No one was born a blogger. We’ve all had the awkward intro phase where we didn’t know what to do, what to type, or how to let people know about it. I’ve been blogging for several years and work in web design for a living – and I still tweak things almost every day because I realize something I’m doing isn’t working.
Here are a few of my personal tips for bloggers who are just starting out. Keep in mind, every blogger has their own style and preferences – but I think there are a handful of concepts that should be addressed so that the traffic you gain also returns.
#1: Don’t make your readers wait to read.
This is probably the biggest complaint from visitors – your blog takes too long to load. Statistics show that the majority of internet users will wait 10 seconds for a page to load before closing the page. Make sure you fall under this limit and that your main content loads first. If you have a few things on the sidebar that take extra time to load make sure they aren’t slowing down the rest of your blog.
Try to stay away from hi-res backgrounds and headers. Hi-res can add up to 5 extra seconds or more to your load time. If you have a full featured site you can’t afford the delay. Look for a cute tiled background or create a smaller top image that tiles across just the top of your page and matches your background color; and go with a header that’s creative, but takes up less than 1/4 of your visible display area.
#2 Don’t turn your page into Times Square
It’s very tempting, when first starting out, to fill your header, footer, and sidebar with affiliate links and sponsors. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but the more ads I have – the more I get paid.” Not necessarily. If the dozens of ads you post on your front page slow down loading time so much that your visitors leave out of frustration – then you aren’t earning a penny. Also consider the reputation factor: you want your blog to be known for it’s content – not for being a billboard where you sometimes type stuff.
So how do you make affiliate and sponsor money? Take time to select affiliates that a) appeal to the genre of reader you are trying to attract b) pay more than a few pennies per qualifying action c) have appealing ads or even ads that match the color scheme of your website. The more easily they match with your site the less likely they are to turn off your readers. Remember: affiliate links are worthless without first having traffic – so concentrate on your readers first. The sponsors will come.
A great site for finding affiliates is CJ.com (Commission Junction). You can request acceptance into thousands of affiliate programs from one location, search by topic or target audience, and most affiliate companies have several pages of ads and ad sizes for you to choose from.
#3 Animated gifs, Background Music and other “Blog Bling”
Another big misconception is that your blog has to move and make noise in order to be eye catching. That concept hasn’t actually vanished, but it has definitely been modified.
* Instead of an animated gif try a flash slideshow or photo transition effect.
* If you absolutely love background music try to find something calm, soothing and instrumental. And always keep in mind what level you’ve set your player’s default volume because many readers may be stopping by your blog from the office or while a child naps nearby.
I know I keep hammering this point home, but it’s the most important element : watch your load time. Big header + background image + ads + bling = maple syrup in December.
#4 Captcha and the Spam Fear
One of the most annoying (and disappointing) things that happens when you first start your blog is the rapid collection of spam comments. It happens to everyone. It annoys everyone. And everyone slaps a captcha on their comment form.
This is the best way to go – but only at first. Over time I’ve found that the spam bots which crawl the internet and target your blog don’t have much tenacity. Putting up a captcha for the first month of your site is usually enough of a deterrent that they will move on to other new sites. After 20 – 30 days try taking off your captcha and see how it goes. Usually that initial period of security has done the trick. If you find that you still get a spam comment here and there, set your comments for approval before posting to weed out the fakes.
If your blog allows a reader to quickly comment without the hassle of a captcha or ten gates of security then you’ll find you get more comments more often.
A side note on captchas: Not all captchas are created equal. Choose one that is simple (4 – 6 characters) and easy to read. Many times I’ve written a comment on a great blog just to be thwarted by an unreadable captcha at the end. What will a reader do if they get the captcha wrong more than once? Leave.
#5 Do join networks, hops, linky lists, directories and rank lists.
This is definitely something every blogger should do. The most value lies in joining the forums, groups, and hopping to blogs which follow back. However, if you find you just don’t have time to blog AND participate in communities – join anyway. Fill out your profile, link your blog, set up your feed (if available) and upload a photo. Then leave it alone. In the least you’ll have your site link in another area for Google to pick up and raise your rank.
#6 Search out the most popular blogs in your niche.
Examine how they drive traffic, where they place ads, how they set up their design, and what they write about. You should never model your blog after someone else’s, but you can learn a lot of techniques and methods that have proven effective.
#7 Pick an end of the spectrum.
Will you write about only one specific topic or bring in several guest bloggers to cover an entire genre? Whichever you decide to do – stick with it.
#8 Pick a blog title that is simple and a URL that is even MORE simple.
“iamamomandiliketowriteaboutmykids.bloghere.com” may be the exact description of your blog – but it’s not easy to type into a browser and likely to get more typos than visits.
#9 Don’t expect traffic to rise in under 60 days.
There is a reason most networks and rank lists require your blog to be 60 – 90 days old before you can submit to them. Build a solid base of loyal (even personally known) readers first – then worry about unique hits. Let your founding members give you feedback and ideas so that you’re ready when the new traffic shows up. Your friends are your best test audience.
#10 Don’t be afraid to mix things up from time to time.
In a traffic slump? Tweaking your design, format, or introducing a new weekly/monthly feature can boost your reader count. Changing your title or genre will work against you – stay simple with your edits so your site remains familiar to your readers.