So you want to start your own blog

It says on our about page, we’re not just here to talk about asexuality, we’re also here to stimulate blogging.  Lately I’ve seen a number of people starting their own blogs.  (For purposes of this post, I’m referring to non-Tumblr blogs only.)  Since I’m possibly the most experienced blogger in the ace blogosphere, having blogged consistently for over seven years, I’d like to offer a bunch of miscellaneous tips.

What do you want out of your blog?

When I first started blogging, I dreamt big.  I wanted all the readers, and I wanted to influence the conversations I saw on other blogs with lots of readers.  Naturally, none of that happened, and at first I felt very disappointed.  But I continued writing because I discovered there were other things I got out of blogging in the short-term.

The fact of the matter is that most blogs don’t get a significant number of readers, and those that do acquire them over many years.  If you really just wanted attention you could probably do better by being a troll on tumblr.  There must be something else you want, so what is it?

I asked this question in an earlier question of the week. Some of the answers provided:

  • To talk about things that you can’t talk about offline
  • To reach people
  • To order your thoughts
  • To spend time
  • To connect with readers
  • To get reader’s thoughts
  • To find communities with shared interests

The thing you should be asking yourself is, how essential is it to have lots of readers?  Having some readers helps to distinguish a blog from a personal diary.  And certainly I want to see more popular ace blogs.  But what do you want?  Would you be satisfied if only a few people read your blog?

Most of this post will focus on acquiring readers, since that’s the main thing I can give advice for.  There’s not much I can say to help your venting be more cathartic or your analysis be more exacting.  But keep in mind what you really want, and recognize that you are not failing just because you don’t have many readers.

Where do readers come from?

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of blog readership.  Take a look at these site statistics from the past month of my personal blog.

Blog statistics

Here’s a brief explanation of the pieces of pie:

  • Referrals – People follow links to your blog, often from tumblr, other blogs, or forums.  Site statistics will track incoming links, which is very useful to know your audience.
  • Organic search – People find your site by search engines.  Site statistics will track search terms, and it’s often hilariously obvious that people won’t find what they’re looking for on your blog.
  • Direct – People go directly to your blog by bookmark or typing in the url.  These are probably regular readers.
  • Social – Mostly Facebook.  Facebook makes it impossible to tell what people are saying about you.

One of the reasons I stopped caring about getting lots of page views is because I realized that I really only value regular readers.  Page views tend to be dominated by search engine hits.1,2  The vast majority of visitors who come by search engine never return.  It’s also hilariously clear based on the people’s search terms that most people aren’t getting what they wanted from my blog.

But of course, every regular reader used to be a one-time visitor.  So if you want regulars, the main issue is how to “hook” those one-time visitors.  When I consider reading a blog, it’s usually after seeing a link to an essay I like.  Then I look at the “about” page to see what kind of perspective is offered, and then I browse the front page or tags for anything interesting.  If I like what I see, I look around for a subscription service.3

Writing a blog for readers

Writing well simply requires practice, and there’s very little advice I can give to help you write better.  I can, however, say what readers generally want:

  • Consistency in the long term – Good writing can acquire more readers, but it won’t matter if people have forgotten about your blog by the time you post another update.  Basically, quantity can be more important than quality.
  • Unique personality – Your individual voice will distinguish you from just another essay we found on the internet.  You can adopt a particular tone, a particular writing style, or format.  You can tell personal stories, bring up new issues, or think about old issues in new ways.  Even attaching pictures to your posts can go a long way to adding character.
  • Shorter is better – I’m a very verbose writer, and I understand how long-form writing can be essential to my personal goals in blogging.  But as far as the goal of acquiring readers goes, new readers generally don’t want to invest a lot of time in a blog they just met.
  • One small issue at a time – It’s tempting to write big manifestos that say everything you ever wanted to say about asexuality.  But this tends to lead to big sprawling posts that take forever to write, and of course the next week you remember something else you forgot to add.  Having a web of many posts is easier, and encourages people to follow the web as it grows.

WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr

Outside of Tumblr and Livejournal, it really doesn’t matter what blogging software you use.  Where Tumblr can connect you with a “Tumblr community”, using WordPress doesn’t really connect you with a “WordPress community”, and using Blogger doesn’t connect you with a “Blogspot community”.  You make your own connections with old-fashioned links and search engines.  So the playing field is pretty much level.

That said, I think WordPress looks a little more “professional” than Blogger.  But unless you get the paid version of WordPress, Blogger gives you more freedom to tinker with its code.  For example, he reader statistics above come from Google Analytics, which I can install on Blogger but not on WordPress.

