I've been blogging on and off for the past 10 years (and I know a fair bit about online marketing), so I already knew a lot of the information presented in the workshop. But it was still immensely helpful because there's always more to learn and improve, and those things I didn't know before make a world of difference.
Here are some of the lessons that really stood out for me, and how I went about implementing them in the past month.
1. Be more personal
Those of us who write a blog about our creative business (or hobby) tend to avoid sharing any personal information. We may think "Why would anyone care about this?" or "I don't want to bore my readers". I usually err on the safe side and choose not to share personal things.
April emphasized that your readers want to get to know you as a person. This is the first step of the "Know - Like - Trust" cycle of networking.
Your blog readers want to know you as a person. [Tweet this quote]
This means that you should let your personality show through your writing and other media, even though it may not be directly related to your work.
There are thousands of other artists, jewelry designers, writers, or scrapbookers out there... but there's only one you. Being unique (by being yourself) is the only way you can stand out.
What I did
To mitigate the somber feeling I portray through my writing and my art, I decided I'll start showing the brighter side of my life through images (two flies with one swat). I wrote more about this below under the Images section. In short, I posted photos of my home office (which is pretty dang cheerful!), and shared some of my sketchbook entries that were not art but sort of "thinking on paper".
While I didn't necessarily share any more personal information than I usually do, I feel that photos and drawings help me express my personality.
2. Edit your writing
I would often write an entire blog post in one sitting, then maybe give it a second pass to see if there are any mistakes my spelling checker didn't catch, and then I'd hit publish.
And those posts were loooong.
April's tip was to edit your posts heavily before publishing. Read your post out loud, and if you stumble over any words, replace them. Use a thesaurus to find a synonym that works the best in the context of your blog. Cut out everything that is confusing or doesn't help in bringing the message across.
Another bonus tip that goes well with this is to keep your posts shorter, and break up longer posts into a series of posts.
Long posts are not that bad per se. I read blogs with posts much longer than mine, and I think they're perfect. But obviously, I'm not writing for myself here. People have shorter and shorter attention spans these days, and the majority of my readers are visual artists. Some of those people gasp and run for the hills when they see my posts with a bunch of words and no pictures (see below).
What I did
I invested more time in editing and became more ruthless when it came to deciding whether something stays in the post.
This was especially true of guest posts (see below) because most of the guidelines had a cap at 800 words. None of my writings fit this requirement at first, so this meant a lot of cutting and reworking the sentences.
Most of the blog posts I published in the past month are much shorter than my usual ones, and I will try to keep the ratio down to something like 3:1 in favor of shorter posts.
3. Practice writing to develop your blogging voice
The workshop was intended for all kinds of creative people, and a lot of us don't consider ourselves "writers". So how does a non-writer learn to write good blog posts?
By practicing writing.
You need to write often in order to learn to write better. Your 10th post will be much better than your first, and your 20th will be much better than your 10th. But not all of the writing needs to happen on your blog.
April suggested regular journaling that has no other aim but to record your thoughts and practice writing. This is a very non-threatening way to test out things before you get brave enough to share them publicly.
I find this may be especially useful for me, since I'm writing in a foreign language, so at the moment I might be a bit limited in my vocabulary and writing style.
What I did
I still haven't started doing this on a regular basis, but I think I wrote way more words in May then ever before.
4. Add (even more) images
There are so many benefits to having images on your blog. It makes your blog pretty. It makes your content more shareable on social networks. It gives your readers something to rest their eyes on. It enables you to show things, instead of just describe them, which brings your point across more clearly.
I'm a visual artist, so it should go without saying that my blog posts should contain images, right? But often I would have only one graphic per post, and my longer posts looked like a wall of text.
It's easy to figure out what images to share when you blog about your art, crafts, design, photography and other visual work. But that's not all I blog about. Some of my posts tend to be more thought-provoking and less concerned with concrete things. It's a challenge for me to figure out visuals to share with those posts without going into the bland stock photo territory.
When in doubt, add more images to your blog post. [Tweet this quote]
What I did
If you've been on my blog in the past month, you may have noticed that I shared a few posts where images played an important role, more so than in my previous posts.
I shared photos of my studio which was pretty straightforward — it's a photo-based post. But there were several others where I usually wouldn't use any visuals beside the "cover image", but now I made an effort to create them.
For example, on the topic of being multi-passionate, I shared a sketch I made that inspired the blog post in the first place. People's response to that post was amazing, and I'm so glad I decided to experiment with this.
Another example is my recent post The Meaning of Failure. I posted some pinterest-friendly quote images to break up the text a bit, but I also created a graphic that illustrated my point (which is rather serious) in a fun way.
I used to do a lot of photography before, but these days I just can't be bothered with it. So I suggest you to use your strong points. If you take photos, share them. If you doodle, show your doodles. If you create art journal pages, use them in your posts even when your post is not about art journaling itself. People just love eye candy!
