Last week I asked if anyone might find some value in reading about how I blog, lessons learned, all that jazz, and after receiving several emoji responses in the affirmative that basically said “Aye” I figured, why not. I’m all about giving advice.
Some things you should know about me, and the blog, so you have some context for the advice I’m about to give. First, this blog is not my primary source of income. If you ever want to be really, REALLY bored, I’ll tell you what my day job is. Some of the tips I provide might be helpful for you if you’re looking to turn “blogger” into your primary profession, but just bear in mind that when I blog, I do so in a way that isn’t monetizing focused. There’s nothing wrong with being meticulous about trying to turn your blogging hobby into profit, that’s just not what I’m primarily focused on. Second, I’m the worst at being strategic about being noticed. I’m mostly terrible at SEO stuff, using analytics in an actionable way, and pretty much everything else that people who have way less quality content, but way more knowledge about that sort of stuff do to get noticed. Sorry folks, most of the advice I’m going to give you is more “This is my process and it might be useful” than “This will make your blog super popular”.
I’m also not what you would call a “big deal” in my field. You might like my blog, and that’s awesome! Thank you! But let’s be real here, I’m not a household name or anything. Not yet anyway.
All that out of the way, I’ve been writing the Tao of Indifference blog since 2013 and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two. Most of it was through trial and error, learning from friends who are much smarter than me, and way more successful at blogging. So, I figured I’d take all the lessons learned, all the advice throughout the years, and give you something that might be useful to you. So, here’s how I blog:
Your name is your name
When choosing a name for your blog you can be smart about it and pick something short, easy to say and spell, and SEO friendly and go with that. Or you can be a weirdo like me and choose a blog name with 17 letters whose meaning you have to explain every time you tell someone about your blog. Experts will tell you to choose the former, I chose the latter because again, not the brightest SEO bulb out there, and I’m actually okay with that. Here’s why. Some might say that a name like “Tao of Indifference” makes it a bit harder to be found. While that is true in a vacuum, try googling just my first name (Demetrius, it’s okay if you forgot) and the word Tao. Seriously, go try it. Tired of looking at my face? My point is, you can choose a very SEO friendly name and get your message across and be easy to find, or you can just be so Google-able that people can find you with minimal effort. In my case, I’m sure it’s a combination of having produced a lot of content, my first name being not the most common name, and my blog name being fairly unique. There are pros and cons associate with going simple and SEO friendly, or not. Choose wisely.
Now, once you decide on that name, be sure to lock your name in across the internet. Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogspot, Google Plus, Facebook, etc., secure your name everywhere. You don’t even have to use other those platforms, you can always set them up to redirect traffic to your main blog, but it’s good to lock in your name so that if someone is looking for you, they’ll find you. I would also recommend securing an email address of the same name. I’ve gotten emails from people who said “I couldn’t find your email address, so I just sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so I hope this reaches you” and sure enough, it did. Whatever sites you use, or that you find valuable, secure your name there. I like Tumblr, but I rarely ever log on, but if you wanted to find the Tao of Indifference on Tumblr you could. Same goes for Google Plus. I also have a separate Twitter account that only tweets whenever I post or update a blog post. You don’t have to do the same, maybe you’ll use Pinterest, or Snapchat, or what have you, but I will say that if you have a blog, there should be at least one other form of social media out there that shares that name.
Be consistent (but set your own standards)
The first piece of advice I got when I first started the blog was to be consistent. Whether that was writing once a day, week, or month, just stick to it. It’s also the first piece of advice I ignored. Which definitely curtailed a lot of the progress and momentum I had when I first started the blog. In my first year of blogging I published a post at least once a week, the next year, I was all over the place with my posting and because of that, I actually had fewer views and visitors in my second year of blogging than my first year of blogging. I lost about 31% of my readers by being inconsistent. Once I started blogging on a consistent basis, I had 8 times as many view comparing 2014 to 2015. As of last week, I surpassed my 2015 view total, and I’m on target to almost double my views compared to last year. The reason my views went up isn’t because of the improved quality of my content, it’s the consistency.
I say that I blog on a daily basis, but it’s more like 6 days a week with an optional seventh if I’m in the mood. That means that no matter what, my readers know that within a week they’ll get at least 6 new pieces of content. Now, daily blogging isn’t for everyone. You should be consistent, but you don’t have to produce content at my pace. Trust me, it’s exhausting. Stick to a posting schedule that works for you, and feel free to share more frequently if you feel like you’ve got content to share. I don’t stockpile too many pieces of content because I have a huge fear of it going stale, but I would encourage you to create a stockpile of content, especially content that will be as relevant today as it would be tomorrow, or next month or next year. It’ll be a huge help to have a post ready to go when you have writer’s block, want to take a vacation, or just get busy.
