It's been a long time since the days of paid membership sites (for anything but porn). Even the most famous people's blogs or sites with multiple updates a day from professional writers rarely cost money like they did back in the 90's. Blogs are ubiquitous, free entertainment that keep many readers enthralled for hours, and they often are labors of love to their creators, making no more than pennies a day. Writing About Writing's total word count for last year would amount to a thousand pages. I have probably spent a thousand hours (give or take) on it, and I recently got my first paycheck from Google for $107.00 along with a little less than $30 in donations. You can do the math. (Or, if you can't, that's about 13 cents an hour.)
Of course, any one of these bloggers would no doubt be thrilled to get a few dollars from a generous patron. (My tip jar is just to the left if you're feeling philanthropic....at all....~clears throat~.) But we're coming out of a long, hard recession and not everyone wants to give money. And not everyone who wants to give money has the money to give. Even five or ten bucks can make the difference at the end of a pay period between squeaking by and not quite making it, and as much as I want W.A.W. to maybe someday resemble something kind of like a job, I would never want someone to choose it over a sandwich and have to go hungry for lunch. Plus, most blogs (certainly this one) are kind of two bit theater. It's not like this is the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition in 3-D IMAX with surround sound caliber entertainment. I'm lucky if I can get a post up without an absolutely embarrassing grammar mistake--to say nothing of the host of missing commas. I know some people might be well within their purview to think that sort of amateurism is not really worth their hard earned money.
(Really, that's fine. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cry for a minute.)
However, if you like a blog, there are lots of ways to support it and help it thrive that don't involve spending a penny. And while I hope you might consider one or more of these for your pal Chris here at Writing About Writing, you can do this for any blog and help them, probably more than you know. Google is getting smarter and smarter about filtering out keyword rich content in favor of things people actually enjoy and want to read. In the end, a few simple button clicks might have a ripple effect that ultimately helps a blog more than even a small donation.
1- Become a member. It helps. A lot of external sources judge a blog's popularity by how many members it has. (W.A.W. only has 14 members, so I still need 86 more to even earn a derisive snicker of dismissal from such sources.) The number of members can affect everything from advertiser interest to google page ranking. Even if you check in and read every day, you can be even more supportive just by becoming a member. Being a member does mean you have to have a Google ID (which anyone with gmail has) or a Wordpress ID for Wordpress blogs, but that's usually pretty easy and you can become a member of a blog without any other commitment. You can even be a member of a blog and then set it so you can't see it on your Blogger (or Wordpress) page and just quietly give a blog some street cred.
2- Share something if you like it. No really. No REALLY. Most blogs don't have some fantastically huge readership that will make its every post go viral. Their creators are walking a fine line between promoting themselves on social media and trying to keep all their friends from unfriending the ever loving shit out of their face if they don't shut up about it. (I have three private messages in my Facebook inbox threatening me that if I don't turn down the volume on self-promotion, they'll unfriend me even though I am a font of witty and poignant insights, general hilarity, and spectacular cat memes).
Even if you have a lot of overlap in your friends with the blogger, two things happen if you share it. One, you'll hit a few people the blogger can't. But the other is that a lot of people who might just ignore the bloggers self-promotion might give it a chance if they see you shared it as well. (No seriously, I've been told more than once: "I totally just ignore your posts, but then I saw that Mary liked it, and I decided to give you a shot." Thanks! ....I think...) Some of my most successful posts happened after I did everything I could to promote them, they died down, and then ONE person shared them on G+ or FB and they took right off again.
You may also have access to social media that the blogger does not. For example, I have no karma on Reddit, nor am I interested enough in Reddit to get any, but one of my Skyrim articles was put on Reddit by someone who does have karma and it got me an extra five hundred hits. (About three days worth of traffic at that time.) They may have never even heard of Bing or Digg. Being a bit of a pimp for the blog you want to support like takes about a minute, costs you nothing, and helps immeasurably.
3- Click those social media buttons. Click like the wind! Click. Click a "like" button or a +1 button. (Or up-vote or whatever.) Like a post? Click. Giggled a little? Click. Image made you smile. Click. Getting a little more liberal and free with your clicks for a blog you support will really help it. You can even like something but decline to post it on your wall (or feed) so that vigilante bands of your friends won't show up at your doorstep and demand that you answer for your endorsement. This tiny, almost insignificant effort, is crazy supportive. A lot of search engines (Google in particular) use this system of positive feedback as part of their search algorithm. Some of my posts have gone from buried on the third page of a certain Google search to the second result simply because ONE additional person gave it a +1. Plus it's just a nice way to say "nice job" that takes you only two seconds....tops. It's okay to be generally conservative with your Like/+1's on the blogoverseasphere at large. You don't want to just go giving out props to just any ol' snicker-doodle recipe. But if you like a blog and want to support it, you can be a little more fast and loose about clicking the clicky.
