This is the third part of a series. You can read the second part of blogging advice here and the first section of blogging advice here.
By now you’ve begun to pick up on my hints that the top priority of successful blogging is regular doses of quality content. No tricks, no shortcuts, no magic software or plug-ins: just a few solid years of writing… mostly for no salary. However, while you’re building your audience, you can hone your craft and add productivity tricks. I’ll start with my favorites, and you can add your own in the comments. Gosh, maybe this series will run for a fourth week. I’m still building my list of WordPress plug-ins with advertising & affiliate tools for this site’s upcoming move to its own host.
Your post template and checklist
Around my 10th post I noticed that I tend to do the same actions with every post. I need to highlight the text with bold and italics, I need to break up the format with headers, and I need to add links. Eventually I developed a template that I use for every post. I don’t follow every step every time, but it reminds me of all the features in my style. I compose a post in a word processor, but I start every post in WordPress’ software with my template and then add in the post text. There’s probably a plug-in that does this, but I haven’t looked for it. If you want a copy of my template (just an embarrassingly simple and short checklist) then e-mail me or use the “Contact me” box. I’ll send you the HTML file to adapt to your own blogger software.
“Start here” page
If you’re blogging about a process (“Here’s how to achieve financial independence”) then new readers will want to start with that before they read your advanced techniques (or your latest sea story). One of the main pages of your blog should entice new readers to “**Start here!**” You can include all the details of the process, with links to the pertinent blog posts or pages. Other blogs put this information in the sidebar as a blogroll series of links. “10 steps to military retirement” might link to a page of just the 10 steps. However, that phrase (and its link) can be the header of a blogroll section that includes links underneath (“Step 1“, “Step 2“, “Step 3“…), to each individual post or specific list of actions.
Of course you’ll eventually add other main pages to your blog like “Contact me”, “For the media”, “FAQ”, “Guidelines for guest posts”, “Embarrassing photos”, or whatever you think will keep your readers coming back for more.
Some readers are annoyed by a blog’s static landing page (the blog’s first page) that exhorts you to sign up for the blog with your e-mail address. However, you could make a separate website of just the static landing page and link to the blog from there. Readers would see the static page and make the subscription decision. From then on they could go directly to the blog’s URL, use a blog reader, or just read the posts in e-mail.
The real advantage of a static landing page on a website is that you can optimize it for SEO with a descriptive URL like “Top-military-financial-independence-advice.com”. A personal-finance blogger used this technique to become ranked by Google as his state’s top financial advisor.
Podcasts, videos, and other referral sites
Social networking doesn’t stop at Facebook and Twitter. One of the Internet’s top personal-finance bloggers gets most of his new traffic from YouTube, where he posts podcasts and videos of his blog material. Bloggers can produce audio & video for very little expense and moderate effort, but most bloggers just feel uncomfortable putting themselves out there in a different format.
If you’re going to grow your blog for a huge (and profitable) audience, then I’d suggest that you should strongly consider adding podcasts & videos.
If you’re a photo blogger then you may be linking your blog from popular photo-sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa. One of the Internet’s biggest referral sites is now Pinterest, bigger than LinkedIn and Google+ combined. (If your audience includes testosterone-poisoned guys, then use MANteresting.com.) Try different types of social-networking sites (and different media) to attract new readers to your blog.
Use a calendar
You’re already keeping a list of topics that you want to blog about. (My list grows faster than I can turn the topics into posts.) Consider linking that list to a calendar of seasonal topics: religious or federal holidays, patriotic holidays, institutional anniversaries (like the submarine force’s birthday), special events like “America Saves Week”, or even tax season. After you’ve cycled through the calendar you’ll have a few dozen posts ready for annual re-use. You could offer them to other bloggers as guest posts or update them for your own blog.
Use other templates
Hopefully your topic list already inspires you. However, one day you might feel as if you’re writing about the same ol’ topics in the same ol’ format. Before that happens, try Kim Roach’s list of 17 copy-and-paste blog post templates. Even if you’re writing about the same ol’ topics, they won’t sound the same as last year’s posts.
If all else fails you can use your own 18th template: “What I’m reading now“. It’s a compendium of website links or a book review or a list of recommended reading. Many bloggers do this near the end of the workweek so that their readers have the weekend to dig more deeply into the subjects.
If you’re running a forum with your blog, or frequently linking to someone else’s discussion board, then you can start a topic on your blog. Next you can invite your readers to join the conversation in your comments or on the forum.
Start a movement
Most blog post are supposed to include a “call for action“. What do you want your readers to do now? You’ve inspired them to leap out of their chairs and start… what? Go… where?
It might be as simple as motivating us to write for 20 minutes a day. Maybe you’ll remind us to exercise, even if it’s just taking a walk. Perhaps we’ll set up an automatic payroll deduction to a savings account, or get started on our tax returns.
Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents is starting a Roth IRA movement to remind young investors to open Roth IRA accounts and maximize their contributions. He announced it in early March and gave us three weeks to write our own blog posts. Over 100 bloggers are going to hit the Internet with our movement on Tuesday 27 March. Frankly he’s doing most of the publicity for me, and all I have to do is keep retweeting it!
Post your numbers
Be ready to share with your readers. Everyone expects a new blog to have very few hits and few readers, so you have nothing to lose and nothing to be embarrassed about. As your blog grows, your numbers will improve. Sharing the excitement of that growth will feed back upon itself. You don’t have to report your statistics with every post, but you could include a widget showing total hits (or total spam). Other plug-ins can show how many hits you had last month.
Share your other progress, too. If you’re blogging about debt, then show how much progress you’ve made on eliminating yours. If you’re blogging about personal finance then be ready to discuss how your net worth is growing. If you’re an investor then you’d better be ready to present your track record, maybe even with scans of your tax returns. If you’re blogging for income then share how much you made last month, where you made it, your latest trends, and what you’re doing about it. You should most definitely blog about your failures– or someone else will.
Of course sharing your numbers enhances your credibility. It also helps you set your quarterly and annual goals. And, like telling everyone that you’re on a diet and working out, it forces you to stick to your commitments.
Freebies & contests
When you choose to earn money from your blog, some of it will come from Google AdSense. Some will come from keywords or display advertising. Some of it will come from your readers clicking on your affiliate links to buy products from your partners. Advertisers may also prefer to compensate you with free product samples or discounts on their services.
Share the wealth. Pass a percentage of your income to your readers. You can give them all of your samples. Running contests and giveaways will bring more readers to your site, which will enable you to earn even more ad revenue and to charge more for your display ads.
Custom themes and plug-ins
Nobody should have to program CSS to run their blogs. Heck, most of us snivel about having to tweak the occasional HTML format. However, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around creating blog themes and plug-ins, and the choices are overwhelming.
When you start your blog, go with a simple (free) theme. You don’t even need widgets or plug-ins. Avoid the paralysis of analysis of all the choices– later on you can switch your theme as often as you change your socks, and 99% of your blog posts will convert over without a hiccup.
When you someday break free of WordPress or Google hosting and take your blog out to its own service, you will want a robust and complex theme that allows you the flexibility to customize and automate as much of your blog as possible. You might want to earn piles of money, but you also want to work as efficiently as possible. You can see what you get for free with this blog’s WordPress “Twenty Ten” theme, but by 2012 it’s beginning to look a little… old. Take a look at an example of the Thesis theme (which costs money) or see how you can run wild with (buying) other custom plug-ins on Pat Flynn’s blog. You’ll also notice that both of those guys get discounted services and affiliate income from sharing the products that help them.
Take a (short) break
Believe it or not, you might eventually burn out on your blogging routine. (I’m still skeptical about it happening to me, but I’ve seen it happen to others.) It’s perfectly OK to take a break. Maybe you’ve had an exceptionally productive week, you’re several posts ahead in your schedule hopper, and you can just walk away from the blog for a few days of longboard surfing. Maybe you have a busy week coming up and you can arrange for a series of guest posts. Maybe you’re just getting a little crispy around the edges, so you update one of your oldest blog posts with a few new sentences and send it back out there. Maybe you’ll even turn on a plug-in that randomly posts… your old posts. (You should probably alert your readers about this step.) When you’re enjoying your time off, think about what you’d change after you return. You might come up with a new blogging schedule, or a new time of day to do your writing, or even a completely new subject for a different blog.
And finally: have an exit strategy!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about volunteering during retirement, it’s to have an exit strategy. (It’s a topic for its own future post.) You don’t actually have to use the exit strategy– you just have to know what it is.
Admit it. Some mornings you wake up with zero inspiration. Other days you’re way too busy with an emerging project or a family crisis. Maybe the surf forecast is better than you’ve ever seen it, and it’s going to be like this all week. Maybe you’re ready to move on to new challenges. Sure, this series of posts has helped you write through the rough spots before– but will you be blogging for the rest of your life?
Someday you may run out of things to say. (Hopefully you’ll notice that before your readers point it out.) As we mature, we change. Military retirement and financial independence have been very important to me for the last 20 years, but I doubt that my credibility will persist for more than another five years. New readers want to learn about a significant life transition from someone who’s recently experienced it, not from a pioneer who belongs in a history book or a dinosaur museum.
I’m giving myself another 18 months. By late 2013 I’ll either be writing the book’s second edition or turning it all over to some military retiree who’s financially independent and doesn’t want a bridge career. (Hopefully I’ve started my movement by then.) I don’t even know if I’m going to actually rewrite the paperback or just put out new chapters in an e-book format.
When I make my decision, I’m going to blog about it. You’ll be able to follow along as I sort through the options– and then either find my relief or sell it to someone else.
Interested? Got a suggestion? Post it below or contact me!
Just write it.
Update to “Just Write It”
“So Nords, how did you start blogging?”
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?”
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?” (Part 2)
Does this post help? Sign up for more free military retirement tips by e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter!