This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.
When it comes to blogging, a number of platforms have come and gone. Recently, Posterous was acquired by Twitter, signifying that a shut-down of the platform was imminent.
I noticed this in a big way; my blog, called I Love Tumblr, which focuses on Tumblr tips and tutorials, had a huge influx of new traffic (especially to my Tumblr vs Posterous article—no surprise there).
I also started to receive a ton of emails from former Posterous users asking me if the Tumblr platform was right for them (or whether WordPress or Blogger was a better choice).
In most instances, I (like Darren) would advise a self-hosted WordPress blog above all others, however, in instances where that really isn’t desired, I have been able to honestly (and highly) recommend Tumblr to many bloggers.
Given my large amount of experience with the platform (and given its serious growth in the past few years), I thought I might explain to all of the Tumblr users here on ProBlogger how you can become a problogger on the platform.
Being a problogger on Tumblr
Being a problogger on Tumblr essentially boils down into two broad categories of advice:
- understanding the best practices and strategies specifically for the Tumblr platform (and knowing what makes it different)
- utilizing smart blogging and marketing techniques that work on any platform, and making your Tumblr blog more open to non-Tumblr users.
These pieces of advice sound contradictory, but really they are not. The point is, you need to understand both the Tumblr platform and other standard “best practices” for blogs in general to succeed, and I’m going to show you how to do both today.
Mastering the Tumblr platform
First things first: we need to understand what makes Tumblr different. The three biggest points of difference that you need to understand about Tumblr are:
- the social networking aspects of Tumblr
- what kind of content works well on Tumblr
- how to use the “on-site” features of Tumblr to grow your blog
1. Tumblr’s social networking aspects
Tumblr has a number of features that make it resemble a social networking platform as much as a blogging platform.
The main one is that Tumblr users can “follow” other users’ blogs—in essence, they can amass a group of followers as well as follow other blogs that interest them.
Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same concept that Twitter uses, except that Tumblr’s a blogging platform (WordPress.com has now incorporated this feature as well).
I’ve written about how to get more followers on Tumblr in the past, and largely, that advice revolves around the topics we’re discussing today: knowing what works on Tumblr, and knowing what works on the web at large. We’ll address this “follower” aspect more later on, so be sure to keep reading.
The other big social networking aspect that defines Tumblr is the act of “reblogging”. Reblogging is similar to retweeting on Twitter, or Facebook sharing, but on Tumblr, you’re actually sharing an entire blog post to your followers.
The reblogging is a very powerful feature for Tumblr users: they have the option to either Like or reblog a post they’ve enjoyed, and they will often choose the latter if it suits their interests. Reblogging showcases whatever you’ve posted to an entirely new following of Tumblr users.
It’s one of the main reason that some quirkier Tumblr blogs have grown so quickly, in addition to the large amounts of press they sometimes recieve (think Garfield Minus Garfield as an example). Currently, my most reblogged post sits at 17,848 reblogs, and it was a goofy post on my personal site, although it did attract about 125 new followers.
I’ve found it’s not the sheer number of reblogs that counts, but rather how related your overall site is to the content being reblogged (i.e. if you post some viral content about cooking, you won’t get a lot of followers unless your site is also about cooking).
The last difference with Tumblr is now no longer a difference at all: Tumblr used to be the only platform with post types, but now WordPress has incorporated that feature as well (and theme designers have followed suit), so the only true difference remains in the followers (not available on self-hosted WP blogs) and the reblogging of content, in terms of how the platform operates.
There are numerous SEO differences between Tumblr and other platforms, and the debate over whether anything but self-hosted content is safe to pursue continues, but we will tackle those issues later.
2. What content works well on Tumblr?
The Tumblr userbase is different from other blogging crowds in that it focuses on certain interests more than others. There is definitely a targeted demographic for Tumblr, and there are certainly topics that do better there than others.
Largely, Tumblr users are younger than those on most other blogging platforms, and there is a heavy focus on photo and image content over anything else. See for yourself—here are Tumblr’s demographic data from Alexa:
That’s not to say text posts cannot go viral on Tumblr, it’s just that the “bread and butter” of most Tumblr blogs is going to be image and short multimedia content (audio/video), often catering to younger interests.
The reason for this isn’t only to do with Tumblr’s demographics, but also with how the platform works.
Reblogging is far more popular with image posts because they are much easier to digest (ah, the typical internet user’s attention span!) and because they take up less screen space; if you reblog an entire text post, it might take up a lot of room, while a simple image reblog does not. Users are more likely to share text posts to Twitter and other sources, with the reblog being used almost exclusively for image content.
One popular blog that takes advantage of all of these aspects is the Fake Science Tumblr. Creating humorous, original image content based around a single topic (“fake science” facts), this blog grew tremendously fast with the help of people reblogging all of its images. The vintage style, the crude humor, and the focus on images is the perfect example of the type of blog that would go off like dynamite on Tumblr (not that others won’t, it’s just that this blog was made for Tumblr).
Another blog that has done quite well on Tumblr is TinyCartridge. This is another successful blog that uses Tumblr’s interface well: the topic of the blog is handheld and retro gaming, and as such, many posts are short and focus on a single image or video, perfect for Tumblr.
Don’t be fooled, though: Tumblr isn’t as limited as you think though… Some big sites have made Tumblr “microblog” additions to their main offerings, and many of these aren’t the goofy image-based topics I’ve been pointing out above.
You will notice of course, that the focus here is still on images, emphasizing my point that Tumblr does best with images, no matter what the topic.
3. Utilizing Tumblr’s on-site features
We’ve already talked about reblogging, but now let’s go into more depth and discuss how to use some of Tumblr’s other on-site features to increase your blog’s exposure.