Setting up a consistent posting schedule also helps to keep you on track by making you accountable not only to your readers, but to yourself. Saying that you’ll blog “whenever” is fine, but whenever will eventually turn into never. If that’s what you want, cool, but if you’re in this for the long haul, pick a schedule and (try to as hard as you can to) stick to it.
How I write
Speaking of writing, would you like to know how I write, or more specifically, how I write so frequently? There’s no major secret, other than just being the sort of person who needs to write constantly or feel a crippling fear that I’m starving my creative mind. I’m not joking here. I’ve always been the sort of person who, if I’m not doing something creative on a daily basis, I get genuinely bummed out. As a kid I drew everyday, everywhere, on any piece of paper I had handy. If that sounds intense to you, surprise, I’M SUPER FREAKING INTENSE ABOUT CREATING.
I’m also wholly indifferent about producing great work, which helps a lot. I think I’m a good writer. Not great, but good. This isn’t one of those “please tell me I’m great” sort of things, I just think that I’m in a class (or several classes) below many great writers out there, many of my peers included. I think a lot of the people who follow the blog are legitimately head and shoulders above me as a writer, and I say this without a single drop of false humility. Seriously, there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this you’re a far better writer than me, and you probably produce way less content because of that. Just think about this, L. Ron Hubbard, maybe one of the worst writers of all time, is also one of the most prolific. He holds the Guinness World Record for most published pieces of work. Harper Lee, Emily Brontë, and Ralph Ellison all published one novel each and either one of those novels is better than the collective quality of the 1000+ pieces of work that Hubbard published. If I write something and I think “this is good enough” I publish it. I’d rather have a 600 pieces of “good” or even “just okay” content out there for the world to see rather than 1 piece of “great” writing, so that coupled with the whole being a manic creative, is why I write so frequently.
That said, that’s just me. Being prolific isn’t a mark of success or quality the same way that being incredibly selective about what you publish doesn’t mean you’re automatically good at writing. It’s just how I write. You can write however the heck you want, the frequency is up to you. I would suggest that you find a pace that works for you, one that you could keep up for either 30 days, 52 weeks, or 12 months, a style that you like and works for you, and just have at it. Write not only at your own pace, but write in a way that you’re proud of. I alternate between writing in a way that is direct, uses anecdotes, occasionally involves code-switching and dropping slang, pop culture reference heavy, and I throw out random factoid…but that’s just how I write. Want to write in a scathing or snarky way? Do your thing! Want to go for a more neutral voice, that’s cool too.
Basically, I write one way, because it’s how I want to write. If you’re going to blog, make sure you can say the same.
What to pay for
Here’s are the things I’ve actually paid for with the blog: My logo, web hosting, podcast hosting, my domain name, and that’s pretty much it. Now, depending on your financial situation, or how much you want to invest in your blog, maybe you’ll want to pay for some or none of those things. I would suggest, at minimum, that once you come up with your blog name, you buy the domain for it. It’s just easier to send people to your website when it’s Taoofindifference.com rather than taoofindifference.tumblr.com. The hosting part, eh, that’s entirely up to you. There are some advantages to using a free web hosting site (more money in your pocket for starters) but there are also advantages to having a much higher degree of control over your website, like being able to see detailed analytics, turning off advertisements on your page (which I do, because I hate ads) and so on. If you’re on the fence about it, start with a free site and if you decide that you want more control, pay for that control.
As for the logo, whether or not to invest is up to you, but here’s where I stand. Personally, I think it’s worth it to invest in your logo. Even if it’s as little as $5. For me, getting a professional logo was something that I felt I needed to do not only to stand out, but to be taken seriously when trying to network, or reach out to folks to get them to collaborate, and so on. My current logo, which I’m obsessed with, is a logo I’ve only had for 1 year. My first logo was…I mean I’ll just show you:
Not the best logo, but it was free (because I drew it, and then added shitty word art onto my drawing). I had that logo for a solid year and half before I invested 5 bucks into getting this logo:
Which was definitely an improvement and honestly, not bad for $5. That said, I thought I needed a much nicer looking upgrade. Which is why this is my current logo:
If you are going to invest in a logo you can always do what I did and use Fiverrt. You can also make one on your own by downloading a fairly inexpensive logo making app and goofing around on it until you make something you’re proud of. I’ve used the WordSwag and VintageDesign apps o make a few random logos here and there and I think they both cost about $2 each. Or, if you’re really lucky like I was, you’ll be friends with a professional graphic designer who will give you a professional logo at a tremendous discount.
Now, here are some things I don’t think you should pay for. First, stock images. I’m not saying that you should steal stock images, but there are a ton of free options for you to use. My absolute favorite free stock image site is Pexels.com. There are a ton of other ones out there, and this list has a quite a few you might like. Oh and if you use music in any way on your blog but don’t want to worry about things like copyright law, use free music from either the Free Music Archive or from YouTube’s library of free music. Attribute accordingly.
