What Makes a Popular Personal Blog?

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May 5, 2021
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I’ve been blogging for a long time. Longer than most people on the planet have, as a matter of fact. I first began writing things down on the internet back in 2005 when Laura and I bought our first house together. Those were fun days and I was doing tons of improvements, many of which I photographed and recorded online. Back in those days, it seemed like blogs were all over the place. I suppose they still are, but they’ve changed a lot through the years. In 2006 and a few years following, blogging seemed to be all about writing an online journal of sorts. There would be photos and commentary floating around and readily available. With the onset of social media though, that sort of activity was transferred to other websites. Many folks gave up on their personal blogs, only to continue what they were sharing within closed networks. MySpace, Facebook, Instagram…you know the drill.

I wish things were the way they used to be. I adore the idea of people sharing their lives on their own websites. You see, when you write on social media, what you write gets lost through time. It gets pushed down and down and down. Timelines aren’t friendly towards content that needs to be accessed easily. When you write on a blog, your content sticks around so those who are interested can dig through your archives to find what you shared so long ago. I happen to have written a post about changing a shower valve years ago that’s still wildly popular on this very website. If I had limited that post to only have being shared on Facebook, it’d have been gone within days. Sometimes I think about how many people I’ve helped out with that post. So many of them have emailed me privately to thank me. I love that.

I haven’t seen a blog like mine in years. I’m probably to blame for that because I haven’t exactly searched for one. The thing is, back in the day, I didn’t have to search. They’d somehow find me. People would link to my blog and I’d link back to theirs. There were web directories that were dedicated to only blogs. Through the years though, all of this fizzled away and became somewhat hidden. I’m sure much of it is still there, but it’s caught somewhere within the noise of the internet.

A few moments ago, I did a cursory search for “Personal Blogs.” What I found was inspiring. While I didn’t come across any actual personal blogs on the first page of Google, I did find a whole bunch of blogs that talked about how to create and manage a personal blog for yourself. This is actually what motivated me to write this post. I thought that since I’m so experienced on the topic, why not share a few of my own insights? This way, if one of my readers likes what I have to say, they may actually begin blogging themselves. And then we can become blogging friends. Honestly, blogging is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. To have the opportunity to share stories and photos with people from around the world just blows my mind.

I actually read a headline the other day that said something like, “Blogging Makes a Comeback!” I believe the reason for the author’s claim had much to do with the censorship that goes on inside of the giant social media websites. I guess folks feel as though they can write anything they please, but are stopped one way or another. Whatever your opinion on this topic is, all I have to say is thank the good lord. Can you imagine reading the unvarnished and innermost thoughts of everyone on the planet on social media? With no filter? This isn’t even to mention that 90% of the social media accounts alive today are fake. If it were up to me, we’d all go back to good ol’ blogging. Things were innocent and pure and just plain fun. The way it should be, if you ask me.

By the way, I did a few more searches for different types of blogs. They seem to be more broken down by topic these days. I found a bunch of BJJ blogs as well as home improvement ones. What I’d like to find is a few blogs that revolve around a number of individuals’ lives. Sort of like simple stories about anything and everything. Going out to eat, going food shopping at the grocery store, doing yard work. Kind of like what I do here. I’d love to read about the lives of others on their own blogs, so if you know of any, please let me know in the comment section down below.

For now though, I’ll share what I think makes a fun, engaging, entertaining, and well followed blog. I’ll share a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way as well as some items of technical nature. My goal is to persuade you into setting up your own website. I really want you to do this. I talked Laura into it years ago and she’s been going strong ever since. She’s actually becoming quite popular. She writes about hiking and backyard birds, cooking, and all sorts of things. If you’re interested in a different perspective of what I write here, check her out. She’d love that. Just don’t forget to come back here. I don’t want to lose you.

Choose Your Topic – What Are You About?

