Wednesday 15 February 2012

Blogging for writers - make your blog work

I'm supposed to talk mostly about writing and publishing on this blog, but I seem mostly to be talking about networking, Twitter and blogging these days. Thing is a) this platformy stuff is becoming ever more important b) writers are worrying a LOT about how to do it and how to do it better and c) I'm doing loads of talks about it at the moment and it's quite useful to have some posts where people can find resources and tips. In case I forget to tell them.

So, today I'm tackling the issue of how to get more people to read and comment on your blog. Bearing in mind that when I started this blog three years ago I knew as much about it as I know about the Lesser Galapagan Monkfish. But now I know muchily more. (Though I feel I still have a shameful gap in my knowledge of Lesser Galapagian Monkfish.)

NOTE: all of this is completely optional and you only need to take note if you want lots more traffic etc. If you're just enjoying what you do already and are perfectly happy, then why change anything? I've written this in response to people asking for tips.

Part of what follows is about getting people to find your blog in the first place (for example through Google search activity) and part is about getting them to stay there and interact (comment and link to you from their own place). All of those things have benefits: your blog feels more active and may therefore feel more rewarding, and your blog is more likely to appear high in the search results for other things. This can have unpredictable benefits, as recently happened to me when someone googled something about the teenage brain.

That's the first important thing. Apart from your readers, Google - *bows down in strategic praise* - loves good content. And if Google loves your blog, your blog will go flying through the googlesphere and lots more people will find it. But what is good content?

(You will see that I don't obey all the rules that follow, partly because you don't have to obey them all and partly because my blog is an advice blog on a topic that lots and lots of people desperately want to know about, so I can get away with disobeying some rules. Also, note that some of these guidelines are based on Google's SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - rules, and some are plain common sense.)

Good content:
  • is frequent*** - if you blog once a month, you are simply not going to get the traffic that you'll get if you blog three times a week (which is my recommended amount.)
  • is what people will enjoy reading
  • and/or what people want to learn about
  • is full of key words that will appear in search engines - so, if your post is about World Book Night, don't call it "In Which I Don't Talk About Lesser Galapagian Monkfish"
NB edited to add: when I say "full of", please note that I do NOT mean you to overdose on key words or their repetition. Google doesn't like this. Just calm down and write nicely, but do mention the relevant words somewhere near the start of your post. Google does not like you trying to trick it and that is NOT what this post is about.
  • contains pictures
  • contains lots of links to good content - see LINKS and LINKBACKS, below
  • contain topical things
  • might be controversial  - although I never thought about this at the time, when I blogged critically about Sainsbury's, my stats soared and Google probably came close to proposing marriage
  • is brief - that's me scuppered!
  • has short sentences - max 10-30 words per sentence and short paragraphs (three sentences max)
  • is easy for the eye to scan - scanning has been shown most often to happen in a F pattern: we read the first para, skip a third of the way down, and scan the page looking at the left side. Apparently. *rolls eyes and vows to do it like a Z*
***This frequency rule means that if you haven't got enough to say or don't want to commit the time, you really need to make a choice:
a) carry on, for your own pleasure and for a record of your thoughts, events, whatever, not worrying about interaction etc. (You could even turn off comments and relax!)
b) stop blogging. There is no rule that says you have to blog. In fact, if you con't enjoy it, it will show.

If your posts contain links to other people's good posts/websites/etc, this is good for several reasons:
  • The other person is likely to notice (because if they are sensible they will have a Google alert*** set up) and will quite likely a) come and comment b) visit you again c) have some other useful interaction with you.
  • If your blog is relevant to theirs, they may end up putting a link to yours in their sidebar.
  • Your content becomes more valuable and Google likes you.
(***Which is how Sainsbury's discovered that I'd been blogging negatively about them. And that, by the way, was a good thing, and rather entertaining.)

Also, if a highly ranked site includes a link to your site or post in its own, or if Google notices that people come to your site from a highly ranked site, Google suddenly starts drooling all over you. Well, not literally, but it certainly luuuurrrrvvvves you even more.

Tip: make sure the linked words are the phrase that would be searched in Google. Notice how in this post all the links are exactly the phrases, no extraneous guff.

Don't make your title too obscure. Again, it's a Google thing: if you've written about topic A, you want people who search for Topic A to find your blog. So, don't give it a title that they wouldn't in a million years think of searching for. Also, use the words or phrases again early in the post. Google gets terribly excited about that.

