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Rookie Lessons for New Bloggers

Guest Post by Katie Kimball from Kitchen Stewardship.

I know how it feels to know absolutely nothing, and that’s actually a good place to be.

When I hit the six-month mark with my blog, I took time to sit down and digest the experience, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much one can learn about a totally new field in half a year. I wrote down my lessons, some “rookie strategies” if you will, thinking that although the perspective of a seasoned pro is incredibly valuable, there’s something significant about still having the eyes of a newbie.

I learned the basics by reading posts about blogging (at Problogger, of course). Anyone will tell you content is king, you should learn about SEO just a little, be consistent in writing, interact with readers, comment on other blogs, etc. As I forayed into the blogosphere haphazardly, I had to use my own uncanny powers of perception and a hefty dose of common sense to figure out a myriad of little intricacies. Want to know how to enter carnivals effectively? Why you need a gravatar and should learn to play the fool? How about my number one tip that helped me hit 1,000 subscribers in 9 months?

Enter a New Society

-1.jpgWhen I began blogging, someone told me “Welcome to the blogosphere.” I thought it was a nice sentiment, but now I realize that the blogosphere is more than a funny phrase. It’s a society all on its own, complete with traditions, customs and strict standards of behavior that would impress any cultural anthropologist. It even has a unique language that you’ll have to learn if you want to get by. Quick – define these words:

  1. SEO, WP, RSS
  2. carnival, meme
  3. gravatar, Photo Bucket, button
  4. Alexa ranking, Google page rank
  5. permalink, internal link
  6. retweet, DM, hashtag
  7. plug-in, widget
  8. bot, crawl, ping
  9. monetize, affiliate, disclosure
  10. sleep.

I wouldn’t have known what to do with that list at this time last year. In fact, I had to have someone explain to me what a “blog” was. Now I’m intimately familiar with all of them… except that last one. If you’ve mastered the list already, keep reading for some “finer points” that may be new to you.

Making Comments Count, Not Just Numerically

As I learned about blogging, I read everywhere that commenting on other people’s blogs is the best way to get your new blog “out there” and gain readership. However, you can scramble around the blogosphere all day long and leave nothing but a time-consuming anonymous trail if you’re not wise about leaving your mark:

  • You must have a gravatar, preferably a photo, definitely something memorable. On any WordPress blog, your smiling mug will hover next to your well-chosen words. People will “recognize” your face around the blogosphere, and if you leave thoughtful comments, they may visit your blogo-home to see what else you have to say. Don’t change this image too often, if at all. Take care in choosing a great pic that you’re willing to see every day for a few years!
  • Don’t be just you, become your blog. I had people as regular commenters and didn’t realize were coming back over and over because they were just “Sarah” or “Jen”. The photo helps, but also get in the habit of commenting as Name @ Website name so people connect you with your site and notice you more. I’m Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship everywhere I go.
  • Two “don’t” notes:
    • Don’t just say “great post” and think you’ve left a meaningful comment. You can say something significant in one sentence, but that sentence ain’t it.
    • Don’t constantly leave links to your own site. Shameless self-promotion is obvious, no matter how exuberant you are!
  • Of course, there’s already a great post on Problogger to help you learn how to craft quality comments.

Number One Way to get more Comments on YOUR posts?

Play dumb or make mistakes. If you write a fabulous, seamless post, you will likely get comments like “great post.” If you demonstrate that your knowledge is slightly lacking or ask a question of your readers directly or fumble around a bit, you will have people (women especially) clambering to help a poor soul out. There’s a reason women talk a lot… we like to give advice. Open yourself up to be the receiver of some advice, and you’ll get more comments.

By the way, when you respond to comments, try to use the person’s name. This way if your comment is ever separated from the original question, as mine were when I moved to self-hosted WordPress, your readers aren’t confused.

The Importance of Links

Google acknowledges that your site is the real deal when other sites link to yours. Friendly links also help real people find your site. You can obtain links in the following ways:

  • Comment on another blog and leave your URL (on Blogspot you may need to choose the Name/URL option to help yourself out).
  • Write something that another blogger enjoys – they may link to you later. If you’re savvy about it, you can leave a link on one of their posts or send a direct email invitation to a series or the like.
  • Of course, there’s a Problogger post on the subject… but he doesn’t include this next one!
  • Enter carnivals.

Is Entering Carnivals Worth It?

