The Art of Blogging

THE ART OF BLOGGING

This week I thought about what else is needed when you are an artist who is just starting out, and just as I have done over the Lat few weeks I decided that I would share some of my insights learned over the years of being a professional artist. Although much of what I will write about today can be used for anyone who wants to start the journey called blogging.

Blogging
Not always easy, but generally fun!

 

Each week I attempt to create a blog worthy of reading, most weeks apparently I do, I get lots of feedback via email and on social media. Last week I was asked if I could give some tips to start out on the bloggers journey so I thought I would this week share a few tips with you.

First off, it’s simple to create a blog, it really is. Everything you need is available online and mostly for free. Yes, simple to create a blog is the key here. The hard part is managing to maintain it on a regular basis. That can only be described as “tricky” at best. If like me you have a full time job, and an art business that needs new work to be produced frequently, I will let you in to a secret, some weeks you might just want to sit down and weep in a dark corner.

Depending on what you read online there are around 165 million or so blogs currently online. For the most part, no one really knows about a good 75% of them, they are buried in the cloud, most of them get fewer than 1,000 visitors a month, world-wide, and most bloggers give up either after a few weeks, or at best at the 6-month point.

Blogging is not easy. Sure there are people who have managed to create their dream of blogging for a living, but those are the few, and they have had to work hard to get anywhere close. But those who start blogs and subsequently call it a day are doing something wrong.

There is no doubt about it that in my first three months of blogging there is a lot that I did wrong. Looking back, my content wasn’t a competition concern to the Huffington Post, but I started to get the hang of it when I reviewed what I was doing, and started to create a plan. My very first post hit a record high of twenty-five hits, I could have at that point retreated in to a corner, or come back out determined that I would at least increase this figure on my second post to fifty. As it turns out I got a few hundred hits on day three, and the numbers thankfully carried on in the low hundreds of hits per day for a month or so. It wasn’t until I formulated a clear strategy though that I started to see many more hits.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

There is something to be learned here, the more you work at something, and the harder it is to continue doing it without reward. I spent so much time in the early days trying to focus on delivering great content, I forgot that it was just as important to let people know that I actually had a blog!

The single most important lesson, apart from telling people that I had a blog in the first place, was that I spent far too much time creating lots and lots of content. I was posting little bits every day, I was spending hours at night trying to create a piece for the next day and I was spending hours trying to think of what was to be the next topic. Then I settled down, decided that two 2,000 word posts was the way to go, and then revised my strategy.

Although I would love to post every day, life just isn’t that easy. Now I create a single post each week, have turned my focus on creating useful and relevant information, although I have to say, in order to create 5,000 words per week, I have to still be disciplined and here is the wow part, it can take me around 15-hours per week to create a good piece if content.

You need to be disciplined, and you need to find time. Those are probably the best reasons to give up before you start, but you also have to have determination. You don’t have to write a piece every week or every day, what you need to do is too make sure that more readers see the great content that you have already written.

But promoting content is fraught with difficulty. Sharing your blog address on social media is not always the best option. The tactic that you really need to take is to ensure that firstly you have great content, and secondly convince a successful blogger that you have content worthy of a read. In summary, you need to convince an established blogger to send readers towards your blog.

One of my strategies is to read lots of other people’s blogs and then do things differently. By choosing to be different it makes a better read for the viewer and the outcome is something that is different to anyone else’s content. I mix it up too, technology and art are two of my all-time favourite subjects. When I started out, I wanted a blog that would allow me to discuss not just art, but also technology issues, and especially as I am primarily a digital artist. It made sense, and there are not too many art and technology blogs that are updated as often.

I also try to get the latest news, making contacts within the art and technology industries has helped me to deliver the latest news, sometimes a few weeks prior to the mainstream sites!

There are so many things to learn when starting out, but it will all take time. Over the last year I have added to my knowledge of how search engines work, how algorithms can affect social media performance, and how to create an AdSense account and link it to my blog. These I will cover in a future post.

GETTING DOWN TO BASICS

But if you manage to get the basics right, blogging can be fun and lucrative. You really need to know about your topic if you want to maintain readers and keep them coming back week after week, but if that’s your passion, it will become less of a chore. In fact if it becomes a chore, that’s the point to give up.

It is unlikely that you will become a celebrity blogger, but a great post can give you recognition. Many bloggers are considered experts just because of their latest posts.

There is a side to blogging that is often left uncovered in most things you will read. Firstly, the use of the word “free”. Generally free doesn’t actually mean free. Even though I use Google’s Blogger platform, I still have to pay for hosting my art online, and then there is the domain registration fees to take in to account. Add to that your time, and it all adds up. My costs last year for hosting work online literally made me weep. My enthusiasm for keeping up to date with the latest software actually ended up costing me the GDP of a small country.

