Today I’m responding to the many questions I get about blogging. As blogging is a dying art, I get fewer of these questions now than I did four years ago. Still, they trickle in at a steady pace. Know, I love blogging. It's a gift to me and doing it has shaped me in powerful ways over the last eight years. Eight years is a long time to be in the blogging game. Remember this and give me grace if I act like a cranky old lady...
SHOULD I START A BLOG?
Often the first message I receive from someone is a conflicted one. They think they’d like to start a blog but they’re not sure. My advice to that person is almost always, DON'T. I say that because if you don’t feel like you must write on the Internet, you should save yourself the pain and just not.
Here are a list of reasons why you shouldn’t start a blog:
It’s a lot of work for no pay. Sure, down the road you may be able to find a way to monetize, but usually the blog itself isn’t a money-maker. It may generate an audience to which you can later sell content, but those ads you see in blogs aren’t generating a salary. Most bloggers are writing for free. I blogged regularly without making a dollar for four years.
Not many people will read your stuff. Most blogs start very small. You think, “I have 500 Facebook friends; they’ll all read.” Nope. Or you think, “I go to a big church; surely my church friends will read.” Nope. Truth is, few of your close friends will feel compelled to read your blog. When I started, I got so excited if a post got 15 likes. Even better, sometimes I’d get a comment. Building an audience is a long and arduous process. If you’re looking for quick fame and glory, blogging is not the place to find it.
People on the Internet are mean. They’ll say hurtful things to you. They’ll forget you’re a person with a family. They’ll decide you have written this post with the express purpose of injuring them and it is their responsibility to defend their honor to the death. And while lots of people are nice, even the nice ones can get confused about what you’re trying to say. Sometimes you’ll misspeak and offend someone. Sometimes you’ll speak clearly and offend someone who’s just, bless their heart, a bad reader. This happens a lot. A lot.
Most people who grab the mic shouldn’t have the mic. Think: Kanye. This one might sting, but being quick to speak is not a virtue. And wanting to start a blog because “I have something to say” oftentimes comes from a place of anger, impatience, jealousy, or pride. Not always, of course. But often. If your “I have something to say” is holy, consider writing on a site like Medium where you don’t have to carry the burden of regular writing and can instead post only when you feel like you have an important message. This allows you to bypass creating and maintaining your own blog.
Blogs don’t change people’s minds. Relationships change people’s minds. First hand experiences change people’s minds. God changes people’s minds. Blog posts don’t. They might plant seeds. They might nudge. They’re great at reminding. But if your goal with your blog is to convince people of something, particularly people who aren’t already disposed toward thinking that thing, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
By now, you have likely labeled me as a Bah Humbug who doesn’t like competition. Not true. I love seeing new, talented, wise bloggers on the scene. There are plenty of readers to share. I just care to make sure they’re in it for the right reasons. Because honestly, I’m sometimes embarrassed to be a blogger. To most people “blogger” means angry person in their pajamas yelling at everybody. Please don’t be that. For the sake of the kingdom of God, don’t be that.
Now, what about the reasons TO blog? Here are some good ones:
To glorify God. If your purpose in writing is to make much of God, our Father and Creator, and to make the kingdom of God look as good as it absolutely is--awesome! Please blog.
To help people. If your purpose in blogging is to help people be better people--awesome! Please blog. Also, know that along the way you’ll have opportunities to build lifelong relationships with those people, to step into their darkest seasons with counsel and prayer, to bless and be blessed.
Because you are a gifted writer. If you think you should blog because God has gifted you with talent in writing, awesome! Maybe you should blog. Definitely you should write. Remember, writing in a private, paper journal is also a way to use and grow your skills. Be sure you have the gifts of wisdom and discretion before you commit to writing publicly.
Because you have influence and would like to use that influence for good. Some people have followers; like rabbis, they speak and people clamor to listen. If you’re one of those people who already wields a great deal of social influence, if you have tons of Facebook friends, if you run an organization or lead a team, if you have recognized experience and expertise in an area, blogging may be the perfect next step to steward the influence God has given you for good.
Okay, next question...
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BLOG?
In addition to glorifying God and helping people, here are a few random characteristics of a good blog:
The writing is good and accessible.
The topic/focus is fresh and interesting.
- All posts seem to come from the same person because they have the same heart and same voice (and probably the same focus).
The writer obviously DOES things IRL--not just speculating and spit-balling.
Lots of posts. The more you write the more likely you are to hang on to your readers.
