Thanks for reading The-Military-Guide.com! I’ve blogged for nearly 18 months, and we just had our second-highest month yet– 9400 hits! Sure, last August was higher because of the book’s release and a guest post on a popular blog. (My hits died right off after that month.) Last month was noteworthy for a solid 300+ hits/day nearly every day. February was less than 30 days and it still beat 9000 hits. Last month also had a guest post in another popular blog, and it looks like you new readers are still hanging around. I’m pretty happy about the solid growth trend. Hits for a blogger are little doses of daily morale booster– please keep it up!
A friend asked for more blogging advice, so I’m going to summarize our correspondence of “advanced blogging tips” that have worked for me. I’ve written an earlier post on starting a blog, but today I’m going to add more ideas. This is probably going to go long enough to fill two separate posts. Or three. I’ll spread it out over Thursdays so that you can spend the weekends tinkering with your own blog.
Before I start, I’d like to thank The Masked Investor at Life, Investments, & Everything for asking the questions that generated this post. The best way to improve your blogging (and your checklists) is to teach your technique to someone else. He’s helped me clarify my thinking while writing more content. His investment analysis has also helped me pay for quite a few longboards, so if you’re an active investor then subscribe to his blog and appreciate another master of his craft.
First, let me reassure you writers. There are no arcane secrets to this craft. Your blog audience grows from writing content that people want to read. It’s not search-engine optimization or paying for backlinks or keyword stuffing or fancy custom themes or any “Get readers quick!” tricks. It’s regular doses of quality writing. Those two adjectives are both important: “regular” and “quality”.
Of course unless you’re hardwired to write, then those two issues can also be a challenge. You have to figure out how to “Just write it”, or by next year you’re going to be one of those people who used to host a blog. Nobody else will nag you to write. Simple as that.
Even if you’re hardwired to write, you have to focus. Write here first before you do your other writing assignments or post to other discussion boards or answer e-mail. Write to your audience. (On this blog it’s nine million servicemembers, veterans, and their families.) Remember why you’re writing (to market the book) and keep tying your writing to that theme (financial independence).
Seems pretty simple. But I’d love to see WordPress’ statistics on how many people start blogging and are still at it a year later. Judging by the constant effort they put into motivational campaigns like “Post A Day”, I’m betting it’s around 10%. Per year. If you’ve blogged for over four years and you’re still hitting your stride, then I’d love to hear from you. You are part of the 0.01%.
Decide how often you’ll post– and then post about it so that the peer pressure keeps you committed to it. Mine is “Financial independence & early retirement for veterans every Monday, Wednesday, & Thursday” at the top right-hand corner of my blog. Use the blog’s “schedule” or “publish” feature to put up your posts at the same times, and let your readers know if you’re going to change the plan. If you’re going to turn out the lights (or turn the blog over to someone else), then warn the readers for several weeks in advance. Readers appreciate the notice.
Need more blogging motivation? Then how about this list of personal finance blogs that have sold for a million bucks? Keep in mind that it’s easier to play professional football in the Super Bowl: there are literally millions of bloggers, the personal-finance genre is immensely popular, and this sales list only has seven entries. But it’s relatively straightforward for us mere mortals to develop a PF blog that brings in $10K per year, a side hustle which will max out your Roth IRA and help you reach financial independence that much quicker.
By the way if you’re willing to spend $10K to BUY a personal finance blog, then please contact me. I’m just as happy to be a contract writer like J.D. Roth as I am to be a blogger entrepreneur.
I probably have over 200 hours of “just” configuration & tweaking into this blog, and infrastructure gets old fast. The good news is that most of it is a one-time setup and there’s little recurring maintenance. The other good news is that you only have to do as much of it as you care to do. Instead of being distracted by the following discussion on blog look & feel, I recommend that you start by blogging regular doses of quality content– and then add one tip per week.
On to the tips.
Readers and subscribers
Here’s your first advanced blogger tip: you have more readers than you think. Thank goodness.
Blogs count the unique Internet protocol addresses that hit your site (besides yours). Advanced software can tell you where those IP addresses go on your blog, how long they stay, and even where they came from. That’s good information if you’re trying to boost your traffic by being where your readers are.
Ironically, however, your “best” readers probably don’t even come to your blog anymore. They subscribe to it through e-mail or a “really simple syndication” service like Google Reader.
Professional bloggers (the ones trying to earn a lot of money) love e-mail subscribers because you can market to them separately with newsletters, special discounts, and bonus deals. Your e-mail list can’t be taken away from you by a bad server or WordPress glitches or a change in Google’s search ranking. Some blogs have a static landing page (the first page you see on their blog) designed solely to get your e-mail address. Others beg & grovel for it, hopefully in an entertaining yet strangely compelling manner. (All the kewl kids are subscribing to this blog. Try it– it’s fun. You know you want to. It makes me feel better, too.) I haven’t started e-mail marketing yet so I don’t focus on this niche. For you readers it’s just a convenient way to read the blog.
RSS readers are a “problem” because people tend to read your blog yet not comment on it. (Comments are eye candy for starting your blog’s community.) You can tease your readers by setting your blog feed to only give them the first 100 words, forcing them to click the link to read more. This puts pressure on the blogger to have a compelling lede or to play tricks, and I think it also annoys the heck out of the readers. I want you guys to learn about financial independence, not to enrich me, so you get the whole article in your reader. Of course I hope you go to the blog and post a comment– but it’s really my job to motivate you to do that, isn’t it?