If you don't get any comments, it can sometimes feel as though you are talking to yourself. This isn't necessarily the case at all. Perhaps you simply haven't said something that encourages an answer? So, try this:
  • At the end of the post, ask a question.
  • Say something provocative or topical. See my Our (Complementary) World Book Night post, which got me onto Newsnight. Unintentionally, I have to say. I do very little on purpose.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Have a quiz or small competition. (Once you've got a few readers.)
  • Have a blog party. (Click that link to see how that can work.)
Do you read other people's blogs and leave comments? No? Well, tell me this: why the hell should they read yours, then? The best way to get people to read and comment on your blog is to read and comment on theirs. But NOT in a spammy "come to my fabulous blog and read my pearls of wisdom" way; just go there and comment, relevantly, sensibly, showing that you did actually read their blog. And if you are interesting enough they will come and read yours. Do not actually put a link to your own post in your comment - that's rude behaviour in someone else's house; but if you've registered or filled out the form properly your name should be clickable and if they want to go check you out, they will. Or even if they don't (because too busy - I hardly ever click links now), the other commenters or readers might.

Do you post a link to each of your posts on Twitter or Facebook? It's a good idea to do this - pretty essential, actually - but don't do it too often. Once or twice for each post, no more. All your places should link together, even though many of your "followers" will overlap. You just want to maximise the chance of people seeing your link in their busy lives, without annoying them but leaping out in front of them and shouting BOO.

You can't just think about the content of the blog post. You also need to think about what else you have on your blog, the things that people see each time they come there, either on a sidebar on the right, or left, or both. Here are the recommended ones which will encourage people to come back:
  • A blog list - list of other blogs you like, with links. Best if you set it so that the latest post title is visible, so others can see what sort of thing those blogs do.
  • More than one blog list, divided into themes or whatever - eg a list of writers' blogs and a list of eg knitting blogs, if knitting is your thing. Obviously, if it's not, that's not the best idea.
  • If you have an area of expertise or interest, or your book has a special theme, a list of blogs and websites that relate to that theme.
  • A link to your other places - eg Facebook, Twitter, other website, publisher's website.
  • "Labels" - so that if people want to find which of your posts are about shoes or chocolate, they can.
  • A very short profile of you, so that people know who you are and what you do.
Your blog also needs to be as easy on the eye as possible. Good, clear font, nice picture if you wish but not one that gets in the way of the content or takes too long to load on a slow PC. I used to have a pretty background for mine but someone pointed out that it was being horribly slow to load, so I ditched it and kept it plain. One of the prettiest and most successful blogs (in terms of comments, for a start) is Talli Roland's.

Have I covered everything? Maybe not. But I'm tired after writing ten blog posts in a row. So, please tell me: what else do you want to know?

See, I practise what I preach sometimes: a question! Now, comment away, lovely people. (That's another tip: flatter your blog-readers and call them lovely. It usually works.)


Charlotte said...

*feeling lovely*

I think good content and spreading the love (ie comments and friendliness) are key to a successful blog. I've blogged for five years, have had nearly 400 000 hits, and am at the top of the Google hit list for my name. My main goal has always been to write posts that showcase (not market) my writing - I've always aimed to write well and be entertaining so that *one day* when my book is published all those people who were hopefully entertained may feel warm towards me and purchase it.

Also, I have made amazing friends and books keep arriving in the post for me to read - so what's not to like?

Patsy said...

Great advice as ever - thanks.

Oh dear, looks like I might have to do away with my obscure post titles. Shame as I like them.

catdownunder said...

Eek - I am doing all the wrong things I suspect. My blog is my daily writing exercise. If I don't do anything else I do try to write that.
The content is varied - and I understand it sometimes goes to air in the UK (on Vintage Radio) but I have a mere 84 people who claim to follow me and most of them never comment. Should I be more controversial? Should I learn to put up little pictures (am hopeless with cameras).
Links? Tags? Short sentences? Oh help! Maybe I should just go and learn about Lesser Galapagian Monkfish.
Yes ma-am. I understand. I need to try harder. Purrowling off to ponder the possibilities.

Shauna said...

I've found some great blogs by following links from other blog posts and also from the comments. Not forgetting all the great stuff actually in the posts.
Keep up the good work.

Alison Morton said...

Terrific content-heavy post. I shall now go through and completely re-focus my own blog.

Strange what people pick up on, though. I had a huge spike in stats for 'The Antonine Plague' post where I suggested people look out for background historical events that could scupper their story. Maybe a class was doing a school project. Who knows?

