Like most people in the carriage, I took a picture on my phone and, upon the strict instructions of the woman who bravely claimed to be the man’s wife, I hit Tweet (I later found out that in her thick Irish accent, she’s actually said delete).
Yet I couldn’t fully process the anomaly of the man in underwear because at the end of the 2.14pm train lay BlogHouse, an event organised by Navigate Media. For four days and three nights myself and 9 other lucky candidates would be mentored by some of the industry’s finest bloggers, entrepreneurs and content creators (for the purpose of this post, I’ll call them the Super-Bloggers – you can find more about the Super-Bloggers and BlogHouse at the end of this post).
It was the biggest opportunity I’d faced as a blogger and I literally did not know where to start. As the train sped through the green isle, my internal hard drive reached capacity as blogging questions flailed around my mind at 50Mbps – WordPress, site design, twitter (what, where, when, how, why, do I have to?), photography, plugins, content. My list of questions was endless.
With an admirable level of patience from the Super-Bloggers (and a few evening glasses of Guinness for the purpose of endurance) I procured one blogging tip after another from these veteran experts, my to-do list growing as fast as my excitement.
A little while ago I wrote a post about the 10 things I wish I’d known when I was starting my blog.
Well, this time I have something better for you – my top 10 tips on how to be a better blogger based on what I’ve learned from the experts. (While I specialise in travel, these tips will hold true regardless of your blogging subject.)
1. Find a niche
“I’m Indiana Jo and my blog is about…well…travel…things…and stuff. Good stuff…at least that’s what my mum tells me. Yeah – it’s a travel blog-thingy. Check it out.”
If there was one thing I was distinctly lacking when I turned up at BlogHouse, it was a real sense of what my niche was. I could identify (poorly), the kind of content I want to share with my readers, but I couldn’t quite define my niche.
That all changed during a 20-minute conversation with two of the Super-Bloggers. While I’m still waiting for my “I’ve was niched at BlogHouse” T-shirt, I’m in the process of planning some pretty exciting changes to my site, the details of which I will be sharing with you over the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you take nothing else from this post, focus on this – find a niche.
Why? The answer is pretty simple - the blogging space is busy and without a niche, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd and a rambling description like the one I set out above will see companies glazing over with tedium as you try your level best to pitch work to them (I know, I did it). Whether it is a destination specific blog or a travel style that underpins the backbone of your posts, define your niche and your content should naturally flow from it.
2. Content is King
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before – but there is a good reason that the mantra ‘Content is King’ is rolled out time and again. I recently wrote about how I’d sacrificed freelance content in favour of writing for SEO (more on SEO below), so I’m very aware that the temptations to trade good writing for money are ever present in the blogging world.
But consider this: when a stranger visits your blog, they are there for the content. Fail to meet their expectation and they’ll fail to return.
3. If content is King, then social media is Queen
The happiest blogging marriage is the one between content and social media. First, comes great content but without anybody to read the stuff, then really what’s the point?
The social media space is cluttered and trying to make yourself heard above the noise is an on-going challenge but one that has to be met regularly and consistency.
Engage in the main channels – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram – and continue to build the snowball of interaction. Just make sure you keep building because step away for even the shortest time and all that hard work will start to melt.
4. Let’s not forget about SEO either
To SEO or not to SEO, that is the question. (For those who don’t know about SEO, this article should help).
The more I experience SEO, the less I want to integrate it into my content, but the reality is that SEO plays a very powerful part in driving organic search traffic to your site so should be ignored at you peril.
The good news is that with WordPress plugins like Yoast, it’s possible to gain a lot of SEO traction without having to flood your content with SEO keywords. I did a fair bit of SEO writing on freelance basis and used keywords too much. These days I’m trying to find a better balance. For me, SEO is vital but not to the point it turns my content into cheap hotels in London nonsense.
5. A photograph is worth a thousand words
I could spend my entire life working to only ever achieve mediocrity as a photographer but I will continue to work towards being average because images are so important. Wall to wall text is a turn off and in any case even the most skilled writers can never capture every shade of a sunset or the creases of experience around an old-woman’s eyes.
Images are an integral part of blogging, so it is important to develop your skill. If, like me, that skill is somewhat wanting, it’s important to find additional (legal) sources to supplement your own pictures. I regularly turn to Creative Commons images that can be used for free provided you supply a credit. I’ve also found photography friends who are willing to share. Then, when the time comes and I sign that 6-blog deal (or does that only happen with books and then only to JK Rowling?) I will happily pay for images from somebody else.