Oh and never, ever, pay for fake followers or clicks. Those numbers might make you feel better in the short-term, but its way better to have a blog viewed 50 times a day by 35 real people who actually engage with you versus 500 times a day with no engagement.
When it comes to paying for ads, or promotions, etc., my advice is to avoid doing so until you’re at a point where, best scenario, the additional clicks, engagements, likes, follows, what have you, can actually benefit you in some way. And even then, make sure you’re doing so in a very deliberate way. If you’re selling a product, go for it, but make sure to do some research on how to craft an advertisement for maximum effectiveness. If you’re making ads to get your name out there, you’ll probably be better served by connecting with people in your blogging “area” in a genuine and sincere way, rather than just blindly buying ads. Engage in conversation with them on social media, share their stuff, ask them questions, shout them out, comment on their blog, but make sure you’re being real about it. You don’t have to share the biggest name in your area’s work if you don’t like or agree with it, share work that you genuinely love, even if they’ve got 25 followers on Twitter. That will get you noticed a lot sooner than an advertisement ever will.
Automate (especially the stuff you don’t like to do)
Automation is a major key for me, and I do it in two ways. First, automating posting across multiple platforms. The other, sharing content. Let’s start with sharing content first.
There are a ton of content sharing services, sites, and apps that schedule content to be shared at a later time and date. Personally, I use two services, but there are a ton out there. First, is Buffer. You can pay for the premium version, or use the free version which allows you to schedule up to 10 posts at a time. I’m frugal, so I just use the free version and constantly replenish it. I use Buffer primarily to share my own content, specifically things I’ve written, at least 4 times a day. The 4 times I share my own content (8:30am, 1:00pm, 8:30pm, and 11:00pm) were picked specifically because trends show that those are some of the better times to share content for maximum views. 6% of my websites views come around 11pm, which I’m still surprised by. I also use an open source version of Buffer called Circular for queuing up and sharing content. I use Circular primarily to share the latest episode of the podcast, and also as a reminder tweet to subscribe to the podcast to leave a review. You might be thinking that it would make more sense to just use the open source version of Buffer rather than using two services and it probably would be more efficient, but I like to keep them separated because I have weird quirks.It also helps me to remember to keep both current. There are other options out there, Hootsuite comes to mind, but whatever you choose, I would highly recommend automating some amount of sharing, whether it’s your own content or someone else’s content you find interesting.
As for sharing across multiple platforms, I use WordPress’ native sharing options to share posts on Google Plus, the Tao of Indifference twitter page (not my personal Twitter), and on Tumblr. No major secret here, just go to the Sharing settings, and link your sites together. I also use IFTTT to automate sharing new posts to Medium, but more importantly, I use it to automate a text reminder to share my new post on Twitter, Facebook, and to share it on Buffer as well. Seriously:
I will say this, I’m actually under-utilizing IFTTT. The whole concept is simple: IF This Happens, Then do That (Get it?). It’s a logic based automation tool that I’m using primarily as a reminder system, but there is so much more that you can use it for. Seriously, if you want to automate WAY MORE STUFF you can. There are 330 “channels” you use including: MailChimp, LinkedIn, ESPN, NPR, pretty much every blogging platform, pretty much everything related to Google, SMS, Facebook, and Facebook pages.(Btw, the White Butler thing is a reference to this SNL skit, about 50 seconds)
My philosophy on automation is to only automate the things I don’t really enjoy doing, or don’t have the time to do. I personally like to discover things and share them manually on twitter, so any time I tweet/retweet something on Twitter, it’s because I just saw it and think it’s interesting. What I’m not super pumped about is sharing things I’ve already written or produced, so I automate that. As for my daily posts, I generally share them when they’re done, then automate an “ICYMI” post, usually around 4pm. I tend to avoid automating “Thanks for following/subscribing” and other promotional tweets because I actually like to engage with people organically. Nothing wrong with using a content management service (RoundTeam looks to be a good option) but it’s just not my cup of Mate. Pros and cons to going either route obviously, so it’s up to you to figure out what you prefer.
I’m a big believer in having a moderated comment section. I’m also a big believer in not letter comments sections turn into a place where people come to my blog and insult me. I’d say in my experience I’ve approved something like 95% of the comments made on my blog, even ones that are critical of my writing. There’s a difference between critiquing and trying to tear someone down. Every once in a while, someone leaves a comment that is just straight up terrible. Whether it’s calling me a liar, or erotic fiction disguised as a blog comment, there’s going to be at least one comment someone leaves on your blog that is just gobbledygook. Now, in my case I’ve been lucky, but your experience might vary. Depending on what you write about, or who you are, or if we’re being honest, if you’re just a woman with an opinion, you can potentially get way worse comments. When it comes to comments, it’s better to have 1 good comment, then a thread full of people calling you a fraud. Just my opinion.
