Sunday 18 January 2015

A year of blogging: What I've learnt

It's officially my one year blog anniversary today and I'm really excited. It's crazy how time flies; when I started, I didn't imagine how much starting a blog would affect me, teach me and how much I'd grow in confidence. 

So, for all you budding bloggers out there I thought I'd share some of my learnings and musings that might make your journey an even smoother one. 
1. Being consistent about when you blog is really important. When I started a year ago I only posted once a week, on a Sunday and I did so every week without fail. Even when I didn't have any followers, I wanted my friends and family to know that there was a regular date to my posting, and it got me into a really good habit. I still post on Sundays today, but I also post approx. once a fortnight on Wednesday mornings too, when I have something I want to share with you guys. 

2. Learning what content works is all about trial and error. Being a lifestyle blogger, there is huge scope for content, from food to fitness and home decor to travel and it's really up to you to decide where you want to invest most of your efforts. But it's important to keep an eye on your statistics and comments, as they give a great insight into what your readers are interested in reading about. If you're not getting any comments or much high footfall on a certain style of post, think about what you can do to adapt it. It's worth considering if you are as confident in that sector as the others and if not, does this show in your writing? Did it have as many pictures; if it was all text did your readers switch off half way through? Or perhaps it wasn't individual enough, maybe recreating a recipe that anyone else can do just isn't what your readers want - they want your own take on a dish. 

Once you get an understanding about what works on your blog it helps channel your content and gives you goals to aim for  that will put you in better stead for the future.

3. A good picture says 1,000 words. Some of my favourite posts of all time have been largely picture lead with very little written content and that's OK. I think when you start out you feel the need to overload the page with text and then have some pictures which back these up, but that's not always the case. Taking good pictures is a skill in itself and sometimes you're better off letting them do the talking for you. Would you rather see those holiday snaps or have to read a descriptive essay?

I'd also say that investing in a good camera (I have the Sony RX100) is a great thing. It's not essential, there are good quality camera lenses on many smart phones these days, but for me, it made me take my pictures seriously. I have started to learn about composition, flash / no flash (flash is not a good idea if you are taking food pictures FYI) and my pictures have totally changed. Now they are something that I am proud of. 

4. Being individual is key. There are only a finite amount of blogger categories compared to how many bloggers there are, so of course it's hard to stand out and be different, but it's worth giving it a shot. Ask yourself what makes you different from your favourite blogger or the leading bloggers in your field and use that. It may be that you can write in another language too, or that you live somewhere really remote or that your interests and hobbies offer that point of difference. Whatever it is, use it. Being individual and true to yourself will help you gain far more followers than copycatting will. Who cares if you were two years late to the party when it comes to a certain book or product launch, perhaps talking about it in your own time will reignite passions or still educate others who haven't heard of it. 

Remember, the blogging worlds a bubble. Just because loads of bloggers are talking about the latest x, y, z; it doesn't mean that that information has filtered down to your followers yet, do things in your own time. 

5. Learn the importance of good writing skills. I do a lot of writing, I write in a diary, I write at work, I'm writing a book and I obviously write my blog, but I still stumble over the most basic grammar skills sometimes. Sometimes it's so easy to sit and bash things out, read it back to yourself and then hit publish, but when you do and there is a spelling mistake or a really long sentence with no full stop in it, it doesn't look good to your readers. Take your time to check your work. 

I bought a book, Grammar in 60 minutes by Dagny Taggart, that is a really good reference book which is great for freshening up on everything; when to use a semi-colon, sentence structure and the best tips for ensuring your work is proofed properly. Dan usually checks my posts before I publish too, it's great to have a second pair of eyes. 

6. Get on social media. If you're not talking about your posts then how do you expect anyone else to. If this fills you with dread, a great starter is Twitter as it's not as personal as Facebook. I found starting to promote my stuff on Facebook much more daunting than Twitter initially as it's much easier to promote to those you don't know as well than your closest friends sometimes. Plus on Twitter there are lots of great RT profiles (FemalebloggerRT, @UKBlog_RT, FashFit_RT etc) which help get your blog out there in the Twittersphere.

7. Schedule posts. This is something that I didn't do for a while but I wish someone would have told me about earlier. Essentially, there are key times during the week and weekend when people check blogs and social media, so it's a wise idea to get savvy with your scheduling of posts, as posting at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon will likely result in nobody seeing it unless you heavily promote it, compared to 7pm on the same Tuesday when people are looking for content. 

As a guide, I'd say the following times are the best times to publish your content and promote via social media:

  • During the week:7am, 12pm, 5pm - 8pm

  • During the weekend: 10am, 2pm and 6pm - 7pm
8. Your blog is a window into your world, so make sure it reflects your style. Play around with your colour scheme and your layout, but don't worry about spending lots of money on a template from the outset. You'll change your mind on how you want your blog to look a lot within the first year, so keep it simple until you work out exactly what it is that you want. 

When you do want to change up your templates however, either get to grips with some html coding, or visit Etsy for a whole host of template designs ranging from the cheap and cheerful to the more bespoke. 

Phew, long post. I told you I had learnt lots, but hopefully you found this helpful and it gave you something to think about. Especially the social media scheduling, let me know how you get on with that!

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