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Common blogging pitfalls

Posted on | November 23, 2007 | 7 Comments

Preface : I’m not hoping to tout this particular blog as a shining example of ‘how to do it right’, nor do I profess to be an expert on the subject of developing a successful blog. I do, however, ghost write for several successful news and editorial blogs and have helped more than a hand full of people get started on the road to self publishing.

Rather than suggest a course to follow, I’m going to point out some common pitfalls that trap many new bloggers. Several people have written to me in the last few weeks asking for suggestions on how to get started in blogging, here’s a short list of what not to do.

Again, I’m no guru, these suggestions might be helpful:

Pitfall #1 – ADD (Advertisement Displacement Disorder)

There is (nearly) nothing more annoying when reading on-line than trying to read an article that might be interesting after its been ‘drawn and quartered’ with advertisements. Placing an ad above (and/or) below an article is fine, separating the text with ads is a recipe for a fast page close.

In addition, allow your visitors to read an article in its entirety with one page view. Paginating your articles and forcing your visitors to re-load your advertisements four or five times in order to read a single article can cause your visitors to avoid sharing your article with their friends.

Pitfall #2 – Over ‘Blogdotting’

Slashdot is a popular news syndication web site. People submit articles with a brief description of what makes the article’s content news-worthy, then offer comments and insights. That’s great for Slashdot, not-so-great for a personal publishing venue.

Try to come up with a good ‘bowl of soup’, link to some things in the news and offer your insights in addition to crafting text that is inspired from your daily life. Simply re-reporting news that is in circulation is just regurgitating something that your visitor has already read.

Pitfall #3 – ‘The Grumpy Blogger’

I can’t think of any sane human being that searches for things to make them feel depressed. If you wish a sane readership who will add insightful comments to your posts, try to avoid becoming an antagonistic drone when writing. There is a fine line between being intelligently critical and being annoying.

Most bloggers are grumpy, good ones indicate that there is a good point behind their disgruntled ramblings. Avoid outright insults, conjecture and personal attacks.

Pitfall #4 – Bad English

In order to attract the largest possible readership, craft your text using International English. Avoid colloquialisms, over use of pronouns, starting or ending sentences with prepositions (and all of the other pitfalls that you probably ignored in grade school English class).

Writing well crafted, easy to understand sentences that can’t be easily misunderstood due to a lack of context helps you to attract more readers and dramatically improves your placement in popular search engines. Writing sentences properly will result in your articles achieving the desired ‘keyword density sweet spot’ without extra effort.

Preview and edit every post a few times, then refine your work in the following weeks. You’ll typically start seeing visits to new posts a few days after publishing, you have some time to get them ‘just right’.

Pitfall #5 – Clone Wars

There are a limited number of topics in any given niche to write about. If you write about computers and technology, chances are that you’re saying the same thing that a million other blogs are saying. What remains unique is your word smithing and how you present your work.

Avoid ‘cloning’ some other web site in hopes that doing so will result in your enjoyment of their success. You can use similar elements (there are only so many feasible designs), try to do something unique with them. If you download a free theme, customize it, change it, make it your own. If you don’t know HTML/CSS and the basics of PHP, get to know them.

If done correctly, you won’t call your design and presentation ‘done’ until several months after you launch your blog. Downloading WordPress and installing a few plug-ins is only a start. Give your blog character. The visitors that you really want will appreciate the work that you put into making your presence unique.

Pitfall #6 – Selling Links

Don’t sell links on your blog roll (or anywhere else). It gives a bad impression to human and search engine visitors. Participating in ad programs is fine, make sure that links (that you create) point to quality sites relevant to your own. For instance, if you write about dog collars, you might link to a dog trainer’s blog. Believe me when I say that “Google knows the difference”.

Pitfall #7 – Spamvertising

A comment form is not an open invitation to use robot programs to grow back links. Do not post links to your blog in places that they don’t belong. Marketing your site and spamming are two different things. A link to your blog in your signature on public forums is great, posting a junk thread with links to your site is going to get you banned. The same discretion should be used when posting comments on the sites of others.

When you write a post reacting to another person’s blog post (and link to it), you should take care to be on topic. Don’t post reactions just for the sake of gaining an inbound link or you’ll find yourself on the Akismet ‘junk list’ – a very bad place for any serious blogger to be.

Pitfall #8 – Angry Fruit Salads, 2.0

We all love widgets, transparency tricks, sleek AJAX themes and embedded video. Remember, not all of your visitors have a dual core workstation with plenty of available RAM and super bandwidth. Eye candy is great, keep it to a minimum. Always use a solid background color (via CSS) over an image, when possible. The faster your page loads, the better your ranking.

When it comes to ‘eye candy’ , less is more.

Pitfall #9 – Bad Hosting

Whenever possible, avoid ‘shared’ web hosting as if it were the plague. One of the biggest killers of ‘would be’ popular blogs is the blog’s own success. Do not trust a platform that costs $6 – $8 / monthly offering ‘unlimited’ resources to not turn you off in the event that you get a rush of visitors from Digg or Slashdot. Do not trust the other 500+ people sharing your server to always be security conscious and keep hackers out. Xen powered Virtual private servers cost as little as $15 / monthly and give you guaranteed resources, isolation from disruptive neighbors and protection from over-zealous system administrators.

