Every once in a while, someone (invariably a newbie blogger) sends me a mail, asking me what they should do to be a successful blogger. I have usually responded to such queries with whatever tips came to mind. But then, a few weeks back, I was invited to talk about writing for digital media at an event organized by Women’s Web. This was an interesting event, a gathering of a bunch of women, most of whom were much more successful (and savvy) bloggers than I can ever hope to be. It taught me a lot; and it spurred me on to finally write this post, which has been brewing for a while now.
So, without further ado, some tips on how to make your blog a successful one. This, please note, is my idea of what a successful blog is: a blog which encourages discussions, which attracts readers, and which is fulfilling both for the writer and the readers. Your idea of a successful blog may be different (for instance, someone who recently asked for advice was blatant about saying that they wanted to know how to get lots of followers for their blog). Others may be keen on knowing how they can earn through the blog. For either of those, I suppose you’d need to learn hacks like SEO optimization (yes, I know terms like that, too!), and for that you should probably go to a consultant—there are plenty of them out there. Here, I will just discuss what has helped me build a blog that I am satisfied with, and which has a decent enough fan following.
1. Write what you’re passionate about. Blogging is writing. And writing, no matter what you’re writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is most convincing when you’re passionate about what you’re writing. Disinterest is very visible; just as easily visible as is enthusiasm. So don’t jump onto whatever bandwagon appears to be in fashion. Follow your own instincts, and don’t worry if you think you’re possibly the only one out there who could be interested in whatever you write.
For example, old cinema—in an age when people refer to the 1990s as ‘old’—is not, or so I thought when I began blogging, likely to be terribly popular. As I’ve discovered in the eight years I’ve been writing Dusted Off, that doesn’t matter. Because though a review of Dekh Kabira Roya may fetch me far fewer views and comments than a review of the latest Bollywood flick, at least the people who read it and/or comment will share my enthusiasm, my love for old cinema. The high that comes from that is enough success.
2. Write well. Look at my previous posts on writing tips. That holds true for blogs as much as it does for articles, for short stories, for novels or other forms of writing. Good grammar, correct spelling and punctuation, edited and proofread writing makes people want to continue reading. Write badly, and even if your grasp of your subject is good, some readers (me, for instance) will get put off—and, in cyberspace, that usually translates into going away from your blog forever.
3. Engage with people who comment. When people comment on your blog, respond. People who comment have taken the time and the effort to comment, and your responding encourages them to keep visiting your blog; the end result is that not only will you get traffic, you’ll also learn. I know: in all these years, my knowledge of old cinema has grown far, far beyond what I knew, and much of the credit for that goes to blog readers who have shared trivia, their own perspectives, and their recommendations for films I should watch.
4. Be patient, be polite. One of the biggest pitfalls of publishing on the Internet is that your work is immediately accessible for just about anyone, anywhere, who’s online. Most people, at least as far as I’ve noticed, are polite and know how to communicate online. Every now and then, though, there’ll be someone who tests your patience. There will be those who make nonsensical comments (one gentleman who frequented my blog some years back invariably restricted his comments to copying and pasting the synopsis, cast and crew, and review from the corresponding film page on IMDB). There will be those—and these are far worse—who will disagree with you, and disagree disagreeably.
With the tiresome but not nasty kinds, patience is all that’s required. A quick comment, a brief sentence to acknowledge whatever they’ve contributed by way of comment, is sufficient (and I even leave that off after a while if they become too tiresome and repetitive).
With the malicious lot, patience is required, but also other tactics. If you’re at fault (and which of us who is human can never make a mistake?), admit it. Apologize, make corrections if needed, and carry on. If it’s a matter of opinion (this is very common amongst Indians in particular, who tend to put their favourites on pedestals and get furious if anybody even dares to suggest that their idols aren’t universally adored)—disagree politely. Use humour if you wish, tell them it’s your blog and these are your opinions and that you’re entitled to your own opinions. Some will persist in being nasty; if it gets to the point where you’re tempted to use foul language, simply quit the conversation with a brief comment that you don’t want to argue any more. Chances are, they’ll give up soon enough. It takes two to tango, after all.
5. Engage with other bloggers. When you get into the blogosphere, you’ll soon find kindred souls: people who’re as deeply interested in what you are keen about. Befriend them. Read their blogs. Comment on them. Learn from them. Whenever relevant, include links to their blogs in your own blog posts. As in the real world, in cyberspace too, friendships are often based not just on shared interests, but on a certain amount of give and take, of reciprocity.
(A note of caution: Don’t spam other bloggers with repeated requests to visit your blog. It puts people off. A simple “I began this blog, and since you seem to be interested in this topic, I thought I’d let you know” is sufficient. If they don’t come, they don’t come).
