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What would I do different if I had to start my blog over? – Duncan Riley

200606222142-1The following is an answer from Duncan Riley responding to my one question interview question of what he’d do differently if he had to start his blog over again.
‘What would you do differently if you had to start your blog again?’

Naturally this is a difficult question because when I first started blogging the blogosphere was a different place, there was little to no advertising, search engine optimisation wasn’t common knowledge (amongst bloggers), and the design skills/ tools necessary to build great pages was a lot harder to come by. There are a couple of things I would have done differently if I would have started my blog today (using today’s knowledge and tools).

1. I’d use WordPress

Sorry to all the MovableType (MT) fans, because I had many years of great use from MT, but using MT was a chore. It was a chore to learn the scripting layout behind it, it was a chore to have to rebuild the blog every time you made a post, it was a chore in having to deal with the server issues MT use to cause, and ever worse still, it was a gigantic chore moving MT from one server to another. For a DIY blogging package WordPress leads the way in terms of ease of use, particularly for the beginner. However, if I didn’t want to go down the DIY path I’d sign up to TypePad without a doubt, it’s a great service if you don’t want to worry about hosting and need quick support…but then again I’ve always been a DIY/ control freek.

2. I’d learn more about search engine optimisation

Although I’ve been on the web writing pages since 1995, my knowledge of search engine optimisation went as far as knowing that incoming links help SERPs. I didn’t realise things like keywords, SEF URL’s, and even the way you lay out your code influenced the traffic you can get from search engines. I remember when I went from MT to WordPress and having to set up a modrewrite in the .htaccess file as the URL’s on the pages changed….because my MT pages use to have numbers in them for the pages, not the page title. You can never have enough SEO knowledge, I’m by no means today an expert, but it’s important for someone starting out to get a broad understanding of some of the concepts of SEO to give themselves a great chance.

3. I’d pay for a professional design

Of course, I didn’t have the funds back then to afford a professional design, and as much as my design skills have improved over the years, I’d probably, if starting again today (with a major blog) pay for a decent design. Although content is obviously the key in any blog, design helps make your blog memorable.

4. More original content

Back then I use to post a lot of links out to other stories elsewhere because I was a little shy in expressing myself in terms of opinions (don’t laugh people, it was quite true). One valuable lesson I’ve learnt, despite making some mistakes along the way, is that’s it’s not only important to be yourself, but to express yourself as well, and this means original content.

5. Networking/ relationships

I did get the networking thing when I started blogging, but I didn’t realise probably enough the importance of turning your contacts and readers into relationships. I’ve got to know many people in passing over the years, but if I had my time again I would have spent more time building those relationships into something more solid.

There is one key thing I wouldn’t change, and that’s research. If you are really looking at setting up a really successful blog, do your research first, look at what else is available in the blogosphere in your particular content/ interest area. Note what you like and dislike about the competition, think about what isn’t currently being provided in terms of content and delivery, and use all of this research to carve out your blogging niche….because hard work, dedication and patience can and still does deliver results in the blogosphere.

Read the responses of other bloggers to this 1 Question Interview on what they’d do differently in their blogging

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Heather says:

    Great interview. It’s good to hear this advice from a pro. Before I started my first blog last fall, I was fortunate to receive some good advice about WordPress, and I also hired a professional designer to develop my site. I’ve never regretted making that investment because having a professional online presence has opened the door to other paid writing opportunities.

  2. William says:

    Great Thoughts! I am fairly new to the blogging for a profit world and just thought a blog is a blog and never took the time to understand keyword placement and SEO stuff. I am still learning. More from trial and more often than not, error. I am learning that blogs grow with the knowledge you bring into them.

  3. Geoff says:

    Thanks Duncan. I’m new to blogging for income and there are some great ideas. I am also releived to already done a lot of what you are suggesting. That’s probably thanks to Darren’s posts. I particularly like the idea of more original content. It takes more time, but is also easier in some ways.

  4. Roger Loh says:

    Great post there…good advice for newbies like me :-)

    Good to hear that WordPress is definitely a good way to go. And there’s alot I learnt from that interview.

    However, I must say it’s not easy for a complete newbie and the uninitiated to start out. Installing WordPress and configuring it is already a challenge. But having said that, it’s worth the investment of time and effort as I finally got my WordPress blogs going.

  5. Terry says:

    REALLY good advice in this post. The SEO portion is invaluable.

    Of course going with WordPress is critical too.

    -Terry

  6. El Hakeem says:

    If WordPress is the best blogging software of the lot, then the product category still has far to evolve.

    WordPress iss till scandalously complicated to use. Roger Low above is hardly the only person struggling with configuring WordPress. As with most software, it was written by geeks for geeks who somehow forgot that the majority of users do not speak HTML, PHP, javascript or any of those Martian tongues.

    WordPress has no user-friendly GUI to speak of, so customisation requires coding knowlege. It doesn’t work with the Windows installer, so my garndmother couldn’t instal it. Unbelievably for a program in its genre, it has no spellchecker, meaning valuable time is lost reediting posts for typos. It is often buggy and unstable, sometimes consigning whole blocks of text into oblivion.

    Perhaps this is only to be expected from an open source product. However, we eagerly awaitt he product that will leapfrog WordPress.

  7. Andy Merrett says:

    What would I do different if I met Duncan Riley again?

    Get over the differences I think we have and get to know the guy better. This is a class interview, Duncan, and I’m sorry I’ve had a chip on my shoulder for a while. Good luck, keep doing what you do so well.

    To El Hakeem: I understand your frustration. I don’t think a self-hosted solution is for the faint of heart, whatever you choose, which is why WordPress.com, Typepad, Blogger are around. You get less overall control but you just get something that (usually) works. I’ll admit there’s a geek element to it – it’s not quite yet one touch install (though you can get an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution fairly quickly if you know about unzipping gzip tar files, and what your MySQL database is called – heheh). And there are some classy plugins that do many things for you without needing to hack the code too much. But yes, it’s still a bit under-the-hood isn’t it? Personally I love that but then I AM A GEEK!

    But, a one-touch self-install and maybe a web 2.0 GUI for at least a basic WYSIWYG template and plugins, would be nice. Or just lots of friendly people that will install things for you for free!! :)

  8. Duncan says:

    No probs Andy, I’ve rubbed more than my fair share of ppl the wrong way over the years…no hard feelings, once I become a globe trotting blog network owner (hehe…well, I can dream anyway..maybe one day…:-) ) I’ll be sure to buy you a drink.

  9. Duncan says:

    El Hakeem
    I have to disagree. One of WordPress’ best features is it’s ease of use, it’s famous for its 5 minute install and I’ve walked newbies through it plenty of times…it’s not that hard…but it’s even easier if your host has Fantastico (or similar) installed because all it takes is a click or two to set it up. In terms of templates etc, there’s a huge range of ready made templates out there, and many now have the ability to be tweaked with little to no knowledge. The GUI is easy in my book as well. But I do take on board that if you want to do more powerful customisation, you do have to be able to find your way around some code, but I’ve found that php code is the easiest of the lot to learn..and lets face it, if you ever want to edit anything to that great a depth, you have to learn some code.
    As for spell check and other features: plugins are easy as to install (particularly compared to earlier versions of WP), you’ve got a whole world of functionality there, and if you can move a file from one point to another in Windows, you can easily to it via FTP to a WordPress install.

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  1. [...] Riley. His answer lines up directly with my process for creating and managing a blog. You can see his answer here. Notice his comments on the use of WordPress for your blogging platform, and the use of SEO [...]