One of the most powerful features that you can utilize is the Tumblr search feature, located on the right side of all Tumblr dashboards. To make the most of search, you are going to need to understand how tagging works in Tumblr, as it’s very different (and much more important) than in WordPress.
Essentially, you can tag your posts with keywords before you publish them to your blog on Tumblr:
These tags are important because they’re at the heart of the way Tumblr’s search operates: it looks for recent posts on your search via the post’s tags. So, if you’re running a surfing blog and you aren’t tagging each post with “surf” or “surfing”, you could be missing out on a ton of on-site searches.
Luckily, you don’t have to “overtag” on Tumblr, as it picks up on related content that’s tagged with similar terms. Take this example search on “bicycles”:
You should add about seven to 15 tags at most to each post. Tagging is important to get your content into the search results, but don’t add so many that you look like a spammer.
Mastering “non-Tumblr” tactics
Now it’s time to step back from Tumblr for a second, because one of the biggest mistakes I see people make on the platform is that they become too reliant on it, forgetting about the smart marketing strategies that all bloggers should be using, regardless of platform.
The three biggest issues I see are that Tumblr bloggers fail to:
- use the best subscription options
- create an easy-to-navigate and high-converting blog design
- promote their blogs outside of Tumblr.
I’m not sure why these three elements are so often neglected by Tumblr users, but they are, so let’s tackle them one at a time.
1. Subscription options for Tumblr
The single biggest mistake people make with blogging (Tumblr or otherwise) is that they forget or neglect to start an email list. This is a tremendous mistake, and it is especially prevalent on Tumblr blogs. The thing that kills me: it’s a cinch to get started!
Simply select a good service (I recommend AWeber or MailChimp), check out some guides on how to increase email conversion rates, and be sure to place your forms in the right places (your sidebar is the critical one, although a feature box and end-of-post forms work as well).
It is so important to focus on email, as it’s one of the best ways to make your Tumblr more accessible to non-Tumblr users: everybody understands email sign-ups!
It’s also good to start a Feedburner feed for your blog, but I wouldn’t promote it: RSS readers know how to use it, and your email list is the priority anyway. You can also embed your social media profiles (such as a Facebook like box) into your Tumblr blog, but I’d stick to promoting one at a time—Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, not all at once.
2. Creating a high-converting blog design on Tumblr
One thing that drives me crazy is how badly some Tumblr users set up their themes. I understand the use of trendy thumbnail or single-column themes, but those themes don’t convert! Two-column layouts still rules the roost, even for Tumblr, because they allow you to have sidebar where you put some incredibly important stuff, like your email sign up forms!
What stops people from picking a good theme? Tumblr charges up to $50 for themes on its ThemeGarden.
The other thing that most Tumblr users get wrong is anticipating the way people will navigate their blog. Ideally, you are going to want a few resource pages where people can access your best content, some important pages (about, contact, etc.) … and almost nothing else!
That’s right, unless you’re publishing like a mad man (or woman), you might not even need category pages (navigation menus that show posts via categories) or post archives.
You should remember that less is more when it comes to effective blog design: you are there to let people read content and to subscribe. Other than making sales, that’s all you should focus on letting people do. This way, if your users get too overwhelmed and don’t know where to go, they can always go back.
The only other decision that you need to make (partly a design choice and partly an accessibility choice) is whether or not you are going to enable comments on your Tumblr. Tumblr itself does not have a commenting system, so you’ll have to read up on how to install Disqus to Tumblr before you can allow readers to comment on your posts.
3. Promoting your blog outside of Tumblr
I explored the subscription changes at the beginning of this post because they’re relevant to a major aspect of getting your blog to be successful: promoting it off Tumblr.
While you can attract a huge number of followers (and hopefully email subscribers) from Tumblr itself, more attention outside of the platform is always good, and will likely be one of your main sources of new subscribers. So, if you’ve got email sign-up forms all set up, you can begin this process, one that few Tumblr blogs (or bloggers on all platforms) ever pursue.
One of the best, surefire ways to get more subscribers and more traffic is through guest posting. A guest post essentially allows you to be the opening act for another popular blog (preferably in your niche) that will also allow you to drop a link to your site, sending over traffic and potential subscribers. You should look for sites with at least a few thousand subscribers to guest post on. Any less, and the readership is likely to be too low to be worth the effort.
There are better alternatives to even the guest blogging strategy, however. One is to ask authors if they would like to interview you about something that you’ve achieved, accomplish, know about, or experienced. This works so well because the interview is all about you, and it looks more natural than a guest post. See what you can offer other bloggers in your niche and try to get featured on their sites.
Are you problogging on Tumblr?
As you’ve seen today, being a Problogger on Tumblr is largely determined by they way you approach and use the platform, as well as your ability to implement classic marketing knowledge and apply it to your Tumblr blog.
It definitely isn’t rocket science. But the question remains: is Tumblr the right choice for your blog?
While I will always fully support the self-hosted WordPress blog, for some people, Tumblr does make sense. If your content is heavily image-based and you think your style would do well on Tumblr, given what you know now about reblogs and the userbase, I would say give Tumblr a go.
The key thing here (I’ll say this 100 times if I have to!) is to focus on the end result, which in any blog’s case should be building an email list. It’s okay to build Tumblr followers and RSS readers and Facebook likes—just make sure you’re collecting a slew of emails in the process, and your blog will be built to last, no matter what platform it’s on.
Are you using Tumblr as part of your blogging strategy? Are you problogging entirely on the platform? Tell us how you’re getting the most out of Tumblr in the comments.
Gregory Ciotti is an avid blogger (he’s built many, and runs a few now!) and the author of Sparring Mind, where he writes about how to build a loyal following no matter which blog platform you are using. Learn what people are saying about Greg or check him out on Twitter.