Blogs are complicated.
It’s surprising how much work actually goes into writing, formatting, researching, and publishing posts. Because really, there is so much more than just “posts” on a blog.
There are two types of blogs: technical blogs and personal blogs. Technical blogs are the kinds of things you find on Google search when looking up “how to change a light bulb” or “best places to visit in Amsterdam.” You read the piece that answers your question and them immediately leave.
Personal blogs, on the other hand, are more personal. Posts might have technical aspects to draw in new readers (like “10 ways quitting my high-powered job ruined my life” or “8 things I wish I would have known about college my freshman year”), but the posts on personal blogs are written in first hand and the writer often drops bits of their own life and experience into the posts.
Personally, I love personal blogs. I’m a sucker for HuffingtonPost, xoJane, and all those other sites with tons of juicy and interesting content.
Also, I run a personal blog (in case you hadn’t noticed)
And I made this handy guide for other people who run personal blogs, as a way to share what I’ve learned over the last three years of blogging.
These are my 12 tips for successfully running a personal blog, increasing pageviews, and getting more engaged readers.
1. Include pictures from your own life.
I only (regularly) follow two blogs that doesn’t post photos (“Zooming Japan,” because her writing is just that good and “My Asian Fixation” because it’s hilarious). But honestly, it took me four or five times of accidentally landing on her page while looking for something else before I subscribed.
When people read your blog, they become your friend. Or at least they get a feeling of closeness, because you’ve let them into your life and have shown them some of the skeletons in your closet. They feel like they’re your friend.
About once or twice a week, when I’m out and about in Tokyo, someone will recognize me (super flattering, by the way. If you see me, please say “hi!”). Most of them will also say stuff like “I feel like I know you because I read your blog so often!” or “Oh my gosh, Ryosuke is exactly how I imagined he would be!”
Even at our wedding, back in January, I had several family members, friends, and guests say “I feel like I’ve met Ryosuke before, since I read your blog!”
Of course, concrete, practical, and relatable advice sells. But if you can’t do that, sell friendship. I, for one, love feeling like a friend when I read someone’s blog.
And really, what kind of friend doesn’t share photos?
2. Remember: You’re writing for them, not for yourself
If you’re writing a blog as some sort of therapy, don’t expect a lot of readers.
I think thing a common thought in the blogosphere is “if you build it, they will come.” If you write posts, people will read them.
No. Not really.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is when someone sends me a message like “I’ve been blogger for two years and still don’t have very many followers. Can you look at my blog and give me some advice?”
So I do. And 95% of the time, the blog is structured in a “Well today I did this and then I ate at this awesome restaurant with [insert friend name] and then we went shopping and I bought this super-cute skirt and look! Isn’t it cute???”
[And the other 5% of the time is people shamelessly promoting their blog without really wanting any advice]
I had this kind of style when I first started my blog. It’s tempting. It’s very natural and easy to write. Hella boring to read, though.
I realized the error in my ways because, lucky for me, several of my friends and acquaintances started blogs around the same time I did. Some were “study abroad blogs”, some were “after college blogs,” and some were “I just had a baby! blogs.” Pretty much everyone (including me) wrote in that scrambled narrative style.
I realized if I couldn’t make it throughtheir posts (and I liked the person writing it), how can anyone make it through mine?
If you’re writing for yourself, you’re the only one who will read it (and, well, maybe your mom). If you’re writing for others, you will gain followers.
3. Craft a Tagline and find a Niche
Niches are your friend. I have a couple (I like to keep my hands in multiple cookie jars). My main niches are:
- Expats living in Japan (or people who want to visit Japan)
- AMWF couples (Asian men dating/married to white women, etc)
- Long Distance Relationships (Ryosuke and I were in an LDR for over a year and a half before we got married)
Those niches work very well for me. There are also blogs about adoption, travel, living abroad, midlife crisis, handling a divorce, being a single mom, being a stay-at-home mom, being a stay-at-home dad, and really anything else you can think of.
By the way, my tagline is: “The adventures of a Texan girl married to a Japanese Salaryman, living in Tokyo.”
4. Make your life like a reality show
I don’t usually watch TV (I don’t have the time), but when I do, I watch dramas. Some of my favorites are Bones, Modern Family, the Mentalist, and the Big Bang Theory.
I love the stories. I love seeing successful human relationships, hilarious screw-ups, and people doing good things with their life.
I’m the same way with blogs. I love reading interesting stories about interesting people. I’ve read through most of the “It Happened to Me” section on xoJane.
Your main job as a bloggers is to entertain (remember, you’re writing for them, not for yourself!). If you can’t entice repeat visitors with your hilarious stories and narrative, your blog won’t get any bigger.
5. KISS (Keep It Short, Stupid)
Short is (usually always) better.
I can see the irony because this post is massively long. Sorry.
Basically, if you can say it in 300 words, do it. If you need 1000 words, that’s ok too. Just cut the fluff. I’ve noticed the best posts fall in the 700 – 1000 word range.
6. Post regularly and don’t ever stop posting (without warning)
If you can’t commit, don’t start.
Every once and a while, a blog I follow takes a 3-4 month hiatus without warning. Something comes up, I guess.
But the thing is, I have a “blog list” … and if I check a blog for several months without an update, I remove the blog from my “blog list.” The sad fact is that most of bloggers who quit never go back to posting, so it’s a waste of time to keep checking. And I know I’m not the only one who removes blogs from my list after a decrease in posting.
Maybe you’re different. Maybe you really will go back to regular posting after your short hiatus. Just remember… you might have already lost some of your fans.