4- Stumbleupon the hell out of that post. Lemmie just say something special about Stumbleupon (which if you haven't tried yet, you should--especially the iPad app). Right now, Stumbleupon is sort of the ultimate name in spreading web content to those who might be interested in it. It lets you cruise totally random pages of totally specific interests, so a like on Stumbleupon is particularly cool stuff as it will improve the chances that the blog will show up for someone looking specifically for the topic of the blog. (For example, if you Stumble "writing" as an interest, you might come across one of my posts, but if you stumble "Yoga" you won't.) That means its a particularly effective social media and gets things to totally random people who are interested in the topic. You have to have a Stumbleupon account to give something a like, but the site is worth checking out. If you're the first person to like it, you might be asked to fill out the category, but usually it will just add your click to the total. (It doesn't compile immediately, so don't kill your aunt Gertrude in frustration if you don't see the number immediately grow.) Also a Like on Stumbleupon gets a site instant traffic as stumblers are presented with the page. If any of THEM also like the page, it can cause a cascade effect of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of hits. If the blog you want to support has a Stumbleupon badge (mine is in the top left corner--hint hint...nudge nudge) it's one of the best ways to support them. Over half my traffic comes from Stumbleupon. Some days it's closer to 90%. If Stumbleupon had an ass, I would totally kiss it.
5- Disable your ad-block just for that blog's domain. Is the blog you want to support running ads? Most web-surfers are using Firefox or Chrome which have some pretty sophisticated ad-block add-ons that most people use. And who can blame them?? Click the wrong thing without one of those ad-blocks and a giant talking penis will jump out of your screen and start singing to you about how it enlarged itself. However, you can turn off the adblock off for just a single domain and basically tell it "this site is okay." (And, hey, if that domain has annoying ads, you can just turn it RIGHT. BACK. ON.) Usually though blog is probably going to be running ads that are much less agressive (unless it's a blog about "loose Czech sluts" or something), and relevant to the interests of the blog. (The pages get "crawled" by some kind of word search program, and even though it sometimes gets things comically wrong, most of the ads will be of interest if the blog is of interest. My ads tend to be about Creative Writing programs, self publishing, computer writing programs, grammar checkers, books, and the occasional geek activity like World of Warcraft or video games.) Why does seeing these ads help? Well a blogger can't solicit clicks on ads (EVER), and the people down at the ad headquarters work pretty hard to prevent fraud in that regard by logging IP addys and such. However, maybe some day you see something you like, which you never would have seen if you'd had an ad-block on. I ignore most of my own ads too but every once in a while, I see something really neat that I would actually be interested in knowing more about. (Which I then have to Google because I can't click my own ads.)
6- Spread the word. Like jam on toast...or something. An awful lot of blog traffic is from people who stop by once. They read one article or find an image they're looking for, and that's it. They never return. Even if they like what they see, they probably don't come back. I'm a bit creeped out to find how much traffic my site gets from people just looking for pictures of herpes. (That's not true, I'm a lot creeped out.) Only one in about ten thousand people who stops by casually ever becomes a regular reader of any frequency. But something you know that no social media (even the awesome power of Stumbleupon) could possibly know is who might really dig the blog you want to support. No social media will ever be able to say, "You know who would like this? Billy. Billy would totally dig the shit out of this." Introducing a blog to someone who you know would be into it might be the single best thing you could probably do to support that blog. Traffic is traffic, but a single fan (who keeps coming back and might themselves share or spread the word) is better than thousands of hits in the long run.
7- Everyone loves a hug. If you like a blog, or an article, here's a crazy ass concept. Say so! Tell the blogger. Most bloggers don't get a lot of positive feedback. Mostly they only hear when someone doesn't like something or they use the wrong your/you're. Give them a comment on a post that you like. Tell the blogger you like their work. Ask a question about something. Only the most outrageously successful and viral bloggers get so many comments that they won't greatly appreciate a few encouraging words or take the time to answer a sincere question. (Hell, I still answer the insincere ones.) This might not help the blog directly in terms of traffic, but it will give the blogger a morale lift and encourage them to continue. I can literally describe to you every single one of the twelve really nice compliments I've gotten on Writing About Writing, who gave them to me, and what they said. Further if posts become the starting place for conversations, the more dynamic environment might attract more traffic. Sometimes, someone just has to get the ball rolling.
So don't worry so much if you can't bust out your credit card because you maxed it on groceries, don't think the blog is quite good enough to drop a movie's worth of scrill on, or just hate PayPal's douchecanoe policies enough that you can't bear the thought of them getting thirty cents of your donation. There are lots of other ways to help that won't part you with so much as a penny and take no more than a moment's effort.