Your blog software has the widgets to offer your readers their choice of subscriptions. Look for the orange RSS button near the top of the right-hand column of my blog, a few inches below the header photo. Click there and your reader should do the rest. Or go to your reader and enter the blog’s Web address for it to figure out the subscription format (this one is “https://the-military-guide.com/feed/“).
Your blogger software should enable you to automatically publicize your posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. (That’s your Facebook fan page, not your personal one.) If your blogger software doesn’t do this then you need to find different blogger software.
Depending on your audience, you might even need to publicize your content on places like Google+ and MySpace. Clueless? Ask your readers where they spend their time. Post a poll or request their comments. There’s always advanced hit-tracking software to help you figure out where your readers came from, but you also need to figure out whether your target audience is on those sites in the first place.
You’ll still want to put up other announcements & tweets on social-networking sites, but automate the blog publicity part. Then you can tailor your other social networking to different subjects or current events.
Pinterest is in the news because it’s generating more referral traffic to blogs than LinkedIn and Google+ combined. It appeals to visual learners instead of text readers, and it’s one more way to grab attention. I’ve started my Pinterest account and another on its most manly competitor, MANteresting.com, but I’m way behind on populating them. My “brilliant” marketing plan is to add the book and its recommended reading list. I can show a bunch of surfing photos, too, but beyond that it becomes clear that I’m not much of a visual learner. If you are, please tell me what you’d like to see me pin nail on those boards workbenches.
Commenting on other blogs
Social networking puts you where your readers spend much of their time, but you also want to find new readers. The quickest way to find them is on the other blogs in your field.
The first step is to build your blogroll: your list of other blogs linked from your blog. It’s tedious but it makes it easy for your readers to learn more, and it lets the other bloggers know that you care enough about them to call attention to them. If those other bloggers are intrigued by your content then maybe they’ll mention you or even add you to their blogroll, too, but don’t count on it. Build your own blogroll and don’t worry about theirs.
Your next step is commenting on their blog. Your blog will be linked to the comment: when you draft your comment then their blog software will ask for the URL of your website, and it’ll be linked to your comment’s poster name. Don’t be spammy. Contribute to the conversation. Say something nice, don’t criticize the blog content, and add a new point. “Those are great ideas, and [insert technique here] helped me too. Financial independence is easier if you happen to have a military background, and you can learn more at my blog.” Or once you’ve made your point then you could add a phrase like “… and I discuss that on this post at The-Military-Guide.com”. I usually refer to my post on how many years it takes to reach financial independence because it answers a specific frequent question, and it’s applicable to both military and civilian readers. Many will read it and never return, but statistically 1% of those readers will be part of the military. They’ll look around the rest of the site and, if I’m doing my job, they’ll become another regular reader.
When you comment on these other blogs, don’t pitch your blog with every comment. I mention my blog on other major PF blogs no more frequently than monthly. I may comment more often on their blog (especially if it’s a good discussion) but I won’t link to mine every time. And yes, I keep a regular schedule to make sure that I comment on their blogs monthly. That’s what happens when engineers start writing.
I’ll put this section next so you’ll stop asking “Eh, where’s the SEO?!?”
The world’s most boring blog title is my concession to search engine optimization. It could’ve been “The Military Guide!” or even “Nords’ Words“. However, I chose to describe the content: “Military Retirement & Financial Independence“. (Not very catchy, huh?) In its defense, it’s working: put any of those three words into Google in any order, with or without quotes, and see what pops up at the first page of millions of hits.
I could blather on for two or three posts about search engines and their features, but you don’t care and it doesn’t significantly affect your mission. Google’s “Panda” algorithm is rumored to have over 200 factors, and they change as people start to manipulate them. It’s an arms race, and you’re outgunned from the start. Believe it or not, the most significant factor is: regular doses of quality writing. If a search bot sees your blog doing its job like clockwork then it figures there’s a real writer at work here.
If you must, you could put your blog title in the text of each blog post. (I did that two paragraphs ago.) Just about every one of my blog posts mentions “achieving financial independence” or “if you have a military retirement“. Every link you include should have descriptive anchor text like “Google Panda algorithm changes” instead of the dreaded generic words “linked here“. Yes, I know there’s no link there. Without good anchor text, there might as well not be anything linked at all.
Ranking algorithms even look at factors like the text in the header, or what percentage of keywords are in your blog. You could do this for SEO, and you could buy plenty of software to do it for you. However, the reality is that you’re using headers to break up the text for readers who scan your post, and you do the same with keywords to help them focus on the content. Write for your readers. Let the bot worry about the rest so that you don’t have to.
Wow. 2000 words already. Enough for today, and enjoy your weekend tinkering with this part. If you want homework, then add a few websites & blogs to your blogroll. I’ll have more next Thursday!
Just write it.
Update to “Just Write It”
“So Nords, how did you start blogging?”
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Thanks, this is very helpful! I think our blogs are following similar trajectories (I just passed 10,000 hits in February for the first time) and also have similar missions. You’ve got some good ideas, and another I’m just sort of now realizing is to make sure there are links to past blog entries so that people may keep clicking after first reading what brought them. Also something I’ve found that works is that some news media sites allow URLs in their comments, and it can be quite valuable to include a link to a very related blog entry that way.
Some experienced bloggers think that pingbacks clutter up the old posts too much, but that’s one way I keep track of related posts.
I’m going to have to pay more attention to being able to put URLs in comments. “Very related” is probably the only way to survive their spam filter.