 The state of the ace blogosphere

The Asexual Agenda is currently the biggest asexual blog around.  That means that one of the ways to attract readers is by getting us to link to you.  We’re aware of our power to direct eyeballs, and we try not to abuse it.  This is all to say, ask us nicely and we’ll link you.  Of course, making readers stick around is up to you.

You might ask, where do our readers come from?  Most of our referrals come from Tumblr–links from AVEN and Reddit are much less fruitful.  You can always go to the source and try to plug your blog on Tumblr.  There’s a fairly common Tumblr/Wordpress hybrid model, where people get readers from Tumblr and have structured discussions on WordPress.  This is an easy way to get the best of both worlds.

Of course, the current state of the ace blogosphere can change.  Why should The Asexual Agenda be the most popular?  There should be many popular blogs.  I hope to see more in the coming years.

——————————————————-

1. I think it takes a while for Google to notice that a new blog exists, so this might not be true for brand new blogs.

2. Depending on what you’re doing, you might actually cater to search engines.  For example, Asexuality Archive is aimed at providing resources, and so search engine hits are important.  But I think this is true of very few blogs.

3. I’m not sure how many people use subscription services or what kinds.  I use RSS feed, but I read lots of blogs and webcomics so I’m probably unusual in this regard.  You can add widgets to advertise subscription services, although experienced users might figure out how to subscribe regardless.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
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15 Responses to So you want to start your own blog

  1. Sara K. says:

    It is true that it takes time to increase readership. Getting a large readership has never been a high priority for me, but even so, the number of readers I got this year is way, way, way, way higher than during my first year (having a large archive helps, since people are more likely to find your blog via organic search).

    Also, participating in the Carnival of Aces is a good way to increase readership. Not only do my Carnival posts get higher readership than most of my posts, I think some of my regular readers found me through the Carnival of Aces.

    Another important thing is finding a good title for posts. I have found a correlation between the snappiness of the post title and the number of hits. For example, there was one post which was essentially ready to be published, but I wasn’t satisfied with the title because it was long and boring and I couldn’t imagine myself clicking on a post with that title. So I retitled it ‘The Pirates at the Top of the Escalator’ and it’s one of my most popular posts ever. I doubt it would have been so popular if I had stayed with the original title.

  2. Alice says:

    I’ve been really surprised at the popularity of my blog since I started it in November, and getting linked here has been the main driver of traffic. Surprisingly, although it’s died down a little since I was first linked from here, it’s still quite popular.

    I agree with Sara about the Carnival of Aces – as well as it being a way of exposing your blog and increasing readership, I also really enjoy participating, it gives me the chance to think and write about topics I might not have considered blogging about before. It’s a wonderful way of building a community around what can often feel like a bunch of disparate blogs.

    Something I’ve also found really helpful in generating traffic is to comment (responsibly) on other people’s blogs. That doesn’t mean spamming people with “look at my blog,” but writing relevant comments and linking to your own blog in the space provided (like I’ve done here). Quite a few people check out those links.

    Post titles are hard! At work, I work alongside a lot of SEO people who say that you need to stuff your post title with lots of relevant keywords and make the subject of the post clear. Sarah’s example of “The Pirates at the Top of the Escalator” doesn’t really fit with that. But as I tend to be writing for the benefit of readers rather than search engines, I do think I’ll shift to more creative post titles rather than the descriptive ones I’ve been using.

  3. cinderace says:

    I appreciate this post and the comments so far. I definitely need to work on my post titles–I like having as descriptive and accurate a title as possible, but that’s led to most of mine being boring at best and downright clunky at worst!

  4. Siggy says:

    In my experience, post titles are not really important. That is to say, I couldn’t directly know whether titles are important or not, but they never stood out to me as important in my stats. The titles are useful to me when I need to search for my own posts, so I use descriptive titles. I notice that Sciatrix frequently uses metaphors in her titles though, which could have its own mnemonic value.

    What does stand out in my stats are image searches. People love images. Although they may not pay attention to any of the accompanying text…

    • Siggy says:

      A glance at Sciatrix’s archives suggest that it is not as frequent as I supposed, but it seems I remember the titles with metaphors more.

      • Sara K. says:

        I think that might be part of the effect. If it’s easier for someone to remember the title of a post, they are more likely to link to it.

