How to Blog: Seventeen Tips from Elizabeth S. Craig

Today we’re lucky enough to have a guest blogpost from social media guru and mystery writer, Elizabeth S. Craig, who writes the Memphis-set Riley Adams mysteries. Elizabeth’s blog has been voted one of the Writer’s Digest’s Top 101 Sites for Writers for two years in a row, so she knows what she’s talking about.

So here we’ve got seventeen (count them: 17!) great tips for making your blog successful. You’ll notice that, ahem, I’ve now added #2—a posting schedule--to my own blog here. I agree with pretty much all of these, especially #3: PLEASE have a follow button, or visitors will never find you again, and #6: a white font on a black background is going to drive away about half your traffic before they finish reading your post.

17 Tips for a Great Writing Blog—by Elizabeth S. Craig     

Starting a blog can feel overwhelming.  The internet is brimming with writing blogs—how can you find readers when everyone has their own blog?  Or, if you already have a blog, you might wonder how to get more readers or broaden your platform.

I currently follow more than 2,000 blogs, and I’ve found that some blogs are definitely easier to follow and visit than others.  Here are seventeen tips for your writing blog—for either setting it up for the first time or to use as a checklist for your already-established blog. 

Important elements for your blog:

1) Bio:  Your bio is one of the most important things on your site.  Blogs are all about developing online relationships and readers like to know a little about you, first.  What do you write?  What’s your name (or your pen name)?  It’s also nice to have a picture with your bio. If you’re shy about having your picture online, you could substitute a book cover or avatar that fits the image you want to convey.  Fiction Groupie and 99% both have nice posts on writing your bio.

2) Your posting schedule:  If you don’t post every day (and you don’t have to), consider putting your posting schedule in your sidebar.  For readers who don’t use an automatically updating Google Reader, this will let them know when to expect a new post from you.

3) A way to belong:  People like to feel like they belong to a group. You could either add a Networked Blogs widget or the Google Follower widget for your blog readers to click on and join your blog as an official follower.

4) How to contact you: Post an email address.  There have been many times when I’ve wanted to contact a blogger and couldn’t find an email address anywhere…and Twitter isn’t great for sending longer messages.  You can always type your email address in your sidebar as _________ (at)____(dot)com so the bots won’t grab your email address and spam you.

5) A sales pitch—Have a book out?  Make sure to have your book cover hyperlinked to a bookstore for sales.

6) An easy design for reading: I wince when I come across a black background blog with white lettering.  Although it doesn’t bother everyone, it definitely bothers enough potential readers for bloggers to avoid that design scheme.  A light-colored background with black letters is easy for most people to read.

7) A way to subscribe to your updates—Make sure that your blog has a way for people to easily receive your updates (without having to check your blog several times a day to see if there’s a new post.)  Some readers still prefer receiving posts by email, so make sure that option is available.  Feature an RSS feed button prominently in your sidebar with the word subscribe underneath. RSS is basically just an easy way for someone to add you to their blog reader in just a couple of clicks. (Blogger now has a “subscribe by e-mail” widget, too--ed.)

8) Connect to Facebook or Twitter: If you’re already on Facebook or Twitter, add buttons to your sidebar to increase interaction with your blog readers.

9) Share buttons: Make it easy to share your posts.  With a share button under each post, your blog readers can quickly share your article with friends via different social media apps.

10) Blogroll:  It’s a great idea to have a blogroll in your sidebar featuring the blogs of both readers who’ve visited your blog, and blogs that you enjoy reading. Not only is this a great way to direct traffic to your blogging friends’ sites (and possibly get them to return the favor by listing your blog in their blogroll), but it’s also helpful to writers who are looking for other writing blogs to follow.

Tips for getting blog readers:

1) Visit blogs—The most important thing you can do to attract readers to your blog is to read others’ blogs.  When you leave thoughtful comments on other writers’ blogs, they’ll be encouraged to visit yours, too.  After a while, you may end up with many blogs that you visit in a day. Google Reader is a great, free tool to help you know when your friends’ blogs have updated, and to organize those blogs. I love reading writing blogs. If I had my way, I wouldn’t do any work and I’d just read blogs. Obviously, this isn’t a good way to get books written. So I organize blog subscriptions into days of the week and then read those blogs those days. This way I can be sure to read everyone at least some of the time and still get some work done. :)

2) Have consistent posting: Being consistent in your posting can really help bring visitors to your site.  Don’t launch your new blog until you have a backlog of posts and an idea journal for future posts.  Although it’s best to have an emergency supply of posts before you start your blog, it’s easy to do a marathon blog-writing session and build up a backlog of posts at any time.

3) Guest post—be a host and a guest: Hosting a guest on your blog not only provides you with fresh content, it also brings your guest’s readers to your site. And being a guest on others’ blogs is another great way to find new readers.

4) Respond to comments:  Don’t make your commenters feel like their comments are going into a black hole—keep the comments section a place for conversation. Sometimes the comment section can actually be more interesting than the post itself.

5) Keep your posts short. Or, make them easier to skim by offering bulleted points.  None of us have as much time as we’d like.

6) Use post titles that describe the post’s content. You’ll have much better results if you list your specific topic du jour instead of writing titles that are too clever for the search engines to drive traffic your way.

7) Have good content. At the end of the day, providing interesting content is the best way to find and keep readers. What should you write about on your writing blog? Some writers focus only on craft, some touch a lot on writing motivation and fitting writing into their day.  Some focus on writing process and challenges.  Some focus on writing-related topics some days and different areas of interest for others—I’ve seen Wordless Wednesday memes where the blogger posts an interesting picture each Wednesday. 
One thing that does seem to work out best is writing about topics that most writers can relate to—keeping it universal instead of focusing only on your individual story.  Everybody gets stuck from time to time, trying to think of topics.  There are a few posts I’ve found very helpful when I’ve brainstormed new post ideas:  this one from The Abundance Blog, this one from Copyblogger, and this one from the Traffic Generation Café.

If you’re looking for a straight-shooting run-down of dos and don’ts for the new blogger, you can’t go wrong with Anne’s tips on her post, 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for New Bloggers. (aw shucks--ed.)

Have any blog tips that I’ve missed?  What do you like to see when you visit a blog?  And—thanks so much to Anne for hosting me today!  I appreciate it.

Bio:  Elizabeth’s latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead , released June 7th.  Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.

Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers

Twitter: @elizabethscraig

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