6. You can’t be expert at everything, so outsource
At the beginning of this year the worst combination of my thrifty and controlling characteristics set out to migrate my website from Blogger to WordPress. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and my reader numbers promptly fell off a cliff. I’d like to say I’ve learned but for the past seven months I’ve been plugging away (literally) installing, trialling and uninstalling various WordPress plugins to try and achieve the site design I crave – hours, days and weeks whizzing by in the process.
The reality is I’m graphically challenged and don’t know my css from my php. In short, I need help and BlogHouse has made me realise there are some things that simply have to be outsourced for the benefit of my site, my readers and my sanity. Yes, there’s a cost-benefit-analysis to be done but I’m more likely to make progress writing and promoting my content than I ever will with learning coding from scratch.
7. Less is more when it comes to site design
When I first installed my WordPress theme it looked a little naked. So, widget by widget, I loaded the edges, added a plethora of social share buttons, integrated my Twitter feed, listed my favourite posts and in no time at all my site has started to look like a WordPress plugin jumble sale. Once again, my readers are here for my content and I’ve realised less distraction is more appealing when it comes to website design.
8. Don’t overlook site security
My blog went offline while I was at BlogHouse. Now it’s true that with the Super-Bloggers to hand, I was in the best location (short of being at WordPress HQ) to get it fixed, but it made me think about security. A lot.
As a lawyer, I constantly met clients who were blasé about putting formal contracts in place, because there was no need – the relationship with their supplier was fine. And that is always the case, until things go wrong and you realise that is when you need the contact the most. After staring in muted shock at the blank screen (I’m NEVER muted), it occurred to me that website security is as essential as a tightly drafted contract and is currently at the top of my to-do list.
9. Build a loyal following with newsletters
10,000 Facebook likes, even more Twitter followers and hundreds of Instagram likes per day sounds like a blogger’s dream but when it comes down to it, building a loyal following of readers is what we should be striving for. People who regularly enjoy your site and return often are more engaged, more likely to comment and, if you’re heading down the route of monetizing your site, more likely to click to buy.
10. Think like a business, act like a business
Before I attended BlogHouse I didn’t have a business plan. I still don’t, but it’s something I’m working on. I had monetization on my mind and was desperately keen to pitch more but I wasn’t clear in my head or on paper which direction I was headed in. Of course, I wanted several zeros on the end of the dollar sign but I had no plan how to get there (even with a few decimals places added in). Now, I’ve taken time to think about what would be right for my readers and me and I can plot a path towards my goal. From here-on-in, Indiana Jo will be packing a business cap in her blogging bag.
BlogHouse has been the best experience of my blogging career. The opportunity to chat to, glean information from and share a beer with the Super-Bloggers has helped me think, plan and dream in a way I hadn’t before. It was also a wonderful way to gain new blogging friends in the process. From the Super-Bloggers to my fellow BlogHouse attendees, I salute you all:
Ayngelina Brogan of Bacon is Magic
Pete & Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travel
Michael Hodson of Go, See, Write
Craig & Linda Martin of Indie Travel Podcast
Fellow BlogHouse Attendees
Julika Epp of Sateless Suitcase
Megan Belt of A Passport Affair
Brendon Vince of Nerd Travels
Murissa Shalapata of The Wanderfull Traveler
Jaclynn Seah of The Occasional Traveller
Béatrice Bernard-Poulin of BeatriceBP.com
Lance Longwell of Travel Addicts
Andrew Wahba of True Travellers
Helen Davies of Helen in Wonderlust
– thanks for your tolerance of my endless questions, for laughing at my jokes even when they’re not funny (99% of them aren’t), and providing a great support network during BlogHouse and hopefully into the future. Thanks also to Navigate Media for dreaming up the idea.
The good news is that BlogHouse is a project that is run twice per year and applications are open to all. Although only a selected few can attend, if you have the opportunity to apply, I’d seize it like it were the last pad thai in Thailand.
The Most Important Thanks of All
Sometimes the biggest thanks have to wait until last. BlogHouse could not have been made possible without the sponsors:
And last but certainly not least, a huge thanks to Bansha Castle – for the chance to live out a childhood dream of staying in a castle, to the gastronomic Irish feast on the first night, the lunches, the hospitality and having a dustpan and brush in exactly the right place when I dropped my midnight munchies on the floor after a night down at Nellie’s Bar.
It’s been memorable, but I’m hoping my BlogHouse journey has just begun.