6. Be regular. Don’t leave your blog unattended for too long. Blog readers vanish in a frighteningly short span of time, mainly because there’s so much competition out there. (The number of people writing on old cinema? I have no idea!—And here I’d been, thinking I occupied a tiny niche). If you don’t post for weeks on end, even those who visit your blog regularly are likely to wander off to other, more frequently updated blogs.
If circumstances beyond your control—travel, work, whatever—mean that you just cannot get back to your blog for months on end, it’s polite to write a quick post to let readers know that you’ll be gone, but that you’ll also, hopefully, be back (if you can put a date to that, even better). Just don’t vanish without even a goodbye.
7. Publicize your blog. Most blog platforms and social media allow a good amount of sharing; use this effectively. For example, WordPress allows new blog posts to be automatically posted, as soon as they’re published, on several social media sites. Also, make sure you use your blogging platform sharing option buttons (the ‘Tweet’, ‘Pin this’, ‘Share on Facebook’, etc, which appears next to each post, allowing readers to share the post on their preferred social media). While this may not send your traffic soaring, it will certainly help expand your reach at least somewhat.
8. Watch your stats and see what’s popular. I’m not familiar with other blogging platforms, but WordPress (which I use) offers detailed statistics about blog views and so on: how many visitors, how many views, which posts got most views, which posts got most comments, and so on. Look at these stats frequently, and use them to gauge what your readers want, or what interests them. For example, after a couple of years of blogging, I realized that my most popular posts—the ones which got the most comments, or for which people searched most frequently—were song lists. I have, ever since, made it a point to do at least one song list per month. It doesn’t mean I only do song lists; I still stay true to myself and review old cinema from across the world, but I take into consideration, too, what I see as being an attraction.
9. Be alert to plagiarism. As far as I’m concerned, one of the most detestable things a writer of any kind—including, obviously, a blogger—can do is to plagiarise someone else’s work. Please do not ever, ever do this. If you cannot think of anything original to write, or if you think copying someone’s article and changing a few words here and there will not go unnoticed… don’t write. With tools like Copyscape around, it’s relatively easy to check for plagiarism.
If, on the other hand, you’re at the receiving end of plagiarism, don’t let it go. Don’t be (as a sweet young blogger once happily told me), “So flattered that someone thought I was worthy of being copied!” No. If they thought your writing good, they should have acknowledged you, given you credit for your work.
If you see your work, uncredited and copied, elsewhere, first of all, take screenshots (savvy plagiarists will quickly remove stuff if confronted, and will proceed to deny having done anything wrong). Confront them, on their blogs, providing proof (a link to your own post which was copied) and asking to be credited. If you are ignored or no action is taken, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to take the battle out on to a wider field: inform others. One person who got plagiarized didn’t just restrict herself to confronting the offender, but left comments on the blogs of all those who frequently commented on the offender’s blog, telling them about this blogger’s lack of integrity. I was one of those who saw this comment, read the proof for myself, and decided I was better off not visiting the blog of someone who could so nonchalantly steal from others.
10. And, finally, a bunch of practical tips.
1. Don’t let your post be one block of text. Few things put online readers off as much as a solid chunk of unrelieved text. Break up text into paragraphs, and (if possible and if it fits the subject matter), use bulleted lists where necessary.
2. Use graphics. Photographs, screenshots, and illustrations are good ways of giving the eye a logical break from the text. Make sure that they’re relevant to the topic, and that you don’t infringe on anybody’s copyright when using images. Either use your own photos (or illustrations, if you’re artistic enough), or buy photos online (Shutterstock is just one of many sites which offer high quality photos for sale), or use from free stock photo sites like Pexels. I, since I put in screenshots, make it a point to mention on my blog that the screenshots are the property of whoever made the film in question.
3. Include links, in moderation. It’s a good idea to add links here and there in your post—for example, if you use a term that may not be familiar to everybody (but which, if explicitly explained, may make people think you’re trying to show off), you might want to link to a definition of the term. If you’re referring to something that can be bought (a book, for example, in a book review), provide links to e-tailers who stock the book.
Or, as in my case, if I mention a song in one of my many, many posts about film songs, I link to the relevant URL on Youtube. Do note: always mention the name of what you’re linking to; videos on video-sharing sites like Youtube have a tendency to disappear without any warning, so if you at least supply a name, readers chancing upon your post later can search for whatever you referenced even if the original URL is no longer valid.
4. Tag intelligently. The chances of your blog showing up high on a Google search rise appreciably if you tag your posts properly. What are the main search terms that might bring a person to your blog post? (Mine often are Hindi cinema, film review, and Bollywood—much as I hate to refer to Hindi cinema as Bollywood, I realize that a lot of people do). Every time I write a review of a film, I use, as tags, the name of the film, the names of the main members of the cast, etc. All of these tags, if they match a term entered on a Google search, can potentially draw in a reader.
Of course, if you keep at it, you’ll find your own tips and tricks as time goes by. Come and share them here, too!