      • Sciatrix says:

        It’s worth noting that I am fussy about titles. It’s usually the very last thing I do when I write a post, and it usually takes about half the time that it took to actually write the post to think of something I find acceptable. I write them as hooks, though, not descriptive content–usually when I’m thinking of them, it’s with an eye to catching someone’s interest and getting them to read more. I figure that if someone is looking for a specific topic on my blog, that’s what tags are for.

        Anecdotally, I think I tend to use longer titles than most bloggers, usually because I’ve thought of a phrase that amuses me in some way and I can’t figure out how to shorten it. This sometimes aggravates me when I can’t figure out how to shorten the title to one line, but usually it works out fine. That said, the metaphorical titles tend to be ones where the metaphor gets mentioned in the title as a way to tie the metaphor into the post (even when I don’t talk about the actual metaphor in much of the body of the post, ala Switching On Airplane Mode), so that might be why they stick a little more?

  5. For AsexualityArchive, the visitors are very heavily skewed toward search results. Quite a few of them are going to be disappointed (No, it’s not “A Sexuality Archive”, sorry), but who knows, maybe one or two of those will stick around and learn about asexuality, so it’s not a complete loss. Tumblr is next in line, followed by reddit or Facebook on some days. There are some individual websites that generate bursts of traffic occasionally (Like when I’m mentioned in the Asexual Agenda linkspams). Twitter hardly gets any direct traction, but it’s a good way to reach people who might not otherwise even be looking for something like your site. AVEN, on the other hand, barely registers. I’m not sure why it is, but they don’t seem to be interested in outside resources there. Even when I’ve tried to promote an Important Post™ there, I get about a dozen hits and that’s it.

    Knowing where your traffic comes from is important, because it tells you where it’s worth spending your time if you want to promote a new post. The right kind of link from Tumblr can last forever, because it’ll get reblogged and reblogged and constantly reaches new people with no additional effort. Reddit has a lifespan of about a week, while links from Facebook and Twitter only last a day or two.

    Seeing the search terms that bring people to your site can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, it can give you insight into what site visitors are looking for, so it can inspire your next topic. On the other hand, you don’t really know how many people overall are searching for those subjects. Maybe you’re already highly ranked and everyone’s already coming to your site because you’re already the authority on the subject and you won’t really gain more readers by talking about it more. For instance, AsexualityArchive gets a lot of hits for queries about asexual men. But is this because there is a large potential audience out there looking for information, or is this because I’ve written about asexual men in the past, and everyone who searches for stuff about asexual men will end up on my site?

    I mentioned an Important Post™ up above. If you write long enough, you will probably write one of these. These are your anchor, your big flashy marquee that will bring people to the site, even years later. Sometimes you know you’re writing one. Sometimes you don’t. Maybe it ends up being the go-to authoritative resource on a subject. Maybe it’s your faction’s battle cry. Maybe it’s just a goofy joke. No matter the case, it will dominate your page views for months or years to come. You’ll get a permanent traffic boost from an Important Post™. I wrote that “Possible Signs of Asexuality” series nearly three years ago, and it’s still consistently my top post, by far. I didn’t expect that to have that kind of staying power. Only the “Asexual’s Guide To…” series comes close, but most of the hits on that aren’t going to find what they’re looking for. On the other hand, I had hoped that the “Comment Section” series would be an Important Post™, but more people read the About page than that series.

    Here’s a few general tips:

    -You can’t please everybody. You can write the most detailed and elegant post on a topic. It can get thousands of hits and become the post everyone links to. Despite all that, someone will find fault with it. Sometimes, it’s a legitimate complaint that you should address. But other times, you’ll run afoul of someone’s crusade and they’ll unleash the Internet Hate Machine upon you for your transgression. In cases like that, it’s best to hunker down and let it blow over and try not to let it stop you from writing. (I’ve had someone go after me because I’m not attacking the evils of capitalism on my website about asexuality.)

    -Don’t promise a series unless you’ve already written it all. You can tease at the possibility of future installments, but telling people “I’ll cover this in part 2”, and then there’s no part 2 is just disappointing. (I mean, I’m still sad that there’s no Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League.)

    -Getting readers is nice, but content should come first. Readers will find you eventually. Put up a few posts before you start telling people about your site. AsexualityArchive started as my coming-out post on Facebook. Then I wrote a few things on AVEN that no one read. Then I went to Tumblr and posted stuff that a few people started to notice. After I had a dozen or so posts, that’s when I collected them all on AsexualityArchive and started telling people about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “I’m starting a new blog!”, and the only post on it (even months later) is “Hey, I’m just starting this! I’m going to talk all about asexuality here!”. Even worse are the people begging for followers on Tumblr, before they even have anything to follow. You should never have to ask for followers or subscribers. If you’re doing it right, they’ll come on their own.