Bloggers
Bloggers generally work wherever there is free Wi-Fi!

 

But blogging is fun, or at least it is when you start getting readers. That itself can be fun, really. It is difficult to get your name out there, but the best way is to speak to other bloggers and hope that they will feature a link to your blog. In return you feature a link to theirs. To start with it is a little one sided, they will be sending you most of your traffic, in time as your blog becomes more established, the gesture will be returned as your readers visit your blogger buddy.

 

Here are a few other essentials that you need to also consider.

Define your target audience and make sure you continue catering for their needs. My target audience is generally interested in art and technology, and as you will see, I rarely write about anything else. But you might also want to consider things such as their geographic location, and possible income levels.

Forget brainstorming an original blog with a unique idea. Chances are that within the billions of posts already online, someone else has already done that. What you need to do is to do it better.

Bring along your own personality. Ok, not so much if you are a David Brent type (played by Ricky Gervais is the British version of the Office), unless of course dry wit and a bumbling style are essential to your output.

You need to set your blog apart from everything else that is already out there. Ideally if you can offer a first, that is always helpful. Whatever you do, remember that you are a unique individual with your own personality, and that should transition in to your writing.

RESEARCH & ADAPT

Be sure that you research other blogs of a similar interest, and remember that because they are a top or first page hit on Google does not necessarily mean that they are great. It could be that the blog owners are very good at search engine optimization, and that is something I will cover in a little detail in a future post.

You have your unique twist on your specialist subject and you are ready to go. Not quite, you not only need to have that unique twist, you are also going to need some great content. Massive lesson here, the first day I signed up to write a blog it was around 9am on a gloomy winter morning. By 11am, I had confirmed my details in so many emails I was already starting to lose the will to live. I have to be honest!

By 1pm that same day I had written my first article, and honestly, it is still around on this blog, it was an introduction to how great the world would forever be now that I was on the blogging scene. If I could start again, here’s what I would do. I would spend a couple of weeks writing lots of great content. Content that is a little more relevant than “Hello World, I’m here”. Trust me, no one is a bigger critic of me than me. Not to the point of self-loathing, but I have had to learn so much during the last year that my head needs to now dump information to make room for new stuff, and I really wish I had enough foresight to see me through those initial painful weeks.

You will then need to not only write a great article, you need to constantly repeat writing different great articles, and you constantly need to keep your blog updated. The biggest tip here is to manage the worlds expectations from the off. If you say you will be updating every day, then good luck, keep it up. Just hope that you do! If you are publishing occasionally, you will need a method of alerting people that your new post live. Gathering an email subscriber list is the best way of notifying people, but in the early days, you will be relying on communications through social media and other bloggers.

You really need to update regularly. I dabbled with a few different formulas in the early days, and now I feel much more comfortable in writing one reasonably lengthy quality piece over a daily update of life in the world of Mark. You are better off writing once or twice per week than promising a daily dose of fun that you will never deliver.

You also need to be prepared to adapt. Over time, trends, audiences, and demographics will change. It’s ok to experiment in the early days, but when you have an almost cult following, the audiences expectations will inevitably change over time. You really want your readers to stay with you. As an artist, I want my readers to stay with me, and I would like some of them to become collectors of my work.

Now on to the time factor. For this I will let you in on my strategy for allocating time to each blog post I write. When I deliver news I like to make sure that it is current and relevant. So many blogs and social media feeds of late have reported celebrity deaths. Leslie Nielson died back in 2010, so I was surprised to read yesterday on a certain social media platform that his death was trending again, in 2016. As great an actor he was, I doubt even he could pull off dying twice. Make sure you spend some time researching facts.

The notebook
The notebook is as essential as the notebook

 

I generally allow around three to four hours on each blog post checking facts. In terms of writing, it can take much longer. I can type reasonably quickly, but I still allow around eight to ten hours each week to create a 5,000 word blog. Then collating images that are free from copyright can take another two hours. When I upload the blog, check it publishes ok and that there are no obvious errors (even after proof-reading), and advertise the new blog post on social media, that process in itself can take a good two hours.

When you receive comments about your blog post you need to answer them as quickly as you can. I always try to reply the same day, and ideally as soon as I see an alert come in that I have a new comment. It’s not always possible, life can get in the way, but you will want to give good replies even to negative comments.

Whatever you read about blogging being easy, please ignore it. It is a long and arduous road, and it takes time that you haven’t always got. It takes discipline, and it often feels like you are getting nowhere. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t give up. Indeed take some time to re-evaluate your blog, plan content, but don’t give up when you don’t see a million hits in the first months.