Isabel Rogers said...

I follow you on Twitter (@Isabelwriter), you link to your blog, I read your blog: everything you say is true! Now all I need is a blog ...
Thanks. Good advice, as always.

JO said...

This is great advice. I'm a baby blogger - and it is fun. But I do need to think about what I am hoping to achieve with it, other than having a good time!

Nick Triplow said...

Thanks for this Nicola, all sound advice. I must admit I find it difficult to write blog articles with the frequency you suggest, but that's probably because my posts tend to be a more journalistic length. So would you suggest more shorter posts interspersed with the longer pieces?

Helen said...

Great advice as usual Nicola. My blog post this week was about whether it was really that important to be published. I called it, The Be All and End All' which doesn't seem so clever after reading your advice about titles!

Stroppy Author said...

Generosity. Give readers something they want to know, or something to think about, or a good laugh....
(which you do, Nicola :-)

For me, blogging is a way of giving people information that they might find useful, partly to help them avoid mistakes I see people making all the time, or have once made myself, and partly because I get impatient with broken systems and exploitation and I *hate* to see writers (anyone) losing out to a system they don't quite understand.

Of course, I *could* write all this stuff in a 'how to' book but I can't be bothered. I'd have to think about the structure and be more formal and make sure there were no gaps and do lots of research. So I blog because I'm lazy?

Nicola Morgan said...

Charlotte - that's good, but being high on the Google results list for your name is just the start. The extra benefits (IF you want them) come when people NOT searching for your name find your blog high on the rankings. But, as I say, that's an optional aim.

Several interesting comments about post titles - I agree, it's fun choosing wacky titles! I used to do the same. I stopped for a simple reason: I wanted people to be able to find my posts really easily months later and I want the search facility *within* my blog to work effectively. Only later did I discover that it's also part of good SEO :)

Cat - you do like to over-react! This is, as I say, all optional. You only *should* do anything if you want to.

Nicola Morgan said...

Nick, I think that would be a very good solution, yes. For example, you might have read someone else's post or a newspaper article and you could do a really short "I read this the other day and thought ***** and wondered what you all thought?" Pose a couple of questions or make a brief point or two and that's you done. Or even intersperse your posts with a picture or link to something relevant on You-Tube.

Or (if appropriate to your blog) ask for guest posts occasionally.

Nicola Morgan said...

Charlotte - I forgot to say: *notices loveliness* :)

Miriam Drori said...

I need to comment more. Is it enough to say, "Yes, I agree!"? I certainly wouldn't say, "Please read my blog." Oh no - wouldn't dream of it...

Marcus Speh said...

Interesting summary and very useful tips, thanks! I've also written about "Blogging for Writers", published at You Are Here. 10 commandments kind of article —Enjoy!

Dan Holloway said...

The comments thing is an interesting one. Some blogs seem to attract forests of comments - Nathan Bransford being the one that springs most readily to mind, where comments are always in the hundreds and have been known to be in the thousands whilst others that have huge followings attract no comments at all even when they're disabled (to give an example, I once got 300+ referrals in one day from a mention on the independent lifestyle blog Nylon, so the readership must be of a reasonable level, but they never have any comments).

It's certainly true that controversial and question-asking posts get more comments, whereas recommendations and interviews may get just as many hits but very few comments. In Nathan's case, of course, the comments are pretty much the equivalent of fans screaming adoration or wannabes desperate to get taken on (less so now he's not an agent).

Anonymous said...

This is amazing advice, thanks Nicola :-)

Sarah said...

Hi Nicola

Thanks for the great advice.

I started blogging when my husband died ( and then started a new blog when I reached the first anniversary. (

I now try to write daily about whatever takes my fancy. Following some fantastic advice received from Stephanie Butland ( on a writing workshop.

My most successful post in terms of pageviews was one I wrote about the Military Wives Choir and their song Wherever You Are. I posted a link on their FB page and they reposted and asked people to read it!

I got over 1000 pageviews in the space of an hour while I went downstairs to cook tea! I obviously did something right as that page is still consistantly being found and I assume read.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sarah - thanks for your comment. Admiration to you for how naturally and healthily you have used blogging. And your story re the Military Wives Choir is a great example of how (unintentionally) you did something which had a great knock-on effect.

Talli Roland said...

Thank you so much for the shout-out, Nicola. As anyone who blogs regularly knows, the hard thing is to keep your content fresh. I also spend a lot of time visiting other blogs - a blog with lots of comments doesn't happen by accident, it happens through hard work and interaction. Plus, it's fun!