[By the way, I’ve come to notice that if you start every post with a “Sorry for the late post, I’m going to write much more regularly now,” it’s a problem. And a sure sign your blog is going to be abandoned soon]
7. Make it search engine friendly and build your website rank
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is your friend. Really, you’re not a sell-out.
Google Search is one of the single best sources of free advertising on the internet. If you don’t take advantage of this free exposure, you’re kind of an idiot (no offense).
When brainstorming a title for your post, make it the kind of thing you would click on if you were researching the topic on Google. Pick titles that are engaging and loaded with keywords.
- AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) couples: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
- The Four Stages of Long Distance: Surviving the Separation
- Things I Hate about Japan: Chikan (perverts)
- How Japanese Onsen “fixed” my self esteem and body issues
- 4 Things I’ve learned in 4 Months of Marriage
You should also build your website rank through guests posts on other sites and backlinks (getting sites to link to your and linking to older posts within your posts). Also, please avoid Black-Hat SEO. If you want to make your blog more popular, spend a bit of time researching how to build up your website’s ranking.
- About 10% of the posts I write are just for SEO purposes, to draw more people to my blog. A lot of my followers have said things like “I found your blog while searching for [food, location, thing] and have been a fan ever since!”
- The other 85% of my posts are things I generally want to write. Of course, they’re optimized for SEO too.
- The last 10% are updates and filler posts.
8. Don’t give up!
The only way you can “fail” at blogging is if you stop blogging altogether. Yes, it’s rough. Yes, it eats up your time, causes stress, and exposes you (sometimes) to incredibly vile trolls.
But it can also be very rewarding, if you stick with it long enough.
- I started this blog in September of 2012, when I first moved to Japan. For those first 4 months, I averaged 16 views a day (1,700 total views for the year). I was pretty proud of that.
- By 2013, my blog picked up steam. I averaged 1,000 views a day, with 375,000 total views that year. I was getting 60 TIMES the number of views. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
- It’s 2014 now, and my blog is still going strong. I average 6,000 views a day now, with 1.8 million views so far this year. Now my blog actually contributes to my income.
It will take 3+ years to get really good at blogging, if you’re lucky. Don’t give up too soon.
My first (full) year of blogging – 2013
My second (full) year of blogging – 2014
9. Reply to all comments (until you get too big)
I you get 10-20 comments a day, you really ought to be replying to all of them. They don’t have to be in-depth replies, of course, but a simple “Thank you” will do wonders. Why? Because if you don’t, you might really end up losing someone who could be an amazingly devoted fan.
I discovered a blogger about two months ago who had written a book. However, the link to the book was “broken” and I couldn’t find the book on Amazon. I left a comment on the post (there were only 3 others; this was a rather small blog) and sent an email asking where I could buy the book.
And then I forgot about it.
A couple weeks later, I checked her site. The link was still broken, but she had posted new stuff since then. Six weeks after I sent an email, I got a one-line reply on my comment saying “buy it from my store.” (which, by the way, was really difficult to find on her site).
No “thank you.” No “Sorry for such a late response, it’s been crazy!” No “Thank you for buying my book!”
Really, I’m not the kind of person who gets bent out of shape over customer service, especially when it comes to blogs. I have probably pissed off my share of people because I won’t write paragraph-long replies to emails, comments, and questions.
But I always reply.
And I always say “thank you.”
10. Don’t be a jerk to your readers
I guess this kind of flows into the late one (hey, I’m on a roll here!), but seriously, don’t be arrogant in your posts. Also, don’t lie. If you get caught in a lie once, your readers will start to wonder what else you’ve lied about. It’s not pretty.
My mother told me a while back the easiest way to become a better writer is to become a better person. I completely agree.
Blogs are very personal. You get a window into the author’s soul… and a lot of the time, I don’t necessarily like the racism/sexism/homophobia/arrogance I see in that window.
So I stop reading.
11. Use Social Media. Lots of it.
I use Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. I also created a Pinterest account recently and will go crazy with that once I get more time.
People use different channels. The subscribers I have on Facebook and very different than most of my Youtube fans. Cast a wide net over several social media platforms to get a more loyal following.
12. Don’t attack the defenseless (and don’t use names)
I have very little respect for people who use a public forum to attack someone (“undeserving”) who can’t defend themselves.
There is a very large difference between calling out a corporation that racially profiles new hires and a friend that back-stabbed you.
Trust me when I tell you that I have been tempted to use my blog to call someone out. Or “get even.” Seriously, I used to fantasize about it. Basically, I’m a horrible person.
But I never do it. I don’t use names. And if I’m using a backstabbing ex-friend or acquaintance for a lesson in a blog post, I make sure to change enough details so that they can’t tell who they are.
[The one time I didn’t bother to change any details was from this post – the example I used at the end, but in my defense, the ‘friend’ in question was sending Ryosuke private messages asking him out to dinner so they could “talk” and inviting him over to her house alone. No. That’s not cool.]
Also, as I talked about in this post, I don’t use names when I blog. I’ve found my own name a couple times on other people’s blogs (months/years later) and it always made me feel very uncomfortable.
13. Read the blogs, connect, and comment on other bloggers in your niche
There are a lot of things I’ve learned as a blogger. There are also lots of things I struggle with (privacy, trolls, what to post online) that someone who is not a personal blogger typically doesn’t understand.
At the very least, by connecting with other bloggers, you have a chance to pick the brains of the people who have come before you and learn from their mistakes. And, by commenting and guest posting on their sites, you can also gain a whole slew of new followers.