In the two and a half years since I started blogging, something has started happening with increasing frequency. People have started coming up to me and asking me what to do to start their own blog. At first it was just friends hitting me up on Facebook or over e-mail. But then it started happening in doctor's waiting rooms and at conventions. Last week someone hit me up in an elevator.
I know fuck all about blogging.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Uh....Chris. You've been writing one for like two and a half years. You have a million readers. You get PAID! You must know something!" But what you have to understand is that I'm worse than a trained monkey when it comes to the technical stuff. What I'm really doing is writing a lot and learning about the skill set beyond the actual writing on a glacial learning curve that makes a baked sloth look like a meth-head cheetah.
I try to tell the world I know fuck all, but they keep asking me. Yesterday, I climbed to the top of a mighty building (six stories) and cried to the heavens "I know fuck all about blogging!" Turns out I was up there with a guy who had decided not to jump off the building three days earlier, but was stuck on the roof because the door closed and locked behind him.
"I was thinking of starting a blog," he said. "Can I ask you some questions? I mean....seeing as we're stuck up here."
Yet here I am, 1200+ readers a day and growing, a trickle of money, and several of you have asked, "Chris, how can I be a
Let's get out of the way what I can help you with and what I can't.
1- I cannot help you maximize your search engine optimization potential actionability by empowering saturated market key word phrases with robust scalable synergy and actionizing bleeding edges of thinking outside the box to outwit Google's many moving parts and take your branding to the next level.
I don't even know what half that shit means.
I'm not an expert on SEO. My titles usually suck and when I nail some clickbait phrasing, half my comments are people who didn't read the article, but want to yell at me about what they thought of the title. I don't have keyword rich content. Half my articles don't Google well. Every day I learn the hard way what not to do. My website is apparently worth less than my old picture-tube TV in my room for playing PS2 and Dreamcast games and watching my old DVDs. I have a social media promotion strategy at best called "flawed" and more accurately represented by the friends who no longer follow me on Facebook. I can't help you figure out what topic to write about that will go viral. My "aggressive" self-promotion days involve not forgetting to put my article on Tumblr instead of just Twitter and Facebook.
That information is out there. It's not so difficult that a few days on Google can't help you suss most of it out. Just don't buy anything. It's free if you are willing to do research. There are websites that will walk you through how to improve titling and sub-titling and key words and improve your SEO and all that crap. It's a lot like knowing about wine or cheese. There are some minutiae that might take years to really understand, but you can grab the basics in a day or two of concerted effort.
2- I can (maybe) help you think about why you blog, when you blog, how you blog, and what you're willing to do for your blog.
I can help you with the more important questions about blogging. The deeper questions. I don't care about all that crap from number 1, and you probably shouldn't either. There are a few reasons why.
Unless you intend to have a blog like Buzzfeed or Upworthy, you are probably going to care a lot less about these "tricks" than you might think. These are ways to get people to click. They are ways to get them TO your site. You want people to stay. You want them to come back the next day and see what you're up to. Tricks tend to be transparent. They work once. And even the clickbait titles are starting to wear thin.
"The cutest animals that look like pop stars of the 90's holding toys that only kids from the 80s will remember. Number 8 will blow your mind!" (No it won't.)
"This cop hating anarchist locked a baby in his trunk. What happened next will amaze you." (A lot of yelling isn't amazing.)
"Are women of color harassed on the streets more than white men? The answer may surprise you." (Yes they are, and no it wouldn't.)
"Are blogs about writing the ticket to threesomes?" (I have to go weep now.)
You also probably have an idea of what you want to write. If all you cared about was traffic, you could post incendiary headlines about abortion, stem cells, legalizing marijuana, anthropogenic climate change, the death penalty, and most recently Israel/Palestine where you vilify one side and mercilessly defend your point of view in scathing comment threads that go on for miles. People love to have their preexisting opinions reinforced and enough people have to get in the last word that you won't ever want for hits.
(Maybe you could do it all at once: "These anthropogenic believing Palestinians want to use capital punishment on anyone who opposes legal marijuana, abort their kids, and use them for stem cells! 90% of you losers won't have the guts to click here to find out what to do about it next–it will surprise you!")
If that fails, host free porn. Your page views will be through the roof!