Thou must enter carnivals. At least in the mommy blogger and real food blogger world, my niches (vocab alert!), there’s no easier way to get a link to your site than by entering the ubiquitous carnivals out there on the web. (What’s a carnival, you ask? It has nothing to do with elephants, let me tell you.)

When a blogger hosts a carnival, they choose a theme and generally a day of the week, and on that day you can input your blog’s name, post that applies, and the permalink (URL that goes directly to the post) in a form at their site which will then become a link to yours. Carnivals are also called memes, especially when one includes a list of questions to complete. (Read more about memes here.)

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This is one of my favorite carnivals demonstrating how many blogs do it, with a Mr. Linky system for linking up.

Here are Katie’s tips for carnival success:

  1. At first, enter any carnival you can find. When you’re a nobody, a link is a link. This is how you get people to find your site on the vast Internet.
  2. You can enter a post in more than one carnival.
  3. Always follow proper carnival etiquette: be sure to put a link back to the host’s carnival page somewhere in your post. I usually create a bulleted list at the bottom of my page with this format:

Google likes it when I make the name of the site into a link, and I also link that carnival’s permalink to the carnival name so my readers can find it.

  1. Once your site becomes more well-established, you can become more savvy about being selective with your carnival entries. Check your stats to see which carnivals generate hits. Some will bring in four visitors, some 50-100. Clearly you can prioritize and focus on the carnivals that bring you readers. Also, if you’re running low on time, enter carnivals at sites with better Google page rank or Alexa rankings (for the link recognition).
  2. There’s a fine art to getting genuine clicks from a carnival.
    • Be wise about how you word your entry. Instead of just using your post or blog title like this: cooking from scratch, you’ll get more people interested in clicking to your site if you’re creative or controversial, like this: Should SAHMs cook from scratch?
    • Use caps to draw attention to your entry, but not excessively.
    • Standard entries include your name @ blog name and your subject. If necessary to be more appealing, leave out your name and even your blog name. Draw them in…
  3. I absolutely assumed that getting listed on a well-known site would generate a lot of clicks, but that’s not necessarily so. The sites that have active, strong communities are the ones who have readers interested enough in clicking on their carnival links. I’ve been published at or linked to from all three of these “big” sites: Blissfully Domestic, Tip Junkie, and 5 Minutes for Mom. (Note: Blissfully Domestic as both a contributor in the food niche and in the weekly Tuesday carnival I am Blissfully Domestic; Tip Junkie’s Submit a Tip; 5 Minutes for Mom’s Sunday Around the Blogosphere, twice as a feature and a few times in the giveaway linky.) Only one of them resulted in triple digit hits: publishing a tip at Tip Junkie. The others? Only single digit rewards.
  4. Sometimes the best carnivals to enter are those that are not weekly but a special feature. They often have a theme that readers are interested in, therefore folks are more likely to click around. The only way to find these is to be a regular blog reader. Another favorite blog hosts great carnivals like this one:

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An incredibly comprehensive list of carnivals can be found here and another here (although outdated – I left a bunch of updates in the comments!), and find lots of carnivals at www.blogcarnival.com. This latter style of carnival also gives you an SEO-friendly link to your home page.

Are Some Links Better Than Others?

Quite simply, yes. I can link to your site all day long, but if I’m just a little “write about my kids for grandma to read” website, Google doesn’t care. Here are two things to watch for to tell when you’ve hit upon a site worth linking to:

  1. Google page rank
  2. Alexa ranking

You can install the SearchStatus bar for Firefox here to find out how various websites rank. It shows up at the bottom of your computer screen, and when you see a Google rank higher than your own or an Alexa rank lower than yours, you’ve found a site worth spending time at.

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This is what the SearchStatus bar looks like. Unobtrusive at best.

As you can see, my Google rank is a 3, and Problogger is a 6. Guest posting here is a great idea! You won’t see many non-corporate sites any higher than a 6 (10 is the highest). The higher your Google rank, the higher Google puts your pages when people search.

Alexa rankings work opposite: lower is better. New sites start out in the millions. I’ve taken Kitchen Stewardship from over 400,000 at the end of August to well under 200,000 less than 3 months later. Mr. Rowse is sitting pretty at 2,467. (That’s really low, in case you’re wondering.) Paying attention to these rankings is one reason you still want to link up at the “big” sites I mentioned above, even though direct hits may not be plentiful.

Participate in the Internet Time Warp

Everyone knows that once you get on the Internet, you don’t come out again for two days. I suppose some people can get out of the Internet-suction within hours, but you never do just one thing. If you’re going to blog, you might as well do as the Romans do and try your darndest to draw people in to your site until they feel an overwhelming urge to add you to their reader!