    -Be prepared to change. You might have ambitious plans at the start, but once you get going, you’ll find that they don’t quite work. AsexualityArchive was originally planned as something completely different than what it ended up being.

    -As mentioned above, people really like images. I put up a text post on Tumblr and got maybe 50 notes on it. I put up a slideshow of essentially the exact same content, and it’s at 33000 notes and counting. So, yeah, forget everything else I’ve said and just put up pictures and graphics and you’ll do fine.

    • Siggy says:

      Ditto about “Important Posts”. If you write enough stuff, eventually something really catches Google’s eye, and it’s hard to predict when.

      Also ditto about producing content first. We’re happy to plug blogs whenever, but I think plugs are more effective if you have more content for people to see. Maybe half of blogs die in their first month so following a new blog with only a few posts is not the most attractive proposition.

    • Sara K. says:

      My posts with images tend to be in the mid-range in terms of popularity. On the one hand, the posts with images definitely are not my most unpopular, on the other hand, images are not enough to make them as popular as some of my text-only posts.

      And I also concur with producing content first. I might follow a new blog with an interesting post or two, but I’m certainly not going to follow a blog which doesn’t have any content yet.

  6. Aqua says:

    My blog’s main source of referral now seems to be search results, but this blog was my main referral source for the first couple of months.

    It may also help to have a particular niche in mind, and see how well your blog is fitting into it. Looking at the search results that bring visitors to your blog can be a way of determining this.
    I can’t always see what search results bring visitors to my blog, and often I don’t see them. When I do, the search results are usually “voluntary celibacy” and/or “non-religious celibacy” or some variants of them.

    It’s encouraging to know that there are a significant number of people interested in that, and that is part of the niche for my blog, but I feel like I’m disappointing a lot of these visitors, because my blog is still mainly about asexuality, when my goal is to write about both. The people who are voluntarily celibate for non-religious reasons are one of the main groups I’m seeking out, and associate with, but writing about them/us is so difficult, because there isn’t a unified community, nor consensus on what label to use. The forum I created has this same problem.

    I see a lot of good points about titles. Mine have mainly been leaning towards being descriptive. I often put questions in the titles as a way to try and draw viewers in. I like the idea of using metaphors in titles and in the post, but I often struggle with writing metaphor titles myself. Sometimes I use allusions and references though. I’d like to go through some of my older posts and re-title them, but any links to them would be broken if I did that. Sometimes I come up with a catchy title first, then write the content afterwards. I’d like to be more consistent, and from this point, I’d like to start with the title first.

    When I started my blog, I already had a lot of ideas of what to write, and had a backlog of drafts. I’ve never been without at least one draft in progress since I started. Sometimes the drafts get split into multiple posts. I’ve done that a lot, because writing smaller posts about a specific topic is easier than trying to write a huge manifesto.

    Continuing to stay engaged in the community is also important, because most of our blogs are also about the asexual community. Reading other blogs helps me stay up-to-date on its progress and issues, and gives a lot to write about.

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  8. Elizabeth says:

    Search terms have always been king when it comes to my referrals. There’s a pretty obvious reason for that these days, but it was like that even within the first few months. Partially that was because I lucked into Asexual Masturbation pretty early on and that title might as well have made that post a sticky. Partially it was that this whole ace blogosphere thing was a tiny, infant thing back then, so beyond fellow bloggers there just weren’t that many eyeballs to go around. Most people were still on forums or LJ exclusively.

    When AVEN’s front page got redesigned to include a blog feed widget, that challenged the search term referrals for a while. But then there was a new blog boom and that sort of thing became unsustainable. My stats for 2014 claim that AVEN is still #3 among referring sites after Reddit and Facebook respectively, with Tumblr following that. But I’m pretty sure it’s wrong because WordPress doesn’t consolidate the clicks from individual Tumblr home pages, so it isn’t correctly registering that Tumblr is at the top. Not nearly as good as Google Analytics, but I’ll add that when I eventually migrate to a self-hosted WP install. (It’s worth noting for prospective bloggers here that WordPress is divided into .org and .com–the latter provides hosting with a much more limited install, but if you have your own web host, you can install a WP blog there and have MUCH greater control over your code and many, many free plugins and themes to play with. It’s worth considering if you already have a website or plan to build one to go along with your blog. But it’s a pretty big investment for a blog just starting out, so I recommend using WordPress.com until you’re sure you can sustain a blog. You can always move it later.)

