of the bloggers out there. Why WOULDN’T I want to share their ideas, their creativity, and their fabulousness with my readers, friends and family?

Using sites like Twitter is a great way to connect with people outside of your blog, but ultimately direct them back to your baby. When using Twitter though, be sure you’re not just posting a single tweet a day that’s a link back to your newest blog post. No one likes to follow someone who is only interested in self-marketing. Listen in on conversations around subjects you’re interested in, respond to people’s questions, or jump into the conversation with your own experiences. No where else in the world is it easier to talk to people you might otherwise never connect with in real life.

There are also a number of blog networking sites that can help expose your site, though I have my doubts about how effective these are. Still, some of these sites have opened my eyes to a few blogs I would’ve never found otherwise. Try using Networked Blogs, Blog Lovin’, and 20 Something Bloggers.

And now, what I personally think is the most important part about blogging. The soul.

I often tell Joe that I wouldn’t care if a single person ever read my website again. I love blogging. It has been such a wonderful creative outlet for me. It’s almost scary to think about NOT having a place in the last few years where I could share random photos, stories, videos, recipes and ideas. I hadn’t even realized how MUCH I needed that creative outlet, until I started this site.

It’s absolutely imperative that you love what you’re doing on your blog. Longtime readers of this blog will note that this site has changed dramatically over the last year, not to mention the last two. The truth is, I got tired of writing ONLY about food and food related subjects. I was bored. I’d lost my passion. I had forgotten that this site is my place to share with people, not a place where I should be forced to write about one topic I sometimes just don’t want to talk about. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about that I began to love blogging again. And ultimately, I think (I hope!) my excitement on all these various subjects has translated into my posts.

Like it or not, I think we tend to be more transparent than we think over the Internet. PASSION MATTERS. Stay true to your voice. Do what’s comfortable for YOU. Write for you, write for your readers — NOT the search engines all the time. I have absolutely seen blogs that are designed and written solely to increase their SEO. Frankly, I think they’re ugly. They lack soul. I prefer not to be reading something knowing that the blogger only wants me on their site to pay their bills, not because they truly love their topic, ya know?

If it helps, make a vision board for your blog that will help you understand what you want the site to be.

Most importantly — and this can be a tough one — put yourself out there. I am always amazed when I publish a post I think no one will like or relate to, and all of a sudden, I get comments on it! Having that courage to put your thoughts out into the world can be scary, but when you make that connection with someone else, no matter how little, it’s so gratifying and SO worth it!

I sincerely hope this is helpful for you guys! Do you keep a blog? What do you struggle with? What tips do you have? Share ’em in the comments!

{Image Credits: Pretty Stuff}

13 Responses

  1. […] By Course Recipes A-Z : Ten Things (and more) Tuesday: Blogging 101 […]

  2. Wow–what a thoughtful, helpful, well-written post! Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned about blogging. I’ve only been doing it for about 3 months, and would like to increase my traffic, but agree that you have to really enjoy what you’re writing about and do it for the right reasons. Congratulations on keeping your baby going for two years!

  3. Victoria – YOU are inspiring! Thanks for sharing all of your insight. And thanks for sharing my blog with your readers! xx P.S. I am loving the oven explosion. I’ve SO been there!

  4. WOW! this was truly amazing! thanks so much for these tips and insights. I really identified with them. I’m fairly new to the blogging world and it’s best an incredible adventure so far…one that I’ve really enjoyed. but it can be hard to get going sometimes so this was really helpful! thanks again!
    xx

  5. Victoria, thanks for this awesome post! I remember seeing it a while back, before I was even near starting my own blog. I had to revisit it, now I’ve taken the blog-plunge, and these tips have been so helpful. Blogging seems really overwhelming right now, but so exciting and so much fun! Thanks again for your advice :)

  6. Victoria, thank you for this little crash course in blogging! As you know, my blog is just a newborn and I have lots of nurturing to do so any advice I can come by is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. Love that you talked so openly about the backend of blogging. For whatever reason, it’s really hard to come by this information and the transparency just isn’t there in discussing these issues. Given that blogging is about building a community it would seem only natural to share this information. Thanks!

  8. Victoria, I love love love this blog post. Everything here is so incredibly true and helpful. It’s great to hear advice straight from a blogging expert like yourself. Thank you! On a side note, I love your blog and read it daily. As a Texas girl myself I appreciate the references to tacos and margaritas from time to time. xoxo.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing these tips with us. I am a new blogger over at http://tarahebison.blogspot.com/

  10. You rock — seriously! Keep up the great work, and continue to share!

    xoxo :) nikki

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