The best way to draw people in is to provide ample opportunity to exercise their mouse finger. That is, give them something to click on. Anytime you can link to your own content within another post, do it. At the end of your posts, it’s not a bad idea to give your reader even more to click on. Keep them at your site reading quality content for 15 minutes, and they’re likely to add you to their reader and come back for more.

I use WP’s Link Within plug-in to help with this, but I also try to provide manual links at the end of most posts that compliment the post itself. I use headings like “Other Fall Recipes” and “More Ways to Save Time in the Kitchen” and list three great posts, using intriguing titles – not necessarily the actual title of the post.

I also have a standard closing to all of my posts. It explains the mission of my site (for the sake of new readers), invites people to click for RSS feed or email subscription (links included), and tells them where to find the latest Monday Mission (a feature at Kitchen Stewardship). You can see it in the screen shot above. I manage this function with my “endnotes” page, explained below.

Finally, use your sidebar to your advantage. Be sure to share your latest 5-10 posts somewhere near the top to capture new readers. You might also consider listing “5 Most Important Posts” or something similar in your sidebar. I keep a list called “Currently Featuring” right at the top for any series, giveaways, carnivals or special posts that I have going on.

Choose interesting tags and categories. One thing I wish I would have done is to be more cognizant about my categories and chosen phrases that would really pique folks’ interest and get them to click. Mine aren’t so hot right now! Put yourself in the shoes (computer chair) of your reader. What might you stumble across and be interested in enough to click?

Sanity Savers for Bloggers

First, realize this:

  • There is always more to do in the blogging world.
  • Sleep is secondary.

Then try to pick up some tips to streamline your time at the computer. Organizing my information has been invaluable. I quickly learned that, although I love composing my text in MS Word, links don’t always copy over well. It’s too easy for a small mistake to happen, and I don’t have time to test all my own links every time I publish. When you want to include internal links (links to your own content) often, use one or both of these two strategies:

  1. Keep all your permalinks in a text doc. Every time you publish a post, view it and copy the URL to the post (from the web address bar) into a Word or notepad document. Mine is titled “000 post links 000″ so that I can see it easily as I Alt+Tab through my open windows. Don’t bullet or number them, just paste the links in.When you need to link to something, use the “Find” function (ctrl+F) in Word and type part of the title of your post. Then you can easily copy and paste the URL into a new post as a link, or into the comments at other blogs when applicable. I promise this is much quicker than finding a past post via your website’s search bar or in your WordPress dashboard. The latter in particular takes such a long time. This is also how I find a post when I need to edit/update it after publishing.
  2. Create a “page” (not a post) and give it a parent page in case you ever accidentally click “publish”. On this page (mine is called “Endnotes”) place anything that you’ll use often: certain graphics, your post closing text, some favorite posts, written for draw-ëem-in purposes and linked to the URL already, and your carnival favorites. If you have this open in another tab while you’re composing a new post, you can easily put your closing and some effective internal links in your new post with a quick copy and paste. For organization’s sake, I always have my dashboard, then comments, then Endnotes page in tabs in that order when I’m working on my blog. List the carnivals you’ve found like this:

You can quickly copy a handful of appropriate links over to your new post and enter those carnivals in a very short amount of time. When you go to the carnival, you should make the words “My Favorite Carnival” a link to that specific post. You can enter many carnivals very efficiently this way if you have a flexible post! I keep a list of my favorite carnivals that generate the most hits organized by day in a text doc as well.

Single Greatest Tip?

You’ve been waiting for that number one subscribers’ tip, haven’t you? I’m hoping the answer is “guest posting at Problogger” myself… Honestly, beyond writing fabulous, amazing content that people care about, you need to believe you’ve got something good, work hard shamelessly promoting your own site, and get lucky sometimes. When a random site that has well-established readership links prominently to a post you’ve written because the author just happened to love it, that can garner more hits and subscribers than anything you can purposely do. You just have to make sure you have a few methods in place in case that happens to draw those readers into the Internet time warp, and you’re well on your way to a readership boost.

Katie Kimball is a former teacher, at-home mom, and newbie blogger at Kitchen Stewardship, which is dedicated to balancing nutrition, environmentalism, time and money through the eyes of faith.

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. sherryayn says:

    Thank you Katie. OMG – I’ve never even heard of a carnival before. Sure enough googling “blog carnival” brought up plenty. Thanks again!