User engagement is wonderful and I wish I had more! I love it when I see some inspirational comments that reinforce to me that someone is reading. Engaging with readers can give you so many new ideas. Try turning your blog in to an interactive community. An important step here is to also make sure you have easy options for readers to share your content on various social media platforms. Most blog systems will give you access to a set of buttons that you can place at the bottom of your post so that users can share your great content with other social media users. Go on, give it a try when you finish reading this blog, and just make sure that it is my blog you are sharing!

DO NOT PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999

Now we move on to styles. If you access this blog from a mobile device you will notice that it displays in a completely different way to that of the desktop version. Luckily by using adaptive templates, or by using Blogger, much of the work is taken away and both versions of the site get updated in synch with each other. So mobile friendly is the way to go.

Once you have mobile friendly and desktop friendly views, what you show needs to look professional. If you are as old as me, (46 although I only look 45), then you will remember the early days of dial up, and the old web pages that had been hurriedly created in a WYSIWYG website builder, (what you see is what you get), and filled with fun cartoon gif images that took three weeks to download over a 28k connection with an AOL trial CD ROM. Vibrant colours and flashing images that should have come bundled with an epilepsy warning seemed a staple of any website back in the earlier days of the web.

Thankfully there are very few about on the web now, but if you really want to see what web sites used to look like, take a look at https://archive.org/web/ and do a search for geocities.com. Yes, this is what the web used to look like. Research a few sites from around 1999, and that is exactly what your site shouldn’t look like.

There is of course many other things that you need to consider, the ability to share your post is one of the most important, so you need to either use tools that are often found on blog sites, or you will need to place some small pieces of code in to your page. There is plenty of online help and support, and the social media networks have pre-written HTML code available for you to simply cut and paste, head over to their help and support pages and follow the instructions, and you will be pretty much all set.

THE BUZZWORDS

There is another trick that you need to know. You need to give your posts a punchy title. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, but whenever I use the phrase; “Follow these simple steps to…” my website traffic increases considerably. People like to follow steps apparently, but you need to be careful that your title doesn’t mislead or appear to be what is known as bait-clicking.

There are many tools thankfully that can list the current buzz words, the simplest being checking out the Google search engine. Enter the title, or subject of your post and the top hits will be displayed containing the most used words for that particular subject search. At this point you might want to learn the subtle differences between the types of keywords to use.

A good example is when you are searching for an art supply company online, “art supply” will bring up many results, but they might not be relevant to your search, so using the phrase “best art supply company in the UK”, might yield far better results. The latter is what they call a long-tail keyword. I call it a phrase for simplicity. The other thing you will need to know is that you will also need to ensure that the keywords actually appear in the content of your post too. If they don’t, there is a risk that search algorithms will rank you lower, thinking that the post is spam. You can also use Google’s AdSense Keyword Planner at: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner

But before you start adding multiple long-tail keywords in to your post, you have to define the purpose of your content. Well defined content is vital, and you also need to consider creating a content plan. I work up to three weeks ahead when planning, although at the moment I have almost six weeks of content planned. It will make your life much easier and the posts won’t seem like they have been written in a hurry at the last minute.

CONTENT – HAVING A STRATEGY

In terms of content, you need to write something that your readers cannot get in the same format anywhere else. Let’s take this post for example. There are many sites proclaiming to be able to increase your readership by following six simple steps, and to be fair, those steps are usually worth taking in to consideration. But only six steps? There are way more considerations that you will need to take in to account.

One of the best content strategies I use is to create evergreen content. Content that can at times be repurposed, or referred to in a later post. That can be difficult for a blog like this one, I like to bring you time relevant and current news from the worlds of art and technology, but I also like to create useful content that remains relevant. It can be done, but it has to be balanced.

There are many other challenges too, so at this point it is worth giving you an idea of where you are most likely to struggle in the early days. Producing enough content cannot be underestimated. Even if you only post once per week, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to create a well written piece of content. If you are publishing every day, then your posts are likely to be much shorter, but you will need something new every day.

Producing enough content is not the only problem you will face, the content has to be engaging. Well researched content is the aim, but you will need to set aside some time to carry out the research.

Having a budget to produce content can sometimes be an issue. If you need to pay for syndicated content, or pay for the rights to use certain images, you will need to factor this in as well. Generally the biggest cost will be time, but if you need to promote your blog through paid ads, then having a budget is a necessity.

As I said before, understanding your demographic is also key, defining your audience, figuring out who they are, what their key purchase drivers are, preferred content medium, days and times when they are most likely to engage, are all factors that you can work out by using analytics software on your blog.