Not self-interested, but rather clearly considering what the audience wants and needs to hear.
Kind and wise.
Side note: Honestly, not a lot of people read blogs anymore. They read blog posts, yes. But readers spend much less time on your blog, as they’re most likely reading and then hopping back to Facebook or Twitter. The single most important characteristic of a good blog then is the quality of each singular post. Does it meet a felt need? Are people looking for answers on this topic? Do you provide something unique and helpful?
HOW DO I GET STARTED (technically speaking):
Pick a platform. This means pick the site you’ll use to host your blog. Some are free. Some cost a little but make things easier. If you’re serious about blogging and don’t mind spending $12 a month I suggest Squarespace. It’s very easy to use and make lovely. I have friends who swear by Wordpress. And for a long time I used Tumblr. I very much enjoyed the strong sense of community over there. If you’re considering Medium know that if you write on their platform you’re giving them the rights to use your content however they see fit.
Build your blog. Get on your new platform and play around. Pick a domain name. Make it simple, easy to remember and not ridiculous. You’ll need some pictures of yourself or pictures of fields or whales or open Bibles--whatever. Making it pretty matters. But it matters less than you might think. You’ll need to write an “about me,” some info about what you’re trying to accomplish with the blog. Include a spot where you ask for reader emails (you’ll want those later), etc.
Write posts. Before you get the blog up and off the ground, please (for the love of all things holy) write several posts. Don’t write one, hit publish and tell all your friends. Write six. Choose the best one. And then tell all your friends. Writing is hard at first. It takes a while to do and it takes a while get good. You’ll be glad to have posts sitting in your drafts for days when the post you’re writing doesn’t come together.
Share one. Go on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and whatever else you do and tell people about the post. Don’t focus on yourself. Focus on the post content and why your friends might want to read that. Remember, you’re not blogging to bring attention to yourself. Plus, people won’t keep reading just because they know you. They read because of what you give them.
Sidenote: 99% of my traffic comes from Facebook. If I don’t share a post on Facebook I will not have anyone read it--even committed followers. People just don’t go directly to blogs anymore. Facebook is the gateway to everything most people see on the Internet. (Of course that’s changing. But for now, it’s true.)
HOW DO I GET PEOPLE TO READ MY BLOG?
Write good stuff. And then write more good stuff. This is the very best way to grow an audience.
Also, yes, use your social media liberally. Ask friends to guest post and bring their audience to your page. Incorporate keywords and search optimization if you’d like. Interact with the people who interact with your posts.
I suspect I’m not the right person to answer this question best. I have done very little over the years to grow my audience outside of trying to write good posts that connect with and bless the people who read my stuff. In fact, I intentionally avoid thinking about my audience size.
For the first few years I thought way too much about how many people were reading and why more people weren’t reading and what I could do to get more readers. And then I had a post that, for whatever reason, was exceedingly popular. It wasn’t my favorite post by any means. Definitely not my best. But in a week 100,000 people liked it on Facebook. And what I realized when that happened was that the size of my audience had very little to do with how fulfilled I felt in the work. From then on I moved my focus from wide to deep. Now, my metrics for success are the names of people who I know a post helped in tangible ways, the conversations I had with people who were moved, the people who I know took risks with their lives and money because of a post of mine they read, the people who tell me lines from my blog posts have become catch phrases for their families, quick reminders of who they want to be. These are the metrics I keep an eye on now, not audience size. These metrics are good for my heart.
HOW DO I MAKE MONEY ON MY BLOG?
The way I’ve moved into writing as a profession is to offer my readers some pay content and some free content. The blog is always free. I also offer Bible studies, books, and workshops at a cost. I’m not to the point yet where I’m making a living wage at this work. Many writers never reach that point. However, it is nice to receive some compensation for the work I do. I’ve found my readers are excited to partner with me that way if it means enabling me to write more stuff.
I have friends who blog through Patreon, a website designed to enable a patronage system. You write posts, readers commit to pay a certain amount per post or per month. This seems like a great system, but at this point it’s not something I’m personally pursuing.
Personally, I don’t like ads. I don’t feel like I can comfortably allow an ad service to place ads on my page. I hate my readers having to deal with them, too. Still, they work for some people. If you’re not opposed, try it out.
I do occasionally have websites and online magazines/communities asking to reprint my work. Never, no matter the size of their audience, have I ever been offered compensation. Welcome to the world of online writing. ;)
Have any other questions? Or perhaps some good advice for potential bloggers? Share away in the comments!