This post is not geared to my many friends that have been out there blogging for years — frankly, most of ya’ll know a vast amount more about the blogging, internet, SEO and tech world than I do. But recently, I have been asked by a good number of very new travel bloggers some basic questions that I thought I might be able to provide a little help on when I’m not hanging out on a good beach.
So with that being said, the following are some of my basic, beginning 101 blogging tips for those of you that are just starting out.
For my experienced blogging friends, please leave a tip or two in the comment section. Again, make them the really basic ones geared towards people that are on the very early stages — just as I was about six months ago when most of ya’ll helped me out.
These blogging tips aren’t organized in any sort of priority, just my free form thinking from the really basic mistakes, errors or omissions that I notice most often from beginning blogs. They also aren’t meant to be comprehensive, I might end up doing a post on “no-follow” links, basic SEO tips, plug-in pointers and some other things I have learned along the way, if folks want me to.
- Go self hosted. As I said, I am not a techie at all. When I started my blog, I did it on blogspot/blogger. Back then, I didn’t even realize there was a travel blogging community and was just doing the blog to keep people back home up to date with my trip and keep notes for the book I wanted to write. I should have gone self-hosted a long time ago, but finally moved to that last summer. Bottom line, just do a self-hosted blog from the get-go. I don’t know about other blogging communities, but in this one, you really aren’t going to get much respect till you go that way — and with WordPress.org, the tech hurdles are not difficult to overcome.
- Descriptive URLs. URLs are the titles of the pages and posts on your website. I see way too many beginners that have left their URL settings to the default setting (like www.goseewrite.com/?4862). That is a very ineffective way for search engines to find your blog. I’ve taken a screen shot from my blog to show you the change you need to make — look in your administration screen for Settings/Permalinks. Basically you want your URL links to include the main words in your title, and exclude filler words, like “the” “a” and “in.”
- Retweet Button. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Twitter is not one of my big sources of traffic, but like other bloggers, I read tons of posts and RT the ones I like. (1) You must have a RT button. Must. No exceptions. (2) Please make it easy on the rest of us that are trying to help you, by having your settings set so that when one hits your button, your @address shows up. We are trying to help you, don’t make us search your site to find your Twitter handle to go in the re-tweet we are putting up about… your post. I use TweetMe and the setting page allows you to add your Twitter handle. Use it, use another, just set it to automatically include your address.
- Social media buttons. Somewhere on your home page, preferably quite large, you need to have buttons so that people can click and do the following: go to your Twitter profile, “like” your Facebook fan page (and yes, you should have one), go to your StumbleUpon profile, subscribe to your RSS feed, and subscribe to your posts by email. Those are the basics that I consider mandatory — there are others you should consider, like Digg or Reddit. Mine are in the upper right and were specially made, but you can find perfectly fine ones for free.
- Links to promote your posts. At the end of your posts, you should have some plugin that allows those of us that use social media sites, like StumbleUpon or Facebook to such to one click their way to promoting your post in that forum. Again, help us help you. I currently use the plug-in Digg Digg, but I previously used ShareThis, which is also fine. Again, the concept is simple — let people help promote your stuff — it is a non-pushy way to get more new eyeballs to your site.
- Driving traffic tips: There is tons to say here, but here are some basics. Use Stumbleupon — here is my Stumbleupon guide, which also links some other guides to this tool. Comment regularly on other people’s blogs in your area. You hopefully are reading other’s stuff to help improve your own writing, but just as importantly, you are in a community — let people know you are reading their stuff and get your name and identity out there to the rest of us reading and commenting. Use Twitter, but like most tools, try to promote other people’s stuff more than yours. Again, you are part of a community and you also don’t want to be viewed as someone that merely pimps their own stuff without giving back. Needless to say, use Facebook also. Your friends there are some of the most likely people to be loyal readers and to help promote you. (Facebook postscript, I use the RSS Graffiti tool on FB, which you can set up to automatically post your stuff to your personal and fan page news feed).
- Publish regularly and on a schedule. This was one of the basics that some other great bloggers got me to realize in the last few months. I now try to post a minimum of three times a week, and shoot for four posts. The best traffic days tend to be Monday through Thursday, so in an ideal week, I’ll write four posts in a weekend and schedule them up to be released on each of those days.
- In addition, make sure you have at least one photo in every post, preferably more. These days, people want your posts to have some visual impact to catch their eye — and although I have violated this on dozens of occasions, try to keep your posts on the shorter side, 600-800 words seems to be the general sweet spot.
This are just some basic tips off the top of my head, but there are a couple general concepts that new people should try to keep in mind.
One, make it easy for other people to help you. If your stuff is good, I am going to want to re-tweet it, stumble it, digg it, and comment on it. Make that easy for me and everyone else that wants to help spread the word about you and your writing or photography.
Two, good content is king, but make your good content easy to read, good to look at, and frequent enough that you give people multiple chances to find you. We live in a world of short attention spans where the shaky camera with cuts every two seconds is now the norm — I don’t necessarily like reality, but it is reality.
Third, the travel community is amazing. I have written this a number of times, but I have belonged to a number of communities in my life — schools, politics, law, chess, poker — and there is no community I have been part of that is more helpful. Reach out to other travel bloggers and 80% of the time you are going to be amazed at how helpful people will be for you. But to the same degree, pay it back — comment on other’s blogs, RT their stuff, stumble it — be an active part of the community.