SUBSCRIBERS

Getting readers to sign up for email alerts is also key. But it is difficult. The work you need to put in is outweighed by the benefits, but the most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t send out emails so often that they become spam. Many bloggers offer a free PDF or e-book in return for your email address, often when you sign up you are left a little disappointed by the contents of the one or two pages of advice, and more often than not the advice can be found online without giving away your details. I only send at most one or two emails per month, usually one, and highlight my new works, provide snippets of information on upcoming events in the art and technology world, and try to make it relevant and worth a read. More often than not on other sites, the emails are constant and they generally say exactly the same thing.

When you create emails and you have a list of subscribers, you need to remember that you are responsible for holding that persons data. Ensuring you keep the email addresses safe, and you utilise a good email system, and make sure you follow the relevant data protection act are the three main points you will need to consider. Using the email subscription system available on platforms such as Blogger is a good way to get started.

Blogging is generally looked on as an act of survival of the fittest. Many bloggers give up too early to get any real momentum going, and there is no denying it can be an arduous journey, but it can also be fun. One of the key ingredients to a successful blog is the ability to present a professional look not only to your content, but to the way it is accessed. Using generic web addresses from free services is fine for amateur hour, but if you want long term readership, a simple domain name is invaluable. The domain name chosen will set your branding for as long as you keep renewing the name. It also makes it much easier to migrate to a new hosting platform further down the line.

CONTENT IS KING

Everyone has at some point heard the term, “Content is King”, and it is true. But writing content that will bring about a surge in organic traffic is often difficult. But there are some things that you can do to help you stand out from the crowd. Using Google Trends will provide you with an insight in to the latest search queries on Google, and the platform will also allow you to see what search terms are rising in popularity. You can access Google Trends here: https://www.google.com/trends/ be warned, you will lose hours of your life initially as you will be tempted to run a query against everything and anything!

THE REWARD

If you think that you will make millions from blogging, you are in the same camp as pretty much every other blogger out there who has yet to see a cent. You will get discouraged when you see that people are not clicking on the adverts from the carefully planned AdSense account you took forever to set up. You will become more discouraged when you receive your first cheque for $2.56.

But there are other rewards, you will engage with many people, you will meet many people, and when you start getting visitors you will be very pleased. On the downside, and because anyone who knows me, knows that I say it how it is, you will be filled with at least some dread that you need to keep it up to get those readers to stay.

You will get writers block, and yes it exists, it is officially a thing. But if you want to be a blogger, you need to write, and some days it will be exhausting, some days it will be easy. The trick here is to write at least something even when you don’t feel like it.

I have talked about creating a plan, a schedule for your content, but you also need to create a personal schedule. You need to spend time on the content, and you need to find time for everything else that you need to do such as promoting your blog, and that other stuff that gets in the way called life.

But most importantly, you need to have fun. If you’re not having fun then stop. Admittedly there will be days when you have no fun, you will be up against a deadline that you have given yourself, but if it becomes too much of a chore, think about the long term strategy and what you hope to get from it. But ultimately, never stop writing and creating great content.

THE SUMMARY

By now you are either eager to add something to the blogosphere, or you are ready to give up. The best advice I can give you is to give it a try. Engage with your readers, you are writing this for them in part, you are writing for yourself foremost, but never ignore reader’s ideas.

Blog comments should never go ignored, and researching or offering to guest blog on another bloggers site is crucial if you want to gain readers. But you need to maintain the great relationship with your existing readers, so don’t ever forget those who were with you on day one.

Also remember that a blog is a platform, it is the content of the blog that will make people engage. Just as with newspapers, readers want to see content that is relevant to their interests.

Always try to finish your blog with a call to action. People it seems generally like a call to action. So as you will notice with this blog, I usually give out details of my Facebook group, or other social media channels. I try not to be too pushy about selling my artwork, but you will notice links to my work throughout the site.

Have I got everything right on this blog? I can tell you that the answer is a resounding no. There are things that I would love to be able to do, but my priority for now is to create engaging content. There will be some site changes this year though, mainly with the addition of a few new pages, and I will be creating an e-book to improve your business as an artist. Importantly, stay with who you really are. People tend to follow people than follow websites.

The only other piece of advice I can categorically say you need to hear is to be patient. Very patient. This is a long-game. Learn, write, learn, and practice. Then do it all over again!

THIS WEEK

 

That’s all for today but I will be starting to write my next piece in just a few short minutes. In the meantime take some time to check out my Facebook group, The Artists Exchange, by heading over to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/940723089340284/

The Artists Exchange
The Artists Exchange

Remember that you can catch up with the latest art and technology news on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia

There has also been a change in the way Fine Art America operates, it’s not a huge change but since purchasing Pixels in 2013, Fine Art America are undergoing a rebrand. This is great news for the many artists on the site as all of their products will be found in one place online, including purchasing licences to use images. The existing web links continue to work, but you will now also find my work over at http://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com as well as http://10-mark-taylor.artistwebsites.com I love the new look and feel and the web address is so much simpler to remember!

 

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