Erin said...

Flattery will get you everywhere!

I originally started blogging just as a way to keep myself accountable to the few people that cared about my writing (my mother). Now, as I start to think about taking on writing as a for real career path I find that it's starting to grow.

Thanks for all the tips on making it better. I think I'm going to start applying them just as soon as I finish typing this.

Anonymous said...

My blog is basically a huge library of all my stories, and seeing as I write, well, stories, it's quite hard to be controversial. It's also hard to put in pictures because unless they've been drawn or create to match your specific story, it's hard to find one that makes sense. Hmmmm :/
I only have 27 followers and I've been going for almost a year - not sure if this is good or bad in terms of my type of blog. Not even sure if anyone else has my type of blog. I'd love to boost my views, which are sitting at the lowly 2500 mark, but I don't know how. Suggestions?

catdownunder said...

I suspect I am actually much too inclined to "do my own thing" sometimes :-)

Jesse Owen said...

Fantastic advice as always Nicola :)

I think the important thing about SEO is not to overdo it, be aware of the keywords you want to include in your post and then almost forget about them. In theory as they're on the top of your mind you'll naturally include the words / phrases in the text and more importantly they'll be included naturally.

Google's algorithm (the way it works out where to put your blog in the search results) is always improving and getting better at spotting websites which are trying to outsmart it.

Go to far and Google can have a nasty sting - as in blog dropping down to page 100! (though none of your blog followers would ever take it too far).

All I'm saying is be aware of it - the advice in this post is spot on and well worth following.

And that concludes my longest comment ever!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jesse - that is a great comment! I completely agree. Because i tend not to think about SEO at all, I forget that some people might be thinking about it too much. Just be natural and sensible. It's really about thinking of the reader - that that's what writers are supposed to do anyway :)

Fiona Johnson said...

Thanks, so much great advice. Had never thought about the question at the end. So simple!

London Crockett said...

Coincidentally, I blogged about this topic earlier in this week, but looked at it from the perspective of somebody without any following Blogging for first-time authors. I love all of your advice here—I'm going to edit my post to link to it—but when I looked at my traffic patterns, I realized that I wasn't getting me any meaningful traffic from search. More than half of my search traffic came from one post and consisted of people who came and left without looking at other pages.

I concluded that the two most important things when you're at the very beginning of establishing your blog is to comment on other blogs and tweet. In other words, be part of the community. Once you get a following, search (I assume) becomes a bigger deal.

C. T. Blaise said...

Wonderful, and yes, I do try to blog 3x a week. I am, however, reluctant to post comments as they may be...ooh...a bit on the strange side. Add to this my OCD traits when it comes to writing, and my days tend to run together like a red sock in a washer full of whites. I will do better!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. As you said you do not necessarily follow these rules yourself and you have a highly successful blog.
I have so far resisted a blog - but I am a reader rather than a writer. I'll go for the good content any time- but good content is partly that because it is well written.
I always read Cat's blog not because I know her but because there is always something to think about. She also writes well. I like the way she often ends with a little kick in the tail. (Knowing her as I do I suspect you were not meant to take those comments too seriously!)
Chris (looking in from Cat's blog).

Mina Lobo said...

I'm a newbie blogger, been at it for a couple of months. Just getting past my blogging anxiety and *starting* felt like a major hurdle but now I'm eager to learn more and bring up my blogging game, as it were. I'm so thankful for generous bloggers, such as yourself, and the great information y'all provide (for free!). Thanks so much, Nicola!

Christian Sarono said...

Wonderful idea, I really like it. You really shared useful and complete information to every visitor, like me. It helps me a lot since I’ve looking for information like this to help improve my site. Thank you so much.

test said...

I'm not a natural blogger; I think I over censor myself (I'm always writing stuff and then deleting it!) So blogging 3 times a week would be a big strain for me, but I'm hoping to blog twice a week.

I didn't know about the importance of post titles. Will have to make them less obscure I guesss.

Thanks for the advice!