Some say that in order to maintain a successful personal blog, you’ll need to choose an overarching topic to write about. My opinion tends to differ on this a bit. Well, I suppose the topic of the site on which you’re reading is my life, but from what I can gather, the internet world would like to see something a bit more narrow than that. This most likely has to do with how search engines categorize and rank websites, but I still say that if you break your blog down into logical categories and perhaps even a few subcategories, the search engines will be perfectly happy with that. The trick is, the individual posts that you choose to write need to be both helpful and within a specific niche as well as personal, so your readers can make a connection with you. Readers who feel like they know you will most likely return for later visits.

On my blog here, I write about all sorts of things, from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to hiking to fixing up the house. Some of my posts rank better than others, but I seriously couldn’t imagine creating a separate website for each one of my topics. I would never get anywhere – I’d have too much to maintain! Years ago, I tried to pull a few topics apart to write about them on their own sites, but I ended up moving everything back to this one. I like having all my writing in one place these days. It makes for a tidy feeling and sane mind.

But…and this is a big but…if you do have a particular topic that you’d like to dedicate your entire blog to, by all means go with it. You can even name your blog after it and choose a domain name that fits it well. And I’ll let you in on a little secret here – if other bloggers out there see that you’re committed to a topic similar to theirs, they may link to your website and become friends with you all because of that similarity. A photography specific website owner may not link to my “general” blog here because I’m all over the place. That type of blogger would be much more inclined to link to other photography only blogs. But if there were someone out there who writes and shares photos like I do (about everything), they’d likely share some love my way because they feel a connection between our lifestyles. I suppose it works both ways.

Choose Your Blogging Platform – WordPress

I’ll let you in on another secret. If you do decide to go ahead and launch your own blog, do it with WordPress. This platform has about a zillion users and support is very good. I began blogging with WordPress back in the beginning and haven’t looked back since. There are all sorts of themes and plugins and just about anything you could ever ask for as it pertains to running a website like the one you’re reading. As a matter of fact, some of the largest websites on earth use WordPress. You’d never know it because they’ve been styled in a very customized fashion, but it’s true.

If you choose WordPress for your blogging platform, just be aware that you have two options; a WordPress-hosted one as well a self-hosted one. The WordPress-hosted option can be found at WordPress.com and the self-hosted option can be found at WordPress.org. Notice the difference in these two. The first option lets you set up a free account to begin blogging within minutes. If you’d like to add some snazzy features, you can pay a few dollars a month to upgrade. If you’d like to download your own copy of the software to install on your own servers for ultimate control, you can do that too. That would be what the second option offers. It’s up to you. They’re both really great alternatives.

Keep it Clean & Uncluttered – No Frills

Whatever you decide to do, please make sure to keep your website clean and uncluttered. Believe it or not, I still see very dated looking websites out there that have those actively waving American flag graphics as well as weird dancing bears and the like. When you write and share photos online, you need to think about your audience. In general, folks are visiting your blog to absorb your content in the most simple way possible. No one wants to wade through an abyss of unclarity.

Beyond that, readers of what you have to say love to share pages on social media as well as email them to their friends. Make it easy for them to do this. Make them proud to do this. Offer social sharing buttons and keep the design of your website streamlined and straightforward. Don’t offer offensive colors that annoy people. Keep contrast to a minimum and beauty to a maximum.

Only Post Great Photos – Nothing But the Best

I’ll admit, this has been tough to do through the years. Back when I first began sharing pictures on this website, I was using a camera that only offered marginal quality. The images I captured came out fairly small; about 3″x5″. If you look back at my earliest posts, you’ll see that these images don’t even fill the width of the website layout. I don’t like browsing through these old posts because I’m so ashamed of them. But really, what am I supposed to do about it? Remove the posts because I don’t like the pictures? I try not to think about it. (Update: I’ve begun a tremendous cleanup on this website. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done, but a lot has been completed.)

These days, everyone has or can get their hands on a phone or a camera that takes marvelous photographs. If you’re going to set up and start writing on a blog today, be sure to post the best of the best images. There’s no excuse not to. Your readers will appreciate your efforts and you’ll be rewarded with an audience that comes back for more.