5. Build relationships with other bloggers
April has demonstrated so well on her own example how building relationships helped her increase her readership and build her online business.
I have to admit that I am really bad at networking and building new relationships.
In both my personal and professional life I rarely ever make the first step in reaching out to someone. I like when things happen organically, and I've met many friends over the internet in the past 15-ish years, but it was more through happenstance than through my conscious effort.
But in order to create a blog that people care about, you need to be the one caring for other people. This means that your job doesn't stop with hitting the "Publish" button and sharing the post on half a dozen social networks.
You need to keep your eye on the other bloggers and interact with them through blog comments, Twitter, Facebook etc. Preferably it should be with a genuine intention of creating a mutually beneficial long-term relationship, not because you want their attention and access to their readers ASAP.
What I did
Since the workshop I've been more active on other people's blogs than before, and I started following some new people to expand beyond my tiny bubble.
This resulted in meeting some very interesting people whose work I love and whose message I totally resonate with. One of them even offered me an opportunity to be a guest on her upcoming podcast, which is amazing!
I also took part in the The Bravery Blogging Project, through which I got to know even more amazing bloggers (by the way, you still have 2 weeks left to jump in).
Not to mention this very workshop and the Facebook group where we continued to hang out, which resulted in this blog tour!
6. Be a guest blogger
April mentioned that she wrote 18 guest posts in a single month, and it helped her increase her traffic and newsletter sign-ups like nothing else.
After the workshop someone in the Facebook group posted an article that had many controversial points, but there was one that really stuck with me.
When you don't have a large readership, you're wasting your time writing only on your blog. In fact, the article makes a point of writing guest posts before you even have your own blog! That sounds completely counter-intuitive, but this approach enabled owners of Boost Blog Traffic to launch their blog with a huge readership, while the rest of us launch with zero readers.
I used to think that I need to keep my "diamonds" for my own blog, and post what doesn't fit here to other blogs, but I realized that if few people are going to see those "diamonds", they're aren't that valuable after all.
When you don't have a large readership, you're wasting your time writing only on your blog. [Tweet this quote]
What I did
I went through my drafts folder on Google Drive where I keep all my half-written and unedited posts, and started picking out ones that were suitable for sites I wanted to guest post on. (I keep a spreadsheet of the blogs, a link to their guidelines, and a list of topics for easy overview.)
Part of me really wanted to publish those on my own blog, but I needed to see it as an investment, not as a loss. If these posts brings more readers to this blog, that post is doing a much better job over there than it does over here.
After all, my brain is a limitless well of ideas and I will never run out of things to write about.
I identified posts that corresponded to the target blog's audience and ethos, and edited them to fit the guidelines.
I had pitched 3 posts to 3 different blogs. All of the bloggers who got my pitch responded that they got my submission and will review it when they get to it. For high-traffic blogs this can take a few weeks, so I had to be patient.
While I was waiting to hear back from the site owners, I was a little worried: Will they accept them? Are my writings good enough to be shared with thousands of people? What if they turn my posts down? Does it mean my posts suck?
Finally the owner of PickTheBrain wrote back to notify me my post 3 Steps to Stop Procrastinating and Start Working on Your Dream Project has gone up! I was so excited about this!
In terms of numbers, the post brought me about 130 visitors and around 20 newsletter subscribers in the first 2 days, which sounds fairly modest for a high-traffic blog like PTB. If this is qualified traffic, ie. people who genuinely care about the things I write about, that's awesome.
Quality-wise, several people have contacted me to contribute articles on their blogs and magazines, and the comments were very positive and insightful. Overall I see guest blogging as a great opportunity to share my message with more people and build my reputation.
Guest blogging is an investment. [Tweet this quote]
UPDATE 2019: I believe guest blogging is past its heyday, and no longer use this strategy to get traffic because I find it's more effort than it's worth. It was good while it lasted!
I hope you learned something valuable through my examples, and if you want to get even more tips and insights, head on to other blogs participating in this tour!
Yes, there is a lot to learn about blogging. Yes, there are many things that you can do to make your blog better. But you don't need to do it all at once.
An intention to improve your website can quickly turn into a tweaking obsession that takes time away from all your other projects — projects that your blog is meant to support, not replace (I've been there, no judgment here).
So just take it easy.
Put the things on your to-do list, and take it one step at a time. One small change per week will amount to massive changes over the course of a year. And honestly? This blogging business takes time. Yes, there are some actions you can take to speed up the process, but you have to plan for the long run. Don't burn yourself out.
If you're eager to start improving your blog now, here are a few resources:
- My best tip: how to never miss a weekly blog post
- How to be a remarkable blogger and attract loyal readers
- Advanced Guide to Content Marketing
- Complete Guide to Building Your Blog Audience
I hope you'll enjoy them!