Now, once you start getting comments I would recommend that you reply to as many, if not all of the comments you get. The reason people are even commenting is because they read your work, it moved them in some way, and they want to share that with you. That is a gift. The least you can do is thank them. One of the people I freely admit to stealing blogging best practices from is Lee Abbamonte. He’s a travel blogger with over 30,000 followers on Twitter, 100,000+ Facebook fans, and is maybe one of the more recognizable travel experts out there. He also replies to most, if not all of the comments on his blog. Seriously, go to a random post and check how often he replies to people, even with a simply “Thanks for commenting”. Part of the reason you’ll get and keep followers is that they come to your blog to talk to you. If you show them that you’re not only active, but pay attention to them and respond to them, they’ll stay engaged.
Guest Post or nah?
I remember the first time I was asked to guest post on a blog. I was maybe a month or two into blogging, and someone cold-emailed me to say “Hey, want to write for us”. They weren’t a big name company or anything, but I was extremely flattered so I decided to write a guest post. I was told that guest posting would give me “exposure” and send traffic to my site, and hearing that I fantasized that my views were going to spike and this one guest post would make me a household name. It didn’t. In fact, that guest post, which is still active, rarely if ever sends traffic my way. If you blog long enough, someone is going to reach out to you and ask you to guest post. Whether you decide to do it or not is up to you, but for the most part it’s not some quick fix to suddenly make you famous. Now, it can happen, but don’t get caught up in the hype that if you guest post you’ll automatically get a ton of traffic. I’ve gotten more traffic sent to my site from the 4 podcasts I did with Rules of Ungagement then I ever got from my guest post on Thought Catalog. If you are going to guest post, just make sure you’ve got really low expectations, so you’re pleasantly surprised when something good does happen. You probably wont go from 10 views a day to 10,000 views a day because of a single guest post. You might, but it’s more likely that you see a tiny bump in traffic.
If you are going to guest post, just be aware of what guest posting means, depending on who you’re writing for. Sites like Elite Daily and Thought Catalog are content farms that thrive on the unpaid writing of people looking for more traffic. Feel free to write for them and sites like them if you like, just know that once you submit a piece to them, it’s theirs. They can reprint it, edit it, and even put it in a book and sell it and you’ll have neither control nor an opportunity for compensation. I’d much rather guest-post on someone’s blog who I have a relationship rather than just some faceless corporation. Unless they’re paying, in which case I can be bought.
As for whether or not to accept guest posts on your own blog, entirely up to you, I will say that you should avoid just randomly letting people guest post on the blog UNLESS you genuinely enjoy their writing. I’ve had 1 person guest post on my blog, so I’m clearly very selective about what goes up on the blog. I’ve had multiple people reach out to guest post who are very much geared toward hookup/pickup artist writing and that’s just not my deal, so I don’t put it on my blog. I’m not saying that you need to be the sort of weirdo who only has 2 guest posts after 4 years and close to 600 posts, but bear in mind that people follow your blog to read your writing. If you are going to let someone guest post, find people whose writing you not only enjoy, but fits the tone of your blog.
Before I close out, I just want to put give you a warning. Once you start writing, your website, and whatever name you write under becomes Google-able. There’s a reason that some bloggers use pen names, or write anonymously, and that might be something you want to do. Depending on the content of your writing or your social media presence, you could face consequences you’d never expect simply by hitting Publish. Before you put your name and writing out there, ask yourself these questions: In a worst case scenario, how bad would things be if my current or future boss sees this? What about my family? What about a current or potential love interest? For me, the only time the blog has been an issue has been in dating. My mom reads the blog and she’s a fan, most my family, extended family, and even family friends have liked or shared something I’ve put out, and one my brother’s is my podcast co-host. I’m also in an industry professionally where unless what I write about represents a conflict of interest, or I release someone’s private information, I’m pretty good career wise. The whole open, honest, and transparent thing is a benefit to my readers, and not something that puts my at risk professionally, or personally, but a few times it’s cost me a very promising date. Very rarely, but I’ve had at least two different women tell me they didn’t want to date me because of the blog. It happens, especially when you’re using your real name to write. Now, that’s a pretty low stakes consequence for me, but the stakes can be much higher for you. Give it some thought before you put yourself out there.
To close let me just say, thanks for reading this. Seriously, I know you could be doing anything else right now, so choosing to read 4000+ words of blogging process and advice from me is incredibly flattering. I hope this helped you, in some way, and if you have tips you’d like to share, please do so! I’m not an expert, so feel free to tell me how to do better too.
Good Luck Out There.