If you use shared hosting and become popular, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming a victim of your own success. Shared web hosting is an arcane, obsolete platform that continues to pollute the industry. Shared hosting is suitable only if you have no desire for a steady stream of visitors, such as a family or church web site. If your serious about your web site, start it on a VPS.

Pitfall #10 – Giving Up Too Soon

If you want frequent, loyal, commenting readers – be prepared to write at least five times weekly on a regular schedule. Within six months, you’ll begin to see good results, encouraging results within three. Your rewards in the first few months are simple, a neat way to kill an hour or two a day, enough cash to pay for a tank or two of gas, freelance writing jobs and networking.

After 6 – 8 months, revenue that you make from your blog might be able to pay a few bills. Don’t expect to get rich, especially quickly.

I have a friend who has been blogging for approximately three years, during which time he’s launched 5 moderately successful web sites. Those sites now pay the majority of his bills and a little more.

Be in it for the long haul, or don’t get in it at all.


I hope that these tips help someone to get off on the right foot with a reasonable degree of expectations. I suppose that these ‘do-nots’ can apply to any kind of web site, I wrote them with blogging in mind.

Comments, of course, are welcome.

Comments

7 Responses to “Common blogging pitfalls”

  1. Wayne Smallman
    November 23rd, 2007 @ 8:33 pm

    The thing is with “Blogspotting” — especially in the technology ‘blogging sphere — is that 99% of those ‘blogs are just one huge echo chambre.

    I call this the ‘blog burp, because they’re all consuming the same thing, and it’s repeating…

  2. tinkertim
    November 24th, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

    Its a growing and irritating trend. Writers, especially in the technosphere aren’t coming up with original works, they’re regurgitating whatever wired.com is saying.

    I’ll do the same thing from time to time, but usually only to add insights that weren’t present in articles that broke in major syndication. There’s a difference between ‘burping’ news and writing about it in the hopes of going a bit further in depth.

    There are plenty of such write ups in my blog, however if you look at the time stamps, I published way in advance of Wired, Slashdot, The Reg, etc. I guess, someone would see the articles and figure that I was just ‘burping’ what other sites were doing, when in fact I published before they did.

    Readers are getting just about as grumpy as the bloggers that they read these days, I’ve already seen a half dozen published lists of ‘junk blogs to avoid’. Wait till Google comes out with ‘Google Blog Rank’, then it will really get interesting.

  3. Markus
    November 27th, 2007 @ 3:35 am

    Hi! Thanks for your great article. I’m trying hard to avoid Pitfall #4 as English is not my mother tongue.

    Although your text was very informative I missed part of domain registration. What do you think is important when it comes to searchin a new domain name? You’re one of the few bloggers I know (now) with an us domain name.

    Best Regards from Germany

    Markus

    Edit: I guess for some people it’s hard to maintain a virtual server.

    Don’t you have to Linux to run a virtual server? I’ve a shared hosting account but there are only 50 sites on one very fast server and my blog was able to stand 500 users at the same (StumbleUpon)

  4. bLuefRogX
    November 27th, 2007 @ 8:29 am

    Nothing’s wrong with shared hosting for starting out blogs, a lot of new bloggers can’t take the cost of a VPS when just starting out, especially since most need the convenience of cPanel or DirectAdmin which sucks up a fair amount of RAM as well leaving it almost as underpowered as shared hosting (Assuming the VPS has 256 RAM).

    That being said, I might have to move over to a VPS soon myself, been getting quite a number of visitors lately and while the server isn’t quite complaining, I do plan to launch a number of sub sites in the near future that I’ll have to custom compile PHP for :D ( like a webshots service :P)

  5. tinkertim
    November 27th, 2007 @ 11:29 am

    A 384 MB Xen VPS goes for (roughly) $30, about the cost of a reliable re-seller account on shared servers, giving you equal share of two cores and guaranteed RAM.

    Moving servers costs much more than just the cost of getting new hosting, your traffic goes down to nill for a month or two while you’re re-indexed (not quite sure what causes that phenomenon, I can just attest to it happening frequently).

    I think, if you start a blog (or several) with the intent and hope that they will become successful, you should start it on a VPS when possible.

    You can also “buddy up” on a VPS with another blogger to split the cost, giving you the reliability of a VPS at (slightly) more than shared hosting rates.

    It only takes one digg to get you booted.

  6. tinkertim
    November 27th, 2007 @ 11:46 am

    @Markus:

    There is a whole field of psuedo science surrounding what search engines like or dislike. From my experience, the domain name doesn’t weigh much when a search engine determines your ranking. Quality backlinks, quality out bound links (not linking to junk), a fast server and well written / structured content seems to be the key.

    If there’s nothing wrong with your hosting and its stood up well to high traffic, there’s no reason to change.

    Most shared hosting providers are not as responsible, typically packing 500+ domains on a single server. This is commonly known as over-selling, when a host sells more resources than a server really has hoping that people won’t utilize all that they pay for.

  7. Keith
    February 15th, 2008 @ 12:41 am

    Some really great ideas here…will keep them in mind…thanks for sharing. Regards, Keith J.

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