Blogging is like everything else, when you first start you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Eventually, if you want to improve, you’re going to need to stop making the same mistakes over and over.
I’ve been working with fellow bloggers for years now, here are some of the mistakes I see repeated time and time again. Before you call me out, I’ve made all of these mistakes at one point or another.
I’ll be giving a presentation on blogging with Ann Emery, Sheila Robinson, and Susan Kistler at this year’s American Evaluation Association conference. With that in mind, I thought I would share some of my thoughts preconference.
This post starts a small tweak to the format of this site. I spend a lot of my time helping research and evaluation colleagues with the web. I love it as much as I love the cartoons, so I’m going to try to mix the two.
1. Putting design before content
This is usually the first mistake any new blogger makes. You spend a ton of time tweaking widgets, changing templates, coming up with tag lines, and writing ‘about’ pages. Then you run out of steam before you even write a post.
Your content (the blog posts that you write) will define your blog. Everything else is just window dressing, keep it as simple as possible. Once you have your content figured out, then you can revisit your site design.
2. Making it all about you
I’m a big believer in that blog posts should be written from the blogger’s point of view on a topic they have the expertise to present. But when it comes to the actual content, the focus should be on the audience.
If your blog is just a collection of things you want to say don’t be surprised if you are the only reader. Think instead about how can you serve your audience and what would be appreciated?
3. Focusing on vanity measures
Think about it, does it really matter how many hits your blog receives? How about Twitter followers?
Most of the research and evaluation bloggers I know go into it without any specific goals. Often they just want to make a contribution. But it’s really easy to become obsessed with increasing site traffic, as if getting more pageviews has some kind of higher meaning. It doesn’t.
If your target audience is small, or not particularly active on the web, having a lot of site traffic can just prove you’re writing for the wrong audience. Only when you know what you’re trying to accomplish do analytics mean anything.
4. Not changing your style for the web
Before you start in with the, “these kids these days with their lack of attention span and twittering…,” the truth is that the kind of writing style you are used to using with reports and journal articles doesn’t work well on the web.
Writing a post with several long paragraphs and no headers sends the following message, “read me in my entirety or move along.” Much of the time the decision will be to move along. There is a lot of competition for eyes on the web, you need to serve your content in a way that works with the format.
Here is a basic rule of thumb. Keep most of your paragraphs to no more than 3 sentences and use lots of subheaders, multimedia content, and quotes to separate ideas.
Also, hyperlinks trump citations. Why list out a source when you can just directly link your audience to the article?
5. Too many “blah” posts, not enough “wow” posts
I used to think it was ok to just write consistently good stuff. I don’t really think that anymore. The goal should be to ‘wow.’
You ‘wow’ by being so comprehensive or so honest in your posts that your audience can’t help but read and share everything you write. Shoot for the stars with every post and don’t hold back. ‘Blah’ content might have worked at one point, not anymore.
6. Being too generic
Generic content is ‘blah’ content. You might be able to get more people to click a link but will what you write matter? Probably not.
Let wikipedia provide an overview of your field and its basic concepts. If wikipedia doesn’t currently do that, go write the wikipedia page.
Don’t think about the web as a chance to reach billions. Think of the web as your chance to reach the ten people who can follow you into the weeds when you talk about incredibly specific insider stuff.
7. Waiting for people to find you
Everyone starts with at least a little blogger insecurity. You hit that publish button then wait for the hits to come. You don’t tell your close colleagues and friends, just sit there hoping Google and Twitter will do all the work.
The best way to reach an audience is to reach out to your audience. They live on the web in LinkedIn groups, on listservs, around Twitter hashtags, and Facebook pages. You probably participate in these communities, use them.
Sometimes the best way to get an audience rolling is to just reach out to people you know personally. If you write stuff that is focused on generating value for your audience it’s your mission to see that they get the chance to read what you’ve written.
8. Following the crowd
Who doesn’t love a good model? Everyone else is writing about <insert flavor of the month>, I should too.
If you can, write about something nobody else is writing about. This is what will set you apart.
9. Failing to collaborate
Collaboration helps you build an audience. Because it’s likely they will reach others that you currently do not.
Collaboration helps you build authority. Authority by association.
From an academic standpoint I often think about these two separately. A lot of the Academic superstars are not currently Social Media superstars. A lot of the Social Media superstars are not Academic superstars.
So mix it up, don’t just collaborate based on someone’s Twitter following. I like to collaborate with people I like and respect, because working together ends up being fun and mutually beneficial.
10. Posting every day
This is a great style if you’re shooting for exhaustion and plan to quit blogging sometime in the next month.
“But it works for Seth Godin!”
Sure, do you also have hordes of people hanging on your every word? Are you planning to use the blog to write series of mini segments for your next book? Do you have the kind of stamina to stay on the same topic post after post after post?
I’m not saying it can’t work. But from my experience, it often leads to blogger burnout. Quality trumps quantity.
11. Not using mainstream blogging platforms
“Well, the guy I pay to do my web stuff said this is fine”
Basically blogs are just updating websites that make it easy to share posts. I’ve worked with folks who thought they had a blog but it turns out they just had a page on their site labeled “blog.”
The easiest way to ensure your blog is up to snuff is to just use a mainstream service like WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr. This is also one of those places where you can go in a different direction than would be suggested by most social media experts on the business side, you don’t need to spend the extra bucks on self-hosting.
12. Not blogging
Looking at the program for Evaluation 2013 I found 3,862 listed presenters.
How many of them have blogged about evaluation at some point in the past year?
Let’s estimate; maybe a couple hundred will have posted on AEA365, about 80 on blogs connected through Eval Central, then maybe another 100 in other places (foundation blogs, company blogs, etc.). Basically we’re talking 10%, defining blogger at a very low threshold (at least 1 post/year) and making a bad assumption that they are all part of the 3,862.
This always seems crazy to me. Knowing the size of the audiences most presenters will see at the conference, you can reach a larger one sitting at home in your pajamas. You don’t even have to submit a proposal.
Are you a blogger, what mistakes am I missing here?
Are you guilty of anything on this list? (I’m looking at you non-bloggers)