    It’s interesting to compare our different approaches to blogging. Consistency (in frequency/quantity) is something I explicitly don’t try to promise or plan for… because I actually have always wanted to limit the exposure I get. Having readers is nice, especially regular readers. But having all this public writing on super sensitive topics that’s very prone to huge spikes of traffic tends to freak me out. I obsessively analyze site traffic more out of apprehension than anticipating a wider reach. Not that being more widely read is a bad thing, but it’s something that I want for the long run, to happen gradually enough that I can get better about handling the exposure. Potentially falling off the radar of the dangerous people who have plagued my life until I’m better equipped to handle them is well worth the risk of losing some readers. They can rediscover me later if they’re still interested.

    But then writing for me is also more about books than blogs. Having a blog is necessary, but not the main thing I do. It should never take away from those larger goals.

    Some additional advice I would have for new bloggers:

    – On WordPress vs. Blogger: Blogger is owned by Google and tied to your gmail account in a way that WordPress is not. Google does not have the best track record with considering privacy concerns before integrating the various websites they own with your email. If you use a pseudonym, and especially if you have any abusive people in your life, I would recommend choosing WordPress over Blogger. Even if it wouldn’t be dangerous for you to potentially have your blogging pseudonym connected with your real name, it is terribly inconvenient to manage being logged in to more than one account at the same time, since you always have to keep checking to make sure your comments and such are being posted under the correct name. Blogger always tries to make comments appear under my email address first instead of OpenID, which I have to go log in with again every time, so I generally avoid commenting on Blogspot-hosted blogs these days just out of irritation with having to go through so many CAPTCHAs. Because of this I tend to view WordPress as better at fostering discussion by virtue of not alienating would-be commenters from other platforms as much.

    – If you are a verbose writer like me, it helps to break your posts up into subsections with their own headings. Use lists as appropriate as well. It’s visually easier for readers to keep following along. If you’re on this page, you’ve already seen a good example!

    – Creating original content comes first, always (before telling people to check out your blog). BUT there’s a bit of a catch, because it doesn’t matter how much content you have if none of it is particularly interesting. If you are writing a lot but what you’re writing is just rehashing the basics of what the terms we use in the ace community mean, or if it’s all navel-gazing analysis of the minutiae of your attractions, ideal relationships, and so on… then you won’t tend to attract that much interest. There’s a place for those types of posts–to get readers up to speed (typically best when you already have a following from writing on a different subject) and to explain a little more about yourself to people who already care about you–but if it ends up becoming the bulk of your writing it can crowd the most interesting stuff off the page before it gains enough traction to get noticed. And then you can get discouraged, and easily burn yourself out. Over the years I’ve seen several promising blogs start up and then get too bogged down trying to create a lot of content without enough thought about what kind of content they were creating, going strong for a few months at most, and then burning out as they ran out of ideas. Try to have a sense of what kind of perspective you can uniquely provide, and be reasonable about what kind of posting schedule you can follow. If it becomes too much, it’s okay to post less often. You’ll eventually gain a critical mass of passive traffic that allows you to recover from taking a long hiatus, too.

    – The navel-gazing in particular is something that is very common for people first coming into the community and still figuring themselves out, but usually is only helpful to the writer, so it tends to get mostly ignored (the posts where I’ve done it are pretty much rock-bottom in terms of page views, not counting stuff like site maintenance notes), and sometimes ridiculed by people from outside the community who stumble across it. That can really hurt, so unless you have a specific audience in mind that you know your post could help, it’s worth considering writing it in a private journal (or friends-only post to a community for support if that’s what you need) instead.

    – Use Read More tags for longer or more sensitive posts. It will help keep your readers from getting tl;dr syndrome, being unnecessarily triggered (please also warn readers about what you plan to talk about!), and help you better gauge whether or not people are genuinely interested in the topic you are writing about. Sometimes limiting your audience, allowing them to opt-in if they want to, is the best strategy to either alienate the fewest of them or protect yourself more from unwanted exposure. Intentionally avoiding specific search terms for some posts can reduce potential for harassment, too.

    – On post titles: I like using a bit of tongue-in-cheek sensationalism to get readers going “Huh? What’s that about?” It certainly does tend to boost the amount of people who read it, but it can be a bit of a double-edged sword, because sometimes people will just react to the title and not fully digest the post. Sarcastic humor is something I tend to appreciate as a reader, but it’s something that must be managed carefully as a writer. It’s somewhat riskier, but the rewards can be worth it.

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