This guest post is by Abby Larson of Style Me Pretty: The Ultimate Wedding Blog.
I write a wedding blog. Before you start running for the hills, now that you know I focus only on girly things, know that I also happen to have a smarty pants husband who is joining me here to spread some of his crazy blogging wisdom. I started Style Me Pretty about four years ago, after I sold a wedding invitation business that I developed. My husband and I were living in Palo Alto and he had just finished up his Master’s program at Stanford in Computer Science. He was busy with his new start-up gig and I was simply bored, so I decided to take a seminar on blogging, something the rest of the creative community seemed to already know so much about.
While I don’t remember much from that seminar, one thing the lecturer said stayed with me. It changed my life. “You will most likely never make money writing a blog.” While he was right that most people don’t end up making a killing writing a blog, I took his words as a personal challenge and made the decision to prove him wrong.
Fast forward four years and here we are with Style Me Pretty. We get about 10 million pageviews a month, 680,000 unique visitors and about 35,000 RSS subscribers. We have 45,000 fans on Facebook and 35,000 on Twitter. And recently, we were featured in a CBS Sunday Morning segment about bloggers and their influence on the media and publication industries.
We’re proud to be living proof that you can make a living blogging about what you love. And although we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, we’re hoping that we can share some of our blogging know-how and help you avoid those same pitfalls.
Below are some of the blogging best practices we’ve honed over the years. They may seem simple but take them to heart. Follow these practices and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming a successful blogger.
1. Set yourself up right … from the beginning
This is really a two-part tip about branding and technology. Your brand and your blogging platform are hard to change later on, so get them right the first time.
First, give careful consideration to your blog name and domain. You don’t want to get two years into a blog, and then decide that the name doesn’t reflect what you do or the domain is hard to spell and should be changed. Launch your blog on a domain you own, not a subdomain of WordPress or Blogger.
Second, choose a common blogging platform. This is one decision where it’s okay to copy your friends. You want a platform that has a significant mindshare and therefore lots of plugins, themes, and competent developers that can help you. Whatever platform you start with, you’ll most likely be stuck with for a while.
Style Me Pretty was initially hosted on Typepad and moved to WordPress. While both of these platforms are popular, we felt that WordPress was easier to host ourselves, easier to customize and had more freely available plugins, so we switched. And it was painful. Migrating images, coming up with a new theme and making sure links did not break was not as straightforward as we had hoped.
2. Fill a void
Timing and topic are everything in the world of blogging. You need to either see a space for a new voice or you need to be better than the voices already out there.
When we started SMP, there wasn’t a good online source for edited, magazine-style wedding content. There were informative sites focused on the practical elements of planning a wedding, but these sites lacked inspiring wedding photography and creative event design. We saw an opportunity to do something different from our established competitors.
3. Speed is key to blogging sustainability
If your posts take hours and hours to write, edit, re-write and re-edit, you’ve got yourself a bit of a blogging problem. The faster you can get good content up, the better. Our advice? Post three hundred words of text at minimum, offer beautiful imagery if appropriate, and provide great links for readers to discover.
The majority of Style Me Pretty posts follow the same format: an edited intro, tons of gorgeous photographs, with a link to view more and a write-up from the bride. The wedding vendors provide the images. Often the bride develops those 300 words of text that we want, which saves us time on doing all the writing. By approaching content in this speedy, streamlined manner, we are able to push more out the door each day and open up new streams of content as we grow.
4. Know your audience
And know them well. Understand that as your blog evolves, so do your readers. Often times, we reach out to those readers who are totally committed, asking them for advice, for tips on how to improve, for thoughts on what their experience with SMP is, and even for initial reactions to new ideas. Even if their feedback stings, it’s a critical component to understanding how our blog is being consumed and how we can better improve.
We’ve used Facebook discussions as a means to solicit feedback, and we also recommend hosting surveys on Google Docs or Survey Monkey to help gain these valuable insights.
5. Reach out to other bloggers
When we look at blogs nowadays, we very rarely see comprehensive blogrolls. And yet the blogroll was one of the blogosphere’s features that drove our early growth.
When Style Me Pretty was just a few months old, we’d contact other bloggers, introduce ourselves and ask if we could be included on their blogroll. It generally worked and we were instantly introduced to new crops of readers. However, we don’t suggest sending out automated emails asking for a link. This lacks a personal touch and can make a blogger distrustful of you and your site.
Email a select list of bloggers with similar sites and ask to get added to their blogroll. Blogrolls are perused by people looking for something “more” to read about. These are the very people who you want stopping by your site.
6. Involve your readers
The best part about writing a blog, rather than writing a column in a magazine, is that your readers become a part of your journey. They get their hands dirty with you and thus they become far more invested in your growth.
In our early days, we crafted inspiration boards for specific reader dilemmas, held Wedding DIY project competitions, and did periodic Q&As. These opportunities for involvement turned casual readers into loyal followers as they saw their work being incorporated into the content of our site. These readers also felt more comfortable leaving comments on posts and participating in the SMP conversation. All this contributed to making Style Me Pretty a thriving, yet intimate, online community.
What blogging success tips can you add from your own experience? We’d love to hear them!
Abby Larson is the editor of Style Me Pretty: The Ultimate Wedding Blog. Abby launched the site in January 2007 after selling her wedding invitation business as a way to stay close to the wedding industry. Today, Style Me Pretty receives over 10 million page views per month and employs six full-time writers. Abby and husband Tait also write about their lives running a blog at their behind-the-scenes blog, Backstage.