Helen Yendall said...

thanks for this interesting post. I blog and I agree with everything you've said (although I break the 'title' rule more often than not).
I think having a blog is like being the editor of your own magazine. You can publish whatever you like and you have complete editorial and design control. Very satisfying.
But, on the downside,it's VERY time-consuming, particularly if you follow the 'blog-3-time-a-week' rule.
Sometimes I wonder how much other ('proper') writing I could have done in the hours and hours that I've spent blogging!
My golden rule for a post is: a) does it have a strong voice - ie: a sense of 'me' as a person (this means revealing things about my life - but not too much - it's not a diary!!) and b) is it GIVING something to the reader? Whether that's food for thought, advice/tips, information on a writing competition or a freebie (I occasionally run competitions and giveaways), the reader must feel, at the end of the post, that it was worth reading - and hopefully worth commenting on.

James T Kelly said...

Hi Nicola,

This is one of the best articles on blogging I've ever read! Great, comprehensive advice! A lot of tips for bloggers to take away. Thanks for sharing it.


Unknown said...

Excellent post! Keep up the good work...

Brussel Sprout said...

This was really useful, thank you so much. Focused my mind and reminded me to get blogging again.

Anne Mackle said...

I have found this advice very helpful and interesting. I have only been blogging for six months. I never thought about the title of my post being googled butI will give ita thought now. I have already started asking a question at the end of my post , sometimes they are answered sometimes not. I probably tweet too many times about my post but now I will only tweet twice. Thank you Nicola.

Sharron said...

Really great posting. I just blog for the discipline it provides me, but it was fun to see the fruits of a blog.

Sharron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valerie Ormond said...

Thank you for the great advice, and I especially enjoyed your sense of humor. I have work to do. My first time visiting your blog, and I'm a fan - even though you made me realize how much work I have to do. :) Appreciate the help, seriously.

Unknown said...

Thanks for a brilliant talk at the Society of Authors on Wednesday. Have been mulling over what you said ever since - oh the bliss of practical and specific advice.

Nicola Morgan said...

Valerie and Kate - thank you! Glad to be able to help.

Kelly Leiter said...

I'm a new blogger so I really appreciate the guidance.
I have one question though...about linking to other's posts.
Should you tell them that you've linked to them?
I recently made a post sharing links to a few articles that were helpful to me this week, and I wanted to let the authors know that I enjoyed their article enough that I recommended it to others. I also left a link to the post where I recommended them. But I felt a little weird doing it, like they were going to think I was just trying to get them to visit my site. I'll admit that was in the back of my mind but it wasn't my sole reason for doing it.
So I guess I am just wondering if I should do it again the next time I make a recommendations post.

Nicola Morgan said...

Kelly, that's an interesting question. (Btw, I only just found your comment in the spam filter and released it!) I suppose it depends how you do it. I suspect you were very sensitive about it and it would have been fine. I definitely would NOT email the person, but a brief comment on their blog would be useful, I think, if you make it obvious you are not expecting them necessarily to visit.

There is one comment on this post which I think oversteps the mark and is purely self-promotional. I've left it in...

Rosemary said...

As a reader of various book blogs, I would just say that if you invite comments, it really is important to reply to them. I have swiftly lost interest in blogs when I seem to be talking to thin air; for me, the attraction is a conversation - if only the exchange of a couple of comments - about a stimulating topic. One of my regular reads is Lesa Holstine's Book Critiques - she is a US librarian who manages to review several books per week. She always responds to posts, if only to say 'thanks' or 'interesting point' - but at least you know she's there and reading.

Similarly, blogs that aren't updated for weeks or months are not going to hold on to their readers.

Of course I'm sure nobody on here would ever commit such transgressions....

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Rosemary - I agree. However, I simply can't reply to all comments - I get way, way too many. Besides, I honestly feel I do my bit in giving the free advice in my blog anyway, and, while I *like* to comment, I don't feel obliged to reply to everyone, especially when many comments don't ask a question or whatever. (That is NOT meant to sound narky, I promise! I'm just saying that it's not always possible. When I was starting out, I did reply to everyone.)

And by the way, I'm very sorry that your comment took so long to appear: I don't moderte comment at all but yours was in the spam filter for some reason, and i hardly ever check there because it almost always IS spam!

Genevieve said...

What about responding to your commenters' comments? It looks like you don't, but isn't there value in that?

Rebecca Gomez said...

Wow, such a lovely, thorough blog post! Thanks for all the great tips, some of which I'm doing and some which I should start doing.

Nicola Morgan said...

Genevieve - sorry, just released your comment from the spam folder! I do respond to comments wherever possible. Obviously, I can't always, and it's not always necessary. Yes, there is a value in doing it, though it does also depend what the blog is for. I blog to help people and if I feel I've said all I can, I may not always respond. I try to respond if someone asks me a question.