Write Regularly – Don’t Forget

Sporadically blogging is the biggest killer of them all. I’ve lost so many great online friendships due to this. Back when I first began writing, I was more than prolific. Sometimes I’d write two to three posts per day. Let’s just say that I had a lot to discuss. I built up an audience and that audience seemed to appreciate what I was doing. Through the years though, I’d stop writing for a month or two here and there – perhaps even a year on end. My readers noticed my lack of enthusiasm and abandoned me, never to return. I’ve lost links to this website and lots of great conversation. Some of my best commenters even disappeared. I’ve actually reached out to a few of these people through the years, only to have my messages fall on deaf ears. Or blind eyes.

Don’t be like me. When you blog, blog regularly. When you build an audience, you’re creating relationships, whether you know it or not. If your readers feel as though you’ve walked away from the relationship, they will too. Now, I’m not saying that you need to write 17 posts per week, but whatever number you choose to write, keep it consistent. Set an expectation and stick to it. Personally, I’ll write a few posts per week here and there and then send those posts out via email late Sunday night or Monday morning. Readers can access them here on the website at any time, but they only get mailed out once per week. I’ve found that works well.

Blog Simply – Keep it Clear

There are a few tried and true rules to blogging. I’ve shared some of them above, but this one is especially important. When writing a post, do it in such a way as to keep it simple and understandable to pretty much anyone who chooses to read it. Remember, your readers will come from all education levels. They’ll also come from homes that speak many different languages. When you write a post about fixing something or setting something up, be sure that your instructions are clear and easy to follow. If you’re offering advice, keep your words basic and easy to comprehend. No one needs to be impressed by your vocabulary. Sure, if that’s the point of your post, go for it. If you’re offering something that has to do with poetry or creative writing, then it’s a must, but for more general topics, focus on your reader as much as possible. Try to make it so they walk away with what they were searching for.

Blogs & Social Media – Married Long Ago

Blogs and social media go hand in hand. When setting up your personal blog, go ahead and set up a few social media account to go along with it as well. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – whichever you like most. Then, when you write a post, share it with your audience on all your ancillary venues. What you’ll find is that not everyone in your audience comes from the same place. Some folks only use Instagram while some primarily use Facebook. The idea is to gain popularity by going out there and finding your people. Don’t make it difficult for them to read what you write.

Build the Email List – Grow it Like an Investment

For the longest time, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this website’s email list. I’ve never been quite comfortable with sending my posts to people’s inboxes. The primary reason for this is because of the varied nature of the topics about which I write. Think about it – one day, someone reads one of my posts about how to set up a ride-on lawnmower bagger and enjoys it, so they sign up for my email list after being prompted to do so. The next morning, they receive their first email from me. It happens to be about how I was promoted to black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They’re astonished by the topic of my message and choose to unsubscribe from my list. A guy can only take so many unsubscribes before he develops a complex. And even if there are no unsubscribes, I still know that some of my readers aren’t really into some of the topics that I choose to entertain.

Email lists are important though and they can substantially grow a blogging audience. People sign up for them and come to rely on them for their morning fix. Or whatever time of day they read your post – fix. Never underestimate the email list. I know of bloggers who have millions of subscribers and they make good livings from writing online. Personally, as I’ve alluded to above, I’ve gotten around the varied topic issue by only releasing emails from this website once per week. I found that having them released every single time I write a post was just too much. I kept thinking that I was annoying people, so now that I only send one email per week, I can include posts of varied topics. Hopefully, people can skip through those they’re not interested in and read the ones they are. It’s good this way. I honestly think my readers enjoy receiving the emails and I’m not sure they would have ever come back to my website if they hadn’t signed up for the list initially. So it’s a good thing. We’re all happy.

Well, I think that’s about it. I’m all typed out. If you’re into it and you think you can do it, I highly recommend that you begin blogging on your very own website. As I mentioned above, doing this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I have my lulls, but I always manage to get back into it. There’s nothing like expressing myself and sharing some of my photography with those who may take interest in it.
What Makes a Popular Personal Blog? was posted on 09-09-2021 by JGaulard in the WordPress forum.

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