But I'm guessing that you might have other topics you want to write about, and so it's worth it to think about that balance between what you will do for a few page views and your integrity. That line exists whether you think about it or not, so thinking about it will help you figure out "in the moment" if you're selling out or buying in. Shaping your article into the form of a listicle doesn't change the core of your ideas very much. Changing your cooking blog to mind control erotica because that's what gets page views....does.
Mostly though, I don't worry about all that stuff because it isn't writing. I'm assuming you want to write. (Right?) All that crap is just distraction from writing. The blogger with the streamlined self-promotion and social media branding and the 97% SEO rating who has six shitty articles on their blog is the 21st century version of the pretentious writer who shmoozes agents and publishers and has a Rolodex full of contacts, but has only published one story. You're going to waste a lot of writing time trying to make all that other stuff perfect.
But that's okay because...
3- The most useful stuff is totally easy.
I know a blogger–well, a writer really who has, with great reluctance, deigned to lower himself to blogging–who will do nothing to make his work more palatable to an online audience. He considers that selling out. He doesn't promote it. He won't put a preview image on it. He won't consider smaller paragraphs or even break up longer works into multiple posts. Every post is just a massive text field that scrolls down twenty or thirty screens. (And you thought my shit sometimes got too long!) He's also very upset that he hasn't gotten over 30 page views on a single article and is still trying to break 1000 hits overall.
He gets really angsty about it. "Must I sell out in order to have my work acknowledged?" Who starts a non-ironic question with "must" anymore? This guy. That's who.
There is a season for all things. If you are making 150,000 page views every week, then you probably want to spend some time optimizing your search engine results because a small tweak here or there could be an extra thousand hits a day. But for most of us, the tricks that will matter are pretty basic things like using an image or posting something to Facebook with a snappy description.
And I know most of those tricks.
4- Blogging is not a fast track to writing success.
If you have the idea that this is going to be your quick ride to success, take a brillo pad to your brain.
A lot of writers are beginning to discover that traditional publishing is a little broken. That they can actually make money and carve out a bit of a name for themselves through blogging. That they can blog for a couple of years and build up an audience for a book release. That they can port round gatekeepers and utilize the incredible networking tools of the internet to find exactly the sorts of people who would be interested in their writing.
But writers also have a bad habit of looking at where a writer is right then, wanting to be there too, and forgetting all the days, weeks, months it took to get there. A number of people who ask me how I've gotten to the point where I have 1100-1200 page views a day seem to be okay with the idea that they would have to build from there, but they are far less excited when they hear my answer about how I got to this point: "Five or six articles a week for two and a half years." Writing a couple times a week or once a month will result in a much slower audience gain.
So before you fire up your website and take off to aggressively brand yourself, please understand that it's going to be a lot of work. I don't mean a montage and a couple of tough afternoons. I mean if you're serious about being a writer, this blogging shit is going to eat up your life.
5- Earlier bloggers have booby trapped the jungle behind us.
We didn't mean to. We're not pernicious little dickfucks who delight in your failure. It's just that starting a blog today is harder than when I did it two years ago. At that time it was harder than two years before that. At that time it was harder than back when blogging was really just becoming a thing outside of sites like Livejournal. Now, a gillion blogs compete for the limited eyeball time of readers. Articles go viral every day and then the blog is never heard from again. The huge success of certain blogs has come only after long and dedicated years of work.
There are a lot of industries like this, many of them in arts and entertainment, but really anywhere where people think they're going to make it big . Whenever something "works," there is a flood to reproduce it.
It's tough for someone just starting out. A zillion people are starting to get little dollar signs and glitter in their eyes and fire up their own blogs in the hope of emulating bloggers' success. (Or in my case, "success" with snarky scare quotes around it.) There's not much that will separate you from the pack beyond dedicated months, possibly years, of dogged tenacity. Just understand that before you hope to emulate some blogger's success, that WE can't even emulate our own success in the current climate.
6- You have options.
It's not like your choices are blogging OR traditional publishing. You can self publish. Many authors go hybrid. Lots of writers don't run their own blog but get their name out by writing for other blogs. In two and a half years of dedicated writing, I could have made a little headway in a lot of different directions. And so can you. Blogging isn't your other choice. It's like option 16 out of 45.
Because your biggest question should be if you even want to do that at all. It's long, hard work, and it doesn't pay very well (kinda like writing itself.) However, if the idea of work and never hearing some advanced SEO trick hasn't scared you off, or you just can't imagine getting your blogging advice without some threesome jokes, then stay tuned.
Onward to Part 2–Preparation